OLKHON ISLAND. This natural wonder - a large island located around the deepest point of the world's deepest lake - is the epitome of the lake Baikal region and one of the most powerful symbols in the Buryat world. While the shape of the island resembles the shape of the lake, Olkhon is a remarkable conglomeration of all possible landscapes that exist around Baikal - rolling grass steppes morph into deep forests while sand dunes suddenly give way to majestic rocky cliffs. The island is also the most significant sacral center of Buryat shamanism: key spirits of the Buryat pantheon are believed to reside in its cliffs and cosmogonic myths are often set here. The legend has it that shamans have used the island as a refuge from various persecutions, and some scholars believe that since Buddhism never quite penetrated here and Christianization was largely superficial, Olkhon inhabitants preserved beliefs of the most ancient shamanic stratum. Whether this is true or not, during summer months, Olkhon turns into a major pilgrimage site, attracting a motley crowd of indigenous shamans, Russian New Agers, scruffy Siberian archeologists, and European tour groups, resulting in lively intercultural transactions, which I documented in my film shot during the summer of 2004.

 

Shaman Rock
Olkhon Shaman Valentin Khagdaev
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