Is the shaman indeed risen in post-Soviet Siberia?

  • Olle Sundström Umeå University
Keywords: Shamanism -- Russia, Soviet Union, Siberia (Russia), Communism, Atheism, Indigenous peoples, Shamanism, Altai, Post-Soviet Russia, Siberia


In his exhaustive study of ‘shamanism’ among the Altaic peoples in Southern Siberia, the renowned Soviet ethnographer Leonid P. Potapov contends that ‘under the present conditions there are no remnants or survivals of Shamanism as such left in Altai’. What remains are legends and reminiscences, but these can no longer be told by people with personal experiences of Altaic ‘shamans’ and their rituals. According to Potapov, modern socialist culture has changed the minds of the Altaic peoples to the degree that they are now a materialistically thinking people, and ‘shamanism’ has completely disappeared. In addition, he contends that there are no prospects of its return after the deathblow dealt by Soviet anti-religious repression in the 1930s ‘shamanic’ rituals were forbidden and ritual paraphernalia such as drums and costumes were expropriated by the authorities. Considering that Potapov in his study follows Altaic ‘shamanism’ through 1500 years, depicting it as a ‘religion’ and ‘theology’ which stayed more or less intact over the centuries, his statement seems more like a pious hope based on the Soviet vision of a society liberated from superstition, religion, and spiritual exploitation. Potapov himself delineates Altaic ‘shamanism’s’ development from a ‘state religion’to a ‘folk religion’. From this perspective it might seem remarkable that ‘shamanism’ should not have survived 70 years of atheist repression, missionary work and the Soviet transformation of society. Already by the time Potapov’s book was published, during the very last months of the existence of the Soviet Union, there had, in fact, appeared a number of persons claiming to be ‘shamans’, with an ancestry dating from the time of ‘shamans’ of the first half of the twentieth century. These individuals were also part of organisations and movements promoting the revival of ‘shamanism’ in the autonomous Altai Republic. In other parts of the former Soviet Union similar processes took place. Today, in post-Soviet Altai, as well as in many other parts of Siberia, shamanism exists in the same sense that there is Buddhism, Christianity and Islam in the region.
Jan 1, 2012
How to Cite
Sundström, O. (2012). Is the shaman indeed risen in post-Soviet Siberia?. Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 24, 350-387.