Shamanic Sacred Tools, Ritual Objects and Terms

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Shamanism cannot be fully understood without understanding the significance of shamanic ritual tools, just as the spirit cannot be comprehended without matter! A shaman’s sacred implements may be of many different kinds. They many include sacred plants, special stones, animal parts, drums, musical instruments, masks and costumes.

For the shaman, these objects not only represent the sacred, they embody the spirits, sacred cosmology and origins of the shamanic world. An altar created with such objects becomes an interface or doorway between spirit and physical matter.

What follows below is a brief list of some of the many ritual objects and unique terms used in Nepalese shamanism.

Thaan: This is the shamanic altar or diagram of the shamanic cosmos. It is a sacred space created by the shaman with all his ritual objects and tools. Its form may be a reflection of a shaman’s cultural traditional, may be constructed from the guidance provided by the shaman’s tutelary deity or be the result of a shamanic journey, vision or dream. The thaan is a meeting place between the ordinary and spiritual realms.

Shila Dhunga: This is typically a clear quartz crystal that represents a celestial mountain, which connects the lower world, the middle world and the upper world. This axis mundi can become a home the shaman’s healing deity or a way to “see” the spirits that cause shamanic illness. These stones are also called Dhami Dhunga or Jhankri Dhunga, meaning the “shaman’s stone,” and can also be white crystals.

Shaligram: This black fossil ammonite represents the cycles of birth and annihilation. These stones support the shaman to descend to the lower world and ascend to the upper world. Having a coiled or spiral shape, these also represent the naga deity unfolding creation and holding the earth. In some folk traditions, they are considered to be the “ladders to the heaven.”

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Vajra Dhunga: These meteoric stones are considered “thunder stones” or “lightning stone” and are closely associated with the symbolism represented by the form of a vajra or dorje. Representing the fire element, light and illumination, they protect from any alien attacks, from illusions, and support balance and harmony.

Chhatri/Chata: Known as a “spiritual umbrella” or '”yarn cross,” the Chhatri may be used for two purposes. It can either to trap malignant spirits as a spirit catcher or as an instrument of holding healing energy and protection. They can be made up of different form using different colored yarn depending upon their purpose.

Atma: This is the Nepalese term for the immortal soul. “The soul is the splendid garden of the higher self, and the flowers with which one decorates its sign, the linga, are the expression of what is growing inside. They are the thoughts, hopes, wishes, and dreams that blossom inside of us. Therefore one should sacrifice the most beautiful and the freshest blossoms, preferably from your own garden” -Strol

Saato: This is the Nepalese term for the mind soul. It is the part of us that is connected to the upper world. This soul aspect is the one that can be lost or taken away by other entities. In Nepali language soul loss is called Saato Jannu and a soul retrieval is called, Saato Bolaunu.

Mutu/Mukhya/Mul: This is the Nepalese term for the heart-centered soul, which is connected to the middle world and to present time. This soul is connected with the primary spirit teacher.

Hangsa: This is the Nepalese term for the aspect of the soul that is centered in the umbilical region. It is connected to the lower world and holds our emotional way of being. It can also be the seat of emotional poisons such as anger, envy and hatred.

Trident: This a divine symbol that encompasses the three worlds, the three moments of birth, death and rebirth, the three aspects of Lord Shiva (Brahma, Vishnu and Mahadev), the three states of creation, preservation and destruction for reconstruction again. The trident also represents the fire element and the state of illumination.

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Kalasa: This is the sacred water pitcher that is believed to hold the elixir (amrita) of immortality of life. The shamans divert one of their souls in the kalasa before embarking on a journey of healing.

Peacock feathers: These are the symbol of shamanic power, soul flight, journeying, healing and dispelling ignorance or darkness. They also represent spiritual and physical purity.

Thaal and Nanglo: Thaal is the rice holding plate where all the sacred objects are kept, the central piece of an altar. The Nanglo is the bamboo winnowing basket in which an altar can be created or in some cases making certain offerings.

Dhupauro: The incense burner. It can be made of clay or any metal where the sacred plant extracts /incense is transformed into divine purifying smoke.

Khurpa/khurmi/Thurpi/Phurba: The First Magical Dagger. Like the trident, this represents the three worlds, three times and three emotional states (happy, somber and sad). Found in different forms and iconographic representations, they are used in healing, grounding, protection and creating harmony.

Dumsiko Kanda: The porcupine quill. Used for protection of the self and the house, for better concentration and focus and as a link between the birds and mammals. It is one way for the shaman to keep connected to the middle world spirits.

