Shaman Costumes

by Daan van Kampenhout

(Daan van Kampenhout 1995)

Siberia is a vast land, inhabited over several thousands of years by different shamanic cultures, each practising their own version of the shamanic way of life. For an overall view of Siberian shamanism, one must therefore focus on the similarities among the different tribes, the general patterns, the similar techniques and the common symbols. Siberian shaman costumes - one of several aspects of shamanic practice - provide a fertile ground for the study of these symbols and shed light on the traditional shaman's world.

Why did Siberian shamans wear magical costumes when related shamanic cultures such as the Lapland Sami did not? Most shamans from the Arctic regions usually worked naked, feeling no need to protect their bodies with special costumes during their journeys into other realities. Some theories suggest that Siberian shamanism had already fallen into a state of "decadence" by the time researchers started gathering information, hence their costumes. Whatever the reason, throughout Siberia, an elaborate costume was part of the shaman's basic and necessary equipment, along with a drum and a drumstick.
(Khakass Shaman, Siberia)

Special ceremonial costumes - not exclusively shamanic - constitute a very ancient tradition. Among the oldest rock paintings in France at the Trois-Frères cave, shamans dance donning masks and antlers. Stone-age tribal peoples had shamans who dressed as birds or deer. Through our modern times, animal skins and materials like feathers have been important parts of shaman costumes. Why would such a tradition survive so long, if it were not somehow effective?

People have always liked to dress up for special occasions, regardless of the time and culture they live in. A special costume emphasises a certain aspect, mood or part of oneself. In general, a shaman was a normal member of the tribe most of the time, but for a ceremony he had to very clearly underline that he could not be expected to act like a 'normal' person anymore, but as a shaman.

In addition, the shaman costume provided protection. A Siberian shaman used techniques to leave the body and travel into the spirit world, relinquishing his body to a vulnerable state. A special costume, decorated with hard materials like iron, could protect his body against evil spirits while he himself was far away.

All over the world, blindfolds and headbands are used to increase concentration during meditative exercises. Closing your eyes to the visible world liberates a lot of energy, making it available to the other senses. In Siberia, the head-dress or blindfold was an important part of the costume, keeping the shaman from being distracted by things of this world during his journeys. In some areas of Siberia, it was the only part of the costume still in use while the other parts had disappeared from the tradition.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the shaman costume was its function as a storehouse of power. Forms and objects were sewn or attached to the costume, some merely symbols, but others actual power objects. Spirits would give power to the shaman through these objects, allowing the shaman wearing the costume to directly profit from these powers during his ceremonies.

Yet another function of the shaman costume was as a disguise. Sometimes a shaman would be called to deal with negative or destructive spirits during a ceremony, and healing a patient of an illness could inspire revenge in the spirit that caused it. The spirit could not effectively attack a shaman wearing a powerful costume, nor could it recognise the shaman when he was out of costume. In both cases, the shaman was protected. Useful for other reason, the shaman costume functioned in much the same way as playing the same music during meditation does to induce a meditative mood. By always wearing the same costume during trance states, the costume itself became an instrument for facilitating access to that state with its familiar weight - up to thirty pounds of iron in some tribes! - and the atmosphere created by the special sound of its bells and hangers.

(Mongolian Shaman)

Finally, the costume had an effect on the spectators. Both the costume and the drums were symbols of the tribe's knowledge of the laws of the universe. Seeing the tribal belief system clearly represented during a ceremony provided a feeling of safety and trust, the costume and drum serving as mirrors which reflected the people's world view.

In addition to the previously mentioned functions, the shaman made an important statement by wearing his costume, one which in many ways contradicted traditional societal rules, as their costumes were primarily androgynous. In modern western cultures, androgynous clothing is nothing special, but traditional societies rarely wore clothing used by men and women alike. Not only gender, but age, status and wealth were expressed by clothing, colours and jewellery. For the survival of a traditional culture, its members had to stick strictly to the rules and expectations attached to being a man or woman of a certain age and status. Emphasising an expected role via clothing helped a person stay in that role, proving to the individual and to the tribe that he or she abided to performing the tasks that were expected of that position. The shaman's costume didn't cooperate in this game.

