In the early 1990s there were only a handful of shamans in Mongolia as the country was tearing its ties to the Soviet Union and ending decades of religious and cultural repression. Nowadays they are over an estimated dozen thousands and many more practice this religious tradition older but deeply intertwined with Tibetan Buddhism. Shamanism has become both a booming business and a way for Mongolians to reconnect with their past and forge a new identity after decades under Soviet influence.
In this picture Uuganbayar possessed by his spirit Tsagaday is getting into a trance during a shamanic celebration of spring
A woman throwing bits of cake to the sky, as an offering to Tenger, the main spirit of shamanic practices.
At the heart, shamanism is a worship of nature and the spirits that rule mountains, rivers and the sky.
Participants to a shamanic celebration of spring have placed offerings of cake sweets, milk and vodka on an altar as offering to a sacred tree believed to have strong powers.
Pilgrims who have come to attend a celebration of spring at the "Mother tree", a symbol of eternity, are hanging khatas (ceremonial piece of cloth) as offerings.
During a celebration of spring, in northern Mongolia, shamans have made a circle around the "mother tree" and throwing vodka at, it as an offering. Decades of this practice have killed the tree.
Pilgrims who have come to attend a shamanic celebration of spring in northern Mongolia, kneeling palms open to the sky in front of the "mother tree" a symbol of eternity believed to have special powers.
A pilgrim embracing a khata tied to the "mother tree". She whispers wishes that she believes the tree will grant. Other pilgrims have folded bank notes onto the trunk as offering.
A pilgrim, his palms opened to the sky, a pilgrim in prayer seeking the blessing from the "mother tree" spirit.
Pilgrims lining up in front of a shaman, master of ceremony at a celebration of spring, waiting to be blessed. Shamans work as mediators between the spirits and human beings and are believed to hold powers such as healing.
Shamans have gathered in circle around a wood fire, beating sheepskin drums to call the spirits during a celebration of spring in northern Mongolia.
During a celebration of spring a shaman chanting his palms opened to the sky in front of a fire. Fire is a key element of shamanic rituals, it belongs to the arch of the sky and symbolizes the sun.
Some say the avent of shamanic rituals coincided with the human mastering of fire.
Near the "mother tree", a shaman dressed with wolf skins, is getting into a trance, connecting with his spirit, as fellow shamans beat their drum. Pilgrims have fed the fire with lamb ribs wrapped in a green khata enclosing handwritten notes of their wishes.
An assistant is lighting a pipe filled with tobacco for a shaman wearing a coat made of wolf skin. Before and during the trance shamans smoke tobacco and drink vodka.
The adoration of flora and fauna is essential to shamanism and certain animals are considered to be totems or symbolic ancestors for tribes or clans. The wolf is a mythical ancestors of the Mongols.
A shaman wearing a hat adorned with an eagle head.
In the shamanist belief, animals have souls and they reincarnate themselves.
A stuffed eagle placed atop the ger (Mongolian tent) of the Centre for Shamanic Eternal Heavenly Sophistication where a renown shaman used to practice before his accidental death.
Eagles are closely associated with Mongolian shamanic traditions and the shaman themselves.
An altar in the prayer room of master shaman Byambadorj with a portrait of Genghis Khan on the wall. At the right of the altar stands a frame picture of Byambadorj with former Mongolia president Nambar Enkhbayar (3rd from left) and Badmaanyambuu Bat-Erdene (first from right) Mongolia former National wrestling champion and current parliament member. With Shamanism increasing popularity in Mongolia, it mixes with politics: many members of parliaments practice shamanism, and even some being shaman themselves.
Genghis Khan portraits are ubiquitous in Mongolian homes including Shamans' practice rooms. The cult of the Mongolian ruler is part of local shamanist belief. Genghis Khan practiced shamanism himself and he is considered the master of all shamans. His spirit is frequently called upon during shamanic ceremonies.
Outside the Centre for Shamanic Eternal Heavenly Sophistication, where a renown shaman used to practice before his accidental death, a shamanic statue and a sulde (black flag pole).
Many of such centres have appeared in Ulaan Baatar since the 90s. Locals go there seeking a variety of services, from fortune-telling to healing. This is also the place where novices are trained to become shamans themselves. All these activities have turned shamanism into a booming business.
Two women in the waiting room of Byambadorj's home, waiting for an audience with the master shaman. Across from them a menu of the shaman services has been posted on the wall : from curing health problems, to removing or casting curses, including fortune telling.
Behind the receptionist, a large poster shows the boundaries of the Mongolian empire at the time of Genghis Khan. The revival of shamanism coincides with a rise of nationalism. Shamanism is closely associated with the Mongolian identity and culture.
A woman visiting master shaman Byambadorj for his healing powers. When connected with their spirit shamans are believed to possess a wide-ranging array of powers, from curing health problems, to removing or casting curses, including fortune telling. These services can be a good source of income for shamans although many claim they are not paid for it.
Tugsuu an ethnic Mongol from China kneeling in prayers at an ovoo in the courtyard of master shaman Byambadorj. Tugsuu has come to Ulaanbaatar to be initiated as a shaman.
Many Chinese and Russians, a few Westerners as well, come to Mongolia to study and become shamans.
Suhe and Tugsuu, ethnic Mongols from China preparing to get in a trance at the home of master shaman Byambadorj under the guidance of his daughter Enkhoyun (left). Tugsuu and Suhe have come to Ulaanbaatar to be initiated as shamans.
The call to become shaman usually occurs during a prolonged illness, during which a connection with a spirit happens. The apprentice then seek the help of a master shaman to learn the skills that will allow them to get in trance and connect with their spirit on a regular basis. The training of novice shamans is good source of incomes for master shamans.
Enkhoyun, daughter of master shaman Byambadorj, helping Suhe, a novice shaman, as he is getting into a trance.
Enkhoyun, daughter of master shaman Byambadorj, waving juniper smoke to the face of Tugsuu a novice shaman, to help him getting into a trance.
Juniper smoke, very mildly hallucinogenic, is systematically used in shamanaic ceremonies.
Suhe a novice shaman throwing vodka at an ovoo in the courtyard of master shaman Byambadorj.
A wooden ovoo adorned with blue khatas at sunset in the Mongolian grassland. Ovvo are shamanic shrines usually situated along roads or on top of mountains and used by mongols to pay they respects to the spirits by walking around them and throwing vodka or milk to them.
Shamanism is an adoration of nature in all its forms. As the Mongolian environment has become threatened by unchecked mining, and air pollution, the new shamans have turned environmentalists, protectors of both the Mongolian culture and country's nature.