Shaman's caftan. Yakuts. Zabaikalye. Late 19th century.
Shamans of Siberia and Far East in 19-20th centuries had very complicated costume. Shaman is a person who has a special power and religious function. Shaman is a protector and a mediator between human world and spirit world. Shaman’s costume is a container of living powers and is a main attribute to transform shaman to his or her animal patron- a twin: reindeer, bear, tiger, wolf or bird.
The main part of the shaman’s costume is cloak or caftan. Yakut caftans unlike the shaman’s caftans of other peoples of Siberia have a lot of different metal pendants. The very important in the shaman’s caftan is to follow very the exact traditional idea of number, size and shape of the pendants. Because of such strict traditions it was very difficult and expensive to create new cloak. A shaman usually was buried in his or her ritual clothes, but most of metal pendants were taken off and were kept in shaman’s family.
Many details of the costume symbolizing bird feathers are reminiscent of a shaman’s helper spirit. Along the hem hang long plaits strung with beads and copper tubes symbolizing snakes. The metal pieces represent the bones of a human skeleton. Thus the shaman’s costume, which represents his guardian spirit and is a shield against evil spirits, resembled both a human and a bird. On the back are sewn straps that have both a functional and a symbolic significance. They would be used to hold on to the shaman during the séance and thus were considered the shaman’s “reins”. The Yakut shamans called themselves “people of the solar ulus with reins behind their backs”.