Shamans and Spirits: Reviving Traditions in Tuva

In “Shamans and Spirits: Reviving Traditions in Tuva,” you will be taken on a journey to Central Asia, specifically to the region of Tuva. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies presents a gripping documentary that showcases their 1993 expedition to help the Tuvan peoples revive their shamanic traditions. Under Soviet Communism, these traditions were nearly lost, but now they are being brought back to life. Throughout the video, you will hear insightful commentary from Michael Harner about shamanism and shamanic healing. From ritual ceremonies to powerful healing practices, the documentary takes you deep into the heart of Tuva’s ancient spiritual customs.

Tuva is a land of high peaks and alpine lakes, where nomadic Tuvans have tended to their herds for millennia. They live in traditional yurts, circular tents that can be easily moved as they follow the seasonal pastures. The Tuvan people, with their mixed ethnic heritage, have preserved their own language and sacred traditions despite years of domination by various powers. Through the eyes of Western shamans and scholars, you will witness the revival of ancient rituals, secretively practiced for years but now openly celebrated. This captivating journey offers a unique glimpse into the world of shamanism and the resurgence of spiritual practices in Tuva.

Shamans and Spirits: Reviving Traditions in Tuva

Shamanic Traditions in Tuva

Tuva, a region nestled in the heart of Central Asia, is home to a rich and vibrant shamanic tradition. The Tuvan people have embraced shamanism as a central part of their culture, and it has played a significant role in shaping their spiritual beliefs and practices. Shamanic traditions in Tuva are deeply rooted in the belief that the physical and spiritual worlds are interconnected, and that shamans are the bridge between these realms. In this article, we will explore the sacred traditions of the Tuvan people, the impact of Soviet communism on shamanic practices, the revival of shamanic traditions in Tuva, and the pivotal role shamans play in Tuvan society.

Sacred Traditions of the Tuvan People

For centuries, the Tuvan people have revered and upheld their sacred traditions. Shamanism is deeply ingrained in their cultural fabric, influencing every aspect of their lives. Tuvan shamans possess a deep understanding of the spiritual world and are believed to have the ability to communicate with spirits. They provide spiritual guidance, conduct healing rituals, and perform sacred ceremonies for their community.

Impact of Soviet Communism on Shamanic Practices

Sadly, during the Soviet era in the 20th century, shamanic practices in Tuva were suppressed and discouraged. The Communist regime considered shamanism to be a primitive and backward belief system that needed to be eradicated. Shamanic rituals were banned, and shamans were persecuted, forced to hide their practices underground to avoid persecution. This period of repression significantly impacted shamanic traditions in Tuva, causing a decline in shamanic knowledge and practices.

Revival of Shamanic Traditions in Tuva

Despite the years of suppression, the spirit of shamanism in Tuva could not be extinguished. In recent years, there has been a remarkable resurgence of interest in shamanic traditions. With the easing of political and cultural restrictions, the Tuvan people have been able to reclaim their heritage and revive their shamanic practices. This revival has been fueled by a renewed sense of pride in their cultural identity and a desire to reconnect with their spiritual roots.

The Role of Shamans in Tuvan Society

Shamans play a pivotal role in Tuvan society, acting as healers, spiritual guides, and custodians of Tuvan tradition and culture. They are highly respected figures who possess unique spiritual abilities.

Traditional Shamanic Practices

Traditional Tuvan shamanic practices are diverse and encompass a wide range of rituals and ceremonies. Shamanic rituals often involve drumming, chanting, dancing, and the use of various spiritual tools and objects. Shamans may perform divination, communicate with spirits, and provide spiritual guidance and counseling to individuals and the community as a whole.

Shamans as Healers and Spiritual Guides

Shamans are regarded as powerful healers in Tuvan society. They use their spiritual abilities to diagnose and treat physical, emotional, and spiritual ailments. Through rituals and ceremonies, shamans are believed to be able to restore balance and harmony to an individual’s life. They also serve as spiritual guides, offering wisdom and insights to those seeking guidance on their life path.

Shamanic Rituals and Ceremonies

Shamanic rituals and ceremonies are an integral part of Tuvan society. These rituals serve various purposes, from offering blessings and protection to healing the sick and communicating with spirits. One notable ritual is the “kamlanie,” a shamanic journey undertaken by the shaman to connect with powerful spirits and seek guidance or healing on behalf of individuals or the community. Shamanic ceremonies often involve the whole community, creating a sense of unity and collective spiritual experience.

The Journey of the Western Shamans

The Tuvan shamanic tradition has not only captured the imaginations of the Tuvan people but has also intrigued and inspired Western shamans. In the early 1990s, the Foundation for Shamanic Studies organized an expedition to Tuva, led by renowned shamanic scholar Michael Harner.

The Foundation for Shamanic Studies’ 1993 Expedition to Tuva

The expedition sought to explore the shamanic practices of the Tuvan people and forge connections with Tuvan shamans. Western shamans embarked on this journey with the aim of learning from the Tuvan shamans and experiencing firsthand the power and depth of Tuvan shamanism. This expedition marked the beginning of a profound exchange between Western and Tuvan shamans.

