shaman’s snakes siberia
Below: fabricsnake fromBuryatia inSouthern Siberiawith red tongueand red glassbead eyes
Snakes, and snake-like creatures madefrom fabric, are a common feature
found on shaman’s clothes right theway across Southern and
Central Siberia. The snakeis a powerful spirit andshamans wear the snakefor protection and power.Snakes are often
associated with the water spirits,known as lus in Mongolia. Theseare really the same as the Tibetanand Indian Naga, the water spiritswho live in the earth. As
underworlddwellers, they are
associated with theLower World of the
shaman’s universe, and asdangerous beings, capable of
attacking any that seek they harm,they form an important part of theshaman’s armour, which they wearwhen they go to work in the spirit worlds.
In addition to being fixed to shaman’scoats, snakes and snake like beings arealso often hung in homes as familyprotector spirits.
Whether on the back of a shaman’s coator hung up in a tent or other nomadicstructure on the steppes, it is important toremember that these fabric snakes are notmerely symbolic. They are actually ongons, spirithouses, for a snake spirit to live within. As suchthey are alive, and must always be treated withcare and respect. A snake should never be stitchedto a shaman’s coat, as the passing of a needlethrough the snake will harm or even kill it, so instead thesnakes hanging from a shaman’s coat are tied or bound onto it.
Often shaman’s snakes are quite crudely made, some just beingmerely a thin twist of cotton or silk fabric bound round with a thread to
An old fabricshaman’s snake from
Mongolia. The snake hasthree smaller snakes emerging
from its lower body. The snakeis stuffed with sheep’s wooland is made of cotton, brocade.
This snake came unexpectedlyfrom Mongolia, hidden amidstnewspaper packing placedaround some other objects,it apparently had a life of itsown and wanted to come tothe West, getting itself packed‘by accident’ amidst thenewspaper in the box
Left: Tuvan snake-like dragonbeing called Amyrga-eren,a family protector.Shamans wouldmake these forfamilies in theircare, andthe familywouldhangthemup in their
homes for protection.
Often, childrenwore a small protection
amulet called a ‘child of Amyrga’, designed to keep
them safe from harm.Late C19th
keep it rolled up. Others are stuffed with rope or sheep’s wool, whileother’s are strips of leather - with or without a covering offabric. Sometimes, when it is available, fabric whichresembles the scales of a snake is chosen.
The heads of the snakes also vary, someare quite complex, with little red tongues andperhaps glass beads for eyes, where asothers really have no naturalistic animalqualities at all.
Cloth snakes are also sometimesused in healing work done byshamans. Whips - used to drive awaythe spirits of illness - often havesnake-like elements to them, andoften a shaman’s costume wouldhave small iron or bronze amuletsfixed to them as representationsof the powerful snake spirits.
Right: the back of a veryelaborate Evenk shaman’scoat made from reindeerskin and cloth.The coat is completewith the partial wing andclawed foot of an eagle,and underneath thecloth snakes that hangfrom the back is asmall metal amulet of abear. The bear and the eaglewould indicate that these were theshaman’s main spirit helpers.The red, white and bluedecoration on the coat representsthe Lower, Middle and UpperWorlds and the black and whitebanding on some of the snakesrepresent the paths of day andnight, the two paths the shamanhad to walk when he worked.The name of the shaman this coatbelonged to was Semen MikhailovichUrkanov, and the coat was collectedfrom him in 1923.
Below: shaman’s bronze snake amulet,designed to be hung from a coat
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