PROLOGUE OR THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY
Saosh Yant, an eager, lucky and daring young man with intense black eyes, a handsome face with big regular features, a strong young body and sturdy tough legs, was an otherworldly person from a very early age. Even as a baby, when all other babies quietly slept in their cradles surrounded by soft wavering light from the fireplace and monotonous singing of their mothers, he already had self-awareness and could understand everything that people said. Moreover, his soul constantly travelled in the upper worlds communicating with the Gods, and it was dissolved in the infinite Power, Knowledge and Bliss. The spirits of the land freely communicated with him informing him of events around. Ayamy, the guardian spirit of the land where he was born, sang her lullabies to him. He was receiving power and energy from the nature itself. When growing up he was turning into a strong and healthy guy. (boy)
“He’ll be a mighty man,” his father would say with satisfaction. “Look how strong he is already.”
His mother would nod in agreement. All his relatives already were seeing him as an able hunter or fisherman. But they had no idea about one thing: the Gods had had sealed his fate in a totally different way…
When he grew up a little, the power of limitation which influences all leaving creatures on the Earth started influencing him too. Getting older, leaving behind one year after another he became aware that his direct interactions with the Cosmos were becoming less frequent, more fragmentary and shorter. The unearthly visions were becoming rarer. Voices of the spirits sounded less and less often. The Cosmos seemed to be “imploding” in front of his eyes, and he was submerging into everyday mundanity. When did it happen? It is hard to tell for sure. Likely it was a gradual and lengthy process. Probably it started when he was learning to speak. Yes, yes, nothing else but descriptions of the world by (with) words started to deprive him of the ability to perceive the reality directly. And by and by he became aware of his limitations, though in this respect he was like the overwhelming majority of humans on our planet…
However, the Power that led him through his life claimed its right. It would storm into his being. Such things happen to every true shaman in the beginning of his or her journey. If somebody tells you that he became a shaman without it, be aware that it is a lie. This person is not a true shaman. More likely he styles himself as one, not being one in fact. Every such time Saosh Yant would feel the approaching of that Power. It would come to him destroying all former modes of perception and patterns of behavior and making him to act in, frankly, rather peculiar ways. He began to communicate with the spirits, often even speaking aloud. His behavior was becoming abnormal. If he was a resident of a large metropolis and if his parents were totally detached from traditions, they would have promptly put him in a mental hospital. And his gift would have been ruined. But he was lucky. He was born not in a metropolis, but in the taiga. Later, after a couple of years, by a twist of fate they moved to a small town, where people still remembered the old traditions and respected the knowledge of their ancestors. His parents became aware of such things.
With no delay they introduced him to a great shaman, a benefactor of the local folks. His name was Kuday Kam. His abilities were outstanding! He had ailing people on their feet by a mere word. He could deliver people from feebleness, melancholy and sorrow. He could see the whereabouts of a missing person. He could tell the spot where an animal would show up. He knew what the weather would be like without listening to weather forecasts. That unique man was endowed with enormous abilities, power and might.
Many people even feared him a little and gave him a wide berth. According to some legends he even could punish a person for causing a lot of big troubles to his relatives. He could make a person mute by a mere a word or, on the contrary, to drive evil spirits from him. In such a case a bad person would fall down on the ground and start weeping loudly, suffering from tremendous, almost unbearable pangs of conscience. As soon as an evil spirit left the sufferer completely, his eyes would dry out, and he would quickly gain joy and tranquility. He then would become helpful to his relatives, tune in to the general rhythm of life and experience true happiness because of that.
A lot of good was done by Kuday Kam. He was loved by people and his life was full of luck. But his time was running out. His hair and beard were frost white and his harmonious charismatic face had deep distinct lines that on one hand indicated integrity of his nature, but on the other hand showed that his life was coming to an end. He felt it himself. And he knew in advance that a new young shaman had come into existence to replace him and he had to teach him while there still was time. At last, the predestined hour having arrived, Saosh Yant visited him accompanied by his parents. Or more precisely, they brought him.
“Great shaman, check what’s wrong with him,” said his father with concern.
“He’s been not himself the past year,” his mother added.
Kuday Kam fixed his piercing falcon eyes on him and understood everything at once.
“Good. Leave!” he said in a powerful voice.
The two parents looked at each other in puzzlement.
“As soon as he’s all right, I’ll let you know.” And he commanded: “Go!!”
They bowed to him obediently and left the great shaman’s chaadyr without looking back. The shaman began to inspect his guest, a future shaman-to-be. Saosh Yant’s condition was close to madness. His eyes were moving incessantly. His lips were making a gibberish consisting of fragments of words. The great Kam started the training process, conducted the ritual of shaman cut and initiated him into shamanhood. But it is a different story…
Kuday Kam had yet to teach his young pupil a lot of things. For that purpose the latter had to visit him regularly.
“How can I reach you when you move from place to place all the time?” asked Saosh Yant. “Today you’re here, but tomorrow you may move elsewhere. Could you stop being a nomad for at least the period of my education? As you know it’s important for both of us. You must pass your Power to somebody and I must learn to be a true kam.”
Kuday Kam merely chuckled and then fastened his piercing, almost unbearable gaze upon the young man. Kuday Kam, a great shaman of Siberia, possessing tremendous abilities, power and might. One who has done a lot of good, helped out millions of people.
“You’re a weak kam if you’re unable to feel the Power of this kind,” said the master and chuckled again. “How can you find common people lost in the forest, being like this? If a person lays unconscious, are you going to say “I can’t do it”?
“But I’ve never ever done this,” said the young pupil, still in puzzlement. “How is it possible at all?”
“Don’t you worry. I’ll be sending you messages about myself.”
“And how will I work out where to go?”
“Tune into me.”
“In what way?”
“Look closely at everything you see, keep your ears open to everything what may sound. Pay close attention to any feelings. If you see a sign, go that way. Keep going in that direction.”
“What if there’ll be no signs?” Saosh Yant kept on inquiring.
“You shouldn’t worry about it. I’ll take care of everything. The main thing for you is to be alert. BE in everything what happens. And then I’ll lead you to the right place.”
“All right, I’ll try,” said the pupil in a more optimistic voice.
“You are to visit me next time during the season of falling leaves.”
Saosh Yant opened his mouth to ask the next question.
“Silence!” commanded the Great Shaman. “I’ll come to you in your dream and tell you to go to the right place. Now go home and don’t look back. Tomorrow before midnight you should be home. GO!”
Saosh Yant bowed to the ground respectfully and left the chaadyr walking backwards. Then he headed to his house. Just in several hours he joined his family members.
“You’ve returned so soon, sonny,” said his mother with pleasure, laying the table.
“I never expected it either,” said he in surprise, eating his favorite flatbreads with honey and herbal tea. “By some reason I walked directly through the forest, not along our paths as we usually do. And I reached home sooner.”
The mother and father exchanged glances full of suggestions. Saosh Yant stopped talking, lost himself in thought and unwittingly fell asleep…
The Path Shown by the Spirit
Going to the campsite where the Great Shaman Kudai Kam was staying, Saosh Yant didn’t know where the shaman would be this time, for the wise man, driven by the Force known only to him, often changed his encampment, moving from one spirit of place to another. He respectfully called these spirits the Ayami, the guardians of the land. Every area had its own Ayami, each with her own character. In the Altai foothills and as far as to where the Katun River and the Chuysky Trakt crossed, dwelled a merry, young, cheerful, rosy-cheeked beauty, as fine as the Goddess Umay, patroness of fertility and abundance. On the Ukok Plateau, near Kosh-Agach, lived a wise, sublime and majestic woman with piercing look and proud bearing, to match the God Tengri, patron of the Celestial World of Eternity. On Lake Teletskoe and in its surroundings, in the Chulyshman River Valley was a stern, strict and unapproachable spirit with black fierce fathomless eyes, just like the God Erlik, patron of the shadowy world, the realm of the dead. And in the Uymonskaya Valley and Ongudaysky District was a benevolent spirit, easy-going, friendly and creative like the God Ülgen, master of the Future World.
There also were a lot of other lesser Ayami, patronesses of mountains, rivers and valleys, each subordinate to her own mistress, one of the elder Ayami. There was a huge invisible hierarchy between them all, which was as yet known only to Kudai Kam. So Saosh Yant was burning with curiosity, eager to know how they interacted with one another.
Young, active, ardent and daring, he wanted to have it all. The powers, the knowledge, the ability to command the spirits, to help people, to cure diseases, to fly freely in all the worlds. To become whatever he liked and whenever he liked. All of these! But for now, there was a rather difficult trial ahead of him – to find the Great Shaman and continue the apprenticeship. Kudai Kam never stayed in one place too long. He would follow the call of an Ayami spirit, moving to another place and communing with her. After a certain time, known only to him, he would leave the lived-in place and move somewhere else. For this reason no one could know where he would appear next time and how to find him. And that was exactly what the novice shaman Saosh Yant had to do. He’d had a hard time undergoing this test for the first time. He got lost in the taiga, led astray by the evil spirits. He had all his body severely scratched by the thorns, and his clothes torn to shreds. He nearly broke his leg falling down a high rock in the dark when he was running away from a wild boar. Hungry and utterly exhausted, desperate and sore, he was hanging between life and death. He didn’t know where to go or where he was at the moment. His victuals had run out, his matches wet with rain. Being stretched to the breaking point, in a frenzy, he called upon all the Ayami that he could remember. The young man dropped down on his knees in despair and, weeping, screamed at the top of his voice:
“He-e-elp me, great Ayami, patronesses of the sky and earth! I beg you, please, he-e-elp me!”
