Home    Number 3, 2019

The Myth of the World Tree in the Shamanism of Siberian Peoples

[Mif o Mirovom dreve v shamanstve narodov Sibiri]

DOI: https://doi.org/10.31857/S086954150005293-2

Type of publication: Research Article (with comments)

Submitted: 02.11.2017

Accepted: 04.04.2019

About author(s)

Olga E. Balalaeva | https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3126-8830 | o.balalaeva@gmail.com | independent researcher (Moscow, Russia)

Nikolai V. Pluzhnikov | https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1770-2618 | ethno@list.ru | Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences (32a Leninsky prospekt, Moscow, 119991, Russia)


World Tree, shamanism, Selkup, Evenki, rituals of affliction, calendar celebrations, tambourine


In both academic and popular literature, the mythological motif of the world tree is usually taken to reflect the spatial structure of the universe, with typical upper and lower worlds, characteristic of the shamanic worldview. We argue that the scrupulous examination of Siberian shamanic cultures where the image of the world tree has been observed proves that the image in fact does not fully correspond to the concept of axis mundi running through and connecting the upper, middle, and lower worlds. The actual reasons for the appearance of the world tree image in these shamanic cultures might have been related to particular social and economic developments in the mediaeval history of peoples of Southern Siberia and Central/Eastern Asia. In search of answers, we have surveyed an array of works on Siberian shamanism, and have studied ritual texts, shamans’ interpretations, and material culture objects of ritual significance. The study has further pointed to the presence of two distinctive cultural veins of shamanic practice in Siberia – the Turk and the Tungus ones – in which the image of the world tree, as featured in ritual contexts, appears loaded with different meanings.


Balalaeva, O.E., and N.V. Pluzhnikov. 2019. Mif o Mirovom dreve v shamanstve narodov Sibiri [The Myth of the World Tree in the Shamanism of Siberian Peoples]. Etnograficheskoe obozrenie 3: 80-122. https://doi.org/10.31857/S086954150005293-2

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