Dynamics of Communicative Practices in Siberian Neo-Shamanism

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Yana S. Ivashchenko Doctor of Cultural Studies, Novosibirsk State Technical University, Russia iva_ya@mail.ru

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Andrei A. Ivanov Doctor of Philosophy, Novosibirsk State Technical University, Russia larsandr@mail.ru

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Abstract

This paper presents an analysis of how neo-shamanic communicative practices have evolved in Siberia and the Russian Far East over the last four decades. We identify three social cultural factors that have facilitated the spread of neo-shamanism: the ideological vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet system; foreign missionaries and their work; and ethnic revival. We discern three periods in the development of the communicative practices according to a respective key process in each of them. During glocalization, followers of experiential neo-shamanism and initiators of the revival of indigenous shamanic traditions act as agents of communication. During institutionalization, what takes place is typification and streamlining interactions with mass audiences, with government agencies, tourism industry and artistic practices. The period of hybridization is the time when neo-shamanic elements merge with parapsychology, business consulting, fine arts, and when neo-syncretic forms are created.

Neo-shamanism is an eclectic phenomenon; it is based on the idea that traditional shamanic practices can be transfigured in themselves and synthesized with a diversity of today's cultural forms. Neo-shamanism lies at the periphery of the social and cultural realm of contemporary Russian culture; on the other hand, it may be viewed as the manifestation of several key trends of the progress of modern civilization, such as: inventing traditions, a critique of rationalism, religiosity beyond denomination, etc. Neo-shamanism manifests itself in various cultural practices like esoteric cults, magic rites, environmental attitudes, the day-to-day life of communities, gender relations, arts, political outlooks, etc. Neo-shamanism utilizes modern means of mass communication and new self-representation formats, thereby forming and developing alternative spiritual needs of man, preferences and life-purpose goals and motivations.

Studies of neo-Shamanism culture communicative aspects imply the number of questions and problems. Firstly, neo-shamanism is considered as process and outcome of interaction between ethnic shamanism (Siberian, Indian, Korean, etc.) and Western culture represented by anthropologists, interpreters and followers (Jinseok 2013; Sanson 2012). Andrei A. Znamenski in the book “The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination” carried out a historical review of shamanism perception by Western culture, starting with the Enlightenment condemnation of shaman as a charlatan and ending with Western neo-Shamanism as result of endeavors of academic scientists to become shaman practitioners. According to Znamenski, Western neo-shamanism was the outcome of extrapolation of Siberian shaman image to the ecstatic practices of North and South American peoples; then the shaman metaphor became global and, returning, contributed to the “revival” of shamanic practices in Siberia (Znamenski 2007). Kocku von Stuckrad analyzes the philosophical and aesthetic roots of neo-shamanism in the Western worldview and finds them in romantic natural philosophy and aesthetics, in the modernist concepts of “personhood” and “otherworld” (Stuckrad 2002). Mihaly Hoppal in the article “Shamanism at the Turn of Millenium” identifies the array of social roles performed by modern Siberian shamans in modern communications: teachers of tradition, guardian of linguistic traditions, re-constructors of the world, political leaders (Hoppal 1999). These roles, performed in the context of a wide audience, ethno-cultural identity and media communications, differ from the roles of the traditional Siberian shaman and allow to identify updated versions of shamanism with neo-shamanism (Johansen 2000: 301).

In number of studies on Siberian neo-shamanism conducted since the 1990s, the institutionalization processes of relations between shamans, the evolution of shamanic organizations, and the transformation of shaman's social status have been studied thoroughly (Humphrey 1999; Balzer 2011; Sidorova 2023 etc.). Olga A. Shaglanova investigated the specifics of shamanic activity in modern urban environment of the Republic of Buryatia, noting that an ‘urban shaman’ is focused on external attributes and symbols: “urban shamans pay great attention to the acts of shamanic initiation, their number and shamanic attributes. Their presence i.e. the fact of having external forms that create the right image of a shaman is important” (Shaglanova 2009: 159). Valentina Kharitonova's publications describe the processes of formation and bureaucratization of shamanic communities and how these trends collide with the ‘improvisational nature’ of shamanic practice (Kharitonova 2006, 2013). However, it should be noted that in the article “Transformations of shamanism in contemporary Russia, or where are we heading with the freak?” Kharitonova estimates the “informal”, improvisational political activity of the “shaman-warrior” Alexander Gabyshev1 strictly negatively (Kharitonova 2020). Maria Volkova on the base of empirical study of Buryatian shamanic organizations identified three types of organizational structures regulating internal and external communications in modern shamanic communities: “elders”, “hierarchical organizations”, and “communes” (Volkova 2021). “Elders” are closest to traditional shamanism, their practice is associated with tribal spirits and local communities, but they register “religious organizations” from time to time. Hierarchical organizations and communes represent stable and complexly organized structures that differ in the degree of differentiation between ritual and everyday contexts. (Volkova 2021: 48–53). Justine B. Quijada, Kathryn E. Graber and Eric Stephen, who studied shamanic practices in the Republic of Buryatia, came to the conclusion that institutionalization is a necessary condition for the availability of shamanic treatment for urban residents who don't have “their own” tribal shamans, and contributes to the revival of the Buryat traditional culture (Quijada et al. 2015).