The good spirits answered his call. They led him out into the astral world, and before him appeared the majestic, proud and beautiful woman in the national festive finery, the patroness of the Ukok Plateau.
“Why are you shouting?!” she asked sternly, piercing him with her black eyes.
“I’m dying,” Saosh Yant whispered through his dry lips. “The spirits have led me astray.”
“Don’t you lie to me! You have been misled not by the spirits, but by your conceit.”
The young man was literally agape with wonder.
“You’ve had too much belief in your OWN powers. And thought that you could somehow get by ALL BY YOURSELF, without the spirits’ help, that you’d find the way. Found it?”
“But how do you…”
“I know all about you,” she interrupted him imperiously. “You even haven’t held a xomus in your hands once! And thought that you know all things yourself. Do you?”
“No, of course not,” Saosh hung down his head. “You know all things. Nothing can hide from you.”
“So why are you sitting then?”
“But what should I do?”
“Take your xomus and begin to play. Summon the assistant spirits. Let them show you the path.”
“But how can I…”
“And remember that without the spirits’ help you are NOTHING!”
“But what should I…”
The majestic woman didn’t wait until he finished, and disappeared. And the young man was again all alone in the dark. After a moment’s consideration, he took out his xomus, got in the right mindset and began to play. The abyss of hopelessness was so deep that he felt and understood that if it didn’t help him, nothing would, for he didn’t have the energy to walk farther. Not to mention that he just had no idea which way to go. Gathering his last strength and fighting down the despair, he started playing the xomus. After a while his breath evened out, his heart stopped throbbing, the stream of his thoughts now flowed in its ordinary grooves, and he entered that special state of clarity, light and understanding which you can never mistake for another. It is a special feeling of insight and clarity when you understand everything that is going on inside you and around you. The state of integrity and harmony with the entire world, when everything that surrounds you becomes clear and obvious. And what was most important, the young shaman’s heart was filled with HOPE and certainty that now he would surely find the right way! He produced some more sounds with his xomus and suddenly began to distinctly feel that he was falling into an abyss, having absolutely no power to resist it. Next moment he dropped to the ground and passed into a deep slumber. When he woke up in the morning, it took him a while to understand what had happened. Just then it began to dawn. The first rays of the rising sun flooded everything with soft pink light.
“What’s happened to me?” asked Saosh, shaking off the night drowsiness. “Ah! I guess I’ve got lost. And then!..” his face brightened. “Now I remember! Ayami! Of course! She helped me. And another thing: ‘Without the spirits I am nothing!’ That’s what she taught me.”
He took the xomus in his hands again and started playing. Soon a cry of a bird was heard nearby.
“That’s where I should go, right?” Saosh asked hopefully.
The bird cried again, as if it were showing him the way.
“Good,” he said joyfully and went where the spirits were showing. The bird had flown away, and for a while he was just walking in that direction.
“Wow! I’m feeling so strong!” he wondered.
His body was indeed filled with incredible energy which he couldn’t explain. He felt as if he hadn’t gone through that awful night when he had reached the most abysmal depths of helplessness and despair. He was now full of youthful, lively and active power. He had a feeling that he’d got wings on his feet and was HOVERING above the ground.
Saosh was just enjoying his journey. Having come to a river, he quenched his thirst, washed his face, sat on a stone and started playing the xomus to call the spirits for help. The wind immediately began to chime in the tree crowns higher up the river on his left.
“Thank you, spirits, for helping me,” said Saosh and went on his way.
He’d been walking for several hours until he came to a picturesque valley, girdled about with the girth of unscalable snowy mountain peaks. At that very moment he felt the Force that had been driving him the whole time, vanish. Now he had difficulty telling where to go next. Before him spread the picturesque mountain valley, blanketed with yellow leaves which made a surprisingly good match with the distant white peaks and the crystal-blue sky.
“WITHOUT THE SPIRITS YOU’RE NOTHING?” he suddenly heard the painfully familiar voice behind his back.
“Kudai Kam! Is that you?!” the young man jumped with joy. “But how did you know?”
“I haven’t known it just now, my boy. I know everything that has happened to you. How are you?”
“Good! Very good!” Saosh Yant still couldn’t calm down.
“Good?” Kudai Kam gave an ironic look at the ragged clothes and the bare knee that was shining through the torn pants.
“Oh, this? I fell,” Saosh Yant covered the knee embarrassedly. But the next instant his bare elbow showed treacherously through the torn sleeve.
“HA-HA-HA!” the Great Shaman broke into a merry laughter, showing his healthy teeth.
How much vigor and goodness there was in that laughter! It was a laughter of a truly happy man. Integral, joyous, powerful and great!
“All right, let’s go into my chaadyr. You would do well to change your clothes…”
That was the first real meeting of Saosh Yant and his Teacher, the Great Shaman Kudai Kam.
The Breath of Erlik
The young shaman understood that he was to go on another journey to his mentor. As always, the destination was unknown. All that he knew was that when the snow melted, he would leave. But to where?
Uncertain of what to do, Saosh Yant sat on the stump of huge oak tree, and began playing his khomus. There was a full moon overhead. The cold silver moon had risen above the mountains, observing the country with its sad and magical gaze. It was admonishing him, “Go, go, Saosh Yant! He is waiting for you! It is time!” Saosh had abandoned himself to the playing of the khomus, forgetting everything. Kudai Kam had once told him, “Everything you do, my friend, you should do with total dedication. Then you will succeed. Or don’t do it at all! Don’t waste your time.” Saosh had remembered these words throughout his life. And he now absorbed himself in the playing of the khomus with every fiber of his being. For the khomus was summoning the helper spirits. They soon came to him and began to show him the way. Without hesitation he took his things (that he had prepared beforehand) and left. His parents just watched sympathetically as he departed.
“He is going to Him,” his mother whispered with reverent awe.
“Let him go,” the father nodded. “This is his path. We shouldn’t hinder him.”
“He could at least say goodbye,” the woman sighed.
“He’ll come back. Stop worrying, Mother. Let’s go to sleep.”
They returned into the house as Saosh followed the path that the spirits showed him.
He was walking through the taiga in the Altai Mountains. At the times when he would begin to stray from the path, the spirits would give him a sign: A hawk suddenly flew by with a shriek, firmly holding its prey in the claws. Next an owl flew past quietly. It was so close that Saosh had time to see it’s light-colored and fluffy belly. Now a roe deer leapt out and ran past him, then a maral showed its back, or a sudden gust of wind blew, wailing in the bare tree-tops – signifying that he had to go in a certain way. In this manner, little by little, sign after sign, Saosh came to the Chulyshman River Valley.
Steep, and unscalable cliffs surrounded the bed of this proud and unfriendly river. Down the stream was Lake Teletskoe. Since ancient times it had been believed to be the realm of the God Erlik, Lord of the other world. It was considered that at its bottom lived Erlik Khan himself. And every year he took no less than ten people, or even more, to satiate his gluttonous appetite. Rumor had it that the divers who had reached the bottom of Lake Teletskoe, always returned white-haired. They were unable to speak for a long time afterwards, or to answer any questions. This gave the impression that they had met face to face with Erlik himself. When they recovered, they said that at the bottom of the lake they had seen dead, undecayed bodies, that must have been there for centuries. They were pale blue and horribly bloated, having been disfigured by time. Bacteria and fish could not survive in such cold depths. So there was nothing to eat these bodies. The external beauty of the lake was enveloped by this relentless, mysterious and even sinister glory.
The Chulyshman Gorge had a similar nature. There was an aura of cold, ruthlessness about this area.
Saosh was going toward the river’s headwaters. After two days’ journey he came to the Katu-Yaryk pass, which could be translated as “ravine” or “gorge”. The man-made road from the bottom of the gorge to the top looked like a serpentine band that stretched out on a relatively smooth slope. It wasn’t smooth in every sense of the word, though. Having appeared at the end of the last century, it had made life easier for many of the locals, and had also taken the lives of many others.
Having now come close to the Katu-Yaryk pass, Saosh noticed the smashed frame of a car at the bottom of the slope, a reminder of the treacherous nature of the pass.
“What has happened here?” Saosh thought with caution.
He closed his eyes, tuning in, and then turned his head toward the car. In the next instant a picture emerged in his mind. A small, dilapidated Zhiguli is going down the winding mountain pass. It is crammed full of all sorts of things. Packs, sacks, suitcase, boxes, bundles, baskets… there is hardly room for the people in all this junk. There is even a goat in there! It keeps bleating plaintively, but nobody is paying any attention to it. Little by little, the Zhiguli is crawling down the bending slopes toward its goal. The people are quiet. The driver is feeling very nervous, but shows no sign of this. Only his clenched jaw reveals his true state. In the backseat, if there is enough space left to call it a seat, a tense silence hangs in the air.
