The establishment of the “Local Religious Organization of Shamans, Tengeri” in Buryatia, Russia, was a direct response to the prohibition of traditional Buryat shamanic customs during the Soviet era. Tengeri, established in 2003 by Budashab Purboevich Shiretorov and Victor Dorzhievich Tsidipov, seeks to revive Buryat traditions that have been forgotten. It was established as the third officially acknowledged shamanic institution in Buryatia, and has subsequently emerged as the foremost prominent and significant one.

Religious Organization of Shamans in russian Buryat republic

The organization, based in Ulan-Ude, once consisted of approximately fifty members, with a central group of thirteen active shamans. The group has expanded throughout time and now consists of more than 80 members, comprising both male and female shamans who span in age from their early 20s to their 50s. Tengeri has further extended its presence by establishing affiliate offices in Chita and Irkutsk Oblasts.

Buryat cosmology, akin to other indigenous cosmologies in Siberia, delineates the universe as divided into three distinct realms. Spirits predominantly reside in the Upperworld and Lowerworld, however they possess the ability to exert impact on human existence within the Middleworld. The Buryat spiritual universe include both good and malignant deities (tenri), deities associated with specific regions (ežens), ancestral shamans (ongons), and non-human animal spirits.

The ongon spirits play a vital role in the rituals conducted by Tengeri shamans, serving as guardians of their ancestral lineages. The organization claims that the neglect endured throughout the Soviet era has incited the wrath of these spirits, hence exacerbating socioeconomic issues such as poverty, unemployment, and alcoholism. Tengeri shamans aim to address this issue by establishing communication and restoring the connection between the mortal realm and the realm of spirits through ceremonial practices.

The tailgan is a frequently practiced ritual among Buryat shamans, notably those belonging to the Tengeri tradition. The act of communal sacrifice, typically involving a sheep, is carried out as a means of paying homage to ancestral spirits and establishing the presence of deities in the clan’s native country. During the tailgan ritual, Tengeri shamans achieve altered states of consciousness in order to channel spirits and enable the audience to pose inquiries in the Buryat language. Ongons, the spirits, can not predict future events but can offer understanding about the spiritual origins of illnesses or difficulties.

Tengeri presents its efforts as a cultural renaissance of genuine and traditional shamanic rituals that were repressed throughout the Soviet period. Nevertheless, discussions emerge over the concepts of authenticity and tradition, as certain individuals raise doubts about whether these activities are genuinely traditional or fabricated in response to contemporary cultural demands.

The discussion surrounding authenticity and tradition holds great importance for Siberian indigenous people, as it establishes a connection between cultural practices and ethnic identity, as well as the revitalization of cultural legacy.

Although Tengeri’s departure from the clan-based shamanic traditions of pre-colonial Buryatia has caused disagreement in the past, the organization asserts that its organized collective is crucial for reviving ancient structures in the present-day social context of Buryatia. The members recognize the difficulties associated with maintaining historical authenticity, but they firmly believe in the significance of their efforts to link with cultural heritage and revive Buryat customs.

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Quijada (2008) refers to it as a “city tailgan”. In urban areas, the city tailgan ceremony involves the placement of shrines called oboos in public settings, rather than in the ancestral grounds of the spirits’ predecessors. Many aspects of the ceremonial practice are preserved, such as the act of sacrificing animals, making offerings, and the techniques used for entry.

The study focuses on a particular tailgan that occurs annually on Olkhon Island, which is a 730 square mile island located on the western edge of Buryatia in Lake Baikal.
Olkhon, the third largest island surrounded by a lake globally, is home to approximately 1,500 inhabitants and a multitude of tourist resorts. According to Buryat shamanic cosmology, Olkhon Island, specifically the prominent rock formation known as Shamanskaya Scala (or Shamanka), is regarded as an axis mundi. This means that it is believed to be a powerful vortex that connects the three realms of the cosmos. Additionally, it is considered to be the sacred dwelling place of the Spirit Master of Baikal (Bernstein 2008).

The marine shaman entered a state of trance induced by the female shaman and was informed by the spiritual leader that he had grown resentful due to the deterioration of the environment, prolonged disregard, and the influx of visitors who engage in sunbathing on the rocks. To make amends for these transgressions, the Spirit Master mandated that the shamans organize a tailgan ceremony annually for the following 17 years as a tribute to the deities of Olkhon (oikony noyod).
The summer tailgan held in 2012 commemorates the tenth anniversary of the Olkhon Island event, which is now referred to as the “International Shamanic Conference.” Aside from the customary offerings and altered states of consciousness that follow the tailgan, Tengeri also envisions this occasion as an opportunity for shamans from different indigenous tribes to convene and exchange their methods and wisdom (Quijada 2011).

The Olkhon Island tailgan is a significantly larger ceremony compared to those conducted by Tengeri and has had rapid growth in size since its establishment in 2002. According to Quijada (2008), the tailgans conducted by Tengeri, although not strictly traditional in the historical sense, serve as places where Buryats can revive their traditional religious, cultural, and national identities throughout the post-Soviet era.