Among the ethnic religions, the beliefs of the Australian indigenous peoples, Adyghe Xabze, Papuan mythology and Siberian shamanism stand out.
They all represent the beliefs and norms of behavior of local indigenous peoples.
This is the religion of the descendants of Australian indigenous peoples that survive today. It is practised mainly in the northern part of the continent, the Arnhem Land Peninsula and in the central lands. Although the tribes are widely separated, they do have a lot in common.
The Aboriginal population believes in the existence of a demiurge deity, who created the world and settled in heaven, away from people. However, he or other deities descend to earth to take part in initiation rites.
Some scientists think that, in ordinary life, Australian Aborigines turn to hero-enlighteners or creatures that appeared by themselves during the “time of dreams.” This refers to the mythological era when cultural heroes and various entities lived. These entities continue to exist in the afterlife. They also live in the sky but can descend to earth using a ladder or tree. These creatures are “second creation” demiurges; they created an earthly relief and settled there. The terrestrial relief has some sacred meanings – the location of forests or mountains can tell people how the first creatures behaved. Having finished their activities, they took the staircase that connected heaven and earth.
Then, the Big Serpent shared forbidden sacred knowledge with the Vauvaluk sisters. It was the “third creation” – the formation of the cultural space in the world.
Australian Aboriginal Initiation Rites
The Aborigine recognizes the sacred history of the world when passing the initiation ceremony or during rituals of the secret cults of the kunapipi and jangawul.
For girls, rituals are associated with the first menstruation and are not as painful as for boys. Rites for boys symbolize the transition to puberty. During the ritual, they need to experience pain, which symbolises death. This can be either circumcision, or the infliction of ritual wounds and immersion in hypnotic sleep. The pain helps the boy to “recall” how the universe was born.
A group of male healers first “kills” the person who wants to become a shaman, then they “perform a surgery”. They “replace” the internal organs of the person with organs made of minerals. While this “operation” is being carried out, the novice shaman travels to heaven and the lower world. Then, after returning to life, the shaman has new, inner abilities.
The Rainbow Serpent plays an important role in the initiation. It lives in reservoirs and protects quartz crystals that fell from heaven during the “times of dreams.” They are necessary for the people conducting the ceremony for the shaman’s new internal organs. As it is possible to get from the sky to the earth via a rainbow, it was forbidden to swim in the reservoirs over which a rainbow was seen. If some uninformed people violate this prohibition, they should take magical substances.
In the western part of the Australian mainland, the water snake Wonambi kills the future shaman during the ritual. In Queensland, the snake drives a branch or a piece of bone into the body of a neophyte. It will be pulled out by male healers when, a few days later, they will “reanimate” the novice.
Adyghe Xabze is a set of unwritten rules and laws, which form an ethical and philosophical doctrine of the Adyghes (Circassians). The Adyghe Xabze code contains legal norms and moral principles for an individual and society. It covers all life spheres from simple everyday situations to matters of national importance. However, this code of rules and laws was changeable and was not recorded in past scriptures.
The Adyghe Xabze includes adyghe – a set of ethical norms, for example, honor, decency, honesty, attentiveness, respect for elders, etc.
The Papuans are the aboriginals of New Guinea, the adjacent islands and archipelagos of Melanesia. Papuan mythology unites autonomous, local, tribal, and ancestral systems. It can be considered to be a local variant of early mythology.
Papuan mythology is a system of syncretic unity and ethnic culture. There are mythological elements in all life spheres of society. Among the Papuans, myth and norms of behavior are inextricably intertwined.
A small part of Papuan mythology is concentrated in the oral form. Of great importance are rituals, dances, traditional masks, clothing, ornaments, etc., that are difficult to interpret because of their symbolism.
Papuan beliefs concentrate on a few main characters and actions:
The roles of ancestors and cultural heroes are similar – for example, demas, which combine ancestors, cultural heroes and spirits and personify the forces of nature.
Demiurges are considered to have always existed. Images of large mothers and “first” women are widespread. Some mythical characters are of a dual nature.
Myths about the birth of ancestors contain totemic ideas, such as the birth of a hero from an animal seed. As a rule, Papuan mythical heroes conflict with the group and go in search of a new society in order to realize themselves in it, establishing the rules of a totem organisation.
Demiurges and ancestors temporarily live in the sky. Then they, taking cultural benefits, descend to earth to create peace.
The underworld is associated with death and the land of dead spirits. One can interact with this world through ponds and ritual pillars that are located in individual’s and ceremonial houses. Heroes create the earthly world as if by chance. Bays appear from a blow of a magic stick, rivers from the strike of an arrow, islands from throwing stones, etc.
Papuans believe in masters and nature spirits. The spirits are represented as snakes, reptiles with several heads and tails, and other animals that had human or plant traits. They defend the traditional lifestyle and dispense good advice, but they can also punish – inflict illnesses, lead one astray, etc.
Shamanism in Siberia is a traditional philosophy of inhabitants of Siberia, which recognizes man as a part of the cosmos. Shamanism’s goal is the direct perception of the world, studying the relationship between man and nature.
Shamans played an important role in traditional society. They were considered mediators between the human world and the spirit world. The main rituals for shamans were the rites of initiation, “increasing sacral power”, and the methods of becoming a “Big Shaman”.
Shamans of the peoples of the Far East and Siberia can be divided according to their skills. “Iron” shamans from Central and Eastern Siberia were considered the strongest. They were often associated with blacksmithing and used iron attributes.
South Siberian, Yakut and Buryat shamans were divided into white shamans performing rituals in the Upper world, and black shamans performing rituals in all worlds.
The Shamans of northeast Asia had a family form and many practiced transvestism (wearing clothes and accessories of the opposite sex). The peoples of the Amur had tribal shamanism with production and calendar rituals.
Among the inhabitants of Western Siberia, the sacred people were divided into fortune-tellers, singers and shamans.
Sometimes shamans imitate the sounds of nature, for example, the Sami people.
Traditional Sámi ritual songs exist called ‘joik’. Recently, they have been performed by only young shamans.
Shamanism today has taken new shapes and obtained new interpretations of ancient myths and rituals. There are shamanic schools in Yakutia, Tuva, Khakassia and Altai where the traditional heritage and its new interpretation are studied.
People who adhere to ethnic religions find harmony within themselves, nature and their historical culture.