When they get to the middle of the pass, a peculiar smell appears. The smell which one can never forget or mistake for anything else. An experienced driver knows at once that iI’s the smell of overheated brakes. In the next instant the brakes fail, the car races along the road, and at the nearest bend the car flies over the precipice. After a short drop, it starts rolling over and over all the way to the bottom of the gorge…
“Well,” thought Saosh, “Mountains don’t forgive mistakes or carelessness. And there must have been signs which these people could have noticed. Something that seemed off, a sinking feeling in the stomach, perhaps. One should always listen to this feeling. These people ignored it. They shook it out of their heads and said to themselves – “It’s okay, things will work out! We will be lucky.” And this is the result. So I will learn by this example. I will listen to what my instincts prompt me to do, paying more attention to the signs that appear around me. The signs that are given by the spirits!”
“Peace be with you, my brothers! May you rest in peace! Gods be with you!”
With these words Saosh bowed to the ground, then stood silent for a while, watching the twisted car frame. Then he turned and began to climb the narrow road leading up to the mountain.
The winding road, that looked very much like a lightning flash in a stormy sky, led him higher and higher. As he climbed, Saosh, recalled the first time he had seen this place as a child, when this road hadn’t existed. There had only been a very narrow and steep horseway, which his grandfather had taken him along from the village of Ulagan to Lake Teletskoe.
As a three-year-old, he remembered sitting on the wide and powerful back of the horse, with his grandpa seated behind him, and staring in wonder at the beauty all around him. It seemed both magical and harsh at the same time. The sublime mountains, with the white crested waterfalls that streamed down their slopes. The clouds that hovered high in the summer sky, and then drug like shaggy beards over the frozen landscape in the winter. The majestic and impassable floodplain of the Chulyshman River. And then Lake Teletskoe itself. The lake stretched like an immense frozen mirror between the steep cliffs. It seemed so stern, magnificent and even a little frightening to him. He wasn’t afraid though. He had his worldly and knowledgeable guardian – his grandfather with him. And Saosh knew that everything would be fine. That the powerful and severe beauty of these places would be favorable to them. It had always been so.
Ever since he was a child, he’d felt the guidance of some tremendous and powerful Force, the meaning of which was unknown to him. He felt it constantly. It seemed to be protecting him throughout his life. This absolute certainty (knowledge) of what to do had never let him down. And he was very grateful for this.
Other people had not been as fortunate on the horseway. A lot of foolhardy young fellows had wound up dead. Many good men had been taken by Erlik Khan. Youthful, handsome, strong. And it had seemed that this would always be so, until the two bulldozers had come and laid the smooth winding road on which our hero was now ascending. With every turn, with every curve, he rose higher and higher, admiring the severe landscape.
It did not seem so magical now, despite the incredible beauty. The magnificent, white-bearded waterfall that streamed down from the steep cliff. And a bit further up the river he could see the snowy peaks of the unscalable and eternal mountains.
“Ah, Altai, my Altai!” Saosh sighed delightedly, as he perused the surroundings. “How great you are, how majestic and beautiful! My country! My whole life is with you. I am forever connected to you. ”
Having filled himself with the surrounding beauty, he continued up the slope. Having reached the middle, he paused to catch his breath and saw the twisted wreckage of another car – it looked like a Moskvitch.
A thought flitted through his mind “What is this?” Instead of an answer, a picture flashed like lightning in his mind’s eye, as it had done before. The Moskvitch, loaded up with people, rugs, provisions for a entire month, carefully bundled clothes, even a couple of geese and a chicken, is heading down the slope Driving at this time of year is sheer madness, the driver, apparently, is relying on pure luck. He is constantly pumping the brakes a little, and the Moskvitch, slowly but steadily, is crawling down the slope. At first everything goes well. And again towards the middle the brake fluid begins to boil, the brake shoes overheat, and the car starts rushing downwards uncontrollably. The driver sharply turns the wheel away from the precipice, as the car runs over a protruding rock, loses its balance, and overturns.
“Thank God everyone survived,” he exclaims with relief, recalling the image of the Zhiguli, and continues on.
The Beauty of the Gorge. The Obos
Ascending curve after curve up the rough serpentine road, he has time to admire the beauty of this magnificent place. He stops at a bend in the road to take a short rest and catch his breath. Wiping off sweat that blurs his eyes, he listens to his heart that seems ready to burst out of his chest. “THUMP-THUMP! THUMP-THUMP! AL-TAI!.. AL-TAI!.. TICK-TACK!.. AL-TAI!..”
Saosh glanced down and saw the majestic gorge, it’s steep, dark gray walls that continued on endlessly. The gurgling waterfalls that stream down from them. The bed of the tumultuous river sending it’s turbulent waters toward Lake Teletskoe. He next casts his eyes to the stern and tranquil mountains, standing against the dazzling blue of the sky, where a lonely hawk is circling.
“There is my Altai!” he thought proudly. “Only in such places, can the forces of nature and the audacity of man meet face to face. You begin to understand the complete power and beauty of the Creator. There are so many places like this in my country!”
Having feasted his eyes upon the beautiful view and regained his strength, he continued the ascent. Saosh reached the top of the gorge, to an observation site with many obos – heaps of stones placed one on top of the other. Stopping at one of them, he thought:
“People today don’t understand what these pyramids mean. They make a wish, taking the first stone that they see, putting it into the pile, and think that it will bring them closer to the fulfillment of their desires. Forgetting that they are taking the easiest way and making no efforts at all. In the past, people used to bring these stones with them. There were sacramental texts and prayers carved in them. Some of them would weigh ten kilograms or more. Before going to the holy places, the pilgrims used to spend a lot of time preparing and inscribing these texts with their own hands. They kept a fast and prayed, collecting subtle energy. And when they arrived, having overcome the fatigue and exhaustion, strained to the limit, they found their courage and reached these holy places, feeling so strong and powerful. In this way their wishes quickly reached the Gods. And the Gods granted these wishes. Things are different now. A man thinks that if he gets into a car and goes to the place in relative comfort, taking the first stone that he likes (the lovelier the better) and putting it into the pile of stones, that he will achieve his goal. But the Gods can’t hear him. His energetic state doesn’t equal the level of his wish. It is nothing but the weak and chaotic impulse of a relaxed man, who lives in the conveniences and comfort of a sick society. NO THANK YOU! I will never be like this! I don’t want the Gods to ignore my prayers. I want to become a Great Kam. And I am ready to do the impossible, that which is beyond my powers. I know and understand that it’s the only way for me to gain the powers of a shaman!”
He stood at the observation site a bit longer, deep in thought, admiring the beauty of the gorge that stretched below. One more day of hiking the steadily ascending road, and he would reach the place shown to him by the spirits. Kudai Kam’s dwelling.
The Meeting. The Shaman’s Dwelling
Close to a beautiful mountain lake, whose boundless waters reflected the blue sky and the majestic mountain peaks, lay a chaadyr that looked like a small six-sided pyramid. It was made from the trunks of young larches, and supported by a central pole in the middle of the structure. The pole symbolized the basis of the universe. The chaadyr itself was covered with huge pieces of tree bark and maral hides with the fur turned inwards.
“You won’t get frozen in such a home, that is for sure,” thought Saosh. “It’ll be warm here in all weather. How very wisely our ancestors built homes!”
The chaadyr had a hole at the top, through which thin smok curled like a snake.
“The master must be at home,” Saosh thought with relief and wiped off the sweat from his forehead. “It means I’ve come at the right time. Not trusting his eyes, he walked up to the dwelling and touched the hide, which was velvety and pleasant to the touch.
“At last I’ve come!” thought our hero and at that very moment the curtain of the tent rose and Kudai Kam himself came out. His hair and beard were frost white. But his face, furrowed with accurate smooth lines, was very lively and energetic. At first glance it was rather hard to determine his age. You would think that he was about a hundred years old. But his motions and gestures were active and brisk, like those of a youngster. And the gaze!.. The gaze!.. Penetrating. Firm. It literally saw through you. Like an X-ray. And at the same time very friendly, understanding and wise. Saosh was always at a loss for words before this powerful gaze, never knowing how to behave.
Today Kudai Kam was wearing a light fur robe and home shoes.
“You’re back?” he said, cordially welcoming Saosh with his amazing and sincere smile.
Saosh looked in his keen black eyes:
“I am,” he breathed out.
“Come in then.”
Kudai Kam amiably raised the curtain.
“You should come in now, as I need to go away for awhile.”
When Saosh was inside the chaadyr, he felt as if he’d entered another world. In the middle there was a fire burning in the hearth, bordered with smooth stones. The flame was tenderly licking the cauldron, where a fragrant tea was simmering.
The smoke from the hearth was curling upward, gently passing the canvas sheet where the shaman had put herbs, roots and jerked meat to dry, heading up to Eternity through the hole at the top of the dwelling.
“Well, well,” thought Saosh, “how precisely the structure’s been designed! All the air goes up. No smoke, no soot. Only comfort and warmth.”
