Volume 4.1    SPECIAL EDITION: GENGHIS KHAN, THE SHAMAN          January 2009


What's New At CEH

Upcoming Workshops

New Workshop!!! Past Lives

Teach on the Beach: a Special     


  Getting A Grip on Genghis Khan
  Comments on Getting a Grip
  St. Genghis Khan, a Review
Submission Guidelines
What's New At CEH


Crow was moved to reconsider the case of Genghis Khan when, while enjoying his sabatical in Kent, England, in November and December, he came across two thundering adventure stories about him.  Pulling together a number of strands about this fascinating and powerful person led to the writing of the lead article, below.   A few kind readers agreed to read the article and comment on it for publication.  Their comments follow the article. A surprise review serves as a climax.
We have decided to turn it all into a Special Edition of the Newsletter both to highlight the questions raised, and to give Bekki a bit of extra space for some writing she is doing.
If others feel moved to enter the discussion, please send your remarks to crow@church-of-earth-healing and perhaps we can borrow a bit of space in the next regular issue of the newsletter.


Bekki and Crow

  Upcoming Workshops and Trainings

For complete information, see our web site Schedule.
19-22 February, Bekki and Crow Teaching & Tattooing at ConVocation in Detroit MI
6-7 March, Fundamentals of Shamanism at The Mystical Attic, Norfolk VA
14- 15
March, Fundamentals of Shamanism at Niches Retreat Center for Conscious Living in MacArthur OH
28-29 March, Circle of The Ancestors  and Fundamentals of Shamanism with Dragon Heart Healing,  Huntsville AL
4-5 April Get a Life: Past-Life Shamanism at Niches Retreat Center for Conscious Living in MacArthur OH
Negotiating a possible Fundamentals workshop in Ithaca NY in April or May
7-11 May, Circle of The Ancestors at the Mystical Attic, Norfolk VA
15-17  Shamanism for the Creative Artist: A Weekend Retreat
 at Niches Retreat Center in MacArthur OH
A more complete schedule to be published in the next Newsletter

New Workshop!!!

Get A Life: Shamanic Perspectives on Past Life Work            
With Bekki and Crow

This is a very enjoyable weekend: fun, while providing - as most shamanic experiences do - opportunities for self-growth and healing.  We have been doing past life stuff together since we first met in 1980 and, as we were developing this workshop, have been wondering why we waited so long to make it part of our regular teaching repertory.

Our first experience of a past life together was induced by a tape especially made for couples.  We came back completing each other’s sentences, because we literally visited the same lifetime together, even many of the same scenes: quite an interesting lifetime in Classical Greece, where Bekki was a famous sculptor and Crow her model.

In addition to other shared and separate past lives we have since explored, we have also been directed by Spirit to do past life work in healing journeys for clients.  Crow had one long-term client who suffered injuries, physical and emotional, in some 8 or 10 different past lives.  It was exciting to be able to connect with these ancient negative events in past lives, many of which were already know to the client, and be able, with Spirit guidance, to help with the client’s healing, both past and present.

As we usually like to do, we set the scene by looking at tribal attitudes toward past lives, reincarnation and karma: these are by no means just ‘new age’ notions. Then, our shamanic approach to entering past lives is different from the usual inductions: you are the one who has the experience on your own and you depend only on Spirit (teachers, allies) to do it.  It can, of course, be just for fun: Crow’s time as a Court Shaman in early China was very enjoyable.  It can also help you understand the unique qualities that characterize you and may easily lead to the resolution of blockages and other personal challenges.

We also use some of the journey time to do healing work around past life issues and to help each other in partnering journeys. And there are a few surprises!

Please join us as we offer this ‘new’ weekend workshop at various venues during 2009.  The workshop will debut the first weekend in April at Hawks Landing (formerly called Niches) Retreat Centre near McArthur, Ohio,  April 2009.  Call Pat Rarick at (740)596-4288 to register. (Hawks Landing is about 40 minutes West of Athens and easily accessible from Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus.)