Through his costume, the shaman relayed the message: "I am not a man, I am not a woman, I am human." The Siberian shaman costume expressed that all people are basically the same, that sex, age and status are unimportant in their essence. To become a shaman, one had to be both man and woman, because a person should be the sum total of all human experiences. This idea was taken very seriously in many Siberian - and some Native American - tribes. As part of the training of the shaman-to-be, he or she was expected to live for some time - anywhere from weeks to years - as a member of the opposite sex. During this period, the aspirant had to think, act and dress like a man if she was a woman, like a woman if he was a man. If the candidate found this task too difficult, he or she could not continue training to be a shaman.

Often, a person who successfully passed this part of their shamanic "examination" would chose to continue living as a member of the other sex. In some parts of Siberia, this was even expected of all male shamans. Homosexuality and traditional - Siberian - shamanism have always been connected. Many homosexuals do not feel "at home" in the role expected of them by society, and this lack of full identification with this role makes it relatively easy for them to drop it in order to try a new one. Many traditional shamanic cultures offered their homosexual members the possibility of living with a partner: a gay or lesbian could become a shaman and change sex, afterwards being able to marry a person of the same biological sex. Usually such transformed shamans would be looked upon with awe, fear or suspicion. They were considered to have very strong and special magical powers and carried distinctive and important responsibilities, yet their shaman costumes were androgynous, just like those of the "normal" shamans.

Basic Symbols

Many Siberian tribes stemmed from varied racial backgrounds, and although shamanic, usually the shaman was not the only religious practitioner in the tribe. Religious practices of different origins could be found in the same tribe, and shamanism itself was influenced by other belief systems, thus explaining the great variety taken by the forms of shamanic practice and the costumes used. Costumes varied from a simple blindfold or head-dress decorated with feathers to an elaborate combination of head-dress, breast shield, coat, gloves and boots. Tribal regulations existed concerning the costumes, but each shaman had a personal influence on making his or her own attire thus no two costumes were alike.

Rules differed from tribe to tribe concerning what material was needed, how to get it, how to treat it, who should collect and handle it. Every detail was subject to tradition, often leaving the shaman no choice, and even when choice did exist, traditional methods certainly took precedence as they had proven themselves effective. During certain stages in the costume's fabrication, the shaman sought advice from the spirits, or received that advice without having asked for it. These instruction would always be taken very seriously, as it was the spirits who gave power to the costume. The number of spirit helper that the shaman had would also influence the costume's form, as each would by represented by an iron human or animal figure.

The different symbols found on most Siberian costumes can be divided into seven groups:

 

Aside from these basic symbols, one also sometimes found the life tree - occasionally pictured as vertebrae and ribs as the stem and branches - and human genitalia. Sometimes, both male and female sexual organs were combined into one symbol, which was probably related to the androgynous principle.

Feathers were commonplace. Real bird feathers - usually from birds of prey - were used on many head-dresses, while on the costumes, they were more frequently forged of iron. Leather thongs hanging from the sleeves symbolised wings. Feathers symbolise flying - the shaman's bird-like flying into the spirit world during his journeys, while wings are a protective symbol, under which the shaman protects the souls of all the ill.