He looked around the dwelling and once again marveled at how wisely and harmoniously everything had been arranged. The entrance faced the east as a symbol that everything comes from Eternity. From the realm of the wise, sublime and distant God Tengri. On the south-eastern side there hung a horse’s harness.
“As if it was just brought to us from Tengri Khan’s endless expanse, and now rests here,” thought Saosh. “It’s likely to be telling us that the journey back is a long distance. Stay here, dear guests, and appreciate the hospitality!”
In the southern, masculine side, as well as on the ground of the south-western side, there were chests filled with many different items. Above them, on the shelves, were trinket boxes.This is the part that is ruled by the cheerful, creative and friendly Ülgen.
A daring thought flashed through Saosh’s head, “I’d really like to look inside.There must be lots of various magical objects amassed there! And each can do something unique to help its owner.”
And instantly he gave himself a slap on the wrist, “Stop that!!! What a shame! These are sacred items of great power. They are not just ‘things’, they are what helps a shaman. When your season comes, you’ll be shown everything you need. In the meantime, keep quiet and wait patiently!”
He continued looking the tent over and in the front corner, in the south-western side, saw a real shaman’s iconostasis. On it were mandalas which symbolically described the entire world. Saosh made a low obeisance to them.
“These are the shaman’s icons!” he thought reverently. “I have heard of them many times, but it’s the first time I see them with my own eyes! The whole world, the entire Universe is shown in these pictures!”
His eyes fell next on the gun that stood not far from the icons. “As if it defends the sacred place from uninvited guests and evil spirits,” he went on musing. “I should be more careful here.”
He shifted his gaze to the western side and saw a bed covered with a bearskin – the place of honor occupied by the master of the house.
“The western part of the dwelling, governed by the talkative, caring and benevolent Umai,” he thought . “The world of the present. Here, I have heard, is the place of honor for the master of the house. One can have a good rest and regain strength. Here new children are conceived too. It makes sense because Umai is a symbol of fertility. It would be interesting to know how many children Kudai Kam has fathered. He’s never told me about that!”
He immediately became ashamed of himself.
“Quit that! What a shame!” he rebuked himself.
“And what’s so wrong with this? Every man has got children,” he thought in the next moment. “There’s nothing wrong with this question. Anyway, is Kudai Kam impotent or not?”
“No, stop it! Don’t stick your nose in this business”
“How is he with women, I wonder?”
The two parts were struggling inside of him: one awfully curious and the other modest and shy.
This went on until his eyes fell on the northern and north-eastern part of the tent, the feminine side of the dwelling.The place which was ruled by Erlik. Saosh saw dishes on the shelves, cooking pots and other housewares.
“It is quite symbolic,” he thought, “because Erlik is the memories of the past. Women mainly live on their memories and the knowledge they have already acquired. And in our world it is Erlik who is in charge of memories. All the events and phenomena of life go to him. Our memory and everything that is connected with us will go away as well. All of our dreams, hopes, aspirations. I will go there as well someday…”
He shook off these grievous thoughts and looked again at the tableware.
“On the other hand, without all this we just couldn’t live,” he went on. “Without memories there are no roots. And without roots our tree would collapse. The world of the past is necessary. If everything that is born and is created in this world would never move on, the world would be overflowing!”
He laughed, imagining so many objects, people, animals crammed together in such crowded conditions, like people jammed together in an elevator, where no one can move.
“Like in an overcrowded subway train on the weekend,” he chuckled. ‘Let me through! This is my stop!’ – ‘Hey you’re tearing off my pocket, and my arm with it !’ – ‘But let me through, okay?’ – ‘Ouch!’ – ‘Get out of my way!’ – ‘Imbecile!’ – ‘You’re an imbecile!’ – ‘You moron!’ – ‘Go to hell!’… This is how we’d live in the world if it wasn’t for Erlik!”
He thought a little more, and then another funny picture leapt into his mind: the severely cramped conditions cause all the things grow together. Such close contact makes their surfaces “meld”, and the substances blend. As a result there is one useless, colorless jumble, and whatever comes to this world, from the future, from Ülgen, inevitably gets plastered into this mess.
“Ugh!” he shook himself like a dog shakes off water. “No! It’s a mercy we have Erlik! Cleanser of this world! Powerful and wise.”
He gave another glance around the dwelling and thought, “This dwelling is so harmoniously organized! Each thing is near at hand, in its place. The old-established order, which has never been disturbed. Everything has been reasonably planned. How far people ive today from this harmony! This dwelling is also very convenient: it can be disassembled and transported at a moment’s notice. You are not tied to any place. You can easily move wherever you like. And modern man? He gives up his WHOLE LIFE saving up for one apartment, trying to pay off the predatory mortgage loan. After this he is uncertain of what may happen in the world or in his country. He could be thrown out on the streets by his relatives. Or worse yet, his own children might take possession, after starving him to death, or locking him up in a nuthouse. There might be wars, disasters or floods. Anything can go wrong. And the man lived his whole life in a stifling, infernal city. And for what? To earn the money for a single cell in a huge beehive? He has never seen a sunrise, heard the murmur of a brook, or smelled the fresh scent of grass. He has lived the life of an office zombie or a dutiful workaholic, and what does he have to show for it? Only senility, illnesses, infirmity and death. NO!!! Our ancestors lived much better lives. They were much more clever than we are!!!”
His thoughts were interrupted by Kudai Kam’s voice:
“ Have you looked around?” he asked with feeling.
“Yes a little,” Saosh answered, startled a bit. “You’ve let me inside for the first time.”
“The time has come,” said Kudai Kam looking at the young man again with his piercing eyes, which made Saosh feel uneasy. “You’re tired from your trip. Sit down by the fire. Have some food. And in the evening we’ll prepare the sweat lodge.” “All right” Saosh agreed.
Saosh took off his outerwear with pleasure and seated himself on the trestle bed by the hearth.
“Tell me, dear Kudai Kam,” he asked politely. “How is it that the fire is set right in the middle of the chaadyr, but there’s no smoke. And you have no stove or air extraction. There place should be filled with smoke. But it all goes up through the center opening. How is this possible?”
”Ha-ha!” the Great Shaman smiled. “My dwelling has been designed and built based on ancient laws. And oriented in a special way so that all the smoke rises. It is important to place the chaadyr properly.”
“I mean that if you do it just a bit wrong, it won’t work properly. And you’ll have to put up the chaadyr again. It is important to know how to do it correctly.”
“Will you teach me?”
“Yes, when the time comes…”
Kudai Kam fell silent, his look plainly telling the apprentice that he was thinking about something else.
Saosh became thoughtful for a while. There was an awkward silence. He felt an uneasiness in the pit of his stomach that felt like a cat scratching him. His eyes began to wander around the chaadyr. He looked up and saw the large awning above the hearth.
“What is it?” the young man wondered out loud. “What is it for?”
“It’s an awning. I dry things here.”
“What exactly, Kudai Kam?”
“All kinds of things. Herbs. Berries. Mushrooms. Meat.”
“You wish to be dried yourself ?”
“Oh, no, please, maybe later. Not now,” Saosh mumbled guiltily.
Kudai Kam now looked purposely and firmly into his apprentice’s eyes, as if throwing into his soul a burning mace in one precise and accurate motion. Saosh gave a start and immediately understood his mistake: he shouldn’t have been bothering Kudai Kam with his fussy questions. The Power lies in the quiet and silence. When your season comes, you’ll be told everything. For now accumulate the energy and don’t twaddle. Be attentive and accurate. Saosh guiltily sat down on the trestle bed, his head low. Kudai Kam took the lid off the cauldron and threw a big handful of herbs into it. The awkward fussiness that had been clutching the young man’s soul like a sharp-clawed paw, finally abated and changed into a tranquil silence. As if an infuriated cat had retracted its claws and once again become a fluffy kitten.
They were sitting in the chaadyr drinking herbal tea and enjoying the pleasant evening. The steam that rose from the big cauldron, was spreading the fragrance of the meadows and fields, the remnants of last summer. Saosh was reclining on the trestle bed enjoying the pleasant tiredness after the journey. He was relaxed but at the same time he seemed to be waiting for what his master would say next. For some reason the shaman was silent, as if waiting for something. But what? Saosh could not understand. And he felt uncomfortable, he did want to be the first to break the silence. So he quietly watched the flames of the fire flicker.
Before his mind could start thinking again, he felt a sudden and strong vibration in the ground. The dishes on the small table in front of the hearth, as well as the cauldron and the chaadyr started shaking.
“What is it?” Saosh gave Kudai Kam a questioning look.
Kudai Kam was sitting on his bed, completely relaxed, as if nothing had happened. In the meantime the vibration had stopped. Everything was calm again.
“Must’ve been my imagination,” the young man thought, shrugging his shoulders. And as he lifted his tea to take a sip, the ground shook again, and the relaxed mood left him completely. He dropped the cup out of his hands, horrified, jumped up and began rushing around the chaadyr. The whole of his being was seized by an animal-like fear. He was running for his life! He glanced at the Great Shaman and saw that he wasn’t reacting at all.
