The Anthropology of the Ethnos: The Shaman, Gender, Identity

The following is an excerpt from Ethnos and Society by Alexander Dugin, published by Arktos in 2018.

Gender and Labor

A gendered division of labor is observed in the most simple and archaic societies. Men primarily hunt and women gather. At the same time, it is thought that the most ancient forms of hunting are catching wild animals with the help of snares, traps and nets, like fishing. The bow and arrow and the spear are invented, among the most archaic societies, under the influence of external impulses.

Women in such societies gather fruit or collect edible roots (in particular, yam). Bound to their children and often pregnant, the women of archaic ethnoses do not wander far from their home. Men, at any rate, move further away.

Care for children and maintenance of the hearth, as well as preparing food, are considered female labor even where light sheds or natural shelters are used for housing. In archaic hamlets, the “home” is the hearth and care for it is practically always and without exception the woman’s prerogative.

These gender functions are also an integral part of gender status. The figure of the “digger,” “gatherer,” “caretaker of the hearth,” the one who “tends to the children,” and “prepares food,” is a female gender set. The one who “leaves far from home,” “hunts for animals” and “has snares” is a male gender set.

In agrarian societies, the gender division of labor changes qualitatively. The significance and value of women grow, since agrarian ethnoses depend vitally on gardens and fields, with which women are predominantly occupied. They secure the stable provision of products, developing their gender labor (gathering close to home) in the direction of artificial organization around the settlement of a cultivated, worked space. In archaic societies, the working the soil by hoe is a woman’s affair. The men, as a rule, engage in planting garden trees, which they place into holes dug by women.

If in agrarian societies the woman cares for the garden and field, the man breeds cattle. Overall, in agrarian societies the woman’s status increases substantially, which can produce either a matriarchal or patriarchal outcome. In the first case, the status set of “women’s masks” acquires an additional degree of freedom, which shows itself in particular in the heightened erotic freedom of girls before marriage and more public functions for primarily older women. In the second case, men begin to relate to woman as an “instrumental value,” leading to polygamy and patriarchy.

Finally, in societies of nomad-herdsmen, the structuring of a strict and asymmetrical patriarchy occurs. Male status is placed in a clear vertical position above female status, producing the specific social quality of nomadic ethnoses, polygamous without exception, where women are related to as property and the first legal and economic codes take shape, firmly anchoring masculine status as the norm in the social order.

In nomadic society, the role of women first becomes entirely subordinate and unambiguously secondary, which is not the case with either hunter or agrarian ethnoses, where a gender balance of status is somehow preserved. Male and female masks there supplement each other. In nomadic, pastoral societies, the gender dichotomy acquires for the first time an irreversible masculine form.

The Shaman: The Main Figure of the Ethnos

From the perspective of the anthropology of the ethnos, we should distinguish that figure in whom all the major statuses are simultaneously concentrated and who can thus be considered the direct expression of “basic personality,” as the predominant “person.” This is the figure of the shaman.

The shaman stands at the center of the ethnos and is its principal “mask,” “the mask of masks.” The shaman is the personification and functional synthesis of the ethnos. He fulfills the ethnos’ main task: he takes care to preserve the constancy of the ethnic structure. The shaman expresses balance, that which makes the ethnos an ethnos — invariability, continuity, the translation of the code, the transmission of knowledge (myths, rites, traditions) and the correction of the ethnos’ social and natural faults. The shaman ensures the invariability of the stasis. He is the expression of the ethnos as a static phenomenon.

All private functions — healing, prophecy, rites, driving out spirits (the functions of psychopomp), trance, participation in marriage ceremonies, religious cults, magical operations, etc. — stem from the main function: the shaman must exist. His existence-presence ensures that which is the ethnos. An ethnos without a shaman is so fragile a phenomenon that it threatens to fall apart at once. In one of his works about shamanism among the Tungus, Shirokogorov writes that the Tungus fear nothing more than the period when one shaman dies and another has not yet been initiated or has yet to assume his duties.1 This interval of “existence with a shaman” is considered a catastrophe and the most dreadful ordeal.

The Shaman: Leader of Souls and Protector of the Ethnocentrum

We can observe the integral significance of the shaman as the center of ethnic anthropology in the case of the Evenki. Precisely the shaman, in Evenki thinking, is in change of the most important processes in the circulation of souls through the force-lines of the ethnocentrum.

When an Evenk dies, his body is placed on a special platform in a distant place in the Taiga.2 It is thought that the soul-body remains with him until only the skeleton is left of the corpse. In that moment, the shaman performs the “anan” ritual. He enters into a trance and leads the soul-body of the dead Evenk to the mouth of the river, to the camp of the ancestors. There, he gives it to the “ancients,” after which, having returned, he carefully closes the passage with the help of spirit-helpers.