All Siberian shaman costumes bore images of bones or the human skeleton, as they are linked to the symbolic death and rebirth experience, related to power and played an important role in initiation visions. These visions usually occurred during illness. The shaman-to-be was, for example, chopped into pieces, his flesh eaten by the spirits, his bones boiled until clean and then forged into a new skeleton which the spirits clothed in new flesh and skin, after which the shaman was taught about his shamanic power and met his spirit helpers. Some tribes believed that the shaman had more bones than a normal person, and since more bones meant more power, the shaman would paint or sew extra bones onto his costume in a practical form of wishful thinking. In other tribes, each bone represented a member of the clan, sometimes it was sewn on by each individual member. In this way, the shaman also felt protected by his entire clan. Sometimes the bones only represented the men, the women being symbolised by the "flesh" around the symbolic bones, meaning the part of the costume on which the bones were sewn. Nevertheless, bone symbolism is universally used on ceremonial costumes with many different meanings, making a single interpretation difficult.

Traditionally, Siberian shamans found knowledge and guides in dreams, the spirits appearing of their own volition. Techniques such as those taught by Michael Harner for journeying with a drum or rattle were considered strictly the realm of great shamans. Average journeys unfolded according to expected patterns and would probably not be considered journeying in the New Age shamanism sense of the term. I myself have never been able to journey with a drum, but learned to use my dreaming, in which I meet spirit helpers, get my lessons and the techniques I use for healing. Some time ago, I had a powerful dream about bones. I was out in nature, and my body began to itch. The itch became stronger and stronger and I started to scratch myself all over, scratching wilder and harder until I began to painfully rip my flesh the itch was so unbearable. When the first bones became visible, I was startled: they were made of pure gold. In the end, I was left with a pure gold skeleton and no itching, I was in a state of pure being, having rid myself of all non-essentials. This dream taught me that bone was a symbol for essence and pure awareness. Later I learned that dreams of ripping one's flesh off down to the bones are typical of Arctic Inuit initiation visions. I will tell more surprisingly traditional experiences I had during my work with shamanic symbols on costumes, but first let's finish the story of the basic symbols.

Antlers and horns are another common symbol, primarily found on head-dresses, but also smaller ones on the shoulders of some costumes. Iron antlers were more frequently used than real ones, while horns were used only on head-dresses and this only rarely. Antlers symbolise a connection with the universe, reaching out into the cosmos from the top of the head like antennae. Like the life tree, the branches of the antlers stretch out into the upper world, becoming channels for messages from higher spirits. As a result, antlers were found not only on dear shaman's costumes, but also on those of bird and bear shamans. A dear shaman has the deer as his animal double and in trance would experience himself running like a deer to the other worlds. Antler symbolism varied from tribe to tribe. The Nanai, for example, used only small iron antlers with seven branches, each branch representing one of the seven Nanai groups. Wearing such an antler was a declaration that the shaman could help all Nanai people, not only those of his own clan.

The iron animal and human figures you find in endless variety on shaman costumes represent almost without exception spirits, either good or evil. Through these objects, the shaman could communicate with the spirits, give them messages or receive information from them. Some of the figures were grotesque, with two heads, or no head, with too many or not enough legs, etc. Usually these represented mythological beings or spirits that the shaman encountered in his or her journeys and dreams. The shaman included on his costume each spirit that gave or represented power to him, and in a way they were actually alive and sometimes even fed and honoured by the shaman before they were put onto the costume.

Hangers and bells are found in great quantity on most costumes, and are the most commonly found objects on costumes and drums. Their sound - often surprisingly noisy and loud - frightened away evil spirits. This concept is widespread, and the Christian belief of ringing bells during a funeral is a variation of the same theme. Some bells and hangers had a more specific function for the shaman, telling him things he needed to know, or guiding him with their sound back into his body after a journey.

Disks were primarily found on the back of the costume, usually representing the sun, moon and the entrance to the underworld. Sun and moon symbolise the shaman's knowledge of the universe, the influence of other worlds and planets. Some tribes used a special kind of disk called a Toli. Tolis were not made by humans, but were supposed to have been born from the body of a great shaman. They had tremendous power, and the shaman could keep a spirit in each Toli. These spirits would perform each task the shaman gave it. Tolis were hard to obtain.

The costume's chains and ropes were primarily purely functional, the swinging chains distracting the spirits that caused an illness during a healing ritual, while other chains and ropes were used by the shaman to climb up from the underworlds back into his body.