Other focus for scientific attention is the use of electronic and digital communication technologies by modern shamans: the structure and content of sites and accounts in social networks, the Internet influence on the ideological and practical aspects of neo-shamanism. Lorne Holyoak investigated how the practice of North Chinese shamans was influenced by the mutual exchange of video recordings of their rituals (Holyoak 2005). Aado Lintrop studied the representation of neo-shamanism on Internet, classified the neo-shamanic sites according to ideological and substantive criteria, and also considered communicative features of neo-shamanic experience representation on Internet (Lintrop 2009). Detlef Shplich explores the phenomenon of cyber-shamanism, highlighting the functions and types of roles of shaman artists in the digital environment (Shplich 2016). Among the studies of how Internet communications impact the social practice of Russian neo-shamanism we can point to only our own article where the types of sites and social media pages were identified, the gender and age characteristics of the audience and unified structures for the representation of shamanic experience in social media were determined (Ivashchenko, Ivanov, and Elinskaya 2019).

Statement of the problem

Thus, in current studies of neo-shamanism, there is a certain gap between the two views on the communicative aspects of this phenomenon. The first position has a macro-perspective character: it considers neo-shamanism as the product of a ‘dialogue’ between global postmodern culture and local traditions, as the outcome of two ‘big cultural worlds’ encounter. The second position based on the micro-perspective involves the empirical study of specific regional material more often in limited timeframes. The position we sought to base this work comes from the culture studies imperative of holistic description of cultural phenomena. It consists in highlighting the general stages of development and logic of their change in dynamic variety of communicative processes. Opposing to the macro-perspective approach, we focus on one large region: Siberia and the Russian Far East. In contrast to the micro-perspective position, we analyze a relatively long historical period (1990–2010) and strive to generalize various empirical data on the communicative practices of neo-shamanism into an abstract dynamic model.

Theoretical Framework and Methods

The concept of “communicative practices” is derivative, it falls within the scope of a larger concept “cultural practices,” provided that we proceed from the pragmatic and technological conceptual framework in which culture is both the method and product of human activity (Kagan 2006). This said, the communicative practices of neo-shamanism are to be sought in the processes and technologies of neo-shamans’ interaction between themselves and with other cultural subjects, the result of which is that certain important needs are met, key values revealed and the phenomenon further developed. A description of such processes, their mechanisms and results over the span of the last three decades is presented in this study.

The structure of communicative interaction shall be presented by analogy with the structure of human activity: communication subjects, communication method or technology, and goal of communication. At this, in addition to recipients we shall add such communication subjects as “communication agents” and “innovation vehicles.” Communication agents shall be viewed as the subjects who demonstrate increased activity in the communication space, initiate new links and relations and mediate between social groupings. Innovation vehicles receive the momentum from agents, rework and adjust innovations and disseminate information throughout the environment, changing it (information) from within. At the same time, each system has its own filters and technologies through which it selects the necessary, acceptable elements while the unwanted ones are rejected (Ivashchenko 2021).

In the study we rely on a number of methods and approaches: axiological and communicative approaches; the biographical method, the method of historical and typological comparison; for the collection of empirical data we used interviews.

The goal of the axiological method is to pinpoint the values that are expressed in the neo-Shamanic community's cultural activities. In this case, the objectives of the neo-Shamans’ activities are determined by their values, which are essential qualities of culture. The shift in the axiological underpinnings of the subjects’ behavior and the shift in the modes of intercultural communication are related. The primary driver of sociocultural dynamics is communication. A comparison of diverse communication techniques and the identification of independent stages within the examined time are necessary to describe the development of neo-Shamanism. This issue was resolved by the use of a historical-typological technique in a comparative examination. Each stage is described as distinct type with its own processes and values.

The biographical approach taken in the analysis of personal histories helped to pinpoint the reasons behind how neo-Shamans and their companions behaved in various contexts of communication. In addition to published sources, materials gleaned from interviews were used to rebuild biographies. Nine interviews were conducted between 2016 and 2022 with the aim of determining the motivations behind the informants’ interest in shamanic practices, the peculiarities of fusing shamanic activity and worldview with the primary type of professional activity of the subjects, and the forms and methods of interaction of shamans with their audience, other shamans, and representatives of other spiritual traditions. Neo-Shamans, their associates, and those involved in various spiritual and mystical activities were all interviewed; their perspectives are crucial for comprehending neo-Shaman communication. The informants reside in a variety of Russian cities, including Verkhnyaya Ekon hamlet in the Khabarovsk Territory, Novosibirsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and St. Petersburg.

Results

The early 1990s was the time when a true flood of innovations burst into Russia's religious life. October 1990 was a landmark moment as it was the time when the two key legal acts were passed legitimizing religious freedom and religious activity: the USSR's law “On the freedom of conscience and on religious organizations”, and Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic's law “On the freedom of belief”.2 Yet, the beginning of the cross-border transfer of new religious trends and movements “that have been filtered out by Western civilization” (Ozhiganova, Filippov 2006: 279) must be dated further back in time. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the USSR witnessed a true boom of extrasensory “magic” and “healing”: such “healers” as Evgeniia Davitashvili (“Djuna”), Alan Tchumak, Anatolii Kashpirovsky, the circus illusionist and “magician” Yurii Longo and other psychics quickly gained attention of many people unskilled in religion; at the same time, and in connection with the millennium of Russia's baptism, a turn in church politics took place. Meanwhile, in traditionally shamanistic regions of the country, local shamans began to cautiously manifest themselves and their art, and the ancient shamanistic worldview thus reemerged (Balzer 2011). This gradual weakening of the Soviet system's filters in 1990s made for a quick diffusion of various types of spiritual practices throughout the country, over a backdrop of the strengthening of local ethnic identities in the regions.

