Book review – Last of the Shor Shamans

shorshamanI have long had a deep interest in the practices of indigenous shamans, especially those of Siberia and Mongolia.  Sadly I’ve never been lucky enough to learn from one, and so my understanding has always come from the books that are available.  The most well known are the sections within MIrcea Eliade’s classic ‘Shamanism’, and those of Sangarel, with her books being very much tailored towards the practice of Buryat Shamanism more than an anthropological study of the subject.

So, to find this book, ‘The Last of the Shor Shamans’, is a gift indeed. It is an exquisite book, just 96 pages long, but packed with information on the dying traditions of the shamans of the Shor Mountain region of South Central Siberia. Translated into English for the first time, this book deserves to be considered a classic of shamanic studies.

The book begins with an introduction by Lynn Roberts, explaining how she came to meet some of the Shortsi peoples when she took a group of North American and Europeans to this remote part of the world to learn from the native shamans who still practiced there. The authors, Alexander & Luba Arbachakov, bring us details of the Shor world view followed by a wonderfully detailed description of the ‘kam’ (the Shor word for shaman), how they are chosen, what they do, how the do it, how they live, how they dress, what tools they use and more. We are given some details on Shor shamanic rituals, before we are then introduced to the lives of seven shamans.  Each one was interviewed and recorded, and the insights gained are remarkable. We are told their stories and given elements of each of their individual practices, even down to the details of some of the words they use in their ceremonies.

We are then treated to the text of sound recordings made by the authors of the kamlanie verses of two of the kam themselves – shamanic verses that have never been published in English before.

To be able to read and study the traditions of this shamanic society is a wonderful privilege, and brings me a deeper understanding of my own shamanic practices and how they relate to those of these ancient people.

Whilst the book is written from an anthropological point of view it is incredibly useful to the serious student of indigenous shamanic practice. It is a wonderful contribution to those of us who treasure such insights.

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