An Exorcism in Mongolia
As a traveler you begin to expect the unexpected, but every now and again something so out of the ordinary takes place nothing can prepare you for it. That was exactly the case when two friends and myself decided to take a tour in Mongolia and stay with a local family in their tent, known as a ger, deep within the Mini-Gobi Desert.
After a fairly normal dinner with the family we began playing cards in the ger. During our game we started hearing the banging of pots outside where a sandstorm was kicking up under the full moon. Our guide Soyolo informed us that the family’s son we were staying with was the local shaman. It just so happened he had a “feeling” and was preparing for spirits in the desert to re-enter his body.
We didn’t really know what to make of this so we continued to play cards carefree until about 20 minutes later when the shaman’s mother came into the ger and ordered us to clear all the furniture to the sides of the room. Seeing the seriousness in her face we quickly cleared our card game and the furniture to the sides of the single room tent. Seconds later the shaman burst through the door growling, wildly throwing himself around the room, and crashing through furniture. Our guide quietly explained to us that this was unusual occurrence, but that the Shaman had two spirits enter his body almost 9 months ago and he was in the process of learning from them and exorcising them away.
The shaman’s father was running frantically around the room grabbing robes and an old sheepskin drum to prepare his son for the spirits visit. Soyolo related to us that the Shaman’s father was his spirit guide and only he could see his son through these sorts of “visits.” As he dressed his now almost completely possessed son in his traditional shaman dress, necklaces, and mask the son began to growl in a strange tongue. We asked our guide what he was saying, but he said he did not know, only his father could understand the strange language he was speaking and that it was not Mongolian.
Once the shaman was fully dressed and had his drum in tow he began to thrash, shake, and spin wildly around the single room ger falling into his family and at one point falling directly into the open fir pit oven. The family members and neighbors helped to control this whirlwind of madness and within minutes the shaman set still on a pillow in front of his altar at the back of the ger facing outwards towards us. His father prepared him a pipe full of tobacco and the son began to speak in a strange raspy voice. He also began to lean and lose his balance on occasion where as his father would support him. Our guide translated that the spirit of an old man had entered his body, an ancestor from long ago, and that was why his body was weak like an old man’s. The shaman, behind his black-laced mask, began asking questions to the family and neighbors as the old spirit. He called them to sit by him in the back of the tent one by one listening to their answers and informing them to stay away from the bad in life and to only go towards the good. As he smoked pipe after pipe he started vomiting into a bucket and shortly thereafter began jumping and growling and thrashing around the room once again knocking over statues and furniture.
With the sandstorm howling outside we could hear the hooves of the family’s horses smashing into the ground around the ger as they ran past. With a strange energy in the air the shaman once again collapsed on his pillow in front of his altar. This time he spoke in a much different voice, still raspy and aged, but softer and more delicate. According to Soyolo an old woman’s spirit had entered his body. As he called different family members to sit by him they offered him bowls of beer and vodka with which he gulped down almost immediately. Between his consumption of alcohol he smoked pipe after pipe after pipe. As the old woman he then quickly pointed across the tent and began yelling at the location where his younger brother, a boy of about 14 years old, had fallen asleep in his chair. The boy then cautiously walked to his brother and kneeled down before him. The shaman began vigorously massaging the boy’s head and speaking in tongues again. Without any warning the shaman pulled out a small whip and began whipping his younger brother solidly across the back of the neck 3-4 times. After this he sent his teary eyed brother back to his seat and returned to addressing other members of the tent including our own guide Soyolo. The family then offered the woman’s spirit within the shaman some cookies and was commanded they be shared with those residing in the tent. As cookies were distributed the shaman began violently vomiting again.
Once the vomiting had ceased the shaman once again rose to his feet and began pounding his drum and spinning madly around the ger. As his growls came to an end he collapsed once again by his altar. Soyolo informed us that the first spirit of the old man had returned and that is was crucial for the shaman to exorcise him from his body. Apparently there were consequences if a spirit stayed too long in your body including the crippling of limbs and paralysis. After 20-30 minutes of speaking in tongues, speaking in Mongolian, and chanting with the family, the spirit finally left. With the ger now overwhelmingly full of incense and tobacco smoke the shaman threw himself around the tent one last time and collapsed. As he sat now un-masked and quietly growling the atmosphere in the tent slowly returned to normal with the family laughing and talking.
Taking a small break from what we had just witnessed my friends and I walked out in front of the ger into the sandstorm and the dim light of the full moon. Taking fresh air into our lungs after hours of breathing in incense we noticed the shaman had painted a white circle around the ger in the dirt. With the sandstorm stifling our breathing we headed back into the tent and prepared ourselves for bed. The family made our beds up on the floor directly next to the shaman’s bed and by candlelight we all did our best to try to sleep. The ger shook wildly from the storm and the family’s father worked quickly to reinforce the supports beams against collapse. In the night we slept fairly soundly except for some strange periodic growling from the shaman. We were all too happy to see the light of morning and relieved we had survived our first exorcism.
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