The period between 1990 and 1997 in Russia's religious history is sometimes referred to as the “situation of unlimited freedom” (Gorokhova 2018: 126). The key working factor that led to a faster revival of shamanism, like of many other phenomena of spiritual life, were international contacts. Missionaries of religious movements, often banned in the place of their origin, might easily find a warm reception in the country that was only waking up after a nearly century of spiritual hunger. The soil also turned out to be fertile for Western experiential or core shamanism—shamanic techniques based on individual experience and translatable into any cultural context (Townsend 2004: 4).

At this particular moment, the agents of communication were foreign missionaries and active locals who had completed training with and got consecration and initiation from foreign shamans. It wasn't long before “traditional shamans” almost wholly usurped the field of consecration. The role of communication agents was also taken by scholars of ethnic history. Some of them were later consecrated to be shamans and thus, in the wording of Jaana Kouri and Elina Hytönen-Ng (Kouri and Hytönen-Ng 2022: 129), took to the way of partaking and interpreting at the same time.

The people who played the function of innovation vehicles in Russia's social and cultural life were of various occupations and professions, with the prevalence of teachers, psychologists, historians and students of local lore, creative professions like artists and certified tour guides. At times, most prominent of them played both roles simultaneously. A clear example of such universality and of spiritual transformation (“awakening”) is Michael Harner's disciple Mrs. Alina Slobodova, whose knowledge of ancient and modern shamanic practices rested on the foundation of Moscow State University's degree in psychology. In this connection we also can't but remember the writer, ethnologist and Sc.D. of history, the Honoured Cultural Worker of the Tuva Autonomous Socialist Republic and the Russian Federative Social Soviet Republic—Mr. Mongush B. Kenin-Lopsan. Nikolai Oorzhak (his former name), singer, actor and director of a Tuvan folk theater, once upon a time heard a “calling”, that called him “to the service” not of the demons of fine arts, but of shamanic spirits. Certain rural intellectuals, mainly teachers, who combined their school jobs with local lore studies and museum work, discovered in themselves new personal abilities and talents (We thank Svetlana Egorova of Khabarovsk Territory's Verkhnyaya Ekon village for helping us collect this information). Among them we find both the descendants of a true shamanic lineage and representatives of other ethnic groupings. We have revealed many similar professional stories in Indigenous villages of the Khabarovsk region and in the Altai (Ivashchenko and Elinskaya 2016).

The communicative practices introduced and mastered by these types of agents and innovation vehicles can be reduced to a handful of variants such as: working with clients, training disciples, founding and building up organizations and associations, carrying out joint events with participation from different regions and countries. The customer focused work took the shape of healing, extrasensory and psychotherapy practices, along with promotion of the services through mass media and personal contacts.

When one hands down one's experience it creates a community of followers and neophytes some of whom can adapt their neo-shamanic knowledge to their personal capabilities and needs. The agents of experiential neo-shamanism and of other similar spiritual forms might at times have analogous modes of client work and disciple training, since healing practices imply teaching/learning personal shamanism. Very much like the neo-liberal paradigm where everyone has to be his/her own life's entrepreneur, thus in Harner's neo-shamanism every person can become his/her own personal shaman. Dissimilar to core shamanism, the ethnic neo-shamanism has re-established the traditional requirement of its neophytes to have authentic “shamanic roots”, i.e. family lineage. J. Quijada, K. Graber and E. Stephen point to the case with the Buryat organization of shamans: “One of the members was able to demonstrate that a grandparent had been a practicing shaman, thereby meeting the criterion that the group had existed for more than 15 years. It helped that Tengeri was not the first shamans’ organization to register as such in Buryatia” (Quijada et al. 2015: 261). Establishing official shamanic institutions and lending to shamanism the appearance of a church-like bureaucracy with organized systems of dogmas and rites, is more characteristic of the neo-shamans who come from the circles of the so called “writing intelligentsia”, like ethnography scholars, students of local lore, folklorists. The already mentioned M.B. Kenin-Lopsan was the founder of the first ever Tuvan shamanic center “Dungur” (1992); he also initiated a network of shamanic organizations built on the “party/trade-union” model. In Buryatia this pioneering role was played by Leontii A. Borboyev and Nadezhda A. Stepanova. National and international events (congresses, symposia, festivals, etc.) was what helped shamans get in contact with their colleagues from other regions and countries, with psychics and healers, with scholars and artists and public servants. It would appear that the majority of such activities were sporadic rather than regular, not binding in their consequences, but giving to each participant a certain symbolic status in the form of a set of titles and certificates. Such communicative formats were also conductive to the exchange of best practices in the art of contacting the sacral world. The last two types of communication are not in the least characteristic of traditional shamanism in Siberia and the Far East of Russia: in these regions a shaman always had his/her own solitary way and contacted other shamans only during training years or in a metaphysical fight. Despite the fact that people from shamanic organizations and associations claim to represent the ancient tradition and often use the word “neo-shaman” to designate the idea of “untruth”, the prefix “neo” in this case appears to be quite appropriate since if used not in value judgements it denotes the presence of new qualities not inherent in the indigenous tribal shamanism. These non-traditional properties include an active emphasis on belonging to a shamanic tradition (Bulgakova 2023).