Teach at the Beach: A Special Retreat
Bekki and Crow With Elspeth and Nybor of Haven

A beachside retreat in Duck, NC
Limited to 12 participants
The 4 of us will be teaching on several topics, including shamanism, tarot, art and more. We will be doing a Samhain ritual, plus there will be time for recreational activities.  We will be housed in a beachside condo. Please join us!
We'll have more info in the upcoming newsletter, due out next week.
Four of the available slots are paid for already, and two more have been spoken for. We expect this class to be very popular.

Do you know someone who might be interested in Shamanism, healing or metaphysics in general, or our work in particular? Please do forward this Newsletter to friends that would be interested... You'll find the Church of Earth Healing Newsletter Archives on line HERE.

Upcoming  Newsletters

Issue 14:
Speaking with the Spirits: Shamanic Divinatory Techniques
We're looking for articles on Divination within shamanic contexts: your experiences with it, books or articles you've read, etc. If this is an area you are interested in check with us, we have resources.

Issue 15: Living Shamanically: Intentional Communities
Tribal cultures are community-based. For hundreds of years, but particularly in the last 50 years,  Western culture  has seen the rise of interest in  intentional communities as indivuals have discovered the relevance of living in communities  with groups of people who share similar goals. What do people practicing shamanistic spiritual practices have to gain from living in this way?

Issue 16: Speaking with the Spirits: Divining through Tarot and other Card Oracles
More on Divination, this time specifically with cards. Review your favorite shamanically-based deck, share a reading technique you feel is grounded in shamanism, or review a book or article that has inspired you.

Issue 17: Living Shamanically: The Humor Issue

                                            If you have an idea for a theme for an upcoming newsletter we'd love to hear from you.

Getting a Grip on Genghis Khan
Crow Swimsaway PhD

One early summer day I whipped around a corner near the market in downtown Budapest and almost collided with Genghis Khan.  I had already seen his cousins, perhaps his brothers, on other streets but this was the Khan himself.  No, not wearing furs and his sword, but, in every other way himself.

This is a not uncommon experience in Hungary nor should one be surprised at it when geneticists have calculated (on the basis of good DNA evidence) that this one man’s genes are to be found in more contemporary human beings than those of any other sire throughout history. They are present in about 8% of the men in a large region of Asia and about 0.5% of the men in the whole world.

He was quite a sire, and quite a khan.  More to our interest, he was also a shaman and relied on the advice of shamans as he strode across the world.  We shall attempt to find – and to get a grip on – him here because he may be able to help us understand a little more about shamans and shamanism. I believe he can help us redefine our own practice more effectively.

One translation of the name Genghis Khan is “leader of the sea grass”.  That is how he viewed himself as he drew diverse and previously warring Mongolian tribes together. Apparently he has always been a national hero from Turkey to Mongolia and adjacent Siberia.  Even today sons are given his name and his picture is the one most likely to appear on the walls of yurts, ger and cabins across these lands.  He did not bring shamanism to those lands. He did serve as a unifying factor, initiating political and military systems that allowed technologically simple steppe tribesmen to spread their culture from Korea to Western Europe.  This took place in the 12th and 13th centuries, the time of the Chin Empire in China and the Holy Roman Empire in the west.

A central part of the culture they spread was shamanism.  There was shamanism in China and Europe before Genghis Khan.  We may look to Hungary, however, as a place where a double influx of eastern shamanic power (first the Magyars, then the brothers of Genghis Khan) had an impact that lasted for centuries.  Bekki and I had the experience of climbing, and doing shamanic work at the top of the Shaman’s Mountain in the Tokaji district of Hungary.  In spite of a Catholic monastery at its foot, the Stations of The Cross on the steep path up, and a twenty foot tall cross set in stones on the summit, it is still the Shaman’s Mountain, so called because of the fires and constant drumming that continued there hundreds of years after Hungary was officially declared Catholic.

An article by Laslo Kurti in Shaman: the Journal of the International Society for Shamanistic Research gives a detailed analysis of linguistic and folkloric survivals of shamanism in contemporary Hungarian culture.  There is clear evidence of shamanism in folklore, song, dance and language.  Is this evidence of shamanic practice?  Not necessarily, though on this same visit we did meet a strong group of actively working neo-shamanic practitioners.  I take Kurti’s research to show an underlying presence.  If this is not matched by total cultural participation today, there is still an overall cultural interest in the subject and a pride in ancient Mongolian roots and heritage.  Witness a broadcast on national television of an hour-long special on shamanism!

