The Flight of the Condor

The shamanic headdress

      Characteristic for siberian shamanism is the shamanic costume. It is composed of many different parts. Prominent ones are the shamanic drum, the drum-stick, the shamanic cloak and foot-wear, the shamanic mirror and the headdress. In this article I am focussing on the shamanic headdress and its practical aspects. An ancient tuvinean shaman - Saryglaar - visited Europe and the shamans there two times (in 1995 and 2000). He was astonished that european shamanists and shamans usually do not possess any shamanic headdress. He encouraged the audience to create for themselves and their shamanic practice such an useful tool. In particular I am describing the tuvinean variation of shamanic headdress: the headband. The description can be adapted to any other kind of shamanic headresses, of course. As a tool the shamanic headdress can be found throughout the whole world. Especially noteworthy and well-known is the headdress of the north American Indians.

      As just mentioned the headdress is a very useful and all-round shamanic tool, apart from being quite a show. One function of the headdress could be that it is showing to the people attending a shamanistic rite that the shaman is shamanizing. As long as the shaman wears the headdress (and the costume) he is shamanizing. This can be compared with the drum. As long as the drumming goes on the shamanist is on his shamanic journey. The drumming stopps and the journey comes to an end. Putting of the headdress means the shaman is returning to everydays personality and consciousness.

      Feathers from the Eagle or other birds (as swan, owl, raven) symbolize the ability of the shaman to travel the spirits world with his soul. The shamanic journey often is a kind of flight-experience for the shaman and thus it is a obvious solution of symbolizing this by the useage of feathers, which also are the direct link to the shamans tiergeist - which is another function of the headdress. Photo by D.A. Klemenc; 1903 Long feathers (most of the time two of them) are symbolic horns or antennas. During the shamanic journey the shaman usually transformes his gestalt into that of his power-animal. The shamanic costume and the headdress are enforcing this and showing this transformation to the material world.

      The headdress is an instrument for inducing trance-states, also. By wearing the headdress only during shamanizing the shaman is actually programming himself (subconsciously) for the shamanic trance. So the simple act of putting on the headdress or costume can induce a shamanic trance - however, you actually have to do this many times before you can benefit from this effect. Some other details of the shamanic headdress are inducing the trance more directly. Fringes hanging before the eyes of the shaman actually are simulating a kind of primitive stroposcope and thus inducing trance by optical stimulation during movement of the head. Sometimes bells are attached to the headdress. The jingling of them drives of evil spirits (which dislike noises in general) and induce trance by acoustic stimulation, as well.

      The living shamanic headdress is protecting the shaman during his journeys and everydays activities. The feathers of nocturnal hunting-birds (owls) are pars pro toto of a tiergeist which is active at night (when eagles and such are asleep). The eagle is protecting during daytime (or other animals, bear, wolves ...). The protective powers are even active if the shaman is far away from the headdress. The headdress warns him of things happening nearby its position, functioning as a remote control of personal things.

      A shamanic headdress can possess many more symbols and representations of any spirit the shaman is working with. An important part of the headdresses in Tuva are symbolized body parts, in particular: eyes, ears, mouth and so on, which are the shamans senses he uses to perceive the spirits world. On the frontside sometimes a metallic plate or something similar (Saryglaar uses a pair of symbolic horns) is placed in the middle of the headband, roughly at the position of the so-called third eye. It often is representing a special kind of protection (against evil magic) or a very important spirit (which it is in my own case, for example).

      Another part of the headdress is the smybolic representation of the shamanic cosmos. Depending on your own personal shamanic landscapes there can be shown the various worlds of Lower Worlds and Upper Worlds, sometimes the methods of reaching them, too. Two arcs, crossing in the middle of the head can symbolize the four seasons, elements, directions and so on. I have chosen the binding rune of the 24 runes of the elder Futhark as a representation of the shamanic cosmos, besides the two arcs. I have imbedded the runes for Iormungand, the world-serpent, two times. The seprent itself is shown a third time as a symbol. The Ice-Crystal of germanic mythology (which symbolizes the nine worlds) is represented, too. Paiska, Khakassian Shaman You can see that in our modern society you have many possibilities and much more freedom than the traditional shamans in creating your own shamanic headdress. Why not (for example) using the Flower of Life as a symbol, or quantum-physical knowledge, or the DNA-spiral?

      Tuvinean shamans possess two different headdresses. One for the normal daily-routine shamanizing. This one is usually worn openly. The other one is being used for the more sinister kind of workings. The black headdress is used solely in the fight between two (or more) shamans. However, it is being used rather seldom. The black headdress actually reveals again that shamans are subject to normal human motions, which is being overseen very often in modern reception of shamanism.

      Within our own western culture there is no traditional shamanic headdress. Some traces of it are being found in the middle ages and the court-jesters fool's cap. So we can learn very much from the (siberian) shamans for our own shamanic practice. The traditions often play an important role in the actual outlook of the headdress, but as shown above, the headdress also can make shamanic practice much more colourful and easier. Ask your spirits whether you should make yourself a shamanic headdress (or even an costume) or not. A shamanic headdress can be very detailed in its various meanings and abilities. It is a good idea to ask your spirits for details in symbology and powers. They are varying from shaman to shaman, even in traditional societies. From the magical viewpoint it may be a hint to imbedd your personal mumia, as well. It can take you a long time to complete your headdress. It is worth it. A last and important note: A shamanic headdress is not really necessary in normal shamanic works. It simply makes certain things a lot easier and is an enjoyment for yourself, the spirits and others when being worn.

Altaian Shamaness: Photo by D.A. Klemenc, 1903; Russian Ethnographic Museum, St. Petersburg.
Khakassian Shaman: Russian Ethnographic Museum, St. Petersburg.
© 2002 by Aufsteigender Adler

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