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Shamanism in Sumerian myths and civilization



By Mehmet Kurtkaya
Published online on November 12, 2016 (Updated on May 30, 2017)



Shamanism is of Asian, and most probably of Siberian, origin. When someone in the audience asked a top Siberian Shamanism expert, Michaly Hoppal, while he was visiting the 2014 Istanbul book fair as part of the Hungarian delegation: "What is it that you did not do in your academic life you regret not doing," he had replied "not learning Turkish."

Shamanism can be found among the Turkic populations of Russia's Siberia such as Khakas, Teleut, and Yakut, as well as the Central Asian Turkic populations such as Kazaks, Uzbek, Kirgiz, and Turkmen. In Turkey, Turkic Alevi populations (Alawites) have elements of Tengriism and Shamanism in their traditional culture, which they have partly kept after migrating to Turkey from Central Asia.

Shamanism goes back millenniums and probably tens of millenniums. Shamans have a totem animal: a wolf, a crow, a bear, or a bull, which is the tradition seen in hunter-gatherer populations.

(See An overview of prehistoric art, totemic belief and shamanistic practice by Eric Edwards)

Shamanism is not Tengriism (Turkish Sky god religion). It may be present in societies who believe in Kok-Tengri (Kok means both Sky and Blue in Turkish. Note that the blue-colored stone, lapis lazuli is the most important stone in Sumerian mythology).

Lapis lazuli is an important semi-precious stone used by shamans of Siberia. There are only two mines in the world used by ancient people for extracting lapis lazuli. One is in Siberia, and the other one is just south of Siberia in the Afghanistan Hindi Kush mountains. The one in Siberia is near lake Baikal, ancestral home of the Turks, and the one in the Hindi Kush mountains where Sumerian lapis lazuli was mined has been amid Turkic territories throughout history.

Shamans fulfill many roles in society: they are believed to be able to contact the spirits of the dead and of things, to be oracles, to heal people, to chase evil spirits, to organize sacrificial rituals, and to bring charm/luck. It is believed that during their rituals, shamans go through pain so other people don't have to.

Hoppal explains many different characteristics of shamans and Shamanism in his book. Siberia is largely considered to be the birthplace of Shamanism, and shaman is a Turkic word.

The word shaman has the ending sound An.

Many Elements of Shamanism are present in Sumerian society, too.

Inanna's descent to the Underworld is the oldest myth known to man and has as its main theme a shamanistic journey: trance, near death experience, big eyes, etc.

A very good article on Shamanism in Sumer can be found within a critic of Alice Notley's literary work

For example, the Sumerian King Gudea's dream can be interpreted as a shaman's transcendental voyage.

The first existential story in history, the myth of Gilgamesh, does have elements of Shamanism, such as the Huluppa Tree (Tree of Life) and shaman's drum.

Moreover, Sumerian god Enki's drum is almost exactly same as shamanic drum, writes Sumerologist Muazzez İlmiye Cig.

A very good article on shamanism in Sumer

With some reservations I suggest this article for further info on Bilgemesh (Gilgamesh) and Shamanism


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