Shamanism survived long in Hungary.  It is also clearly documented in the records of the Inquisition in Italy as reported by Carlo Ginsburg in Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Though Ginsburg studied the relatively isolated region of Friuli, Italy, the Church had, at the time he is examining it, been there for 15 hundred years and the Inquisition maintained an active presence. This study makes a few brief comparisons with shamanic practices in Eastern European countries directly touched by Genghis Khan.  Not enough is known to suggest that the Italian cults were also directly stimulated by the shamanism of the Khan but there is that possibility.

If we can have imported or native shamanism that is vitally alive, even on a sub-cultural basis, in a time dominated by non-tribal economics, politics and religion, what does this mean for our usual tribally based definition of  shamanism and shamanic practice?  Tribally, shamanism is a set of simple techniques for making direct contact with Spirit.  The connection is usually used to help individuals and communities achieve and maintain balance within and among themselves.  Tribal shamanism also sought balance – healing in the broadest and deepest sense – in human relationships with the broader world.  In their practice tribal shamans  included a wide range of ritual and ceremonial activities.  While not what we might call “medicine”, these could still be considered balancing and healing.  Tribal shamans have also occasionally been observed to act in positions of political leadership, as seems to have been the case with Genghis Khan. This is not a typical aspect of the role and may be considered marginal to it, pending more evidence.

There were several levels of court shamans in early China.  Some of these were very close in style, activity (and limited respect received) to the singers, dancers, actors, jugglers, fortune tellers, diviners, astrologers, chasers of ghosts and makers of curious medicines who hung around the capitol and the edges of the imperial household.  There was trade, food, shelter, largesse, money to be had in exchange for whatever skills this interesting rabble had to offer.  They could be hired for a moment, a day or evening, even a lifetime.  Many of them depended on some sort of connection with Spirit or the spirits for the success of their livelihood. Any of them could be hired by almost any level of the vast court.  One can notice a curious feature of civilization at work here: job specialization.  In tribal circumstances, that ‘interesting rabble’ would have been combined in one person, the shaman.

Curiously, when shamans were taken into upper levels of the court bureaucracy (this was quite early on though I have seen no studies describing exactly how and when that was first done)  some of that specialization was lost and, once again, shamans were expected to do, at a minimum, healing, divination, and conduct elaborate ceremonies.  Shaman to a Minister, Prime Minister or to the Emperor himself wielded tremendous influence and power on the daily process and progress of the empire.  That person could also direct the movement of the entire empire.  It was not a safe or easy role to fulfill, however.  Ministers and Emperors held the power of instant dismissal including, more often than not - in fits of displeasure or disappointment - instant or, sometimes tortuously prolonged death.  A mistake, or even an accurate journey or divination that was not liked or which led to an unfortunate outcome could easily be the shaman’s last.  Again we can ask, what does it mean for our usual tribally-based definition of shamanism and shamanic practice when shamans are found at the highest levels of empire?

The case of Genghis Khan and his heirs is a fascinating one from a shamanic perspective.  There is no question that the “Mongol hordes” were shamanic peoples and came from very close to its defining homeland.  At very least, every one of the tribes that fought with Genghis practiced shamanism and had one or more shamans.  It is widely reported that he was a shaman, though it is seldom made clear what that meant in practice.  He did have shamans in his entourage and the chief one of these is said to have been consulted by Genghis before every battle and every major decision. 

Mongolian/Siberian shamanism, and culture in general, are interesting in that, certainly by the time of Genghis, they were subject to influences from so called ‘high cultures’ or ‘civilizations’ in both China and Arabia.  I do not have the historical knowledge to suggest that Genghis was moved in his expansionist ideas by outside influence.  He was no fool and it is recorded that as soon as he witnessed the effectiveness of Chin lapped iron plate armour he used it on his own men and horses in some of his first battles.  The formation of a court around the Khan, including shamans with ready access to his ears, may have been a function of the size and scope of his operations.  Again, no fool, he was a leader well used to delegating authority and seeking and following advice when he wanted it.  He must also have been aware of how the Chin leaders were conducting their Empire.  Once more, what does it mean for our usual tribally based definition of shamanism and shamanic practice when shamans are found at the very root of an expansionist movement that resulted in the formation of several new empires?  (Genghis Khan’s descendants went on to stretch the Mongol Empire across most of Eurasia by conquering and/or creating vassals out of all of modern-day China, Korea, the Caucasus, the Central Asian countries, and substantial portions of modern Eastern Europe and the Middle East.)