“Kudai Kam! We must do something!” he shouted. “Why are you being so calm? Why are you sitting? We must run. Let’s go…”
He didn’t have time to finish the sentence before the ground shook again so violently that chaadyr swayed and all the utensils jumped. The horse harness clanked, the gun fell down, and the leaves, herbs, mushrooms, flowers, slices of jerked meat and bundles of roots went flying. It looked as if the chaadyr was going to collapse and bury its inhabitants.
Like a wounded wild animal, Saosh started running even more frantically than before, turning everything upside down. An animal-like fear swept over him. Unaware of what he was doing, he dashed towards the exit. All of the sudden a shrill lashing sound pierced the air. Something whistled by his ear, and then twisted around his ankles. There was a powerful yank, followed by a sweeping motion, and the unfortunate runaway found himself оn the ground.
“Help me! Let me go! Help!” he yelled with all his might.
“Why so much shouting?” Kudai Kam grinned with perfect calm. “Since no one can hear you here anyway.”
“Saosh shrank down to the floor, frightened, like a little helpless kitten.”
“I!.. I!.. I!..” he spluttered, rolling on the floor.
Kudai Kam came up to Saosh in a leisurely manner, casting a tranquil and piercing look into his eyes, which made Saosh feel a pleasing and velvety calm spread throughout his body.
“Ah? What am I doing, really?” the young man muttered, coming to his senses.
Seeing that his apprentice was okay, the shaman began to untie the lasso from his feet.
“What was it, an earthquake?” Saosh asked, returning to his trestle bed.
Do Not Disturb the Ghost Of The Princess
“Yes,” answered Kudai Kam. “It is not the first one, as you know, since the ghost of the Altai Princess was disturbed.”
“As soon as those silly scientists excavated her burial site and took her body to their institute, calamities and cataclysms have begun. There were earthquakes across the Altai. Many families were left homeless, without a roof over their heads. This foolishness has caused people great devastation and disasters. And it’s not over. The scientists keep meddling with nature. Poor fellows!”
“Why is that, Kudai Kam?”
“Because people don’t understand that they should show respect for all the things that are around them. Even for a tree, a stone or an animal. Even for a tiny blade of grass, not to mention the tomb of the Princess. It was created for a reason, you see. The Princess protects our Altai against all misfortunes and disasters. The scientists don’t understand that these calamities are the result of their barbaric attitude to the world. They don’t understand that they if displease the spirits, they may receive a very severe punishment. They think life to be lifeless. They watch the world through a microscope, as if it was all a big test tube. They see life as a subject of their experiments, a field of research, and nothing more. They are ignorant people who have severely limited themselves with their perceptions of the world. They are to be pitied, of course. And so is the nature that they experiment on. Men imagine themselves to be the dominators of nature. And they think that they may do whatever they like. Men interfere in the natural balance of things, disrupting it. So nature responds to everything that they do to it.”
“Yes,you can see this from what has happened lately,” the young man sighed sadly. “They planned to build a hydro plant on the Katun, but didn’t expect it to upset the balance. First, mosquitoes would begin to appear in large numbers, the humidity of air would change. Then the river itself would no longer be as clean and pure as before.”
“You’re right, my friend. But look around you – everything is filled with life, intelligence and light.”
“And the Princess as well?”
“Sure!” the shaman smiled. “And I’ll tell you more. She is alive.”
“How is that, Kudai Kam?” Saosh marveled.
“Well, of course, not physically, as we usually perceive life.”
“She lives in the shadow world.”
“In the realm of Erlik?”
“Exactly. And you can meet her there.”
“She is willing to impart knowledge to you.”
“So how do I do that?” Saosh asked, burning with impatience.
“In order to commune with the soul of a dead or living person, you must visualize them, or think about them in an emotional way. In other words, you must not be indifferent to them. Your emotions, like a radar, send the person energy, and you receive it back enriched with the state that this person is in. You just have to feel this energy and understand this person’s message.”
“All shamans do this?”
“Yes, all of them. And you’re a shaman too, you can enter the spirit world and meet her in person.”
“But how shall I tune in to her image? I’ve never seen the Princess!” persisted Saosh.
“It’s all right, I’ll help you. For I’ve seen her.”
“In the shadow world, of course,” Kudai Kam grinned at the young man’s confusion.
“Is she beautiful?” Saosh asked curiously?
“Then I’m ready,” he answered burning with enthusiasm.
“Easy, easy, hold your horses! The Princess should be regarded with reverence and respect. Or she might get angry with you.”
“I’m sorry, Kudai Kam, I didn’t mean to say that.”
“My job is to warn you. Now, take your drum, start the ritual, and feel the beat that will carry you away into the spirit world. Find it and tune in to what you want to see. I will tune in to the image of the Princess, playing the khomus to help you with your ritual.”
Saosh Meets The Princess
It took Saosh a long time to choose a new beat and tune in. He twirled round hither – it wasn’t any good. Then he twirled round thither – it wasn’t any better! He changed the vibrational frequency – it didn’t help! He didn’t know how much time had passed –. Only the pillar of smoke from the fire had become more regular and steady.
“The sun must’ve gone down,” thought Saosh, “it’s become cooler, and the insatiable cold guarding the hole at the top of the tent is now more frantically and greedily attracting the heat from the hearth. It must already be night outside.”
Saosh was thinking in this way, falling into a deeper trance to the vibrant and resounding beat of the drum.
Something now started whirling around the drum – the spirit of the drum, the deer Tyn Bura, whose skin had been used to make it. The spirit came out from the drum and stood before Saosh, beautiful, its magnificent antlers spread wide and its head proudly raised. It cast a silent look with it’s intense and penetrating eyes into the young man’s eyes, as if asking him to follow. Saosh took a few hesitant steps and understood at once that he was flying after his deer, which was carrying him along to the shadow world. He now felt as light and free as the smoke that curls away from the fire, and he flew out of the hole at the top of the chaadyr. He saw the distant cloudless sky, with stars that spread like a blanket of velvet in the boundless space. The Milky Way that stretched as far as the eye could see. The myriads of stars that stared down at the earth from the sky, with their penetrating eyes, became one endless, eternal glow.
“Wow! How beautiful!” Saosh shuddered with delight. “I wish I could go there!”
He now flew in a flash of light and appeared next to a beautiful and majestic woman.
“Who is she?” a question flitted through his mind.
And at the same time he KNEW that the Altai Princess herself was standing before him.
“Can it be true?!” a thought flew through his mind like the wind. “It’s HER!”
Saosh looked into her unfathomable eyes and felt that he was literally drowning in her piercing, unwinking stare.
“What a beauty!” he thought with awe. The next instant a daring idea struck him:
“I would love to have a girlfriend like this!”
He blushed with shame at once.
“Stop it! What a shame!” he rebuked himself. “Have you forgotten WHO is standing before you? Aren’t you afraid to think that? Eh?!”
The Princess was looking at him in silence and she must have heard his thoughts. Yes, surely she did hear him. Only these thoughts didn’t bother her at all. She seemed to be hovering, majestically above all this worldly vanity and passions. Her gaze was both bewitching and sobering at the same time.
Saosh drew in a deep breath, and then breathing out, he sort of shrank back. This helped to steady him. In the next moment, his eyes started wandering over the Princess’s costume. Her head was adorned with a very high and long headdress. Behind the head was a crescent, placed horizontally and decorated with turquoise pendants. It was a symbol of the eternal feminine and of beauty, of the limitless feminine lunar energy. Her two tight braids were twirled in spirals on the sides of her head.
“She must have been married,” Saosh thought. “It’s our custom: girls wear one braid on the back of the head. And once a woman gets married, after the wedding night she starts wearing two braids. Who was her husband, I wonder?”
In the next instant the young man gave himself a scolding:
“Quit it! Shame on you! What difference does it make who her husband was? What do you care? It wasn’t you – so chuck it!”
Saosh stood in perplexity for a short while. And then that part of his mind was up to its old games again.
“But I wonder still, if she is WHAT she is, then WHAT was her husband like? He was likely to be as handsome, strong and powerful as her… I wish I could be at her side instead of him just for a day!”
The other part of him now cut in again:
“Oh, shut up, will you? Look at yourself! What a sight you are! You think you’re a match for her?! That’s ridiculous!”
The two completely opposite parts of his personality. were struggling inside of him. If Saosh had been saying all this aloud, he would have appeared a madman. And he was going mad indeed. The beauty, might and grandeur that radiated from this wonderful woman drove him crazy. His eyes began to wander involuntarily down her attire, studying even the smallest detail of it.
She was wearing a long gray kaftan embroidered in a fanciful national pattern along the hem, sleeves and collar. The long, floor-length gray skirt was decorated in a similar way. Under the kaftan, one could see long dazzling white sleeves that symbolized the purity and chastity of the Princess’s thoughts. Her wrists were adorned with bracelets, her fingers with gold rings – everything was a perfect match. Everything created a beautiful, majestic and feminine look.
“How old is she?” Saosh thought again. “She looks very young. Not more than nineteen. But she is very strong in spirit for her age. She can well be thirty. And the gaze! My God!”
As he thought this, she cast a careful, penetrating and magical look at him, and he felt as if he’d received an electric shock. Hypnotized, he was standing and watching her, unable to move or utter a word. She held out her hand, and in it appeared a string of turquoise prayer beads. They emanated such dazzling light that our hero had to squint to see.
