SIBERIAN SHAMANISM. How To Build A Shelter

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It was growing dark. In the clear, deep blue sky, shrouded below in scarlet evening glow, first stars began to light up. The birds were silent, giving way to the lilting songs of the crickets, which impregnated the air with their soft but pleasant trills. Their sounds created the atmosphere of conciliation and peace. Meanwhile, the cold came from the mountain tops. The warm ascending day air changed into the fresh streams that flowed into the valleys. Kudai Kam and Saosh Yant began to go down to the level where trees grew, in order to build a shelter for the overnight stay.

“Have you ever built shelters?” Kudai Kam asked his apprentice.

“No, what is it? Some kind of a hut?” he asked simple-heartedly.

“Yeah, to hide from snakes and predators,” the shaman laughed in his silvery mustache.

“Oh, no, I haven’t. My friends and I have only gone camping. And we lived in tents there.”

“Good. See that fallen tree?”

“Yes. What shall we do with it?”

“What shall we do? Before doing anything, you must understand something.”

“What is that?”

“Night is the time of predators. The forest never sleeps, you see. Life always goes on in it. And at night, while you’re asleep, you are doubly defenseless. Vulnerable. You become easy prey for all of them.”

“Oh, who exactly?”

“Bears, in the first place. And wolves.”

“Oh, dear!” Saosh was frightened. “So what are we gonna do now? Maybe we should go home?”

“No, my friend, it’s not the purpose of your journey. We’ll spend the night here.”

“If you say so, Kudai Kam.”

“And do you know what to do, for example, when you wake up in the morning and, say, there is a snake on your breast?”

Saosh thought for a moment. His eyes showed a mix of horror, disgust and fear.

“I don’t know,” he braced himself and said. “First I thought of throwing it off me. But then I understood that as soon as I make it angry, it may bite me.”

“Yeah, good!”

“I don’t know what to do. Perhaps, I should just lie and do nothing. It will crawl away by itself.”

“Excellent! You’re right! Good boy! How did you guess?”

“I don’t know, I just felt that.”

“You are indeed a very capable apprentice shaman.”

“Does it warm itself like that or what?”

“Of course. Snakes, you know, are cold blooded creatures. So, if you don’t want to wake up in the morning with a snake on your breast, you do this. Go a little bit up and make a big fire there. We’ll make another one right in front of your shelter to keep ourselves warm at night. And to keep off the predators. The fire on the higher ground has to be much bigger than ours.”

“All right, but what is it for?”

“When in the morning our fire burns down and gets cold, snakes will come to warm themselves not on your breast, but near the smoldering coals of that fire. Do you understand?”

“Ah! I see! That’s great! How do you know about all that, Kudai Kam?”

“What planet are you on?” the old man looked at him reproachfully. “I live in the forest all the time.”

“Ah, I see. Well, I’ll be going now?”

“No, wait. Now you’ll build the shelter. What is important for us?”

“What?”

“To make the shelter as soon as possible and with the least possible trouble. Here, chop the longest branches off the fallen spruce. They will make good beams.”

Kudai Kam pointed to the tree, whose trunk lay almost parallel to the ground.

Saosh Yant set to work. In the meantime, Kudai Kam found a last year’s dry nest, gathered some dead leaves and twigs. He struck the fire steel over the kindling, produced a spark and… A small cheerful fire, slowly but surely, began to eat up the food given to it. Kam blew on the incipient flame, breathed life into it, threw more dry branches, and the fire was ready. He only needed to feed it up, to put some thick logs, and a warm, fairy comfortable night was guaranteed for them.

“So? Is the shelter ready?”

“It’s ready. Here, look!”

The young man proudly pointed to the result of his work. The shelter was a success. Large enough, with a thick floor covering, it was kindly inviting the travelers to come in and stay.

“Not bad. Now do you remember what else you have to do?”

“Ah, yes! A snake on my breast. I remember, of course. Can I take this firebrand?”

“Yeah, take it. And remember that the fire must be much bigger than ours.”

So the young man went a little up, made a bid fire there and then returned to the shelter.

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