It is clear that shamanism survived in the folk culture of early Renaissance Europe (and probably even into the present day).  It’s presence is recorded within and just outside the elaborate halls of the early Chinese Empires.  And we have the Mongolian situation where shamans helped create empires based on a culture totally lacking in such pretensions before the rise of Genghis Khan. How, then, can we understand our tribally-based definition of shamanism in this context where it involved and deeply affected millions of people? 

It seems that we need to expand our definition of shamanism and shamanic practice.  It is clear to me that whoever is doing it, in whatever setting and no matter who is paying the bills, the spiritual foundations and the essential practices of shamanism are the same.  If one journeys to make that crucial connection with Spirit, if one uses the journey and the connection to help oneself and others to be in balance in the world, and if one applies that help through advice, guidance and in ritual/ceremonial process, one is doing shamanism.

There are two questions requiring some sub-paragraphs to my definition.  First, what about balance?  Does helping a system that involves riding thousands of miles, killing thousands – perhaps millions – of people, involve “balance”?  Is advising the Emperor, who uses tools of death and destruction, an act of balancing?  It is, if sending intrusive, deadly darts to kill one’s jungle neighbours, while healing one’s own villagers from the neighbours’ darts, is balancing.  Healing and helping are involved.

Second, is journeying absolutely essential to the definition?  I cannot resurrect Eliade’s argument about possession states being a lesser form of shamanism.  Surely, possession is ecstatic and no matter how ecstatic it is, I can see it as no less intentional or controlled than the journey in which Spirit is with rather than within the shaman. I refer here to possession states which have been sought by the practitioner.  This is well recorded among shamans in Nepal and for Vodoun priests.  My position does not deny that spontaneous possession also takes place and it begs the question as to whether spontaneous possession may be used shamanically.  So, a good shamanic answer to the supposed dilemma: yes to possession, yes to other forms of journeying too.

The Genghis Khan and related material presented above raises another question that deserves a brief look. That is, how does this information affect the arguments of scholars who claim that shamans cannot practice in cities and/or outside a tribal context?  We have seen that they do both.

Location, location, location?  In answer here are some questions to consider. Do you journey?  Where have you found that you absolutely cannot make that connection with Spirit? City, town, village, country, forest, jungle, desert?  Feet in the dirt? Twenty stories up?  Palace, home, hut, cave?  I have been actively, regularly, journeying for at least 25 years and I have done it successfully, helpfully, in just about every one of those alternative situations.  Spirit wants to help.  When you have learned the technique, the place where you practice it is not a reason that it might not work.

In summary, a definition and understanding of shamanism which looks to its essence seems to be applicable in cave, hut and palace, town and country. What the evidence suggests is that when we look first at the practice, then at its set and setting, we find that shamanism is amazingly flexible, amazingly portable and always helpful.

 I thank Genghis Khan for helping me take a fresh look at these challenges.  I hope that I have not used him unfairly but I do believe that his life is relevant to anyone working in this field of Spirit.

I thank Chris Forester in England for the support of himself and his family which allowed me the time, energy and health to write this brief paper, along with many other accomplishments, personal and professional.

Carlo Ginsburg,  Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the 16th and 17th Centuries
Conn Iggulden, Genghis, Birth of an Empire
                 Genghis, Lords of the Bow
            And more to follow…
Laslo Kurti,  Language, Symbol and Dance: an Analysis of Historicity in Movement and Meaning, in Shaman: the Journal of the International Society for Shamanistic Research
John Man, Genghis Khan:  Life, Death and Resurrection

It was reading Birth of an Empire which got me thinking along the lines of this article, so thanks to Conn Iggulden for that stimulus.  I was a little disappointed in this dynamic novelistic telling of the story of Genghis right up to the time the empire starts to grow.  There just is not enough about shamans in the book. The first mention of a shaman is about half way through!  Sky burial is movingly described several times.  There are a number of quotable quotes:
“He did not have a tiger by the tail after all.  He had it by the ears, with his head in its mouth.” (p 307)
There is enough blood and gore and action to satisfy any hunger for it: Genghis Khan was never a nice person.

