Shaman drumming

Tengeri Shaman Center in Irkutsk

Published: December 13, 2012

Shamanism is the common name for the traditional religions of a number of native Siberian peoples; the word describes a system of beliefs in which a large number of spirits, gods, and ancestors affect daily life on earth and can be called upon and influence by specially gifted individuals called shamans. While groups such as the Buryats, Tuvans, Yakuts, and Khakas historically had rich shamanic traditions, shamanic practices were discouraged first by the Tsars and then by the Soviets. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, there has been a rapid revival of shamanism amongst the Buryats of Irkutsk Oblast; it seems that every village now has its own local shaman. However, in urban areas such as Irkutsk, shamans are much harder to find, and so for those who wish to find out more about traditional shamanism but don’t have the time or inclination to head to a village, the Tengeri Shamanic Organization may be a good place to know about.

The Tengeri Shaman Organization isn’t very impressive from the outside – in fact, it’s inside an auto repair yard and car wash complex just a 15 minute walk from the IGLU dorms; you’d probably miss it if you didn’t know it was there. Just go inside the large metal gate marked as “автомойка” at Sedova 68; on your left you’ll see a low wooden building with a small sign for the shaman center. This center acts as an office for approximately 4 or 5 different shamans who don’t seem to keep a regular schedule; while you might be able to stop in and find someone, it would be wise to call ahead. The contact info above is for Vitaly Aleksandrovich Baltaev, a senior shaman who can answer questions or help to arrange whatever kind of ceremony you want (he speaks Russian and Buryat). The shamans of the center are capable of a wide variety of ceremonies ranging from a simple all-purpose blessing to more specific ceremonies to cure diseases and also divinations to answer important life questions. You should probably haggle about the price beforehand, as shamans (like many people in Russia) seem to think it is acceptable to charge foreigners exorbitant prices. Generally, you should be able to get a ceremony for as little as a couple hundred rubles, though more complicated ceremonies can cost multiple thousands of rubles and last for many hours.

The shamanic ceremonies usually consist of several parts. First, there is a fairly long period of preparation, in which the shaman lays out various things to draw the spirits. These are usually things like cookies, butter, milk, vodka, and cigarettes, all of which the participant must buy beforehand and bring to the shaman. Once the gifts have been laid out, the shaman will then call up some spirits, which involves a lot of chanting and drumming and isn’t recommended for those susceptible to headaches. Once the spirits have been called forth, the shaman will show the participant to the spirits, calling upon them to bless/heal the participant. At this point, the ceremony could end, or if necessary the shaman could go into a trance and allow himself to be possessed by one of the spirits, who could then be asked questions about the future. Unfortunately, all of the resident spirits of this particular shaman center only speak Buryat, so you’ll need to have one of the shaman’s assistants translate for you. After the trance has ended, the shaman will briefly explain the results.

Shamanism is a unique feature of native Siberian culture, and something that makes for a great story when you go home. I’d highly recommend checking out the Shaman center, it’s an experience you won’t forget.

“Tengeri” Local Religious Organization of Shamans / «Тэнгэри» Местная Религиозная Организация Шаманов
Ул. Седова 68
Hours by appointment
Telephone: 99-81-54, 8-952-622-9185,

About the author

David Garrison Golubock

David Garrison Golubock graduated from the University of Chicago in 2011 with degrees in history and Slavic languages and literatures. With a full year of academic study abroad already under his belt, he will be participating in SRAS's Home and Abroad Program in Irkutsk over the 2012-2013 academic year. He plans to pursue graduate studies in his fields.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar

View all posts by: David Garrison Golubock