Collaboration with Tuvan Shamans

The Western shamans who participated in the expedition brought back valuable knowledge and insights from their encounters with Tuvan shamans. They found commonalities between Tuvan shamanism and shamanic traditions from around the world. This collaboration allowed for a mutual sharing of wisdom, leading to a richer understanding of shamanism as a global spiritual practice.

Reviving Shamanic Practices in Tuva

The involvement of Western shamans in Tuva has played a significant role in the revival and preservation of shamanic practices. The exchange of ideas and techniques has breathed new life into Tuvan shamanism, facilitating its adaptation to the modern world while remaining true to its core traditions. This revival has brought a sense of pride and cultural confidence to the Tuvan people, empowering them to reclaim their ancestral wisdom and revive their spiritual heritage.

Shamanic Healing in Tuva

Shamanic healing occupies a central role in Tuvan shamanism, encompassing a holistic approach to the well-being of individuals and the community.

The Concept of Shamanic Healing

Shamanic healing in Tuva is rooted in the belief that physical, emotional, and spiritual ailments stem from imbalances in the individual’s energy or disturbance in the harmony of the community. Shamans diagnose the underlying causes of illness or afflictions through their spiritual connection and use various techniques to restore balance and promote healing.

Shamanic Extraction as a Healing Technique

One prominent shamanic healing technique used in Tuva is shamanic extraction. This technique involves the removal of spiritual intrusions or negative energies from the individual’s energy field. Shamans perceive these intrusions as the cause of illness or spiritual disharmony. By skillfully extracting these energies, the shaman restores the individual’s energy field to a state of balance and harmony, facilitating healing and well-being.

Healing Rituals and Their Effects

Shamanic healing rituals are conducted with great reverence and precision. These rituals often involve the use of ceremonial objects, such as drums, rattles, incense, and stones, to create a sacred space for healing. The power of the rituals lies in the shaman’s ability to connect with the spiritual realm and invoke the assistance of benevolent spirits. The effects of shamanic healing are profound, bringing comfort, relief, and restoration to the individual’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Encouraging Cultural Confidence

The revival of shamanic traditions in Tuva, coupled with the involvement of Western shamans, has had a significant impact on the cultural confidence of the Tuvan people.

The Impact of Western Involvement in Shamanic Practices

The involvement of Western shamans has provided the Tuvan people with an external validation of the value and significance of their cultural heritage. Western shamanic scholars and practitioners have recognized the depth and richness of Tuvan shamanism, elevating its status and sparking a renewed interest in its study and preservation. This recognition has instilled a sense of pride and confidence in the Tuvan people, reaffirming the importance of their traditions.

Boosting Indigenous Morale and Confidence

The revival of shamanic practices has had a positive impact on the morale and confidence of indigenous communities in Tuva. The renewed interest in traditional practices has fostered a sense of cultural continuity and reconnection with ancestral wisdom. By engaging in and preserving their shamanic traditions, the Tuvan people have found strength and resilience, bolstering their collective identity and promoting a sense of unity.

Empowering the Tuvan People

The revival of shamanic traditions and the recognition of their cultural significance have empowered the Tuvan people to take ownership of their heritage. The pride and confidence gained from reclaiming and preserving their traditions have allowed the Tuvan people to assert their cultural identity in the face of external pressures. This empowerment has created a ripple effect across various aspects of Tuvan society, inspiring a newfound appreciation for their unique heritage and fostering a sense of cultural resilience.

Preserving and Passing Down Tradition

Preserving shamanic knowledge and passing it down to future generations is vital to ensuring the continuity and vibrancy of Tuvan shamanic traditions.

The Importance of Preserving Shamanic Knowledge

Shamanic knowledge, encompassing rituals, healing techniques, and spiritual practices, is an invaluable part of Tuvan cultural heritage. Preserving this knowledge ensures that Tuvan society retains its spiritual connection, cultural identity, and wisdom. By safeguarding shamanic knowledge, the Tuvan people can continue to benefit from the holistic healing and spiritual guidance that shamans provide.

Teaching and Training Future Generations

Efforts are underway to teach and train the younger generation in the ways of shamanic traditions. Elders and experienced shamans serve as mentors, passing on their knowledge and skills to ensure continuity. Schools and cultural organizations have also been established to provide formal training programs, creating opportunities for individuals interested in becoming shamans to receive comprehensive education in shamanic practices. By investing in the training of young shamans, the Tuvan people are actively preserving their traditions and preparing for the future.

The Role of Spirits in Traditional Teachings

Central to the preservation of shamanic traditions is the belief in the active presence and guidance of spirits. Spirits are regarded as wise and benevolent entities who communicate with shamans and provide insights and teachings. Through rituals and ceremonies, shamans establish a relationship with spirits and learn from their ancient wisdom. By upholding this belief and passing it down to future generations, the Tuvan people ensure the continued reverence and connection to the spiritual world.