Genghis, Lords of the Bow does introduce “Genghis’ Shaman”.  As this character is written he is an evil, manipulating heavy and his main focus is his own advancement.  That is slightly unbelievable if he is to be the main shamanic guide throughout Genghis’ mature life.   Also, some of his supposed shamanic activities just do not correlate with what is known of shamanic healing in Mongolia.  There is one scene, however, where he calls up Genghis’ ancestors to save his life, that is both believable and very dramatic.  (p 440-441) You may need to read this so you can make your own evaluation.

As John Man makes clear, the truths about Genghis Khan’s lifetime are more full and more amazing than any work of fiction which he might inspire.  Whether or not you are attracted to read Con Iggulden’s stimulating works, I highly recommend Man’s Genghis Khan (Bantam Books, 2004 & 5).  It is  written in an entertaining and knowledgeable style, not scholarly but well informed: he has been in many of the places significant to Genghis Khan and tells us about it. (Especially interesting is his recipe for marmot, cooked with a blow torch: p 44-46) He has done his research well in books as well as on the ground.  I had despaired to finding a translation of The Secret History, the ‘official’ history of Genghis Khan’s lifetime, apparently written while he yet lived: Man draws heavily on that work and tells much about how it was originally compiled and by whom.
My singular disappointment in reading Man’s book is in his failure to confirm an early statement of mine, above.  He does mentions shamans from time to time and is clearly aware of their significance in Mongolian culture.  He also mentions Genghis Khan’s spiritual advisors but he does not say that the great khan was a shaman or that he depended on their
advice.  He does describe how Genghis Khan called forth the aging scholar and spiritual leader Ch’ang-ch’un, having him make a journey of 10,000 kilometers (from the Western seacoast of China to the Arab lands where  the great khan was busy conquering and back) to provide spiritual answers and advice.  In that context, Man underlines the Mongolian policy of  religious tolerance: all religions were granted equal respect.

I believe that Sarangarel, who spent a great deal of time in Mongolia, was the original source of my ideas about Genghis Khan’s shamanism but she is gone now so I may never know.

From Daniel Foor

Toward the end of the piece I would chime in that:

---Your point is well taken about how actively wicked behavior can still be shamanic.  Some folks of course define shamanism in the positive and use words like "sorcery" for the blatantly self-serving types.  I see their point and believe it probably does as much harm as good to divide it up conceptually as it implies shamanic people aren't capable of or ever involved in "sorcerous" activity, however exactly that line is drawn, thereby contributing to a lack of internal vigilance and unhelpful black and white dichotomies.  So I also align with a value neutral definition of shamanism although it can stink up the room for white light folks:)

---I don't personally think journeying is critical to the definition. I think Eliade, Harner, and FSS-centered folks tend to overstate it, at least when generalizing (might hold true here or there).  I see being able to relate effectively (a.k.a. get results) with other-than-human beings as more central.  That may or may not require a movement away from consciousness localized in the body, but it does require seeing other beings as potential sources of relationship, wisdom, medicine, etc. and usually proficiency in some form/s of trance or whatever it gets called.  For gifted psychics and mediums or the occasional intuitive moment it may not even require a trance state.  On the other hand, I actually think the term "journeying" has come to be used to refer to both visioning/engaging spirits when there *is* a travelling component as well as dialoguing with the spirits that are present right here without a sense of actually journeying, thereby clouding the terminology.  I often mix it up with words like visioning that don't necessarily connotate travel although travel does occur and occasionally seems necessary.  I know Saraa had a similar beef with the Foundation feeling that they overemphasized journeying.

--In the paragraph about possession, I may be misreading it, but when you state that you don't see possession as any less intentional or any less controlled than journeying, at least from being around the Ifa/orisha ceremonies a fair amount lately, I would say that I 95% agree on the intentional part (and occasional spontaneous stuff does happen with orisha in the house I'm connected with), and that regarding control some have a fair amount of choice within the experience when orisha "comes down" and others really do seem to be fully displaced to the point of little recall so choice or control post-entry of orisha until they leave can be minimal.