Thus, we may say that the first stage of the development of neo-shamanic communicative practices in Russia was linked to adaptation of core (experiential) shamanism and to local reactions to it. The latter is the outcome to which generalization of global traditional shamanism had led, along with adjustment of these practices to contemporary culture. Core shamanism is global in the sense that it claims to be universal. Penetration of this teaching into Russia gave birth to multiple ethnic neo-shamanisms in traditionally shamanic regions (Republic of Tuva, Republic of Buryatia, Republic Sakha (Yakutia)), and in other territories of Siberia and the Far East (Humphrey 1999; Kharitonova 2013; Balzer 2011). In those regions, experiential shamanism enjoyed strong support from local spiritual leaders and began to “turn native” very quickly, due to invoking aboriginal ancient traditions. This is the reason why the key communicative process at the first stage of neo-shamanism in Russia may be termed “glocalization”—the meeting of the global (core) trend and local shamanic identities, whose revival in many respects resulted from this encounter.

To the next phase of the communicative dynamics (late 1990s–early 2000s), we can apply the term institutionalization; it was the time when the initial “passionate” (in Leo Gumilev's sense) impulses met the social cultural environment and began interacting with it, which tended to become long-term and stable. Although the initiators of neo-shamanism carried on practicing and enjoying respect and renown, a considerable role began to be played by their disciples, followers and neophytes, because the practice displayed by the former largely took into account the needs and abilities of the latter and focused on creating effective translation mechanisms. What regards shamanic institutions, this led not so much to enlargement and structural sophistication, as to proliferation and modification: in late 1990s and early 2000s such institutions were set up by first Russian shamans’ disciples who used the already proven organizational scheme. Thus, the disciples of M.B. Kenin-Lopsana S.I. Kanchiyr-ool and K.T. Dopchun-ool in the early 2000s founded their own organizations “Golden Orba” and “Adyg-eeren” (Kharitonova 2006: 165–171). The same story happened with the Buryat “Tengeri”, which is divided into three organizations (Quijada 2015: 261). On the one hand, the successors and disciples carried on their teachers’ tradition, on the other they modified it, introduced other spiritual techniques, opened their own schools and organizations, or, conversely, worked individually as urban “arm-chair” shamans. Two of our informants’ biographies—shaman Vladimir from Komsomolsk-on-Amur and shaman Svetlana from Novosibirsk—are indicative in the second example (Ivashchenko and Elinskaya 2016). Russia's religions life began to be very patchy even in one and the same field of spirituality: “Many said that shamanic practices had become more diverse than in the 1990s” (Volkova 2021: 44).

What began to be important for institutionalizing neo-shamanic practices at this time were the government's attempts to control religious activities. In 1997, the Federal Law of Russian Federation “On freedom of conscience and religions associations” was enacted to regulate how religions organizations are set up and work; a higher priority was clearly given to traditional religions like Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism (Gorokhova 2018: 134–135). At the same time, the law did not place any strict demands on Local Religious Organizations (LRO); to register one, merely 10 participants are enough if all reside at the same locality, due to which reason all officially working shamanic organizations belong to this type (Local Religious Organizations of Shamans, LROSh). Most of them, however, emerged in Buryatia, Republic of Tuva, Irkutsk region, Trans-Baikal Territory, i.e. preference was given to the belief systems that were traditional for the place of registration. In fact, many modern shamans do not remain in one location; rather, they change the place of residence, travel to other regions to support “shamanic power” there and to confirm their residence permit, which is needed for legitimate work of shamanic organizations.3

So, this bureaucratic imperative affected, first and foremost, the “revived shamanism” of traditionally shamanic regions. Striving to attain an official status and social recognition, organizations of shamans, on the one hand, made efforts to systematize and unify their beliefs and rites giving them the air of a single “ancient” religious tradition (Tengrianism); on the other, they organize themselves internally having in mind a hierarchic bureaucratic model (Kharitonova 2013). These processes obviously come into conflict with the informal experience of traditional Siberian shamanism and with the improvisational character of neo-shamanic experience. This contradiction manifests itself in the presence of two types of neo-shamanic organizations singled out by M.D. Volkova among the Buryat communities: hierarchy-based organizations that apply stringent hierarchic boundaries both to belief and to organizational interaction; shamanic communes where the formal hierarchy of shamanic statuses is balanced by informal blurring of boundaries between statuses and across various culture contexts. “The difference between hierarchical structures and communes is clearly seen when we notice that the chief shaman in a hierarchy occupies a private office where only privileged persons are admitted and only at special times (…), while the leader of a commune resides simply in the central yurt that serves both as a dining room and a meeting place for all the shamans” (Volkova 2021: 53).

Another vector of progress for neo-shamanistic communicative practices at that stage entered areas controlled by the Culture Ministry—projects (international, national and local municipal) focused upon the revival of intangible heritage and traditional crafts of indigenous peoples of Russia, and initiatives linked to the tourism of “power places”. “Power places” maps of Siberia have been drawn and published; related legends and narratives reconstructed and promoted. Examples of contemporary myth-making and improvisation in the fabrication of local stories were found in the Khabarovsk Territory village of Verkhnyaya Ekon. The tale of the “place of power” created in this fashion, which we also owe to Svetlana Egorova from the Khabarovsk Territory village of Verkhnyaya Ekon, helped make the settlement more appealing to tourists. These mythologized destinations have been included in theme-based tours for a variety of audiences: from spiritual leaders to “thrill seekers” to interested tourists. Any meaningful link to an ethnic cultural and religious tradition is absent here. The Amur and Lena Rivers Pillars, Mount Magloy in the Khabarovsk Region, Cape Burkhan at Olkhon Island at Lake Baikal, and a multitude of other destinations formerly viewed as simply landscape objects, now attain a new cultural and religious meaning. Even Russian Orthodox churches and monasteries are regarded by shamans as power places. Yet, for the purpose of sustaining their own “qualification” the shamans use mostly natural power zones; as was demonstrated by interviews done in May–June 2019, practitioners of other religious traditions usually refer to modern shamans as “naturalists”.

