Sacred Land Blog

June 20, 2007
Sweet Maria
Posted by: Toby McLeod

Maria Amanchina in Kosh Agach When we met the shaman Maria Amanchina in Kosh Agach she asked us about our dreams. She wanted to know where we had been and what we had felt as we traveled through the Altai. I told her that I had two dreams while camping on Uch Enmek. In one dream, I saw a bird flying from below. It had a red underbelly and black and white striped wings. Danil Mamyev had told me the next morning that a village in Karakol Valley takes its name from a bird of similar description. I also told Maria of a second dream, in which I saw Danil standing in a lake, waist deep in water. Maria told us she would consider our request for filming, and wished us well on our journey to the Ukok, saying that we were welcome to use the firewood she had left there. A few days later we returned with fresh new tales about the blizzards that always seem to sweep in when we film with Danil.

I told Maria about an idea I was working on, an insight that came to me on Uch Enmek as I listened to Danil talk about shamanism: “Danil told us the true role of a shaman is to interact with the natural world, and to enable people to open up so they can decide for themselves where they need to go and when to visit sacred sites. It strikes me that the goals of the shaman and goals of the artist-filmmaker are very similar: to help open up each person’s inherent qualities and abilities…to enable relationship with place and with other people…to show signs or images that stimulates one’s inner work…and to inspire change.”

Maria replied: “You are on the right track with your thinking.”

Maria Amanchina in Kosh Agach Both Maria and Danil talked a lot about signs, interacting with the land, the natural relationship between a person and their place, opening oneself to a sacred land. It reminded me of what Vine Deloria said in our last film, In the Light of Reverence: “If you look at the earth, there are certain places that seem to have power and we don’t know what kind of power it is, except you have a different feeling — you feel energized. And that’s why in lot of the ceremonies you simply go out into the land, at a certain place, under supervision of a medicine man, and open yourself up. What I think is powerful about these religions is you can continue to have revelations. What the revelation is telling you is how you and your community, at this time in life, can adjust to the rest of the world. So it’s not like we designated a place and said: ‘This is going to be sacred.’ It came out of a lot of experience. The idea is not to pretend to own it, not to exploit it, but to respect it. Trying to get people to see that that’s a dimension of religion is really difficult.”After considering our request to film, Maria replied: “I have always said no, and I have had many requests. In this case I say yes.”


[...] Maria Amanchina, a local kam, has a special and intimate relationship with the Ukok Princess Kadyn. She had joined our group to conduct a ceremony reaffirming her commitment to bring the Princess back home from the Novosibirsk Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, so that the noblewoman can continue playing her vital role of keeping the Altai and its people in balance. [...]

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