From David Johnson (a friend of Daniel’s)
I cannot define shamanism at all. I have found Hungarian shamanism to have a very distinct aspect to it however: This is reflected in its culture. The Hungarian language is so unlike any other that it instantly transports you during ceremony. I met an extremely powerful shaman there three times. The people I saw while journeying were in an ancient place. They resembled Native Americans, but their clothing and jewelry were different. I can only think of the whole Bering Strait theory.

One specific part of a day of journeying brought down an energy from above. Others with whom I have done this practice have described this energy as ancient and extremely powerful. It is intriguing that the writer of the article did not encounter much in the way of Hungarian shamans practicing the ancient traditions. The shaman I knew was very much doing the work he learned from Siberians he had studied under.

There is a very intense feeling about Hungary. People have extreme problems and extreme gifts. Just to look at them and their eyes, which practically glow, you have the feeling of magic. It is very tribal. This is good and bad for them. If it is interesting, I would one day enjoy showing anyone the ritual of energy coming from above. It is especially good for people who are ill in some way.

From Lara Wallace
I do not know whether journeying makes the shaman, so to speak, but I would argue that shamanism and  intention, in this case of being possessed, are inextricably connected.  This of course begs the follow-up question of whether unintentionality on the part of the vessel in some cases of possession could also be considered as a "lesser form of shamanism."

That  is, if you are possessed, you are not always a willing vessel (in voodoo, sure, but people can be possessed unwillingly as well- how could the unwillingness / unintentionality on the part of the vessel be considered shamanistic?).  Thus, if journeying is not a part, one's intention must be.

St Genghis Khan, Holy Genghis Khan
A Review  by Crow

An additional delightful synchronicity as the newsletter was going to press was the opportunity to be submerged in an evening of Mongolian song.

This was by An Da Union of the Inner Mongolia National Song and Dance Troupe, brought to the Athens area for workshops and a full- on performance by the Midwest World Fest.  Sure enough, the evening opened with St Genghis Kahn which the on-stage interpreter presented as Holy Genghis Khan. Whether you happen to be in – or from – Chinese Inner Mongolia or non-Chinese Mongolia, the Great Khan is becoming more of a saint every day.

Twelve pieces made up the performance and every one won the heart of a standing-room-only audience.  Anyone who has visited Dragon Waters has heard Tuvan and other throat singing (humai, in Mongolian) CDs: you will be happy to know that there was plenty of this traditional, ancient shamanic style of music that night.  Almost every one of the 12 performers is qualified to sing humai as well as being excellent in several instruments.

The humai began with brief demonstrations of 4 or 5 different modes of singing it followed by longer songs.  Some of the singers could produce ordinary vocal musical effects while throat singing and the flute player did throat singing while playing a vertical wooden flute.  Two of the women in the group had extraordinary range and virtuosity in throat singing; the first women’s voices I had heard doing humai.

There were several numbers featuring the traditional – and also shamanic – horse-head fiddle which, while it has only two strings produces a very full range of sound.  There is no surprise that horses are very much in evidence in Mongolian music.  Several numbers featured horses in various  ways including instrumental and vocal evocations of many of their sounds.

The “Drum Performance: Shaman Drum” was a little embarrassing.  It was very much in the style of performances that took place in the early 1900’s when Mongolians and others were called on to show what shamans looked like before amazed Russian audiences.  That is, there was a degree of imitation and artifice about it that could not but help seem weird to a practitioner.  Still, an authentic frame drum was used, the “shaman” dancer had mirrors on chest and back, did wear a long brown gown and swirled and drummed quite wildly (ably supported by another drummer in the ensemble).  There seems to be a little uncertainty about how to present shamans to the wider public but they are presented.

Stranger still were two performers with operatic training at least one of whom had also received training in Peking Opera.  To give them scope there were three numbers, one a duet, in the program that simply did not sound Mongolian: Chinese, Western, strange. Still, the subtext of the program, and especially the gorgeous film which preceded it, was very much that, “Mongolia is China, and don’t forget it!”

If you have an opportunity to enjoy live Mongolian music, do not miss it.  It far surpasses anything recorded.

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