Another soul of the dead, the soul-shadow, becomes invisible and transforms into something new, an omi-soul. “Omi” means “coming to be,” “origination,” “embryo.” The omi-soul moves to the sources of the river of the ethnos and settles there (in the “omiruk” world).

Then, a very important moment in the posthumous drama is played out. After some time, the chief of the settlement of ancestors, the great “mangi” (the ancestor-bear) observes that the shaman brought him not the whole person but only his shadow, the soul-body; the soul-shadow is missing. Mangi raises himself to the sources of the river, finds the missing soul and commands it to go to him. Along the way, the soul-shadow fools “mangi,” transforms into a bird or animal and returns to “omiruk,” to the sources of the river. From there, the omi-soul flies into the middle settlement of living Evenki, slips into the chimney of a yurt to the altar of the female spirit “togo mushun,” to whom sacrifices are constantly brought, and then jumps imperceptibly into the body of the yurt’s woman-proprietess.3 As a result, she gives birth and everything is repeated anew.

The shaman fulfils a vital function: he leads the soul-body into the dwelling-place of the ancestors at the delta of the river of the ethnos and “fools” mangi, so that another soul, the soul-shadow, would have enough time to transform into an omi and fly away to the sources of the river. If someone dies in the period when the tribe has no shaman, the process of the circulation of souls stops. All souls would go the world of the ancestors, and there would be no one to be born.

The shaman also ensures the protection of the ethnocentrum. He encloses the territory in which the ethnos lives with a certain invisible fence, which passes along the rivers, knolls, meadows and thickets. This fence is called a “marylya” and it prevents evil spirits from entering the ethnos’ territory and upsetting its equilibrium. The shaman is helped in this by bird spirits, animal spirits, fish spirits and earth spirits. They build the fence of the ethnocentrum through all the elements, reorganizing the sacred strata of the cosmos.4

The Shaman and Reintegration

The rite of shamanic initiation is very meaningful from the perspective of the anthropology of the ethnos. When an old shaman dies, his animal double (hargi) goes to the lower reaches of the river and sends word of this event to the first-ancestor-bear (mangi). Then mangi commands one of the souls of the earlier deceased shamans to go the settlement of the living and to find there a fitting young man or woman for embodiment. Having tracked down a candidate, the spirit falls on him and invites or forces him to become a shaman. Thus begins the period of testing for the chosen one. This is called the “shaman disease.”5 The young man or woman stops working, runs into the forest, eats nothing and acts abnormally from the perspective of all of the tribe’s usual ways. The Evenki think the soul-shadow of this person, together with the soul of the old shaman, begins its journey through the mountains of the ancestors, until both souls reach the primordial center, the first-mountain of the ethnos.

There, at the foot of the shaman tree, surrounded by horned animal spirits, there is the great animal-mother, most often depicted as a mother-deer. The spirit of the initiated enters the animal-mother and she begets him as a four-legged animal, fish or bird, and occasionally as a human. This depends on the totem structure of the genus to which the shaman belongs.

When the mother-deer begets a new shaman in animal form, the mountain transforms into a house, the mother-deer into an old woman and the spirits into human figures. They all dismember the future shaman, tear out his bones, temper them on the fire, forge them and gather them into a new anthropomorphic form.

Afterward, the newly assembled shaman, together with the spirit-helpers and animal-helpers received from the animal-mother, returns to his tribe and is solemnly initiated there. From that moment, he becomes the heart of the ethnos.

In the description of the ritual of shamanic initiation, we should note the alternation of forms: human, animal and spiritual (spirits). Many archaic ethnoses have a legend according to which “there was a time” when people, spirits and animals were one and the same species and could freely change form, depending on the situation. But then, as a result of some tragic event, they all lost their freedom. Whomever this event (its form and meaning are rather difficult to reconstruct correctly) caught in human form remained human; whomever in animal form, animal; whomever in spirit form, spirit.

In his initiation, the shaman returns to the state when this separation had not “yet” happened. He integrates in himself all world-levels, animal, human and spiritual, re-establishing primordial nature through the rite of initiation. But now his three-fold nature is expressed through spirit-helpers and animal-helpers. Entering into a trance, the shaman becomes integrated anew and in his wanderings and battles he is transformed now into a spirit, now into an animal and then once again to human.

