Volume 12 Numbers 1 & 2 (Spring/Autumn 2004)


BAMO AYI (Beijing): The Religious Practitioner Bimo in Yi Society of Liangshan, Southwest China, Today

This paper aims to analyze the nature and characteristics of the bimo, religious practitioners of Yi society in Liangshan, southwest China, today in the light of knowledge gained in my fieldwork between 1986 and 1996. Bimo mediate the relations between humans and supernatural beings by chanting scriptures, which is different from another kind of practitioner, the sunyi, who are similar to shamans. Bimo have developed four collective characteristics: (1) they have their own special beliefs relating to their religious activities; (2) a set of special religious institutions has evolved gradually to sustain the bimo community and regulate the conduct of their religious activities; (3) they have their own professional morals and ethics concerning relations with clients, supernatural beings and other bimo; and (4) members of the bimo community have a common professional identity reflecting their self-consciousness as a class.

ÁGNES BIRTALAN (Budapest) and JÁNOS SIPOS (Budapest): "Talking to the Ongons": The Invocation Text and Music of a Darkhad Shaman

The present article is devoted to a Darkhad ritual song of the shamaness Bayar from the Cagaan xuular clan (the Darkhad are a Mongolian-speaking people of North Mongolia). The ritual was performed at night on 2 August 1993 with the purpose of divination and invoking good luck in general, and for fortune in travelling. The main corpus of the song was performed by the shamaness herself, although her assistants also took part. The song is based on a ritual dialogue between the shamaness and her ongons, and, with the help of Mongolian colleagues and the shamaness’s family, the authors of the present work tried to investigate the role-playing aspect of the performance-which parts can be ascribed to the spirits and which to the shamaness. The text-corpus examined here has been put into the mythological context of ongon worship on the basis of newly recorded materials (reports by shamans), and also by referring to the oldest written sources (13th century).

EDINA DALLOS (Szeged): Shamanism or Monotheism? Religious Elements in the Orkhon Inscriptions

The Old Turkic Orkhon inscriptions (three runic tombstone inscriptions from the 8th century) contain various references which enable us to reconstruct a world view or belief system characteristic of the Türkic people-even though these inscriptions are primarily epics about battles waged by the Türkic tribes against neighboring peoples and about their efforts to build an empire. This belief system seems not to have been influenced by established religions which were later to spread among Turkic cultures. As regards the nature of this belief system, two theories have emerged: one was developed by Roux, who suggested that the texts indicate a monotheistic faith, organized around the concept of a heaven-god, which generally characterized societies at a relatively high level of socio-political organization; the other is the earlier but still prevailing view which connects the belief system of the nomadic Türkic tribes to shamanism. The present paper contrasts these two theories and analyzes them in relation to these three Old Turkic texts in the hope that a more precise and thorough textual analysis of the inscriptions will assist in pointing out the shortcomings in these theories and thus result in conclusions which may provide a firmer ground for future studies

JOJO M. FUNG (): A Comparative Study of the Semai and the Muruts Shamanic Cultures

A comparative study of two distinct groups of indigenous peoples who are geographically located in two different parts of Malaysia have much to contribute to the understanding of indigenous shamanistic cultures in Malaysia. These two groups are the Muruts of Sabah, formerly known as British North Borneo, and the Semai of Peninsular Malaysia. This paper will spell out distinctiveness of the indigenous cultures, besides enumerating the similarities and dissimilarities between these two shamanistic cultures. The underlying presupposition of this presentation is the conviction that the belief system is inseparable from the indigenous cosmology and the two are an integral part of shamanistic cultures. This paper introduces the two indigenous peoples of Malaysia in the first section while the second section is a brief comparative study of their indigenous cosmologies and belief system with a special focus on their traditional beliefs in the supernatural beings. The third section explains and compares their many rituals and categories of shamans that manipulate different kinds of specialized knowledge to regulate the relationship between the humans, the spirits and the cosmos.

DMITRII A. FUNK (Moscow): Teleut Shamanhood: Some Unknown Pages of Ethnographic Studies

The author describes the role of A. V. Anokhin (1869-1931), one of the most prominent and best-known Russian ethnographers and researchers on the Altai Mountain region, in the study of Teleut shamanhood. Detailed descriptions are presented of the texts of Teleut shamanic séances, compiled by Anokhin at the beginning of the 20th century, and of some of his analytical papers held in different archives. The information should be useful for ethnographers and for anyone undertaking a thorough assessment of Anokhin’s contribution, which contains not only unique, unpublished materials but also new, more productive ways for understanding the essence of the phenomenon of shamanhood.

TOWNSEND MIDDLETON (Cornell University): Spirit Mediumship: Discursive Power and the ‘Play’ of Belief in Patrasi, Nepal

The article examines ritualized spirit mediumship amongst the (Hindu) Matwali Chetri of north-west Nepal. By suggesting that when spirit mediumship in Patrasi reaches its highest potential it engross its participants (both the ritual players and audience alike) in a unique mode of hermeneutic experience, this article theorizes the hermeneutic processes through which practice translates into belief. Experimenting with the applicability of Interpretation Theory to the study of ritual, the article examines the possessed body as a "text" that discursively leads the community into a new world of meaning in order to explore the interpretive dynamics through which such rituals become flashpoints of belief and testing grounds for the fundamental tenets of the religious system in which they are embedded.

ANDREI A. ZNAMENSKI (Alabama, Montgomery): The Beauty of the Primitive: Native Shamanism in Siberian Regionalist Imagination, 1860s-1920

The paper examines the sources of a keen interest of Siberian regionalists (Potanin, Iadrintsev, Anokhin, Anuchin) in native shamanism. Siberian regionalism (1860s-1920), which sought to upgrade the social and cultural status of Siberia in Russia, appropriated native, culture including shamanism, to enhance its agenda. Regionalists viewed indigenous shamanism as the most ancient part of Siberia’s "living" heritage. Collecting and recording shamanism as well as inviting native shamans to participate in public performances became an important part of their work. As a result, Russian and native regionalists (Anokhin, Anuchin, Khangalov, Ksenofontov) produced a number of comprehensive ethnographies, which became Siberian shamanism classics.

Field Reports

DÁVID SOMFAI KARA (Budapest) and LÁSZLÓ KUNKOVÁCS (Budapest): On a Rare Kirghiz Shamanic Ritual from the Talas Valley


Leonid Pavlovich Potapov (by A. M. Reshetov)

Book Reviews

ÁGNES BIRTALAN. Die Mythologie der mongolischen Volksreligion. Wörterbuch der Mythologie (by Alice Sárközi)