Celebrating Tuvan Heritage

Tuvan heritage is intricately linked to shamanic traditions, and celebrating this heritage is essential in keeping cultural identity alive.

Tuvan Ethnic Heritage and Cultural Identity

Tuvan ethnic heritage is marked by a rich history and a unique blend of influences from neighboring cultures. The Tuvan people proudly celebrate their heritage by embracing their distinct language, customs, and traditional practices. Shamanism is at the core of Tuvan cultural identity, and by celebrating their ethnic heritage, the Tuvan people reaffirm the importance of their cultural diversity and preservation.

The Significance of Tuvan Language

Language is a powerful tool that shapes cultural identity and heritage. In Tuva, the Tuvan language plays a vital role in transmitting shamanic knowledge, as many shamanic rituals and practices are intricately linked with specific Tuvan terminology and concepts. By actively using and promoting the Tuvan language, the Tuvan people ensure that their shamanic traditions and cultural heritage are preserved and passed down through generations.

Celebrating Tuvan Festivals and Rituals

Tuvan festivals and rituals provide an important opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate their shared heritage. Festivals such as Naadym, celebrated annually, feature traditional music, dance, and shamanic rituals. These celebrations not only bring joy and unity among the Tuvan people but also serve as a testament to their deep spiritual connection with nature and the spirit world. By preserving and participating in these festivals, the Tuvan people ensure the longevity of their cultural practices while fostering a sense of community and shared cultural experience.

The Influence of Shamanism on Tuvan Art and Music

Shamanism has had a profound impact on Tuvan art and music, shaping their creative expressions and cultural identity.

Shamanic Influences in Tuvan Art

Tuvan art often reflects the spiritual beliefs and practices of their shamanic tradition. Shamanic concepts, such as the interconnectedness of nature and the spiritual world, are prominently depicted in Tuvan art through intricate symbolism and vibrant colors. Art serves as a visual representation of the shamanic worldview, capturing the essence of Tuvan culture and spirituality.

Traditional Musical Instruments and Shamanic Music

Music holds a special place in Tuvan shamanism, serving as a powerful tool for spiritual communication and healing. Tuvan shamans use various traditional musical instruments, such as the Igil (horse-headed fiddle) and Doshpuluur (three-stringed lute), to accompany their rituals and ceremonies. The mesmerizing overtone singing, known as khoomei, is also deeply intertwined with shamanic practices, allowing shamans to connect with the spirits and invoke their assistance.

The Role of Music in Shamanic Practices

Music carries significant spiritual and transformative qualities in Tuvan shamanic practices. The rhythmic beats of the drums and the resonating sounds of traditional instruments create an immersive and trance-like experience, enabling the shaman and participants to journey into altered states of consciousness. Music serves as a conduit for communication with spirits and forms a crucial component of shamanic healing rituals.

Preserving the Environment and Nature

Shamanic traditions in Tuva emphasize the profound connection between humans and nature, promoting a sustainable and harmonious relationship with the environment.

The Tuvan People’s Deep Connection with Nature

The Tuvan people have an intrinsic bond with their natural surroundings. Shamanic beliefs emphasize the interdependence between humans and nature, recognizing the sacredness of all living beings and natural elements. This connection fosters a deep respect for the environment and a commitment to its preservation.

Shamanic Practices for Environmental Preservation

Shamanic practices in Tuva include rituals and ceremonies aimed at honoring and preserving the natural world. Shamans act as guardians of the land, performing rituals to restore the spiritual balance in the environment. These rituals, coupled with eco-friendly practices, encourage sustainability and ecological stewardship. By incorporating shamanic principles into their daily lives, the Tuvan people demonstrate their commitment to the protection and preservation of their natural heritage.

Promoting Sustainability in Tuva

The revival of shamanic traditions has sparked a renewed focus on sustainability in Tuva. Efforts are being made to promote sustainable practices, such as eco-tourism initiatives that educate visitors about Tuvan culture and the importance of environmental preservation. By promoting sustainable practices and raising awareness about the interconnectedness of humans and nature, the Tuvan people are actively contributing to the protection of their natural resources for future generations.


The revival of shamanic traditions in Tuva has brought about a renaissance of cultural pride, resilience, and connection to spirituality. Despite the challenges posed by Soviet repression, the Tuvan people have successfully reclaimed, preserved, and passed down their shamanic heritage. The involvement of Western shamans has played a crucial role in this revival, providing validation and recognition of Tuvan cultural traditions. Shamans continue to play a pivotal role in Tuvan society, offering healing, guidance, and spiritual connection to the community. The Tuvan people’s commitment to preserving their cultural heritage, promoting sustainability, and celebrating their ethnic identity ensures the continuing influence of shamans and spirits in Tuva. Ultimately, the enduring impact of shamanic traditions in Tuva lies in their ability to empower individuals, foster cultural confidence, and maintain a vital connection between the spiritual and material realms.

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