Shaman Tree

The author Evelyn Rysdyk (left) supporting her mother, Agnes Rysdyk at the 2004 Shaman Tree Ceremony in Maine. As the eldest person at the ceremony, Agnes was charged by AiChurek to hold the end of the chalama cloth while it was being braided.  (Photo: © 2004 Carl A. Hyatt)

One of the ways that you can ground your spiritual practice into your everyday life is to dedicate a special place in your own yard as a sacred space. One wonderful way to do this is to create a shaman tree that will become your place for offerings, for your gratitude prayers and for honoring the spirits in all the realms.

Across Siberia and Central Asia, people have dedicated trees to be special places on the landscape that become the focus for prayer and making offerings. These may be located in a prominent place near a powerful mountain, a crossroads, the site of a spring, a river bank, the clearing in a forest or any location where there is a strong sense of the spirits of the land. These spirits, referred to as Cher Ezed in the Tuvan language, are thought of as masters or owners of these places. The shamans negotiate with these owners, or ezed, so that their people and the livestock under their care are able to thrive. To insure that the spirits of nature feel treasured and honored, the Tuvan people dedicate places on the landscape as places through which the ezed of nature may be honored.

Depending upon the local customs, these specially honored trees may be a pine, a birch or larch. The tree is chosen for being especially tall or for having a special shape, unusual branches, or an auspicious number of trunks. Trees with three trunks are thought of as money or abundance trees in Tuva, whereas a tree with two trunks might be dedicated to honor a marriage or the union of two clans. Trees with nine trunks are especially sacred across the region as nine is the most sacred number. Other times, a tree is chosen simply due to its proximity to a place that is to be honored, such as a sacred spring or waterfall. In this case, the tree may be of any species.

Once a tree is chosen, the shaman performs a special blessing ritual. This ceremony is done to sanctify the tree as a place for ritual. This ritual dedicates the tree as a place where prayers may be carried directly into the spirit worlds. This is possible as all trees are echoes of the great World Tree that unites the all the realms of the spirits and connects the heavens to Earth. In addition, offerings made at this special shaman tree help to strengthen the spirits of place and support fertility of the land of the livestock, as well as encourage harmony, luck and good health for the people. Here is a prayer from Tuva that communicates the sense of how important the spirits of place are to the well-being of all beings:

From the ezed of the mountains that stand imposingly,
From the ezed of water that rushes noisily,
From the ezed of mountains that are many-peaked,
From the ezed of grasses and trees that grow multi-branched,
We beg good fortune.
From the ezed of flowing waters,
the ezed of whirlpools at river bends,
the ezed of of airy winds,
the ezed of lying stones,
We beg good fortune.

When Ai Churek facilitated a shaman tree ceremony for our students in 2004 she demonstrated how a tree is dedicated by first journeying to the spirits of the land tree to honor them and to ask permission for the ceremony. Then the area beneath the tree is prepared by clearing brush and grasses away so that it is possible to walk all the way around the tree. The tree and the area around its base are then fed with sprinkled milk. The milk is tossed toward the tree, onto the ground and up into the air with a spoon dedicated to sacred purpose.

Next, four or more yards of cotton cloth in three solid colors, red, yellow, and blue, are braided into a master chalama or prayer ribbon that is tied around the trunk of the tree. If the tree is especially large, nine yards would be used. While the shaman braids the fabric, the other end is held firmly by the oldest member of the community. This person is either kneeling on the ground or if that isn’t possible seated on a sacred cloth. The elder person’s role as an anchor represents the spirits of the ancestors being “woven” into the chalama to reflect their ongoing connections to our world and to access their blessings for the tree and the community.

When the braiding of the fabric is completed, the cloth is tied around the trunk of the tree. The chalama must be long enough to leave “tails,” after it is knotted. These may be anywhere from a foot to about three feet long. This master chalama braid will become the vessel that holds the smaller chalama that people leave as offerings to ask for blessings and to honor the spirits.

Once the master braid is in place, the shaman again blesses the tree by dancing and singing around the tree while drumming or rattling. The shaman’s song, or algysh in Tuvan, is sung to praise the tree and, as a representative of the World Tree, its place in the Center of the Universe. Here is a translation of a typical algysh for the shaman tree shared by Mongush B. Kenin-Lopsan in his, Shamanic Songs and Myths of Tuva:

Shaman tree you are the most wonderful tree on the earth;
Shaman tree, they say you are the most beautiful tree in the world;
Shaman tree, they say you are the goodness of an animal;
Shaman tree, you embody all the spirits;
Shaman tree, they say all the people’s lives are tied together in you;
Shaman tree, they say you preserve among your beautiful branches people’s fortunes;
Shaman tree! They say you give your healthfulness to the animals;
Shaman tree! They say you give children a happy life;
Shaman tree, sacred tree.

At this point, the chalama and the tree would again be fed with milk and small fingers full of uncooked rice. These offerings are made with gratitude for the blessings the spirits provide. As it is with other indigenous cultures around the world, the offerings not only give thanks for what already is in place in our lives, but in advance for the blessings to come.

Once dedicated in this fashion, the subsequent offerings at these trees would include tying smaller braids or strips of cloth to the master chalama, The offerings are either smaller braids made from three colors of ribbon, or simple strips of solid-colored cloth. These cloth offerings are threaded into the braided fabric of the master chalama and securely tied. If there are low branches, the smaller chalama or strips of cloth may be tied to the tree itself. When tied directly to the tree, these cloth offerings are only tied in a half knot and never too tightly so as not to choke the growth of the sacred tree. Other typical offerings include milk, clear alcohol such as vodka, cooked rice and sometimes sweets. Whichever form of offering is used, the person making the offering always walks around the tree three times clockwise, while chanting and praying thanks to the spirits.

The workshop, Tuvan Shamanism, The Shaman’s Tree is on November 10 & 11. Register: www.spiritpassages.com/calendar.html.

© 2012 Evelyn C. Rysdyk
Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path and the soon-to-be-published Spirit Walking: A Course in Shamanic Power, Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. In joint practice with Allie Knowlton as Spirit Passages, her web site is www.spiritpassages.com.

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