A familiarity with these basic symbols provides an initial understanding of Siberian shamanism, but I still wonder if the modern westerner can really grasp the essence of traditional shamanism. Closely connected to the rhythms and extremities of nature, survival being a full time occupation for small nomadic tribes in a world of overwhelming natural forces, the old shaman's way of life is in no way related to our modern world. For us, shamanism is only one of many available possibilities, we can chose the extent to which we deal with it, bypassing the unpleasant aspects such as exercising control over people in a destructive manner, manipulating or even killing people. Nor do we have to defend ourselves against attack as traditional shamans did. Modern people tend to focus on shamanism's constructive side, using it, among other things, to heal ourselves and others. For traditional shamans, the world was - and is - a dangerous battlefield requiring full-time alertness. Spirits do not distribute their power for free, and their demands can be very taxing. In traditional cultures, a person called by the spirits to become a shaman would sometimes chose suicide, more inclined to stop living than to lead the shaman's life, constantly under danger of attack, carrying heavy responsibilities and living a life half out of this reality. It is my personal conviction that westerners can never truly experience the essence of traditional shamanism, nor will it ever be a profound part of our beings as it was in former times or is for people who are born in a traditional shamanic environment. I don't think this is unfortunate, and we can be grateful for the knowledge we receive from older cultures, making use of it in the most useful way.

Shamanism offers many valuable things. In its development, modern society has lost much knowledge, particularly concerning the different realities or worlds, how they influence each other and how to maintain the balance between them - something our world desperately needs right now. Siberian shamanic cultures asked few questions about the way the universe functions. It was clearly mapped out in the paintings on their shamans' drums. These paintings depicted various images of the universe, but the existence of the upper, middle and lower worlds was known to all. Drums showed the impersonal universe structures, while the costumes expressed the shaman's personal perception of the worlds and their inhabitants. His costume expressed his personal knowledge, the roads he travelled, his personal "keys" to open doors of knowledge, his personal friends, guides and helpers. To study a shaman's costume is to study an individual's understanding disguised in symbols. The more information available about a single costume, the more the shaman who created and used it becomes an individual person.

The National Museum in Helsinki, Finland, holds a small collection of shaman costumes, drums and objects it came into possession of when Finnish scientists travelled to Siberia at the turn of the century. The costume I will now describe was sent to the museum in 1911 accompanied by a letter containing a detailed description. The costume had been used by an elderly Yakut woman in north central Siberia. Her task consisted of finding and then negotiating with spirits who caused illness in people and animals. She probably wasn't very active by the time the anthropologist bought her costume, as by the end of the century shamanism had all but disappeared. Shamanic ceremonies were rarely done in the open at that time. Physicians and Christian priests disapproved of pagan rituals and worked to extinguish every trace of them. If there was a problem, people would first consult a doctor or a priest, and when their help failed, they would resort to seeking the help of a shaman.

Visiting a shaman did not always spell relief for one's troubles. This particular Yakut shaman used a special object on her costume to tell her whether or not the patient would recover from his or her illness. The healing ceremony started by slowly evoking a trance state with drumming and singing. As the trance deepened, she would start to dance, dancing more and more wildly. Finally, she would drum, sing and dance violently close to the patient. If a certain iron ring attached to the costume's shoulder touched the patient, she knew that he had the will to be healed, if not, chances were great that the ceremony would not be successful. Two little iron figures depicting evil spirits could also influence the outcome.

The front of the costume is decorated with a number of objects that were not used for healing. A copper disc - sometimes called a mirror - enlarged the shaman's ability to look into the spirit worlds, and on this costume was also a symbol for a woman's breast. Under it, a number of dots symbolised a woman's egg cells. These are the only clues to the shaman's gender, as it is principally androgynous, as a shaman's costume should be. The two evil spirits I mentioned previously are partly hidden under a number of iron ribs. In addition, three storks are represented. In most parts of Siberia, storks are highly valued spirit helpers, and could be found on shaman costumes usually in threes or sevens. Storks help the shaman fly during trance. This particular shaman recounted that the storks and the ribs were the most important parts of the front side of the costume, the rest being "merely decoration". I will comment this kind of statement later.

