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How I met a shaman on Olkhon Island

What do the Ancestral Spirits talk about?

I heard many stories about people whose lives totally changed after visiting shamans and especially after participating in rituals on Olkhon Island. Suddenly they got an insight, understanding or acceptance of situations. I haven’t experienced such sudden personal metamorphoses, maybe because of some skepticism, maybe because I have "a core" inside. But I always left a chance to discover something unknown. In the end, it’s not necessary for everyone to seek scientific evidence and doubt the sacredness of Places of Power. I even bought amulets and dream catchers in Khuzhir and put a candy on the shore of Lake Baikal. So, I satisfied the spirits, according to the local religion - Burkhanism. 

“Did you leave offerings for the Spirits?,” the shaman Gennady Tugulov asked me first of all. I nodded and smiled. I got Gennady's phone number just a few days before the trip and invited him to meet me for an interview, not hiding that I am a journalist. To my surprise, Gennady agreed. And now he came to meet me at Shamanka Rock and stood nearby, in a beautiful blue vestment. Shamanka Rock is a sacred place for all locals on Olkhon Island. They believe that the spirits of their ancestors live there, they come to the rock to make offerings and pray. Gennady refused to conduct rituals on the Shamanka Rock, that’s why we met nearby, at the prayer pillar, on top of which a wooden eagle sat proudly.

“Don't  shamans have a nickname for spirits? Should I just call you Gennady?," I specified.
"Yes, I’m Gennady Tugulov, I am a 13th generation Shaman. 12 of my ancestors were shamans.” He answered.
"Did you already know that you would continue the shamanistic clan when you were a kid?"
“Well, I grew up during the communist period, it was a difficult time for shamans. Many of them were persecuted by the authorities and escaped into the forests, some of them were sent out of their native places. But people still visited them secretly. Rituals were done quietly, helping everybody who asked for help. I knew the history of my clan. I've been ready to serve all my life. And now that I became a shaman, I have no right to work anywhere else."

“How old were you when you became a shaman?” I wondered.
“I was 49 years old. I am 62 years old now."
“So late?” I was surprised, “How does a person become a shaman? Can I be a shaman, for example?"
"Shamans are chosen by their ancestors - ongod. First of all the chosen people need to be prepared for this important mission for a long time. The mission is to help people, to help the world, to protect the world from wars and people from poverty. Our mission cannot be disregarded. It is very important to respect our roots to keep balance. We must not forget that our ancestors open the way for us, and our rituals help this."
"And how do the ancestors 'talk' to you in practice? Do you hear voices? Do you have dreams?" I asked. But Gennady only smiled.

“Do you 'scan' the person who comes to you? Do you have an ability of clairvoyance?” I could not stop.
"No, we can feel it. A person comes to me and tells me what kind of problem he has. And I explain to him what it really is. I advise, I do rituals. After my words and ceremonies, people start to understand what was wrong in their life."
"And how many rituals are in your arsenal? 20, 100, 1000?"
"A lot of them. There is a rite of worshiping the earth, worshipping heaven, worshipping water, worshipping people, a shamanistic dance which helps to get rid of diseases, etc."
"And how do you choose a rite for a person?"
“Visitors usually tell me what kind of rite they need."
“Hmmm, what if I don't know anything about rites? For example, I came to you, but I have no idea whether I’ve somehow stained my karma or my ex-husband’s new wife has cursed me?” I insisted.
“I will tell you what rite is needed. But you don't need any. You are doing everything right. Believe in yourself forever. If you believe that you are a strong person, you can do everything."
I blushed with pride - I was praised by the shaman. Well, he just showed me one of Tony Robbins’ tricks.

"During the rite, I ask my ancestors to contact your ancestors. For example, this girl, who is standing next to me, on my left, asks  for a good future. Please, make her feel good! Tell her ancestors and grandparents to open the way for me," Gennady continued.
“That's very kind of you, thank you” I muttered. "And during what part of the day do you contact your ancestors, and how? Can you contact them anytime?"
“I talk to them all the time in the morning while I drink tea. I pour some tea on the table and invite them to drink tea with me. There are special rituals when I go to the forest, in winter and spring, and make contact with nature."
"And how many ancestors do you have?"
"Ah, these are the same grandparents, the whole generation of shamans… By the way, are all grandfathers? Or are there female shamans?"
“There are females, of course. There is a grandmother. But most shamans are men."
A shaman is basically a guide between worlds. The signs that his ancestors give him can  found everywhere - in dreams, in bad weather, or in a strange set of circumstances - whether the eagle soared in the sky, whether there was a pestilence of cattle. The main thing is to learn how to interpret them.

  • Orange fact
    One of the signs for a future initiation as a shaman might be a “shamanic disease” which is when a person does everything wrong - he gets drunk, rowdy. Such a person does not succeed in any sphere… Well, “shamanistic disease” can also be a quite real illness, with a different name, of course.

