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Cultural Heritage / Trip Ideas

The Shamans of Jilin

By Xinzhu Xiao

October 28

Shamanistic rituals, central to traditional Mongolian religion, are practiced actively in northern China.

Shamanistic rituals, central to traditional Mongolian religion, are practiced actively in northern China.

Among world religions, Shamanism is one of the more obscure ones. Dating back to the Stone Age, Mongolian shamanism worships the supreme god Munkh Huh Tenger , known as “The Eternal Blue Sky” and the spirits of mountains and rivers.

As harvest season approaches every year at the beginning of autumn, ethnic Mongolians gather in the hills around Baicheng City on the border between Jilin Province and the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region to perform an ancient ritual.

A table of sacrificial offerings is laid out.
A table of sacrificial offerings is laid out. [Image Credit: Francisco Little/ChinAfrica.cn]
A group of farmers lay out a table of sacrificial offerings. A sheep, considered a clean animal because it only eats grass, serves as the most important element. They also lay out samples of alcohol, rice and grain. Worshipers make sacrifices to their ancestors, the heavenly god, and the earthly god.

A drumming ritual is performed.
A drumming ritual is performed. [Image Credit: Ramon Fernandez]
The job of a shaman is to communicate with and interpret spirits in the natural world. A drumming ritual facilitates this communication while farmers hope their voices, offerings and colorful costumes attract the attention of spirits, bringing a bountiful harvest.

Colorful costumes for a ritual dance.
Colorful costumes for a ritual dance. [Image Credit: Ramon Fernandez]
The ceremony is usually held in March, June and September each year, as Mongolians believe three, six and nine are auspicious numbers.

By observing nature through many of their ancient customs, Mongolian shamanists  try to understand how people can live in harmony with the natural world and respect its order. Hence Jilin’s Mongolian culture is closely linked with environmental awareness and protection of the region’s vast wetlands.

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