The back of the coat is decorated with a large quantity of bells, feathers and small tubes, all made of iron, most certainly producing a great amount of noise when the shaman danced. The long tube-like hangers found primarily on the lower half were meant to frighten away evil spirits, their sound chasing them away so they wouldn't interfere with the healing ceremony. The "Christmas" bells found on the shoulders served a different purpose, foretelling events of the patient's future, thus they were oracles. Other bells, made of two hollow disks clasped together, told about past influence. The shaman herself recounted that these particular bells could tell about the person's past lives. For some shamans, past lives were a reality that had to be taken into account, as they could influence the patient's present state of health. On this costume, the bells only told about sins and crimes from past lives, not about possible positive karma, which is logical, as few problems and diseased stem from good karma, and the shaman's role was to search the origins of illness.

Disks representing the sun, moon and the entrance to the underworld are central to the backside. According to the shaman's own statement, putting them on the costume, she declared herself an intermediary between people and spirits., the sun and moon usually being seen as symbols for the shaman's cosmic knowledge. A small intriguing figure hangs on a chain over these disks. The shaman would not tell what it was, but the anthropologist suggested it was a two headed eagle. The two-headed eagle appears repeatedly in Siberian mythology, but to my knowledge never took the form of the object appearing on the costume. I found the object's power to be palpable, and saw in it a human figure with its arms stretched forward, its head bent forward and its wings spread as if soaring through the air. Its power told me that it was closely connected to the shaman's personal power which leads me to believe that it represents the shaman's spirit body flying through the different worlds in a trance state.

Two iron figures were lost, a moose and a bear, her most important defenders when the shaman was attacked by other shamans. In all probability, the woman kept these objects for herself when she gave the costume away, as shamans often save the really important objects from their costumes - their personal guides and helpers without whom they would be in danger. They couldn't afford to lose the protection these spirits provided, and it would have been disrespectful to give away or sell their images. The shamans' belief and trust did not disappear with the ban on shamanic practice. When, for whatever reason, a shaman did not keep important objects from the costume, he or she would always recount things like, "Ah, don't pay attention to these things, they're just decoration." Or they simply left them without explanation. Some of the objects really are just decoration, but every time I read a similar quotation in an old document, I immediately pay more attention to these objects. Even after a hundred years in a dusty museum depot, some of these objects still radiate a distinct and special power.

A final object of some importance is a large bell hanging from a long chain used to distract the evil spirits who were not frightened away by the sounds of the other bells. The other objects are mostly feathers, to help the shaman fly, and tubes needed for healing ceremonies. Two of the largest tubes were use to protect the patient's soul while the shaman fought the spirits who caused the illness. After the battle, when the evil spirits had left, the souls were removed from the tube and given back to the body. Three smaller tubes played a similar role for the souls of horses and cows. The last missing object is an iron dog which could be sent out to revenge the shaman when she had been mistreated.

My own travels on the shaman path.

My own experiences with shamanism started quite dramatically one night in 1981 when I found myself out of my body looking at a crowd of people in the room. An old man was trying to hide among the crowd. He looked familiar and I knew I had to talk to him. I approached him and said I didn't know him but I seemed to know his name. When I told him his name, he was pleased that I remembered it correctly. Remember? "Yes," he said, "You don't just know it, you remember it. This was the first test, I had to see if you could remember me and my name." He told me he had formerly been my teacher, and he had come to see if I was ready for more instruction. Before I knew what was happening, he put me through a series of weird tests, finally releasing on me a particularly frightening spirit in order to study my reaction. He decided it wasn't yet the right time. Carefully freeing me from the spirit's arms, he said good-bye, and I found myself back in my body, in bed, in a sort of shock.

