published July 31, 2012 in the UB Post
Tyler Davis-Mayo, a Sarah Lawrence College graduate, originally came to Mongolia to continue his study of Shamanism, a path which started in Nepal. The UB Post sat down with Mayo recently to discuss his path to Shamanism and any Shamanic activities he has participated in since arriving in Ulaanbaatar.
When did your path to Shamanism begin?
It’s hard to say exactly when it began, but there are a few turning points that stand out, the most notable of which was a long psychological illness. Many Shamans are called through an illness, either physical or psychological or both, and this is sometimes identified by another shaman as a calling. As shamanism in the Western World has been pushed underground and become less prominent, the calling is rarely identified as such. I was guided by the spirits through a kind of intuitive call and response to where I am now.
What do you mean by intuitive call and response?
The spirit world, or most worlds that are not physical, do not have as strong of a duality as the physical world does. In the physical world, we can kind of map cause and effect to a certain degree. In the realms of spirit, it doesn’t quite work the same way. In fact, being unsure, not knowing, doubting, in some way is the access to these realms. You’re never “sure” in the way that you’re sure that if you have a fire in front of you you’ll be hot; you can’t be certain in the same way that a spirit or a deity is communicating with you because it’s exactly in this space of unknowing that these sort of entities live. It takes a lot of intuition and trust as well as trial and error to understand this space.
Tell us about what happened to you in Nepal.
I was never sure why I was so drawn to Nepal. As I was living there, it became clear that the Goddess Kali had called me there and brought me there. Through listening to her, in this kind of intuitive way, I was led to meet a few Nepali Shamans and through them I also met a good English friend who was also a practicing shaman. We met in the same shaman’s house on the same day asking the same questions. He also has a strong relationship with Kali so we figured it wasn’t just chance. Together, we took the initiation into the Nepali shamanic tradition.
Tell us about teaching Shamanism at the Krishnamurti School, Brockwood Park, in England over the past year.
I wasn’t teaching Shamanism, I was teaching about what Shamanism is. I think Shamanism is something that people are drawn to by another force and it takes a lot of questioning of one’s self to see if it’s the right path for them. But it’s important in the Western World to revitalize this way of seeing the world and interacting with the world in our cultures. One of the ways in which I began the class was by explaining that from my experience, Shamanism exists in a space that has an emphasis on the relationship to what we normally see as separate objects. Whereas our culture, modern culture, puts an emphasis on the individual and their conflict with the environment, emphasizing the perception of seperate objects such as the cup on the table, shamanism puts an emphasis on the relationship between the cup and the table. So the cup is on the table, and in their relationship is a type of reality. This way of perceiving things reveals the interconnectedness of our world. That is something that we have lost in modern society and it’s part of why we have such violence between each other as humans and lack of respect for nature.
Tell us about your first visit to a Mongolian shaman.
My first visit with a Mongolian shaman was very strong. From what I’ve seen now, it seems to be true that most Mongolian Shamans, including this one, can bring through the spirit of ancestors quite powerfully. You can feel the energy of the room change even before the spirit was completely brought through. In Shamanism, it’s necessary to manipulate the space where the ritual takes place. The shaman definitely had created a sacred space. When the spirit was brought through you could also feel the heat radiating off the shaman and the shift in energy.
One thing that was interesting to me is the emphasis on ancestor spirits. While this is common in many forms of shamanism, it’s not always emphasized as much as it is in Mongolia. This particular spirit (which the shaman channeled) was very wise and was willing to pose hard questions to the person they were healing, which is in my opinion an essential part of the healing process. This allows the person being healed to look at their own problems and affect their own healing. Also, the spirits are a lot of fun as long as you’re respectful. They can joke with you a bit and invite you into a very friendly atmosphere. The Shamans themselves are also very friendly. At the beginning of this first visit, the shaman invited me to a big shamanic ritual the following weekend where three Shamans were taking on new spirits. This kind of invitation was very sacred and gracious of him – and the timing was also quite serendipitous.
What was your purpose in visiting the shaman?
I’m still at an early stage in learning to be a shaman and I’m sure I’ll always be learning. I visited because I needed some help from the spirit in clearing some blockages that I became aware of in my own practice not too long ago. In traveling to Mongolia it became clear that one of the reasons I’m here is to engage myself with the Shamans and spirits here and obtain their help in my ongoing learning and development.
What happened at the Shaman initiation?
There were seven Mongolian Shamans in all, three of which were taking on new spirits and about thirty to forty friends and family members. The Shamans set up the ritual space by creating a circle of protection and power around the whole camp. In the main ritual ger, they all set up their alters and opened up the spirit world, or as they called it, the Heavens, which serves to create a direct link between the physical realm and the realm of spirits.
There were various other rituals, many Shamans calling in their own spirits. The rituals to call in the new spirits were quite strong and the main teacher as well as the other Shamans had to be careful as it can be dangerous when first calling on the new spirit. They did this in a well-practiced manner, even as it went on almost all night. In one of the last rituals, five shaman set up around an oboo, which had a string tied to the top of it and had been brought down to the center of the ritual ger, connecting the Heavens to the earth. These five Shamans brought their spirits all at the same time, which was extremely powerful.