In mid to late 1990s, the country's creative intelligentsia found a new source of inspiration in ethnicity, in the shamanic worldview and ecstatic practices. Old genres saw a new development, new genres saw the light, new artistic techniques arose; new unusual collaborations emerged. In the works of archeoartists and ethno-futurists (Grigorii Krasnov, Aleksei Ulturgashev, Pavel Mikushin, Irina Fedosova etc.), shaman was described both as a national symbol and a metaphor of new creative vision. Endu Meryan in the manifest “Meryansky ethnofuturism” writes: “Ethnofuturism transfers the traditional mentality to the present and preserves it using modern means of expression, information technology, modern design, electronic music, new social and economic models. A new organic appears in which different forms are woven into each other and a ritual subtext arises. Perhaps modern ethnofuturists can be called shamans of the 21st century” (Malyshev 2010). The important characteristic of how shamanism is approached in the art of that period is that creative works no longer claim to be items of authentic shamanism but offer an artistic transformation of neo-shamanistic ideas. The latter feature will manifest itself even stronger in the next decade.

Thus, in late 1990-ies - early 2000-ies, the neo-shamanic teaching and its applications demonstrated diversity that grew due to active collaboration between religions and institutions at conferences, festivals, inspiritual tourism and other mass events. In addition to a selected shamanic tradition, the modern shaman widely draws on various elements of Buddhism, Slavic paganism, Christianity, Indian Yoga, pieces of knowledge from academic psychology and natural sciences (Ivashchenko and Elinskaya 2016). We see the emergence of such oxymorons as “Orthodox shaman”, “scholar shaman”, “singer shaman.” At this background, a trend to the uniformity and bureaucratization of religious activities may be viewed as the government's effort to counter the rising chaos and indeterminacy.

The first and second decades of the 21st century, from the ethno-cultural point of view, is the time when multiculturalism began to largely lose its popular appeal because it had demonstrated weakness in solving interethnic and international conflicts. These ups and downs, however, did not stop the effects of globalization and the reaction to it in the form of neo-pagan and neo-shamanic manifestations of local alternative spirituality. As Tanya Luhrmann points out, neo-paganism, neo-shamanism and a number of other new religious movements share three common qualities—“magical realism”, playfulness, and experientialism (Luhrmann 2012: 139–140). This means that neo-shamanism makes it possible—in the ‘game mode’—to magically interpret different spheres of everyday experience.

If the second period of neo-shamanic communicative evolution was marked by institutionalization, as primarily internal consolidation around an ethnic spiritual tradition, then the third period can be called the time of hybridization, i.e. combining heterogeneous elements in neo-syncretic forms. Since the late 2000-s, quite notable had become the “migration” of parts of neo-shamanic culture (neo-shamans per se, their practices, images, ideas) to adjacent fields such as parapsychology, business consulting, the arts and literature. Quite obviously, this is only continuation of the relationships that established themselves at the preceding periods; however, in the cultural realm the image of a shaman can now naturally and successfully function without any link to a specific ethnic tradition and “ancient roots”, to go beyond the religious and magical practice. We see emerging such “hybrid” notions as writer-shaman, couch-shaman, musician-shaman, cyber-shaman, shaman-warrior, shaman-blogger, etc. Simultaneously, institutional consolidation of the revived shamanism in regions carries on, colliding with clan/family relations and experiential individualism.

How the dynamics of the neo-shamanic communicative technologies proceed in the 21st century is determined by a combined work of the four types of processes: aestheticization, focus on business psychology, politicization, and digitalization. Communication between neo-shamanism and artistic culture gives rise to both a succession of their mutual influences and exchanges, and a number of symbiotic forms. Neo-shamanism through collaboration with artists, musicians, painters, via promoting its services in mass media and in the Internet, tends to represent itself along the lines of aesthetically expressive art form. This is clearly seen from colorful garments, ornate tambourines, body movement, mimics and choreography, as is related by photo reports of joint (collective) shamanic rituals (“tailgans”). Professional actors and musicians take on the role of shamans and perform in creative projects: Nikolai Oorzhak recorded a joint album with the Moscow band “Alissid Jazz”; Altai poet and actor Nogon Shumarov took part in the recording of the album “Ukok” by the rock-group “Rada and Ternovniki”, where he was presented as a shaman—participant in the “musical ritual”. On the other hand, the “ancient shaman” becomes a frequent image in today's l'art pour l'art losing its ethnic and regional connotations. Images of shamans, shamanic attributes (tambourine, costumes, throat singing) are used in the work of neofolk musicians (Turgen Kam, Nytt Land, Lyod) and are reflected in the visual arts (Vladimir Nikishin, Timofei Stepanov, Azat Minnekaev, Chingis Mandaganov, Dashi Namdakov etc.). A good example of a symbiosis in which shamanic healing combines on equal terms with the aesthetic function, is the spiritual and health teaching of Mr. Nikolai Oorzhak who offers shamanic chant lessons as a way to a better health. Lena Sidorova gives an example of the Sakha shaman K., who includes performance on the khomus in the ritual-meditation of establishing contact with the ancestors’ spirits (Sidorova 2023: 442).

