Shamanism encompasses a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. New archaeological evidence shows that this practice may have originated as early as over 12,000 years ago and is present, with different variations, in all indigenous cultures on all inhabited continents.
One of the most enduring forms of Shamanism can be found in central and western Asia, through what is now modern day Mongolia, southern Siberia, northwestern China, and parts of Eastern Europe. In ancient days, Shamanism was widely practiced among the nomadic people who inhabited these lands. It played an essential role in the cultures of ancient Siberia, and is a key element of Altaic mythology.
The term "shaman" itself came from the Turkic word šamán referring to such practitioners and literally means "he or she who knows." Local traditions for ethnic groups such as the Buryats, who inhabit the region near Lake Baikal (Siberia and Northern Mongolia), regard this region as the birthplace of Shamanism.
For centuries, this ancient spiritual practice was preserved and passed down on from generation to generation, despite a slow deterioration process and a gradual disinterest from the populations. In many parts of Asia, these beliefs gradually gave way to Tibetan Buddhism.
However, for a period of over 300 years, much of that knowledge was lost during the ruling of the Manchu over Mongolia that started in the beginning of the 17th century.
Shamanism in Siberia and in Northern Mongolia also suffered immensely from the effects of the Great Purges initiated by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, and from the resulting religious persecutions. Shamans were forbidden to practice and drums were outlawed. There are many stories of shamans being imprisoned or killed because they found it impossible to stop healing.
These effects were felt in that region until the fall of Soviet communism in 1991 restored the legality of public religious practices. In recent years, there has been a regain in popularity of Shamanism in Mongolia.
For additional information about Mongolian Shamanism, the book The Sky Son: Tengeriin Khuu, which takes place amongst the Tsaatan tribe of reindeer herders, in the beautiful province near lake Khovsgol, tells the remarkable story of a young Mongolian shaman's life, and his journey through the discovery of the spiritual world.