I’ve got a lot of things I want to do once I’m finished in Maine. The one that’s come most to the forefront is a pet project I’ve thought about a lot before, but never cemented into a real idea until I read This article about the women who play the role of Shaman for the people of Tuva.
A bit of backstory right off the bat. I grew up really catholic. The kind that, to paraphrase Dylan Moran, doesn’t know which is nicer, pleasure, or the shame of feeling that pleasure. The role models I had were mostly priests and nuns, and my mother who’d converted was and still is one of the most devout people I know, teaching at a private catholic school, etc. I spent a few years as a preteen planning on becoming a priest and devoured books about them. Some of them led such interesting lives and traveled the world as they knew it, helping and healing where they could. I don’t ascribe to any religion now, nor do I consider myself a spiritual person. However, I am still fascinated with the role that “preists” fill in societies. In any culture, there seems to be a member of the community who forgoes their own personal desires to a certain degree for the good of the community. Sure, sometimes it’s a position of honor that brings with it respect and possibly monetary gains. Often it isn’t, and more often than that it’s draining.
There’s a reason therapists have to have a strictly professional relationship with their clients. Otherwise, you become increasingly emotionally invested in these people, and it’s hard to not ache when someone you care about comes to you and bares their soul expecting you to have all the answers. The priest/shaman/mullah etc. does this willingly for their community, and is active in said community otherwise. They form friendships with the people who trust and depend on them, knowing full well that trust may not be fully reciprocal. I admit that this is an idealistic view of these people, but that ideal is what I’m interested in. Is this an archetype that will fade as the world becomes increasingly connected and people have more access to information of their own valition? Or will we always want a figurative “Medicine man” in our communities that we can turn to when conflicts and struggles arise. Religious or not, most cultures seem to have someone that fills this role and that’s where the idea for the previously mentioned “Pet Project” comes from.
I’m going to start compiling a list of these people, and when I can, visit with them wherever I can find them and try to suss out their reasoning for leading this sort of life. The more obscure the better, because it’s easy to give up personal comforts for the good of the community when you live in relative ease anyway. The Tuvan’s are definitely on the list, as well as a few friends who profess forms of modern paganism and have been gracious enough to point me towards people who can explain that viewpoint to me. If this goes the way I expect it to, the list will grow larger and larger as I go. That’s just fine with me. If you know of someone like this, and feel the need to pass it on please do, along with how best to get in touch with them. I don’t expect this to be a project that’s ever “finished”.
I’ll leave you with the quote from the article about Tuvan Shamanism that struck me most and planted the seed of this idea.
“During Soviet times the rituals were banned but the tradition was still passed on, and in mid 90s completely re-emerged from the underground thanks to Mongush Kenin-Lopsan, now the head shaman of the republic and a respected historian, writer and poet. This year he is 90 years old.”
This is the point that I find most fascinating, that even in outright conflict with the larger culture or society, smaller demographics find such comfort in these traditional central figures that they continue to carry it forward, even as they adopt modern ways of living such as cell phones and living in five story apartments.
As previously stated, if you know of a culture, or practice I should add to my list please comment below.