At the time, I didn't even know the word shaman, and the experience left me perplexed. It was only a couple of years later that I found some books on shamanism and realised that this experience looked in fact a lot like traditional initiation visions. I obviously hadn't met the old Inuit's expectations, but that hardly bothered me. I later had more experiences of this kind, in which I was able to prove that I qualified for at least certain teachings, and for years I occasionally received teachings in out-of-body states and in dreams. The healing techniques I use in my practice come primarily from teachers who live in other realities. It was odd to see New Age shamanism books take over the shops, only to realise that I had been practising shamanism for several years without even knowing what it was called. I had never tried to explain what was happening to me, it all felt so natural and the experiences were absolutely convincing - the lessons I received had a profound effect on my life and the techniques worked.

After realising my connection with traditional shamanism, I wanted to know more than what I could find in the recently available books, so I decided to do an experiment. I avoided the workshop scene, because I didn't trust many of the so-called shamans and medicine men I had met. There are some very special people teaching shamanism in workshops, but I hadn't met any at the time. Besides, my experiences seemed to be more interesting and to the point. I would move deeper into shamanism on my own.

During my last year in art school, I began a large project, inviting friends to join in to work with me regularly for a year. I was the only person to have shamanic or ceremonial experience. We discussed our ideas about rituals, magic and our connection to nature. Throughout the year, I made ritual costumes, shaman costumes, drums and other ceremonial objects. I had been awed by the few photos I had seen of traditional shamans, by the power their costumes seemed to radiate. But the project's experiment was to make costumes based on my own and the group's experiences, so I did not further research pictures of shamans. Only later would I verify to see if they resembled in any way traditional costumes. I may have seen a few photos and images already, but the information I had was minimal.

In the beginning, I didn't plan my work, but just collected material, and discovered in progress what I was making. The first costume I made grew out of a single piece of rope that I put around my waist. I got the idea to hang other ropes from the first, ending up with a sort of fishing net, that in the end looked like a skirt, to which I added strips of fur to make it look more finished, and it was completed in a couple of weeks. In addition, I made another skirt, a tunic, a vest, boots and a head-dress. The only thing I knew about shamanism at the time was that a shaman was able to go to a place called the underworld, and the first costume was made with that information in mind. I was already regularly going to the underworld, but I had no idea that my experiences were the same as those described in the books. I used a lot of rabbit fur from second hand fur coats I found at the flea market, reasoning that a rabbit lives both on and in the earth, so its fur would be appropriate for a shaman who goes into the earth to find the underworld. On the breast, I made a symbol for an eye, figuring that a shaman must be able to see clearly in the different worlds. I built the boots on the soles of a pair of old jogging shoes. It seemed appropriate, as a shaman ought to be able to run quickly, after all, he has to travel to another world and come back in the same day! I used a small pair of antlers on the head-dress because they reminded me of antennae, and I thought they would be helpful in gathering information. Perhaps I had already seen photos of antler head-dresses, but I have no recollection that I had. Of course, antlers are archetypal symbols used in ceremonial dress all over the world, so it is likely that I had at some point seen head-dresses with antlers.

Whatever the origin of the symbols, I was amazed to find that most of my earlier costumes did in fact resemble traditional shaman clothing, although much simpler and less messy. It was exciting to start my study of Siberian shaman costumes and find exactly the same symbols I had used myself. The most clear example was the wooden costume I made.

I don't remember what motivated my desire to make a wooden costume. For several days, I cut and polished pieces of wood until I got bored with the work. I split up the pieces I had, arranging them in a pattern I liked: it looked like a spinal column with ribs, surrounded by hangers. Later, I discovered that the traditional cone-shaped bells used by shamans had the same shape as my wooden hangers. I also found that ribs and bones are among the most common symbols on shaman costumes, and I even found photos that closely resembled the costume I had made.

