Home » Mongolia » Gün G. Ayurzana » Бөөгийн домог [Legend of the Shaman]

Gün G. Ayurzana: Бөөгийн домог [Legend of the Shaman]

Mongolian novels are few and far between in translation, probably because there are not many published in Mongolian and there are relatively few Mongolian translators. This one has been translated into two European languages, though not English. As the title tells us it is about shamanism.

To write this novel, Ayurzana went four years in a row to the Burkhan Rock, on the island of Olkhon of Lake Baikal, a magical site imbued with natural energy, and he says that he himself almost became a shaman. The island appears in the lengthening of the moon, like a hare-shaped spot. It is said of this “hare on the moon” that he is a shaman in the cosmos and that, when it comes into contact with its ongod (spirit of ancestor), the hares on earth immediately fall into a love frenzy and reproduce in quantities.

One of the pleasures of reading this book, apart from the main plot, is the author telling us of the many legends that abound around shamanism. and there are many following on from the hare one. However, the main story follows a young man called Tengis.

Tengis has had a unhappy love affair. A friend contacts him to tell him that the master spirit of the largest island of Baikal has begun to show itself. An offering ceremony will soon be organised in his honour. The two go together. On arrival, Tengis was suddenly seized with an intense and inexplicable joy. He sees a bald eagle eat a fish (eagles play an important role in shamanism). We follow his adventures that night when he feels his body has been taken over and he faints. When he wakes a shaman tells him Soon you will have a sign. This sign will come from heaven and this sign will be a good omen. This shaman, called Khagdai, will play an important role in this story and in Tengis’ story. He tells Tengis that he can enter a secret cave in the rock opposite but, try as he might, Tengis can find no entrance. He tries for several days without success. It takes him several years of training to manage it. He will later meet a Canadian woman, Regina, who is writing a book on shamanism and she takes him to the shaman’s house. Khagdai tells them about the tulmaash. The tulmaash must be like a second shaman and he must see the world through the shaman’s eyes. I had someone who helped me, but I never found a real assistant.. However once Regina goes back to Canada, Tengis becomes his tulmaash.

We follow Khagdai’s long and complex story. We have learned that shamanism may have stemmed from a Mongolian called Bukhuli Khar. He wrote his experiences down but the gods did not like this being bound by rules written in a book so Bukhuli Khar was punished and shamans no longer write anything down. It is all in their mind and the mind of the spirits. Shamans in Mongolia had problems with the Buddhists who were not always peaceful and were not averse to using violence to suppress shamanism. The Soviets were also opposed and Khagdai was locked up in an asylum when he was young. He came from a shaman family, at least on the male side. Though there were female shamans, his mother was not one and did not approve.

In the asylum Khagdai was subject to considerable brutality from both the staff and other inmates. Fortunately his (deceased) grandfather came to him and told him things would improve, which they did and he was eventually released though monitored. He attained some fame and was filmed by a French TV company but was denied a visa to visit Italy when invited.

Tengis has now learned from him and we and he learn a lot more about what is involved from the ongods to the importance of drums and the right way (and wrong way) to play them, from magic mushrooms to strange beings who appear and disappear. His first outing with Khagdai has him learning fast. A woman is dying on the other shore of Lake Baikal. It is late and the ferry will have stopped running but the messenger assures them that it will make a special journey for them. It does not so Khagdai has do some remote healing involving his ability to see what is happening elsewhere and the use of a mobile phone, with Tengiz called on to make decisions while Khagdai is in a trance.

Tengiz learns a lot but he is still a young man with a young man’s yearnings and he misses Regina. He manages to borrow a laptop from a tourist and send her an email, to which she responds but though she later returns, she is now married.

Meanwhile we are following Tengis’ complex apprenticeship as well as learning more of the nature and history of shamanism. There are good spirits and bad ones and we and Tengis learn about these but we also learn more about Khagdai’s back story. The Soviets had arrested his father, who was married with children, and sent him to work on a remote railway. The aim of the Soviets was to exterminate all shamans in this way. Their countless corpses eventually served as railway crossings. The father meets a female shaman and she gives birth to Khagdai but she dies. Father and son are Russianised and released and he returns to his wife. One of the sons becomes a monk – the Soviets seem to accept Buddhist monks more than shamans. Khagdai, as we know is sent to the asylum but when he is finally released he is still monitored.

We continue to learn about shamanism, about the fluid boundary between the real world and the dream world and between life and death, about the practices, the healing technique, the various myths and legends, their links to the animal world and how shamanism will continue forever. Humanity has not known a period without shamans, it will be so forever. It is possible that future shamans will no longer carry a drum, will no longer sing calls to ongods and will no longer drink mushroom drink. But they will find their own way to animate magical words, fly in the sky, move from one world to another and save men thanks to ongods.

I found this a fascinating book, dealing with a topic I knew nothing about, its troubled history, both with Buddhism and the Soviets, its strange practices and the many myths and legends associated with it.Ayurzana has studied the subject in detail and he is able to impart to us both a good story as well as educating us about shamanism.

Publishing history

First published in 2010 by Мөнхийн үсэг
No English translation
First published in French as Légende du Chaman in 2024 by Éditions Jentayu
Translated by Munkhzul Renchin
First published in Italian as La leggenda dello sciamano in 2020 by TAM