"So what is going on during your meeting, when a visitor comes to you and asks for help?” I still tried to scent out.
"I'm helping. I tell him/her to go to his grandparents and pray."
"Pray to whom?"
“To his/her god. It doesn’t matter what kind of religion. Many people are confused about different religions… But I have to tell you - a person walks through the blood of his father."
"But there are some dogmas that are transmitted through the mother…”
Gennady answered nothing, but obviously he did not agree with me. He put his hands on a beautiful plaque on his belt, adjusting his necklace with a large circle. It is called a shaman mirror (polished metal disc), shamans wear it so that it can absorb negative energy. The blue color of the ritual dressing gown is the personification of Baikal, the gold and silver ornaments are symbols of the sun and moon. I looked at the rings on his fingers, at the dagger in leather scabbard.

"Do you have a tambourine?” I inquired.
"There is a tambourine. There are other things too. But such objects are determined by the clan. For example, I am a blacksmith shaman. I work with iron. I have an anvil, a hammer and iron, which I heat until it is red-hot and expel all the bad from a person."
I tried to imagine it… Is that a “white" shamanism even?
“Yes, there are also 'black' shamans, they are sorcerers. Those who make people ill. But a real shaman should never do evil things, even if people come with such a request."
“So, there are 'sticky-fingered' shamans?"  I am upset. “And what do people ask them to do?”
“Well, the world is imperfect. And people ask them a lot of things - to take someone's husband out of his family, to ruin the competitors. Usually, women have many such ideas…"
"Do you refuse to work with such people?”
"Yes, I don’t even listen to them. I understand them right away. I stop them before they start talking. Such people are immediately clear to me. And I tell them: you will ask for those things in your mind, I will not do this for you."

"Gennady, I realized that they become shamans by clan. Do you have children? Will they be shamans too?"
“I don't know whom the ancestors will choose. I have two children and five grandchildren. The Spirits of the Ancestors can choose a son, a grandson or even a great-grandson. This is unknown as long as I'm alive. They can give me a hint, show who will be the successor, older son or younger. There were 10 people in my family, they chose me as the youngest - the tenth."
"And how many shamans are there in the world?"
"A lot of them, Olya. A lot. But there are only 15 that are the most powerful in the world. I am one of them. There are shamans from around the world among us, even from Africa."
It turned out that shamans have a summit once every two years. At the world summit, they discuss the most important things. The meeting place is always different. In 2019, a campfire meeting was held in Mongolia. A "piece" of this fire was even brought to Olkhon Island. This ritual is familiar to all Orthodox. The next summit will be in 2021. But the location of the meeting has not  yet been announced.
"And how can you get into the TOP-15?" I'm still trying to find out all the secrets of the shamanistic sphere.
"We meet at the Fire Worship Festival in Ulan Bator. The chief shaman chooses a new shaman when one of us leaves for his ancestors."
“Who is the chief shaman ?” I asked.
"He lives in Mongolia. He is a 9th level shaman."
“What kind of steps are there, some kind of qualification?” I wonder.
"A shaman can have a maximum of 9 steps. Each takes at least three years.
“And what shaman's level are you?”
"Third, I am not treating people yet. Once I will have enough abilities, the ancestors will tell me to move on to the next level. Shaman of sixth level can treat people, for example.
"What can a shaman of the 9th level do?" I fall into the subject with my head.
"He can fly. He can cure people of many diseases. He can evaporate. If you have not read the book 'The Laughter of the Shaman,' then do it. Everything is described there in detail."
"And how many shamans of the 9th level are there in the world?"
“It used to be a lot. Especially in Asia. But now shamans are very rare."
"Would you like to reach 9th level?" I ask and try to imagine how Gennady would have evaporated during our conversation. I guess I would be bemused.

“Come, I will conduct a ritual of prosperity for all of us,” Gennady suggested with a smile. We walked to the pillar. Gennady gave shamanistic "honors" to the eagle, began to read something to himself. He dripped vodka on four sides, pouring it from a bottle into a ritual bowl, then generously poured milk onto the ground.


These are offerings to spirits, there are many of them in the local pantheon. Among them there are both supreme gods and “devils,”, there are spirits of nature, craft, and family. All of them willingly take milk and vodka. And in some rare and difficult cases they can accept a whole ram as a real sacrifice. Spirits must be “appeased”, because if they do not like something, they get angry and blow severe winds, storms and earthquakes.

At the end we left cookies for the spirits. Gennady did not even look how much money I gave him. That's the rule. Everybody pays as much as he can. But basically everyone thinks - the more you give, the more you get. And nobody knows how it really works. I warmly said goodbye to Gennady. He smiled and said that I will return to Baikal. And I didn’t even argue - I am not against it at all.

The Four Seasons of Russia project is supported by the Russian geographical society www.rgo.ru
A visit to winter Baikal is recommended by the Russian geographical society.

Also read about Baikal:
Baikal: Winter trip. Part 1. Listvyanka. Taltsy
Baikal: Winter trip. Part 2. Olkhon Island, Ogoy Island.
Baikal: Winter trip. Part 3. Buryatia
How I spent the night in a tent on the ice of Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal: What do we know about it?
Ivolginsky datsan: A cloister that gives happiness
Questions and life hacks about a winter trip to Lake Baikal

Translation: Irina Romanova, Instagram: @astrabella1


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