“No, no, it’s not right!” a thought flitted through his mind. “Come on, do what she asks you to do!”
Bowing respectfully before the Princess, Saosh took the gift with two hands.
“That’s better,” the Princess said condescendingly.
“And what should I do with these?” he asked dubiously.
The Gods’ Beads
“I will teach you how to pray with the aid of the four winds and enable the vision of the Gods,” she said majestically. “Sit down facing the east and take the beads in your left hand, at the level of your chest.”
Saosh turned and sat facing the rising sun. It had just climbed out of its night cradle and began tinting the surroundings with shades of soft pink and purple. A few of its rays fell upon the beads, and they lit up the beautiful soft turquoise. The young man was astonished and nearly dropped them out of his hands.
“Hold them firmly,” the Princess smiled indulgently, “and invoke Tengri, the God of Eternity, by counting the beads to the beat of your heart. Start uttering the sound ‘Grinnn’, move the beads, starting with the first one, in a counterclockwise movement, so that they move towards you. Use your thumb and forefinger. Take one bead for each sound. Feel Tengri Khan’s blessing flow into your heart.”
Saosh stood still and silent. He breathed in and out, then listened to the beating of his heart. Suddenly, in his mind, there was such a silence, as if he had just heard and begun to realize all that was happening around and inside himself, for the first time in his life. He started counting his beads to the beat of his heart.
“Grinnn! Grinnn! Grinnn!” And at once a perfect ringing silence settled in the space around him, and there was great and eternal peace.
The starry sky spread over him. Its fathomless, dark velvet canopy stretched above his head, enchanting him with its peculiar mystery and the anticipation of something new and inconceivable at the same time. The entire dome of the sky glittered with myriads of crystal clear and amazingly bright stars. They seemed to be talking to him in a language that only they could understand. The endless inexpressible mystery was inviting and magnetic. Through the top of the young man’s head the starlight began to flow into the whole of his being. Then it filled his heart. He gave a start and began to tremble like delicate feather grass in the breeze. He had never experienced anything like that. He had a feeling that he was truly alive for the first time in his life.
Overflowing with energy, an exclamation escaped Saosh ,“I love you, Lord, and all of Your creations!”
And instantly all the stars burst forth with a magical, heavenly light. Their glow blended and became one. Saosh had to squint again because of the incredible radiance. Then it began to grow dim. And when Saosh opened his eyes again, he saw in each of the stars the eyes of the God Tengri. Each of the eyes seemed to be watching him from Eternity, calling to him. Then this glow became faint, more quiet, uniform and soft. And suddenly the astonished young man saw Tengri Khan himself sitting against the canopy of the sky.
Majestic, calm and handsome, he was looking at him with all the myriads of his eyes. Clad in a high headdress and blue national costume, he had eyes on his hands, feet and between the eyebrows. And the entire canopy was scattered with the infinite number of eyes that were looking from Eternity.
Saosh made a low obeisance to him. Tengri held out his hand over him and in the next moment the prayer beads lit up with a dazzling bright turquoise light and vanished into nothing.
Saosh straightened his back and again saw the Princess standing before him.
“Now turn to the south,” she said majestically.
Saosh turned around ninety degrees and sat up straight.
“Take these,” said the Princess as she handed him yellow beads.
He accepted them with awe. In the next instant the beads in his hands lit up with an amber glow, as bright as the sun. He was surprised, and unable to adjust to it. He now turned to the Princess.
“Finger them in the same way,” she said, “but this time with your thumb and middle finger. Move one bead for each beat of your heart. Count the beads saying ‘Gannn’ and invoking Ülgen, the God of the Future. Hold them at the level of your waist.”
Saosh acted accordingly. Listening to his heartbeat, he began to count his beads.
“Gannn! Gannn! Gannn!” the sunny beads began to twirl. He felt his solar plexus kind of broaden, and then dawn appeared before his eyes. The sun was rising, turning everything gold and burning away the night shadows and the hoary shreds of the fog. Lighting the feathery clouds with its first gentle rays, it tinted them with the most extravagant tinges of pink, golden and lilac. Saosh went on counting the prayer beads.
“Gannn! Gannn! Gannn!” A soft warm breeze was blowing into his face, bringing the scent of flowers and freshly cut grass. The freshly awakened birds cheerfully flitted and chirped in the sky. Beneath him a beautiful pure mountain stream flowed towards him, as if bringing from the future all the things that he could wish for. Any thought, even the most daring dreams, could come true in this moment, if he would just wish for it to happen. Everything was ahead of him. He had the feeling that a great prospect had opened before him, filled with the anticipation of something new, lively, light and joyous. He caught a glimpse of Ülgen’s benevolent face in the feathery clouds. There was something in Ulgen that reminded one of the round and kind-hearted Grandfather Frost from a Russian folk tale. Or Santa Claus from the western stories. With a long white beard, a mustache and chubby red cheeks. Cunning and sparkling eyes. Slightly bald-headed. Three accurate and smooth horizontal lines furrowed his well-rounded forehead. He was dressed in a traditional white kaftan, trimmed with ermine on the collar, sleeves, and the front and lower edges. In his left hand Lord Ülgen held a staff – a symbol of the future, from which all the things, events, people and phenomena come to us. Watching him, Saosh felt some unusual new inspiration fill him.
He was ablaze with unspeakable enthusiasm. He wanted to create, play, sing, dance, and make great scientific discoveries. To do something for the good and joy of all men on earth, to make everyone on our planet feel wonderful!
“Thank you, Ülgen Khan,” said Saosh with respect, making a low bow to him and touching the ground with his head and hands.
After a while the beautiful vision vanished, as quickly as it had appeared. The prayer beads in the young man’s hands lit up in a dazzling yellow light and disappeared as well. He realized he was sitting before the Altai Princess again.
“Now turn to the west,” she said giving him red beads.
Saosh took them and couldn’t take his eyes off the first bead. It was the biggest of three beads, followed by a medium sized one, and then the smallest.
“These are the masculine and feminine parts of the deity,” explained the Princess, seeing his silent question and amazement, “and the smallest one joins their spirit, their conscious, the Aiy. Always begin with this bead, for it is the most important one. Tune in to Umai, and, fingering the beads with your fourth finger and thumb, hold them at the bottom of the stomach, and say ‘Khem’.”
Saosh did as he was told. Listening to the beating of his heart, he began to count the beads. “Khem! Khem! Khem!” sang his heart and his entire body. “Khem! Khem! Khem!” the purple in the beads began to glitter. Next he saw a beautiful forest lake covered with a bluish mist, with lovely soft yellow water lilies blooming on its surface. The white heap of clouds were hanging in the blue sky, their vertical caps towering high into the air. The warm summer sun was shining brightly, bringing joy and happiness to every living thing. The logs were crackling in the fire that was burning in front of the young shaman. Its murmuring and insatiable flame was rising high, as if wanting to fly away to the clouds. The trees blossomed and released their various fragrances that blended into a incredible palette; on many of them, the fruit had already grown, ripe and juicy, ready to drop to the ground. The wind was whirling playfully, stirring the tongues of the flames, swaying them to-and-fro; now calming down, then continuing with his mischievous tricks. The entire atmosphere was filled with joy, peace and merriment. Saosh felt some kind of protective and guarding aura around him. He felt like a child beside his loving mother, who was ready to protect, comfort and feed him. Like he had become a baby again and returned to the warm embrace of his affectionate mother. In the next instant he caught a glimpse of Umai’s form, in the mist that floated over the lake.
She appeared before him: young, rosy-cheeked and cheerful. She was dressed in a white national costume adorned with a red Altai ornamental pattern. Light, youthfulness and beauty radiated from her. The young man was looking at her and feeling a thrill of joy run through his entire body. It was that incomparable feeling that a man has when he sees a very beautiful woman before him. Saosh was captivated, fascinated, and absolutely crushed by her beauty, grace and the incredible light emanating from her youthful face.
He began to peer at her features. The head of the Goddess was crowned with a big tiara, richly decorated with diamonds and rubies. “That’s a truly regal ornament,” he thought, “suitable only for a God. A plain woman just wouldn’t look good in it! If I am to meet a girl in my life, I want her to be like this. To be no less than her. And I will surely give her such a tiara. Yes! That’s the way it’ll be!” the young shaman was dreaming. “Just like this one!!!”
He gazed at the Goddess more intently. This time his eyes feasted themselves on her beautiful young face with strong oriental features. It radiated peace, beauty, quiet and harmony. Umai was smiling, as if inviting him to join her in this feast of life, abundance and prosperity, in which she herself eternally abode. “That’s what a wife must be like,” Saosh kept on dreaming. “With her, one should feel easy, comfortable and happy. I would always return to such a woman after my exploits. And she would be proud of me. Yes! That’s the wife I would want for myself!” Some incredible light emanated from Umai. Sitting against the full silver moon, she was the personification of the Orb of Night, the symbol of everlasting womanly beauty and charm. Her long silvery hair, cascading to the ground, radiated amazing light. Saosh took a closer look at her hair and just gasped with surprise: the hair seemed to be emitting a soft silver glow from within. It was ALIVE! “What is this?” he thought, puzzled. In the next instant he understood. “But these are… these are… the Moon’s rays! Yes! YES! It is not just hair, but THE RAYS OF THE MOON!” The Goddess’s hair glowed with soft moonlight. “Enough! I can’t bear it any longer!” Saosh was losing his patience. “I’ll marry her. Yes! Umai will be my wife! That’s what I want, that’s what I desire!”