I quickly discovered that traditional shaman costumes could only be fully understood by the shaman who made and used them, each resembling a picture book, a collection of symbols of which a number are strictly personal. Each costume has a very distinct personal feeling. That was the main difference between my costumes and the traditional ones, because I had only used archetypal symbols, and no personal ones. My costumes didn't tell a personal story, they weren't "individuals".

As my understanding of shamanism deepened, I decided it was time to change my approach. I had finished school, the first project was completed and I left the costumes aside, taking off for Finland and beginning to make only personal symbolic objects. My dreams became a major source of inspiration, and I often used symbols whose meaning I did not yet know. I learned that by working with these symbols, I would get the information they carried, thus my approach seemed more traditional, although the works themselves were not always more so.

Traditional shamans used natural material, as I had used so-called natural materials like fur, bone and wood. Somehow, I felt that these materials were not right anymore. Natural materials are normal when you live close to nature, but for me, living in a big city, fur wasn't natural at all. The number one natural material in a big city is plastic - you eat from it, drink out of it, carry your groceries in it. It was time for a plastic shaman costume, made with a traditional attitude.

I began to hunt the city for plastics. Mac&Maggie bags could express the androgynous principle, coffee spoons made fine rattling hangers, bottoms of yoghurt cups could be used as disks. I treated all these materials with care and respect, sewing symbols on them, melting and forming them into the right shapes. One day I collected plastics from the international airport. What more shamanic place in this modern world of ours - people take off from there to land in entirely different worlds? I took brightly coloured plastic spoons from the restaurant to make hangers on the sleeves of my coat. Over five weeks time, I created a City Shaman Costume, complete with dress, coat, blindfold, gloves and boots.

In Finland, I taught in a design school which gave a class in metal work, so I decided to teach myself to work with iron so that I could make a few really traditional costumes with iron bells and symbols. In many cultures, the iron smith plays an important role in myths as he uses fire as a tool for transformation. The smith being closely related to the shaman, I thought that learning to be a smith, I might increase my understanding of the shamanic path. By this time, I was well versed in shamanic symbolism, but tried to make only traditional symbols that had a personal meaning for me, part of the time using experiences I had in dreams or out-of-body states. Below, I describe two important symbols, so that you can "read" at least part of this first iron costume's story.

The first experience was very powerful. I awoke in my sleep to find a person standing in the room. I understood that I had to follow him, and he guided me down a long staircase into the underworld. At the bottom of the stairs, and old black man awaited me. He was dressed in an incredible costume: a skirt made of massive silver over a costume of intense lapis lazuli coloured folded garbs. I had visited this teacher before, but never had he shown himself in all his power. I was overwhelmed with emotion and began to cry. He blessed me and I was taken back to bed and my body. Later, I made a small iron man to remind me of this beautiful meeting with one of my other-reality teachers.

The second experience started in the same manner: I was again taken out of my room, down a long staircase to the underworld. I found myself in an old wooden cabin whose floor was missing some planks. I could see the earth. An old man conducted a ceremony for me and afterwards buried me partly in the earth, naked. He taught me a special posture in which I could absorb a kind of healing earth energy that he said my body needed. As I became filled with this energy, the sensation became so intense that I lost consciousness of my body, and finally found myself back in bed, not remembering how I got back. My body was vibrating with energy and I felt extremely healthy and good. After a while, the vibration slowed down and I was able to fall asleep. On the costume, I made images of both the shaman and the body posture, so I wouldn't forget the experience.

The very last shaman costume I made was the most traditional. I wanted to pay homage to the Siberian shamans. It is a single coat covered with a lot of iron objects, many traditional symbols and some personal ones. Long, brightly coloured strips of textile symbolise the power and joy I received while studying Siberian shamanism. In the process of making the costume, I met four owls in a dream. They wanted to be one the costume, so of course I gave them that pleasure...

 

 

 

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