European neo-shamanism establishes a link between ritual and human physical health through the concept of energy (Buzekova 2019: 425–427). The study of new forms of Nanai shamanism by Tatyana Bulgakova testifies to the same process of transformation of the shamanic discourse, which included occult concepts of “energy”, “space”, “information field” and others, replacing the previous concepts of “spirits” and “souls” (Bulgakova 2023: 477). Fusion of natural science, experiential shamanism, and Eastern spiritual practices gives rise to a system of shamanic couching that in addition to shamanic rites and methods engage NLP and neuro-hypnotic techniques, enneagrams of personality, etc., i.e. methods that officially are referred to as pseudo-science. Within this system, much like in ethnic neo-shamanism, relations are built around the binary opposition “teacher–disciple” and modelled on the concept of “spiritual guidance”; this trend is apt to combine different. For a fee, a customer is offered to restore his/her “thought balance”, invite “money flow”, good luck and love, and be healed by “energy”. The shamanic idea of “all-embracing connectedness” (Mayer 2008: 72) penetrates the field of business consulting. In the practices described above, we see engaged former “authentic” shamans, namely Alina Slobodova, Svetlana Charkovskaya and Tatiana Kobezhikova now calling themselves “Coaches” and utilizing shamanic methods.

In the meantime, members of Local Religious Organizations of Shamans (LROSh) keep trying to secure to shamanism the status of an “official religion”. Presumably, to this end do aim, among other things, the regular mass prayers and sacrifices officially claiming to care for the wellbeing of all Russian citizens, and even all humankind. Thus, in Khakassia for 2015–2019 years the “Charitable shamanic mystery For the benefit of all living beings” was held annually, where neo-shamans from Tuva, Altai, Khakassia, and Novosibirsk participated. The organizer of the “mystery” in 2019 in Abakan was the Kyzyl LROSh “Tengri-Uger”. Elections of the Supreme Shaman have been organized regionally more than once. Shaman leaders at this plane of hierarchy tend to highly appreciate themselves and their respective roles. The Supreme Shaman of Tuva and Russia in one of his interviews commented on his status as follows: “Shamanism has not been given yet the status of an official religion, but people say that my personal status is comparable to that of Russian Patriarch Cyril” (Kharitonova 2020: 264). Here we see the influence of the centralization of state institutions in Russia and the bureaucratic hierarchization of neo-shamanic statuses. And yet, till today all these endeavors have not resulted in setting up a single national organization that would oppose itself to the conspicuously specific local shamanic traditions based on clan and family relations and individual shamans’ improvisation, and to individualistic character of neo-shamanism.

Neo-shamanism, like any other phenomenon of contemporary culture, is now turning to digital and mobile technologies, for the purpose of promoting and popularizing its services and events. Before the Internet era, neo-shamans similarly to traditional shamans had practiced with a localized (rural or urban) audience, “the community may now even be a virtual community that never meets in person and patients may be met only online” (Kouri and Hytönen-Ng 2022: 125). Quijada, Graber and Stephen note that for the members of the Buryat organization Tengeri interregional and international networks, “facilitated by the internet as well as surprising levels of word-of-mouth connections, to be much more valuable in generating legitimacy and visibility than connections to other Siberian practitioners” (Quijada et al. 2015: 262). Neo-shamans use corporate websites, theme-based and personal web-pages, social network accounts, web-sites with related content (magic, astrology, psycho trainings). The content of neo-shamanic web-sites and pages is built up according to web-usability requirements and arranged under easily identified headings and short messages4. At the dawn of the WWW, quite popular was the theory of cyber-shamanism that viewed the Internet as a present-day embodiment of the shamanic “world of spirit and dreams”, and suggested using it for shamanic practices. We have not been able to discover in the Russian Internet any of these ideas put to practice; neo-shamans seem to be utilizing the web as an information tool to support their offline activities and to establish and maintain contact with their clients. Neo-shamanism did emerge as a form of “cultural critique” directed against urbanization, consumerism, institutionalized religions, state-of-the-art technologies that destroy man and his environment (Gearin 2018); today it is beginning to share and exploit these values and technologies of modern civilization.

Conclusion

Traditional shamanism was in itself a communicative practice: shamans communicated with the spirit world, and at the same time they were part of the clan and tribal community who viewed this communication as an important social function. Shamanism is a system comprising a practicing shaman and his/her community who trust him/her and his/her ecstatic revelations. In the same manner, neo-shamanism is both the process and the product of a formative collective faith; however, instead of the clan and tribe community, the neo-shaman reasserts his/her qualification each time before different audiences that consist of autonomous individuals: ethnos, clients, shamanic organization members, shamans from other regions and countries, scholars, public officials, virtual community. Heterogeneity of the communicants who take part in communication with the shaman, is what makes for the variety of communicative devices and for interplay between the universal (individual) and the particular (specific) values of communication.

We have examined the dynamics of Siberian neo-shamanism's communicative practices over the last three decades; our findings give us ground to use a “vegetable” metaphor: a seed gets into the soil (glocalization), through interaction with the environment grows into an organized body or plant (institutionalization), then it blooms and spreads its new seeds (hybridization and neo-syncretism). At the same time, each of these stages or phases is determined by its key process, not exclusive of the presence and work of other processes and trends. We speak here not of a transformation from one state to another (in this case a caterpillar-butterfly metaphor would be more appropriate) but of a rhizomatic accumulation and growth of links.

