Sacred Site worshipping for good health in Corona times

Yamal has a legally protected sacred sites inventory: here, Angalskiy Mys

Today in the morning I was just about to brew my breakfast coffee, when my friend Mikhail Okotetto called and told me “we need to go and feed the sacred site here, come along, right now”. I had 5 minutes to grab my stuff and jump to a taxi, and drove out to the land close to Angal’skiy Mys between Salekhard and Labytnangi, where Mikhail and Vasiliy were waiting for me. They were in touch with one of the very few shamans on the Yamal Peninsula, Alexey Okotetto from Synei Sale, who had advised them that it is time to feed the land and pay respect to the spirits, now that we need their protection from diseases more than ever.

Yesterday the city of Salekhard lost one inhabitant due to covid 19. Immediately yesterday they were searching for the sacred site, but got lost, broke in to the too soft snow that is still half a metre deep, and they did not have food with them. It was clear that the spirits did not want to admit them so spontaneously and unprepared. So they tried again today. They had even found a wooden cable-drum, which would serve well as an altar for the ritual.

From the end of the dirt road we would walk with our altar to the forest – tundra towards the shore of the Ob River. I see a sign at the end of the road saying “Sacred Site Angal’skiy Mys”, and am wondering why it was hard to find it for them yesterday. We walked five, 10, 15 minutes, following traces where somebody else had walked. But did not see the sacred site, which was supposed to be visible as a tree with ribbons on it. After half an hour, Mikhail would say “I don’t remember this house having been here at all”, when we saw a wooden skeleton of a house on our left. I started realising that the signpost for the sacred site indicated its general area, but not the site proper. Behind us we saw Vasiliy walking towards us, telling us that we had gone way too far, and that it’s actually on the hilltop close to the road. We had to carry back the heavy cable-drum altar through the snow which was getting softer as it was getting warmer. Finally we found it: a larch tree on our left, beautifully overlooking the landscape towards the River Ob and the Polar Ural foothills on the other side.

Vasily and I went to fetch firewood, dry larch twigs, while Mikhail was preparing the meal for the spirits, consisting of frozen raw fish (khalya) and frozen raw reindeer meat (aibat). All of us were city-people, not very well versed how to talk to the spirits. Therefore Mikhail had got in touch with Alexei the shaman again and for advice what to do. After lighting the fire, all of it turned out to be very straightforward: we should just invite the spirits for a joint meal at the sacred site, showing them our gratitude and our respect. We were having a nice meal ourselves, and offered at the same time that same meal to the spirits, at the bottom of the larch tree. Each of us tied some ribbons to the the larch, saying our own words of gratitude.

Those who know Eastern Siberian spiritual tradition will be surprised that we did not feed the fire at all with the meal during the worshipping at the sacred site.

As we were preparing the meal and the fire was happily crackling, we heard unusually many voices of birds around us. Suddenly Vasiliy points to the sky and alerts us “swans”! Two swans were flying passing by. Mikhail said that he had waited for swans to come for long, and now just when we were preparing our offerings, they came to greet us. A very good sign: the spirits noted our presence and appreciated our will to show our gratitude to them.

Some three years ago, Alexei Okotetto actually had a shamanic séance there, paying respect to this ancient sacred site, in the presence of all the Nenets political leadership. At that time, they had sacrificed four reindeer at this site, and offered one reindeer head to another larch close by, some 50 m away from the main site. There we also went and shared our meal with them. Mikhail kept reminding us “now you have to eat yourself more, more. Enjoy your meal, so they will enjoy it too”. This is how we tried to unite with the spirits for good health of all beings in Salekhard, Yamal and the rest of the planet .