Russian vote for "supreme shaman" splits community

Tue May 5, 2009 11:13am EDT
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By Natalya Sokhareva and Amie Ferris-Rotman

GORNO-ALTAYSK, Russia (Reuters) - Russia's first election for a supreme shaman has provoked uproar in the community of magical healers who are revered by Siberian tribes for their ability to mediate with the spiritual world.

The organizers of the Internet vote say a top shaman would serve in a similar way to the Orthodox Patriarch or Supreme Mufti and help raise the profile of Russia's ethnic tribes after their wretched treatment at the hands of the Soviet authorities.

But in the wilds of eastern Siberia where many people have depended on the wisdom of shamans for thousands of years, there is anger at the elections.

"Shamanism is not a religion, it's a unique phenomenon. To unite us would be very difficult," said Akai Kynov, a shaman in the Altai Republic, some 3,000 km (1,900 miles) east of Moscow.

Kynov, 45, performs rituals in the Altai mountains clad in white and crowned by an immense snow lynx fur hat. He has chaired an informal group of local shamans for a decade and says choosing a supreme shaman could create chaos.

"Everyone will not start beating their drums with joy if they elect a chief," he told Reuters. "The majority will probably slam their fists on the table in protest."

Over 230 shamans from Russia's 11 time zones are competing for the top spot, which will be decided by November. Nominations closed last Friday.

Natives to Russia are not the only ones who hold the elections in contempt.   Continued...