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Shamanism in Mongolia

Photographer: Hwee Young How


Shamanism comes from the term ‘shamans’ that refers to priests or mediums that act as vessels for spirits, gods and demons to communicate with the human world. In Mongolia, they adhere to the ancient beliefs of Tengrism (modern term for a religion characterized by features of shamanism, animism, totemism, polytheism and ancestor worship), where spirits live in all of nature, in the sun, moon, lakes, rivers, mountains, and trees.


This ancient faith predominated the land in the 13th century during the time of Genghis Khan or Chinggis Khan but was brutally suppressed under decades of communist rule from 1924 to 1990. Lately, this ancestor worship has seen a resurgence, as many sought to fill a spiritual void in a bewildering urban landscape dominated by the burgeoning mining industry, where long traditions of nomadic lifestyles are things of the past.


Gankhuyag and his brother became Shamans only two years ago where before they were only ordinary construction workers. Illnesses and misfortunes plague them and their family members, causing them to seek the advice of a Shaman. It was revealed then that they had been chosen by spirits to serve as Shamans. Only by doing so will their lives improve and avoid further miseries. Batgerel said ‘When I first heard that I have been chosen to receive the spirits, I did not believe it and was angry and ignored the calling. But my life became worse and worse and I began to believe. After receiving the spirits, my life and health became better and now I live in happiness. I am very thankful to the spirits and this way of life’. The two brothers do not charge for their Shamanic services and worshippers donate any amount they please, however not all Shamans are genuine and many fake it for the money. For Gankhuyag and Batgerel, Shamanism, living with the spirits and their rituals, celebrating a connection to nature unique to their culture, it is a way of life in the vast changing grasslands of Mongolia.