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Bulgun Mankirova, Sanal Badmaev, About Folk Healers

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Terbish, Baasanjav 


In this interview Bulgun and Sanal talk about folk healers, rituals and stories about spirits or ghosts. Bulgun: I cannot say that I am a deeply religious person. I cannot talk widely about Buddhism either. I try to attend general prayers at the Central Temple in Elista and put food offerings (for gods) on the altar on fasting days (matsg odr). At home, we perform rituals to cleanse our house, to prolong one’s life, and to open one’s road. Sanal: I am a religious person, I am a Buddhist. Question: Do you go to see folk healers when you are sick or when you want to learn about something? Bulgun: There are people with special healing abilities. In Elista, many people go to see folk healers whom they already know. Sanal: Buddhism says that we need to take refuge in Dharma only. Before the adoption of Buddhism, the Kalmyks believed in shamanism, which continues to exist today. Buddhism is mixed with these beliefs. People perform clan rituals and give offerings to the spirits of lands. This is a sort of dualism. Bulgun: Folk healers often say that they can perform a ‘ritual to cut the black tongue’ but advise to go to a Buddhism temple for a ritual to open one’s road. It is a kind of symbiosis. Question: Could you tell us based on your personal example about when you go to see folk healers and the rituals that you have already performed? Sanal: When I was in secondary school and later a student at a university, before the beginning of each academic year I went to see folk healers. When someone fell sick, I also did this. People often take their sick children to see folk healers, which helps. Bulgun: My parents told me that when I was a child I was sick, cried day and night and did not lift my head. My parents took me to a folk healer. After several rituals, I recovered. Today I go to folk healers when I think I need to, although it is better not to go too often. People should go to folk healer whom they trust. There are many impostors around. Black magic exists, which can harm people. Question: Which rituals do folk healers perform? Bulgun: I participated in a ritual to appease my ancestors and a ritual to cut the black tongue. Sanal: When I was a child I had a stomach ache. The folk healer who healed me used a coin. Another ritual involved an action when my brother and I had to rub ourselves with raw meat and then give it to a dog. Question: Did these rituals help you? Sanal: Yes, if you believe that they will help. Question: Is Tsagan Aav a Buddhist or an earthly god? Sanal: Tsagan Aav is an earthly god by his primordial nature. He is the protector of the Kalmyk people and land. Its statue stands in front of the (Central) Temple (in Elista), and he is also acknowledged in Buddhism. Question: Some people say that they saw Tsagan Aav. Did you hear such stories? Bulgun: Yes, I heard that in some village somewhere someone saw him. I don’t know whether it is true or not, but it is possible that it is true. Sanal: I heard stories about people who saw evil spirits (shulmus). Question: Do you believe in such stories? Bulgun: I heard that it happens in the steppe when people go in circles unable to reach the place they are looking for. I believe in these stories, because it is very scary in the steppe at night. Sanal: The epos Jangar has passages about people fighting with monsters. Whatever we hear in childhood we think of them when we grow up. If people did not hear such stories in their childhood, they may not believe in them. Bulgun: I was brought up in a village where we have many beliefs and legends. My grandmother knew a lot about signs and omens. When I came to Elista to study, I understood that those who grew up there did not believe in such stories.



Folk healer, rituals, ghosts

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Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge

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Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin