Shamanism

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Concept of Soul

They believe that all kinds of creatures in the world have souls. People's blessing and suffering caused by the natural changes are in fact the reflection of the will of various spirits, ghosts and gods.Shamanism believes that man has several souls. The Altaic and Yakutia people recategorize the soul and life into three parts “Teng”, “Su” (or “Surgut”) and “Kut”, believing that all the living things have “Teng”, and once it leaves the body man will die. “Su”, exclusively owned by human beings, enables them to think, and to have determination and feelings, and it can leave the body and wander about when humans fall into sleep. “Kut”, existing in non-living objects, gives them feelings and wills. When “Kut” is in corral and stables, livestock will be flourishing and their masters will be rich. When “Kut” is attached to the stick of the shepherd’s whip, it can protect the herd from devils and wolves. They also believe that a person’s soul, especially the souls of the deceased, can communicate or even mutually transfer with the natural soul or spirit. The souls of the deceased would like to attach to the living body or other materials, and bring about change to them.

Concept of Spirits

Shamanism would often endow the sun, the moon, the stars, mountains, trees, thunder and lightning, fire, fog, ice and snow, wind and rain, rainbow and some animals with personified imagination and mysterious spirituality, regarding them as the spirits in control of the nature and human beings. The view on the souls of ancestors and the fear of disease and death are the core of Shamanistic concept of spirits. Shamanism believes that various spirits who can be grouped as good or evil like humans also have wills, aspirations and desires, which can not defied or offended. Various spirits have different attributes and functions, and take charge of their own business in their own areas. Most of them have relatively equal status, with little or no subordinates, and they are not dominated by one omnipotent spirit. But in the feudal societies of Mongolia, Manchu and Daur ethnic group, there appeared the hierarchical concept, in which one spirit is promoted to the leading rank above others.

Concept of Three Realms

Hezhen people think that the universe is divided into three realms including the upper, middle and lower realm. The upper realm, is the heaven where gods live. It is further divided into seven floors with the most authoritative spirits inhabiting on the top. The middle realm is the place where animals and plants live. The lower realm is the hell, which has a number of sub-layers, respectively inhabited by the ancestor’s spirits, general souls and big and small ghosts. Human beings live in the middle realm, under the impact of the divine blessing and the devils’ hunting. Only Shamanistic witches can reach the upper and lower realms, communicating with the three realms.

Costumes and Masks

Shamanistic costumes vary according to different nationalities and regions. The sacred clothing of Oroqen nationality is made of hair-free deer fur or elk fur that is firstly dyed to yellow and then made into collarless robe with buttons down the front. In terms of decoration, the sacred clothing has not only natural worship objects and animal totem patterns on it, but also different patterns of flowers and grasses. On both shoulders of the sacred clothing there is cloth or wooden cuckoos. Oroqen people consider cuckoo as a sacred bird. On the front of the Shaman clothing, there are six round bronze mirrors, and other five are on the back. However, for the tall people, twelve round bronze mirrors are decorated on the front, which can be used as body armors. There are 12 sacred skirt streamers, representing 12 months; besides, there are also six ribbons. The sacred skirts of the chief Shaman are decorated with two-layer cloth ribbons, which show that his spirits are intact. The streamers are embroidered with various patterns: flowers, leaves, pheasant tail and so on. The sacred hat is usually decorated with three or six streamers, which represent bridges towards the heaven.

The mask was once used for Shaman’s Dance Ceremony because the believers believe that the mask has supernatural power. When the Shaman dances to exorcize the evil spirits, they use the mask to defeat the devils and to protect themselves from being recognized by the devils. Gradually, the Shamanistic mask has been replaced by sacred crown, which is decorated with a leather or cloth made braid in the front. The Manchu Shamanistic mask is usually used for memorial ceremonies, in which the Shaman imitates various animals or spirits according to different situations. For fear of being recognized by the deceased or spirits, the Shaman wears masks and covers his face with the colorful belts on the hat. Wearing Shamanistic costumes with lumbar bells tied around the waist, holding a drum in his left hand and a whip in the other, the Shaman sings a sacred song while knocking on the drum. With the accompaniment of the lift drum and other instruments, the whole scene is full of mystery.

Dance Ceremonies

Among the northeastern ethnic groups of China, the procedures of the Shaman’s Dance Ceremony are basically the same, although there are some slightly differences for different ethnic groups and sometimes even different clans. The procedures is as follows: inviting the spirits by offering sacrifices; welcoming the spirits by beating drums; the spirits speaking from the mouth of the Shaman after possessing his body; sending off the spirits. Generally, Shaman's Dance Ceremony is conducted under three circumstances: for curing the sickness, for teaching the new Shaman and for holding the worship ceremony.