The chief goal in communication and culture, if we are to speak of equal communicants, is the manifestation and implementation of shared values. Among the values that seem to be directive for neo-shamanic communication, we can single out the axiological constant that remains valid across all the stages of development, and the dynamic values, out the set of which each phase chooses and highlights the ones that become dominant. To the first group belong such values as animism and magic power: in neo-shamanistic teaching people always seek connection with the animate nature (cosmos) and strive to find control over the ever more complicated life. The second group may be said to include the axiological dichotomies that actually are vital “choices” made at different stages of different processes: for glocalization it is the correlation of ancient tradition and exciting novelty; for institutionalization it's the play between rational orderliness and expressive irrationality; for hybridization it is search between the total (universalism), the particular (ethnic identity) and the single (individual success).

Acknowledgements

The research was carried out with a financial support of Russian Scientific Foundation (project No. 22-28-01712)

References

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lintrop, Aado. 2009. “Shamanism and the Internet.” In Media & folklore Tartu. Contemporary Folklore IV, ed. Larisa Fialkova, 121142. Tartu: ELM Scholarly Press.

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    • Export Citation
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Notes

1

Alexander Gabyshev called himself a shaman-warrior, organized a public protest in the form of hike along the route from Yakutsk to Moscow in order to expel the president and was forcibly placed in a neuropsychiatric institution.

2

“In accordance with the right to freedom of conscience, every citizen independently determines his attitude toward religion and has the right, individually or in conjunction with others, to profess any religion or not to profess any, and to express and disseminate convictions associated with his attitude toward religion” (article 3 of the USSR's law “On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Organizations”); “A citizen of the RSFSR may, individually or in conjunction with his co-religionists, profess any religion, freely perform religious cults, voluntarily join or leave religious associations” (article 15 of the RSFSR's law “On Freedom of Belief”).

3

Weak links to the place where the tradition originated is one of the characteristic features of neo-shamanism (Ivashchenko and Elinskaya 2016; Bulgakova 2023).

4

More detail on web-site design and Internet communication can be seen in Ivashchenko et al. (2019).

Contributor Notes

Yana S. Ivashchenko is a Doctor of Cultural Studies, Professor of the Department of Psychology and Pedagogy of Novosibirsk State Technical University, and Chairman of the Novosibirsk Branch of the Russian Cultural Society. She has published more than 100 scientific papers, including 5 monographs on issues of regional culture, cultural history of the indigenous peoples of Siberia and the Russian Far East. The author's focus lies on the study of the culture of peoples who practiced shamanism in the past, as well as to the analysis of modern practices of the revival of shamanism. Email: iva_ya@mail.ru; ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5721-9634.

Andrei A. Ivanov is a Doctor of Philosophy, Senior Researcher of the Scientific and Educational Center “Herodot” of Novosibirsk State Technical University, Professor of the Department of Philosophy and History of Siberian University of Consumer Cooperation. He has published more than 50 works, including 3 monographs, devoted to the problems of the philosophy of culture. Since 2017, he has been working on issues of intercultural communication and neo-shamanism in Russia. The author pays special attention to studies of the problems of neo-paganism and neo-shamanism in contemporary art, and Internet communication about Russian neo-shamanism. Email: larsandr@mail.ru; ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5799-7038

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Sibirica

Interdisciplinary Journal of Siberian Studies

  • Balzer, Marjorie M. 2011. Shamans, spirituality, and cultural revitalization: Explorations in Siberia and beyond. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bulgakova, Tatyana. 2023. “Nanai post-Soviet Shamanism. ‘True’ shamans among the ‘neo-shamans.” In The Siberian World, ed. John P. Ziker, Jenanne Ferguson, Vladimir Davydov, 475–487. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429354663

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Buzekova, Tatiana. 2012.“Modern Faces of Ancient Wisdom: Neo-Shamanic Practices in a Slovak Urban Environment.” In Ritual, Conflict and Consensus: Case Studies in Asia and Europe, ed. Gabriela Kilianova, 75–90. Wien, Austrian Academy of Sciences Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Buzekova, Tatiana. 2019. “Shamanic gift in the global village: Spiritual energy and biomedicine.Slovensky narodopis 67 (4): 412429. https://doi.org/10.2478/se-2019-0024

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gearin, Alex K. 2018. “Good Mother Nature: ayahuasca neoshamanism as cultural critique in Australia.” In The world ayahuasca diaspora: reinventions and controversies, ed. Beatriz C.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Labate, C. Cavnar, Alex K. Gearin, 123–141. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315551425-13

  • Gorokhova, E. Iu. 2018. “Religioznye organizatsii, SMI, i sfera obrazovaniia Rossiiskoi Federatsii: k istorii izmeneniia religioznogo zakonodatel'stva v 1990-e gg.” [Religious organizations, mass media and education in the Russian Federation: on the history of changes in judicial legislation in the 1990s.]. Vestnik Moskovskogo universiteta. Ser. 21. Upravlenie 3: 125142.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Holyoak, Lorne. 2005. “Shamans watching Shamans: The dialectic of identity in Northeast China.” Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses 34 (3–4): 405–424. https://doi.org/10.1177/000842980503400306

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hoppal, Mihaly. 1996. “Shamanism in Postmodern Age.” Shaman 4 (1–2): 99107.

  • Humphrey, Caroline. 1999. “Shamans in the City.” Anthropology Today 15 (3): 310.