He was just drooling over the Goddess and went on looking hungrily at her. Umai sat on the thick green spring grass, against the forest and the night sky, that was adorned with plenty of stars and the full moon. She was holding a cup in her right hand – a symbol of abundance and prosperity, and a spruce twig, a symbol of the world of the present, where she reigned. Not far in front of her, there was a strip of fertile land, on which Saosh saw three “babies”, so to speak. They was a fawn – a symbol of luck and agility, a bear cub symbolizing strength and confidence, and a child lying on a sheepskin – the image of the human-to-be and his best qualities. A carpet of scarlet tulips blazed before the beautiful Goddess – a reminder of her blossoming and everlasting love and beauty. Behind her, not far away, animals were peacefully grazing and a playful colt was prancing. To her left was a yurt with the curtain raised invitingly. “Ah, I wish I could go inside and see what’s in there. Enjoy the peace and harmony. The love and care of a woman which gives strength and energy. The youthfulness and beauty!” He at once gave himself a slap on the wrist, “Don’t! Don’t dare to dream of such a thing! She is a Goddess! She might not like it…”
But Umai wasn’t showing any signs of resentment. She was just watching the young man, as if smiling internally at him.
He made a low obeisance to her, but did not want to leave this state. Suddenly the beads lit up with a scarlet light and then disappeared.
Saosh straightened his back unwillingly and saw the Altai Princess again.
“Now turn to the north,” said the Princess. “Take these black beads.”
Saosh accepted them automatically, giving them a quick glance, and now he cried out in surprise, throwing them away from himself.
“A-a-ah!!! Damn!” he shrieked as if scalded.
The Princess laughed cheerfully at his eccentric behavior. And now the prayer beads were again in her hands. He made an effort to pull himself together and took a good look at them. Each bead was carved with the image of a noseless skull, with a “nice” grin and empty eyeholes. “Dear me!” he thought. “Isn’t that something?”
“Have no fear,” the Altai Princess said winking merrily at him. “All of you who live on earth will become ‘nice’ and ‘cute’ just like these beads some day”
“Phew! I didn’t expect that!” he gasped.
“Ha-ha-ha!” she laughed melodiously.
“What a charming laughter she has!” And before he could think of anything else, he heard:
“Take them in your right hand and this time finger them with your thumb and pinky finger in a clockwise movement, away from yourself. As if pushing away all that is obsolete, burdensome and idle. All that you want to let go, to get rid of. Everything that you’ve decided to destroy and eliminate. Put your hand on your right knee and start saying ‘Kennn’ invoking Erlik.”
Saosh began to finger the beads, as the skull beads started to twirl to the beat of his heart. The wheel of time twirled as well. “Kennn! Kennn! Kennn!”
He at once felt a breath of deathlike cold on his skin. The cold that struck through him, chilling him to the marrow. Dreadful groans and indistinct lamentations were heard all around. An owl was hooting in the distance. Sinister black clouds covered the gloomy night sky with their shaggy, scraggly beards. And glancing furtively through the gaps between them, a lonely, sad and always hungry moon was shining down. The cold north wind was driving these clouds into complete darkness, away from Saosh. The young man looked down involuntarily and was stupefied with terror. In the breathtaking abyss underneath him lay a roaring stream that was sweeping away everything in its path. It flowed away from him with a deafening crash, submerging huge rocks and boulders like so many grains of sand. Carrying away dead branches, leaves and rotted tree trunks. Taking everything obsolete, idle and old into the abyss of timelessness. All of the hopes, aspirations, dim expectations, sorrows and woes of people. Everything that had once given joy, pleasure and happiness, was now broken. Together with the masses of dead leaves, rocks and rotted tree trunks, they were floating away in the power of time, into the void. Into the vale of woe and despair. Saosh stared into the distant gloom, and saw Erlik Khan’s silhouette appear, and then quickly disappear. The young man could barely make out and “grasp” his features. Very thin, tall and swarthy. A long narrow face and burning, coal-black eyes, which gazed grimly outwards beneath the heavy black brows. He had a narrow, black forked beard, a long mustache, that tucked up behind the ears, and sharp fangs protruding from his sinister grin. Clad in black attire, he was sitting backwards on a bull of dark color, riding in front of a ruined castle. An evil fire of human passions and unfulfilled desires was burning in its windows.
Erlik Khan moved his right hand, and Saosh saw a snake in it. Like a whip, it soared upwards, producing a sharp crack, almost to the young man’s ear. With this urging the bull quickened its pace and ran off. The last thing that he saw was a lasso in Erlik’s left hand, that he used to catch the souls of lost sinners, dragging them with him into the abyss.
The vision disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. The roaring stopped, and everything became silent at once. In the next instant the young shaman felt some burdensome and heavy load lifted off his heart. The years, filled with worry, fear and trouble, were over. And he felt easy and refreshed, as if reborn, as if life had just begun.
“Thank you, Lord Erlik Khan,” said Saosh reverently, making a bow to the ground. And before he knew it, he found himself in Kudai Kam’s chaadyr. Astonished by what he had seen, he shook himself like a dog shaking off water, but he could not come to.
“Phew! What was that?” he asked in amazement.
“Remember everything that you’ve seen. And recall these visions when you practice sorcery,” said Kudai Kam.
“And the beads? Do I need to have such beads for each deity?” asked Saosh
“Yes,” answered Kudai Kam. “You’ll have to make them yourself. I’ll teach you how to do it.”
“All right, whatever you say. And you, Kudai Kam, do you have beads like that?” wondered the young man.
“No, mine are different, my friend.”
Out of a little bag on his waist, he took a thick string, which had a few round bone beads that looked like big buttons. They had an aura of strength, power and silence about them. The young shaman couldn’t understand what they were made of. He involuntarily reached for them.
“It’s too early for you to have beads like that,” Kudai Kam said taking away his hand. Saosh was a little embarrassed and fell silent.
“They’re made of the skull bones of dead shamans. The skull bones store their powers.”
“Wow! How about that!” Saosh even bit his lip with envy.
“Don’t you worry,” grinned Kudai Kam. “I’ll give these beads to you before I die.”
Saosh sighed with relief.
“When my body has decayed, and there is nothing left but the skeleton that lies on the arankas,, you will cut a small plate out of the area above the bridge of the nose,” he said pointing to the space between the eyebrows. “Right here. Do you see?”
“Ah! I see,” he nodded.
“It will connect you to my Kut, with my Power. When you count these beads, all the previous shamans and I will come to help you in your ritual. You will feel our Power, aid and support. You will know that you are not alone, and that we are helping you.”
“Yes, I will do this!”
“And then your successor will do the same with your bone.”
“And then I’ll be helping him together with all of you?”
“Of course! But this will not happen until he gains his power.”
“Or else the powers of so many shamans can drive him mad, he won’t be able to bear it. And the power that we cannot control, be it authority, fame or money, becomes destructive to us. We have to be able to be aloof and seeking the good for the entire world and the creation. Then this power will help us. But it will destroy an egoist wallowing in his selfish dreams,” said Kudai Kam hiding the beads in his waist bag.
“So that’s it…”
“Yes, my friend. And now it’s time to sleep. Get ready to go to bed.”
Lying on the soft and warm deerskins that emitted a distinctive but familiar smell, Saosh dreamt of becoming a Great Shaman in the distant future. He would also have such powerful magical beads. Falling asleep, he suddenly saw his decayed body resting upon the shaman arankas, under the dazzling starry sky. And his successor, a new mighty shaman, cut a bead out of his nose bridge. And Saosh’s Kut was transferred to him. Saosh was now free, and flew up to Tengri Khan, the God of Eternity. And dissolved in the embrace of Eternity…
Saosh was walking with Kudai Kam through the summer mountain taiga. It was a hot July day, that was filled with a tranquil peace and stately leisureliness. They were surrounded by tall silver-fir trees that were clad in dark green finery, thick branches with fleshy needles. They were about thirty meters tall, and were so thick that it would take two men could encircle them. Being heated by the sun caused them to exhale the most delicate perfume that suffused the forest with an atmosphere of vigor and power. Amber tears of resin were streaming down the tree trunks. The golden droplets, glittering in the sun, emitted the same harsh, but pleasant odor.
Cedars could also be found in certain places. Dressed in bushy caps of long silver-green needles, they stood out majestically amongst the fir trees. A weasel now appeared, hiding behind a tree trunk. It peeked out its light-beige snout and pricked up it’s big ears. Having noticed that the uninvited guests were looking back at it, the weasel quickly hid behind the tree trunk and left. Kudai Kam and Saosh gave a merry laugh in reply and continued walking.
