Monday, 25 July 2011

Spirit of the Mountain

From Field Expedition Mongolia / Valley of the Khans

Spirit of the Mountain
Jul 23, 2011 by Dr. Albert Yu-Min Lin

A few days ago a group of seven Shaman priests approached our camp to confer with the spirits of the holy mountain. In Shamanism (the ancient religion of Genghis Khan) mountains, rivers, lakes, trees, and other natural focal points are inhabited by the spirits of old, and the Shaman priest can call upon these spirits through sacred ceremonies.

That night while listening to the sound of the ancient drums beating in the distance, I received a message that the head shaman asked to see the leader of our group, to understand the people who were at the holy mountain. It immediately dawned on me that as the head of my team I had been summoned to be judged by the ancient spirits of the land.

Trembling with both anxiety and excitement I prepared myself for the impending moment of reckoning. I cleaned my nails, washed my face, and centered my mind.

The elements of time began to haze as I walked away from our technology-filled expedition ger (Mongolian yurt/tent) and moved through the misty night towards the beating drums. The shaman sat in front of a shrine near a small fire, massive feathers rising up from an intricate head dress. Thin black cords hung down in front of his brow like a curtain, completely covering his face. As I knelt in front of him I repeated the greeting words that had been taught to me minutes before: "Amaraa banu oho."

Bowed down low, many thoughts traveled through my mind as I listened to his low guttural words. Spoken in tongues, then translated into Mongolian, and then translated to me, I was told that my ancient ancestors on the side of my mother came from the Jurchid Tribe of old and that this was the reason for the blue spot that was a birthmark on my back as a child--the "Mongolian spot."

I was invited into their ger to learn of the culture that I had once belonged to. Through the incredible haze of smoke that filled the enclosure from the open fire at its center I could make out seven shrines with the tools of the shaman covering each. Although I was not allowed to take a photo I attempted to draw a description hours later in the confines of my own camp. It would be impossible to capture completely, but I had to try to document the incredible window into the sacred world that honored me with this moment.

When this ancient, overwhelmingly sensory and spiritual ceremony had ended, I was left with a feeling that emphasized the weight of importance and urgency that surrounds our work here, to identify, understand, and preserve our collective cultural heritage.

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