Mongolia – Mongolia is a landlocked Central Asian country of grassland, mountains, and desert that today is bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south. In the 13th century, a confederation of nomadic, shamanistic tribes was united as the Mongol Empire by Chinggis (Genghis) Khan. His successor, Kublai Khan, made Buddhism the new religion of his empire, but Buddhism waned with the decline of the Mongol Empire. In the 16th century, Altan Khan, a distant descendant of Chinggis Khan, adopted “Yellow Hat” Tibetan Buddhism as the religion of the Mongols and bestowed the title of “Dalai Lama” on the Tibetan spiritual leader. Lamaist missionaries institutionalized Buddhism into Mongolia by the 17th century, persecuting shamans as they did so (terming Buddhism the “yellow faith” and shamanism the “black faith”), to the extent that Buddhism persisted through Communism and is the state religion of Mongolia today. Nonetheless, it is clear that many features of Mongolian Buddhism absorbed shamanistic practices. An important early work on the black faith of the Mongols was written by the Buryat Mongol scholar Dorji Banzarov (1846).

The territory of the Mongols was split into Inner Mongolia, controlled by the Chinese, and Outer Mongolia, which became a Soviet republic. In the Mongolian S.S.R., as in the rest of the Soviet Union, religious activities were repressed, and both shamanism and Lamaism were brutally suppressed. During the second half of the 20th century, Walter Hessig published several important works on Mongol shamanism, while Vilmos Diószegi conducted much-needed ethnographic fieldwork on the state of shamanism in the 1960s. In post-Soviet times, as in other parts of Central Asia, there has been a revival of shamanism, and an official organization entitled the Mongolian Shamans’ Association has been established. One of the most important studies on Mongolian shamanism, by Caroline Humphrey (with Daur Mongol Urgunge Onon), Shamans and Elders (1996), details historical and near-contemporary Mongolian shamans and their practices and roles. Humphrey and Onon argue for an approach to Mongolian shamanism not as a singular or even coherent “religion,” distinct from daily life, but as historically and socially constituted, comprising different types of knowledge and experience and recalling discussions of new animism.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007


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