Here is the key to the normative anthropology of the ethnos. The ethnos is fully integral and includes both the human and the nonhuman (animal, spiritual). And in the ethnos only that person is of full value who is simultaneously living and dead, ancestor and offspring, human and animal. This unification of opposites is expressed in the shaman, who often wears clothes of the opposite sex and in general acts according to rules differing significantly from the rules of the rest of the members of the ethnos. The shaman, re-establishing himself as the primordial human, gets the ability to re-establish other members of the ethnos too. This is expressed in healings, in the protection of the ethnocentrum through the magic fence, in battles with evil spirits, in conducting the deceased to the foot of the great river, etc. The shaman is the concentrated figure of the ethnocentrum. He is the ethnocentrum.


The static structure of the ethnos is formed of a few fundamental elements:

  • Ethnic intentionality, the paradigm of mythological thought;
  • The ethnocentrum, a spatially synchronic model of the world, a multi-layered map;
  • Ethnotemporality, the organization of ethnic time, most often in the form of cycles and the “eternal return”;
  • The “basic personality” of the ethnos as a status set, the “mask”;
  • The binary model of society, in the form of exogamy, the gender division of labor, etc.;
  • Ethnic anthropology, expressed most clearly in the figure and function of the shaman, the normative cosmo-human.

We encounter this clear structure in its pure guise only in the simplest ethnoses. As a rule, the real structure is more complex and nuanced. But if we consider this structure as a kind of model, a conceptual map of ethnic analysis, then it will help us significantly in studying the infinite variety of archaic ethnoses, which can be classified and studied in accordance with this model. It will also help us in investigating the structure of more complex societies, derived from the ethnos.

This is easy to check, if we pay attention to the fact that contemporary sociology makes its analysis of complex societies on analogous principles, in which:

  • Ethnic intentionality corresponds to “collective consciousness,” “public opinion,” or “mentality”;
  • The ethnocentrum is the organization of social space, for instance city or industrial architecture;
  • Ethnotemporality is the sociology of time, studied, for instance, by Gurvich;
  • “Basic personality” is the “sociological man” (Dahrendorf);
  • The binary model is the sexual differentiation of contemporary society and the dual code in law, philosophy, technology, morals, religion, etc.;
  • Ethnic anthropology is the figure of the autonomous individual, as “fantastical” in its normative features and ontological characteristics as is the figure of the shaman.

The difference is only that classical sociology begins by considering contemporary society (i.e. from sociology) and projects its norms onto archaic society (the ethnos), while ethnosociology proposes to reverse this procedure and consider contemporary society as a version of archaic society. These approaches do not exclude but rather supplement each other. Thus, often in the twentieth century the thin line between sociology and anthropology (i.e. ethnosociology) was blurred and many major authors (Durkheim, Mausse, Lévi-Strauss, Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, Marcel Granet, Ralph Linton, Abram Kardiner, Richard Thurnwald, etc.) can easily be related to one or the other scientific branches.


1 Sergei M. Shirokogorov, Versuch einer Erforschung der Grundlagen des Schamanentums bei den Tungusen (Verlag von Dietrich Reimer, 1935).

2 Friedrich, Das Bewusstsein eines naturvolkes von Haushalt und Ursprung des Lebens, 188.

3 “The spirit of the tribal fire […] is called togo mushun. The first word, “togo,” literally means “fire”; the second, “mushun,” is translated in Russian-Evenki dictionaries as “a spirit, a lord of natural phenomena” (mu mushin: “a spirit, the lord of water,” ure mushun: “a spirit, the lord of mountains,” etc.). We cannot pass by the fact that the Evenki use the word mushun as an expression for the concept “spirit-lord” only for natural phenomena.” Arkady Anisimov, Religiya evenkov v istoriko-geneticheskom izuchenii i problemy proiskhozhdeniya pervobytnykh verovaniy (Moscow-Leningrad: Academy of Sciences of the USSR 1958), 102.

4 Arkady Anisimov, “Shamanskiye dukhi po vozzreniyam evenkov i totemisticheskiye istoki shamanstva” in Sbornik Muzeia Anthropologii i Etnografii 13 (1951), 226.

5 Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972).

Alexander Dugin
the authorAlexander Dugin
Alexander Dugin (b. 1962) is one of the best-known writers and political commentators in post-Soviet Russia. During the 1980s, he was a principal member of the underground traditionalist movement in the Soviet Union, for which he was arrested by the KGB and expelled from his studies at the Moscow Aviation Institute in 1983. He continued to support his private studies in traditionalist philosophy by working as a street sweeper. He later became a journalist and made his earliest foray into politics by joining Pamyat, the first nationalist party to emerge during the twilight years of the USSR.


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