  • Ivashchenko, Yana S. 2021. “Regional intercultural communication models: structural and typological analysis”. In European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences “Language and Technology in the Interdisciplinary Paradigm” 118: 368–378. Novosibirsk-Irkutsk: European Publisher. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2021.12.46

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ivashchenko, Yana S. and Elinskaya, Yanina A. 2016. “Aksiologiia sovremennogo shamanizma v Habarovskom krae” [Axiology of modern shamanism in the Khabarovsk Region]. Mezhdunarodnyi zhurnal issledovanii kul'tury 2 (23): 8595.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ivashchenko, Yana S., Ivanov, Andrey A. and Elinskaya, Yanina A. 2019. “Digital trance: neo-shamanism in the Russian Internet”. In Proceedings of the XI International Scientific Conference “Communicative Strategies of the Information Society” (CSIS’2019), ed. Alfred Nordman. New York: The Association for Computing Machinery. https://doi.org/10.1145/3373722.3373786

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jinseok, Seo. 2013. “The Role of Shamanism in Korean Society in its inter- and intra-cultural contacts” (Dissertation for the commencement of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy). Tartu, University of Tartu.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johansen, Ulla. 2000. “Shamanism and neoshamanism: What is the difference?” In Henri-Paul Francfort, Roberte N. Hamayon and Paul G. Bahn (eds.), Concept of Shamanism: Uses and Abuses, 297303. Budapest: Akadmiai Kiado.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kagan, Moisei S. 2006. “Chelovecheskaya deyatel'nost’: opyt sistemnogo analiza” [Human activity: the experience of system analysis]. In Kagan, Moisei S., Izbrannye trudy v VII tomah. T. II. Teoreticheskie problemy filosofii [Selected works in VII volumes. T. II. Theoretical problems of philosophy], 9–163. St. Petersburg: ID Petropolis.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kharitonova, Valentina I. 2006. Feniks iz pepla? Sibirskii shamanizm na rubezhe stoletii [A Phoenix from the Ashes? Siberian Shamanism at the Turn of the Millennium]. Moscow: Nauka.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kharitonova, Valentina I. 2013. “‘Vozrozhdennyi shamanizm’ v Rossii: konteksty funkcionirovaniya” [“Revived Shamanism” in Russia: Contexts of Functioning]. In Etnicheskoe nasledie i duhovnye praktiki v proshlom i nastoyashchem. [Ethnic heritage and spiritual practices in the past and present]. Moscow, IEA RAN, 238259.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kharitonova, Valentina I. 2020. “Transformacii shamanizma v sovremennoi Rossii, ili kuda idem my s chudachkom?” [Transformations of shamanism in contemporary Russia, or where are we heading with the freak?] Sibirskie istoricheskie issledovaniya [Siberian historical research], 2: 251–275. DOI: 10.17223/2312461X/28/15.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kouri, Jaana and Hytönen-Ng, Elina. (2022). “The change in the researcher's position in the study of shamanism.” Approaching Religion 12 (1): 117–131. https://doi.org/10.30664/ar.111072

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lintrop, Aado. 2009. “Shamanism and the Internet.” In Media & folklore Tartu. Contemporary Folklore IV, ed. Larisa Fialkova, 121142. Tartu: ELM Scholarly Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Luhrmann, Tanya M. 2012. “Touching the Divine: Recent Research on Neo-Paganism and Neo-Shamanism.Reviews in Anthropology 41 (2): 136150. https://doi.org/10.1080/00938157.2012.680425

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Malyshev, Andrei. 2010. “Endiu Merian’ – Merianskii etnofuturizm [Andu Meryan – Meryan Ethnofuturism]. Merjamaa, 15 November. http://www.merjamaa.ru/news/merjanskij_ehtno_futurizm/2010-11-15-102.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mayer, Gerhard A. 2008. “The Figure of the Shaman as a Modern Myth. Some reflections on the attractiveness of shamanism in modern societies.The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 10 (1): 70103. https://doi.org/10.1558/pome.v10i1.70

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ozhiganova, Anna A. and Filippov, Iurii. V. 2006. Novaya religioznost’ v sovremennoi Rossii: ucheniya, formy i praktiki [New religiosity in modern Russia: teachings, forms and practices]. Moscow: IEA RAN.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pospelova, Sophia V., Pospelova, Alexandra I. and Fedirko, Oksana P. 2020. “Neoshamanzm kak zakonomernost’ v diskurse sovremennoi dukhovnoi zhizni.” [Neo-shamanism as a Regularity in the Discourse of Modern Spiritual Life]. Tekhnologos 1: 67–77. DOI: 10.15593/perm.kipf/2020.1.05.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Quijada, Justine B., Graber, Kathryn E. and Stephen, Eric. 2015. “Finding ‘their own’: Revitalizing Buryat culture through shamanic practices in Ulan-Ude.” Problems of Post-Communism Vol. 62 (5): 258–272. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10758216.2015.1057040

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sanson, Dawne. 2012. Talking the Spirit Seriously: Neoshamanism and Contemporary Shamanic Healing in New Zealand (Thesis for the commencement of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy). Auckland, Massey University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shaglanova, Olga A. 2009. “‘Gorodskoj shamanism” v Buryatii: metamorfozy tradicionnoi religii v prostranstve goroda’ [“Urban shamanism” in Buryatia: metamorphoses of traditional religion in the space of the city]. In Gorod i selo v postsovetskoi Buryatii: social'no-antropologicheskie ocherki [City and village in post-Soviet Buryatia: socio-anthropological essays], ed. Tatiana D. Scrynnikova, 141–163. Ulan-Ude: Izdatel'stvo Buryatskogo nauchnogo centra SO RAN.

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