Titepati: This is the herb, mugwort. It is used as an offering, for cleansing the environment, as incense and as medicinal plant.

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Kera: This is a banana or plantain. In shamanic healing rites, it represents the world tree that connects all the realities. It may also be used as an agent of sacrifice in rites and healing rituals when a container for an unbeneficial spirit in needed.

Bans: This is bamboo also known as the 'herb of all worlds with multipurpose.” Bamboo and its different parts are used in healing rituals, in birth rites and death rites, as food for humans and animals. It is widely used in house construction, making fence, boat, bridge, etc.

Totalako Phul: These are the seeds and flowers of Trumpet flower. The seeds with white fibre covering hidden inside its long spade-like fruit is considered to be the “most sacred and pure flower.” The shaman's call this a “soul flower” which is given after the soul retrieval or power retrieval.

Tulsi: This is the Holy basil plant. It is used for cleansing, healing and as a medicinal plant because of the maximum oxygen it produces.

Janawar ko singh and dara: These are animals’ horns and teeth. The horns and teeth of some animals have great healing affects and are also included in preparation of protective amulets and talismans. Many times they are represented on the shamanic altar.

Khurungi: The curved sickle. These tools are wielded by female deities, and are used for clearing spiritual entanglements and for extraction processes.

Dhanus/Kand: The Bow and Arrow. Representing both the weapon of and symbol for the forest dwelling deity, “sikari” as well as some wrathful deities and spirits; it is used in reversing the affects of food poisoning(antidote), spiritual attacks and for extreme, focused concentration.

Dhyangro: Nepalese shaman's double headed drum. Covered by the skin of a deer or wild or domesticated goat, with a handle having different iconographic representations.

Gajo: The curved 'S' shaped drumbeater.

Jhyamta: The two-piece cymbals used to accompany the drum.

Ghanti: The bells in the shaman’s bandoleer that are worn with the shaman’s prayer beads or malas.

Mala: These are strands of prayer beads or rosaries. Shamans in the Himalayas use mostly the natural seeds of sacred plant called Rudraksha (eloeocarpus sphaericus) and black seeds of Rittha (soap-nut plant). Most malas have 108 beads but it can also be 78 or 54. They are for protection, for honoring the deities and harmonizing the body pressure.

Sankha: The conch shell. The sound recalls the primordial memories and awakens the dormant emotions deeply embedded in the unconscious.

Nalihar: This is a human forearm bone. Used as a trumpet in some rituals to call the healing spirits.

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Sarpa Malla: The rosary made out of snake vertebrae. It represents the Naga Deity, the keeper of the Lower World and the Earth realm. It also reminds the shaman that everything is guided by transformation and change.

Jama: The shaman's long skirt with 108 pleats.

Bhoto: The shaman's shirt

Pagari: The shaman's crowning headband. Most of the time they are red and white in color.

Patuka: The shaman's red waist band.

Amliso: The Divine Broom: The flowers of this plant are not only used in cleaning houses, but also in cleansing the spiritual body of the ailing person. They are also called the 'witch plant' but when the shamans use they not only transform the dark energies into light but also transform normal water into healing waters: amrita!

Chammar: The yak's tail. It is used in cleansing the spiritual body of the person and clarity of mind. In the mediaeval period, the chammar was used as a fan by the royalty. Statues of deities and divinities are cleansed and fanned by the yak tail in some temples and households.

Akchata: These are uncooked rice kernels. When the rice kernels are used as offerings in altars, they represent the mother earth. They are also used in healing and transference.

Supari: Bettle nut. Thse may be used as an offering and as an invitation for the deities to take their place in the sacred altar space.

Tapari: Plates made from the leaves of sacred plants. These leaf plates are used as pure containers for offerings in the sacred places, or in altars or giving away as part of offerings to the spirits.

Sata-Byu: These are the seven types of sacred grains. They may be used as a means of offering or transference or depossession in the sacred mandalas. They may also be offered directly to mother earth.

Pala-Byu: Several types of flowers, leafs and vegetarian offerings.

Khadko/Khadga: Obstacles or a ritual knife.

Khadga Puja: A ceremony to remove the obstacles.

Kaal-Chakra: The circle of time

Kaal-chakra Katnu: To cut/transmute/annihilate the dark cycle of time.

Graha sarnu: To transfer the disharmonious planetary affects.

Chokhyaunu/Puchnu: To purify or cleanse an object, person, or structure from impurity.

Etc. Etc. Etc.