The Republic of Tuva, located in southern Siberia at the geographic center of Asia, is home to some of the extended nomadic people who gave us the word “shaman.” Quick anthropology lesson: the language spoken in much of Siberia and Manchuria is known as Tungusic, so they call this broad group of nomads Tungusic as well. In Siberia they include several distinct peoples: the Evenks in the north, the Tuvans in the south, and the Yakuts in the east. (In fact, one of my favorite sayings is an old Yakut proverb: “Smiths and shamans come from the same nest!”)
The Tuvans have kept the practice of shamanism alive. In fact, the shamanic society Tos Deer (“Nine Heavens”) has launched its official website, shaman.shude.ru. Sadly for us, it’s in Russian, but those who speak Russian can learn about the community’s shamans, their leader Ay-Churek (“Moon Heart”), shamanic seminars, and tours.
I understand there are at least six other shamanic societies in the Republic of Tuva, all officially registered; the Dungur Society (a “dungur” is a shamanic drum) was the first. The HQ for Tos Deer is on the bank of the Yenissey river, right next to the statue marking the exact center of Asia, a favorite tourist stop.
Tuvan shamanism became familiar to the Westerners after the First International Shamanic Symposium took place in Tuva in 1993 with Finnish ethnographer Heimo Lappalainen taking an active part.
According to Mongush Kenin-Lopsan, Shamanic President of Honor and the founder of the Dungur Society (and a Doctor of Historical Sciences), there only thirty shamans in Tuva at present whose shamanic credentials have been confirmed by their colleagues with an official certificate of ordination.
To learn more about Tuvan shamanism, be sure to read “In the Land of Song and the Drum: Receiving Inspiration from Tuvan Shamans” by a real expert on Tuvan culture and beliefs (and a shaman in her own right), Christiana Harle-Silvennoinen.
I’ve just learned that Google’s language tools will now translate Russian web pages (it’s still in Beta testing, but it worked great for me). Now you can see the English translation of the Tos Deer website!