Soon the path rose, the forest began to thin, and our travelers came to the alpine meadows. The area was full of grass, flowers and insects. On these montane grasslands there was motley grass that emitted a sweet fragrance as it grew.The meadows, scattered with bright and fragrant flowers, were ablaze with all the colors that could be found in nature. There were bluebells, flagrant pink rhododendrons, large white chamomiles, and other small sweet-scented florets that were unknown to Saosh. Mosses and lichens ensconced themselves cozily between the rocks. Everything you could imagine bloomed, blossomed and exhaled fragrance. The beautiful, flowers were covered with the furry bumblebees and colorful butterflies.They were flitting around with a vibrant hum and were an unending source of fascination and loveliness. It seemed that this time, filled with the heat and the wonderful natural harmony, would never end. The caressing sun had climbed to its zenith, shining brightly and giving warmth and strength to all living things. Huge white clouds towered high above the endless blue sky, their fanciful forms reminding one of the temple of Tengri, the God of Eternity.
Looking at them, Saosh thought, “This is the place where the Gods live! And Tengri Khan may show his face here at any moment. I will behold the Eternal, that space where time has no power over men!”
As they continued walking the ascending path, they came over the hill pass and started descending into the blossoming mountain valley. Such places were untouched by man, and one could feel the wonderful energy of nature filling them with serenity and happiness. The happiness that filled the entire being of the person who was fortunate enough to visit these lands.
Kudai Kam led his apprentice into an absolutely new world where he was to be cleansed and learn.
Why must they go that far, you may ask? Especially since Saosh already lived so close to nature. What’s the point?
You are perfectly right. And It’s important to understand, that when a shaman-to-be lives among people, the people around the apprentice are constantly reminding them of what kind of person they think the apprentice is, and where the apprentice comes from, and what they think the apprentice’s purpose in life is. The shaman to be may forget their higher calling. It is too difficult for them to overcome all this and continue to move on their path. For this there is a Great Kam to help them. That is why our hero had set forth on this long and difficult journey.
Having come to the ascent, right before the steep slope where the path began to climb upwards, Kudai Kam bowed to the mountain and said:
“Let us into your realm, blessed Ayami, patroness of this land! Receive us favorably. We admire you, your Power and Might and seek your protection!”
With this he put his right palm on his chest and made a low bow.
Saosh repeated this ritual following Kudai Kam. Then the travelers continued their ascent.
When Kudai Kam began to climb up the steep path, he said:
“These places of Power are temples of the ancients, the followers of Shamanism. Those who are heathens don’t see the need to build special temples, churches, datsans or synagogues. For us, places of Power like the mountain peaks, abrupt, beautiful coastlines, and clean untouched lakes, are the temples. They are the places where one can go to be closer to the Gods. Shamans know them and go there only when the need arises, in order to not disturb the spirits. And none of the artificial, man-made temples can compare with any of God’s creations. In these places, they commune with the powerful spirits of the Yarsu (water and earth spirits) and with the Gods. It is a very special atmosphere. Which is why one should enter these places in silence, and with great reverence and awe.”
At last the trees ended, and the travelers came to the alpine meadows once again. They were surrounded by vigorously blooming flowers and fragrant rhododendrons. The air was sultry, and filled with the power of the July sun. The hum of thousands of various insects blended into a wonderful chorus. Bright butterflies fluttered all around. Every now and then, playful birds would chase each other from one branch to another. Their grown fledglings, still tailless, but already able to fly. were learning all the intricacies of the avian survival from their parents. From flower to flower the colorful butterflies occasionally fluttered The sun was scorching, and the travelers were now beginning to pour with sweat. The ascent was long and difficult. Kudai Kam was in no hurry, trying to feel and absorb all the impressions and energy of this place. Imitating his behavior, Saosh was also walking silently, drinking in the energy of nature with every fiber of his body.
“In the wild, where there are almost no people,” said Kudai Kam, “the Ayami always talk to and help those who come to them asking for help. In the places that are crowded with people, they’ve become silent.”
“But why?” asked his apprentice.
“They are unwilling to talk to those who are unable to listen. You wouldn’t want to talk to a person who is sitting with their back to you, would you?”
The young man nodded quietly.
“So only in the places, where people rarely show up, are the Ayami ready to talk. They won’t let just anybody in. Ordinary people seek easier and calmer paths.”
“You’re right, Kudai Kam. I remember when I was young, my parents used to take me to this place – “The Sunbaths” is the name. It is near the place where the Katun River and the Chuysky Trakt cross. What a place it was! Quiet, peaceful and harmonious. Not a piece of trash, not a trace of human presence. The trees were untouched.. I can still remember it. The water in the pools was so clean. I remember swimming in them. The little pools were warmer, and the big pools were cooler. I still remember what I felt when I was a child. I really felt Ayami talk to me. The river itself, which was flowing nearby, whispered it’s lullaby to me. I remember falling asleep in a hut to those sounds. Fifteen years later, I visited that place again on my own. My God, what happened to that place! I could hardly recognize it!.. They had put campgrounds everywhere, the entire coast was now furrowed with trails. The trees had been picked bare, like an old skeleton. What had become of their lush and full branches? Bottles and trash were everywhere. Even in the pools! Can you imagine, Kudai Kam!
The Great Shaman gave a reproachful nod.
“And the saddest thing,” Saosh went on, “is that the place has become almost desolate. You wouldn’t want to go into that water anymore. It seemed to have become dirty, both literally and figuratively. It seemed as if the whole coast was dying. And Ayami is really very angry with the people who treat her in such an exploitative manner.”
“You’re right, my friend, you’re right.”
“And I did not feel excitement in that place anymore. But here!.. I can feel my soul and body cleansing,” said Saosh with amazement and joy. “With every step I feel lighter and easier inside. As if I’m relieving myself from some old and unnecessary burden.”
The Soul And The Body
“Yes. All the troubles and woes of men, all the illnesses that arise, come from the dirt they have created around themselves,” said Kudai Kam. “They have lost their bond with nature, so there’s no harmony inside of them. Only the communion with nature can make them truly happy. The dwellers of a remote village are kinder and more open people than those who live in a metropolis, who don’t pay attention to each other or anything around them.”
“Yes, it’s a good point, Kudai Kam,” the young man nodded. “Each time I happen to be in a big city, I see fussy, nervous and embittered people. They are always in a hurry, wanting to outrun each other. Some are even elbowing people out of their way. Obviously, they are very cramped together. It’s so stifling there!”
“That’s true, my friend. Here, there’s a lot of space. And people rarely see each other. If you go to a forest and manage to see one person in ten miles, you’re lucky. People actively try to meet each other here. Because your fellow man is your possibility to survive, to support each other in the time of need. Whereas in a metropolis, people meet each other too often. There’s not enough space for them there. And each person they meet is not seen as a support or help, but rather as threat and a danger. As stress. They are constantly rubbing against each other’s auras. They create this ‘nervous electricity’ which the city is drowning in. The people in such cities create a physical and spiritual filth that they will soon perish in. They worry too much about the lowest parts of their being and forget about their soul.”
“Yes There are so many advertisements there, that even if a person doesn’t need a thing, because what they have already will last at least ten years, they go to a shop anyway to buy it. It doesn’t matter that they don’t need it, they just buy it. And then it lies in their home and collects dust. They may use it once, and then they lose interest in this thing, and this is the end of it. It’s puzzling to me why a person works all the time, to just waste their salary on things the don’t need. Life is passing them by, and they are buried in work, continuing to live in this way. It’s ridiculous!”
“That’s a good point!” Kudai Kam smiled in approval. “People worry about the moral body too much. They forget their higher calling. Because, first and foremost, a person is a soul. This earth they live in is just a temporary home, the permanent home is in heaven.”
“I wonder, if I had lived a few years in a metropolis, away from nature, would I have become like them,” Saosh gave a sudden laugh. “What an awful thought! Why are things like this, Kudai Kam?”
“People are blind, they think their main life is within the physical body here on earth. They think that everything must revolve around its needs. This is the greatest delusion. Actually, the mortal body is just a temporary habitat for the soul. A person shouldn’t worry so much about the body’s needs, because many of them are made-up, exaggerated, or absurd.”
“Then what are we doing here?” asked Saosh in surprise. “What is all this for?”
“Here on earth, in the physical body, the soul gets the experience it cannot get in heaven, which is needed to make its knowledge and wisdom complete. Here it will experience ignorance, suffering and different limitations, living in the very heavy and uncomfortable physical body. All or most of the negative experiences that is necessary for learning, it receives right here on earth, incarnated in the physical body.”
“It’s suffering and limitations of the mind and the abilities. And ignorance, being aware of one’s own helplessness. Vices and temptations. Treachery, clinging to things and then mourning their loss, new encounters and endings. Illness, infirmity, old age, physical suffering, hunger, pain. And many other things. To name but a few. It is important for you to experience this for yourself.”
“Of course, and I have. But what does a soul do in heaven?” asked Saosh.
“It rests. In heaven the soul knows everything. There is no lie there. It travels at the speed of thought. To any place, at its will. There are no earthly concerns and hardships, illnesses, senility, need for food, life in those terms is very easy there. There’s no physical body with its limitations, ignorance and sluggishness. And our earthly life is just its faint reflection.”
“Then is earthly life all doom and gloom, Kudai Kam?” the young man asked sadly.