Did they tell you which tradition they were practicing?
Yes, their tradition was the Buriyat tradition which has a big emphasis on the costumes the Shamans wear. It’s quite elaborate and while most forms of shamanism have some forms of attire, the Buriyat tradition seems to be one of the most elaborate, and it’s essential to their shamanic practice.
Did you take your spirit?
The Mongolian Shamans were very open and gracious, and asked me if I wanted to bring through my spirit, which I did. It was a big opening for me. My spirit doesn’t always come through so strong since I’m still learning. In this space, with all the energy there, my spirit came through very strongly and there was an interesting healing and communication between my spirit and the Mongolian Shamans. I was very grateful for that opportunity.
How did the Mongolians respond once you took your spirit?
Well I think it was unusual for them to see this type of spirit come through because at least in the Buriyat tradition, the Shaman’s face is covered when the spirit comes through. When my spirit comes through, there’s no face covering. My spirit, who is a female spirit, likes to look around and move more than the spirits in the Buriyat tradition. Also, my spirit is a deity, whereas Buriyat Shamans are ancestor spirits, so there is a different energy coming through, which I feel is a little different from what they’re used to. So the space was unfamiliar to them, But it seemed that the Shamans and the Mongolians there appreciated the experience and were grateful for the spirit to come through.
This might be an obvious question, but did anything weird happen at the Mongolian Shaman gathering?
Weird things always happen in Shaman gatherings. One funny thing that happened was about midnight, in between rituals, a van showed up with a small movie crew. They filmed a short scene that appeared to be in a film taking place sometime in Mongolia’s past with the actors in traditional Mongolian clothes. It seemed quite random, but it had obviously been set up beforehand. We found out later that it was for a hip-hop music video. Another interesting thing was the hawks that were swooping down quite close to the ritual ger during key moments. The shamans explained that in their beliefs, this was the spirits coming down to watch the proceedings and to accept offerings.
What are traditional Mongolian offerings?
Vodka of course, as well as different types of food and sweets. In larger rituals like this, animals are sacrificed. Things like food and alcohol and fire are common offerings in most Shamanic rituals.
You said that the first Shaman you visited removed a blockage. How did he go about doing this?
After the first time that he brought the spirit through and agreed to remove the block, we were told to return in five days. We were to bring with us many offerings and tools for the ceremony such as vodka, katag, silk, black and red string and a white sheet. When the spirit was called through, he directed the ceremony and the translators, or the spirit’s helpers, who in this case were the Shaman’s sister and a family friend, carried out the remainder of the ritual. First I offered katag, silk, vodka and tea to the spirit. Then, he directed the vodka to be arranged on a tray and for me to be covered with the white sheet and the red and black string to be wrapped around me. I’m not sure exactly what was going on, of course, because the spirits have their own language that they operate with in the ceremony and of course everything was in Mongolian. What I felt at this point was the blanket and the string were isolating the blockage.
The spirit asked me to sing my power song and drummed along to it. Then he had some red and black string tied around my right angle and told me to focus my awareness there, as if my spirit was present there. He drummed again and at this point, he was bringing my spirit through the block. In doing so, the energy of the spirit moving through the block dissipates it, and that dissipation and movement through the block is the removal of the block. The spirit said he would leave and come back; the spirit left the space and the Shaman returned (through him) and after a few minutes the Shaman drummed in the spirit again. The spirit said that the ceremony had been successful.
Did you feel anything when he was removing the blockage?
There were a couple times when a very strong energy was moving through my body. When they removed the sheet and the string, I could feel myself opening up, as if there were more space in my body.
What are your next plans while in Mongolia?
Next I’m traveling to Khovd. There is a woman considered to be a Green Tara living there. I work with Green Tara’s spirit, and before I knew about this particular woman, I felt she was drawing me to Mongolia. When I found out about this Green Tara, I felt it was obvious that I should go and visit her.
What have you learned thus far from Mongolian Shamans?
Well the learning is still going on and in that state, things are very much in flux. I’m seeing something about the complexity about the Shamanic world, the difference between ancestor spirits and deities. Something is starting to become clear about the interaction between the deities and the ancestors and also about the roots of Shamanism and how this tradition emerged in Mongolia. Also the Shamans have been extremely proficient in what they do, and have imparted a lot of wisdom about how to move forward and create a closer relationship with my spirit, and the realms of spirit at large.
Anything else you’d like say?
I’d like to thank the UB Post’s Cooper and Khash for making contact and translating, which isn’t easy. I’d also like to thank Oliver Claycamp for putting us in contact with a very good shaman. Also, I want to express my gratitude to the Shaman’s and their translators for their openness and willingness to bring me into their space and teach me about their tradition. And of course, the deepest reverence for the spirits, for their healing and guidance.