Guardian spirit of the Nganasan people from western Siberia. A possible example a quasi compassionate ethnocentric power is the main spiritual protector for the Nganasan nation in Siberia. This spirit is considered to be merged with an impressive carved anthropomorphic wooden figure.

Guardian spirit, Siberian Nganasan folk story

The Nganasan have traditionally treated the figure with extreme reverence, leaving it in the care of a shaman with the responsibility of keeping the spirit content by communicating with it and making offerings. As with other ethnocentric spirits, its compassion does not usually extend to outsiders, and especially not to tribes that have been enemies of the Nganasan. When going into battle against other tribes, the Nganasan carried this wooden image on a special sled, which seems somewhat analogous to the sacred ark that the ancient Hebrews carried into battle.

Bear Grylls Survival SEA Series 3723
Bear Grylls Survival Sea Series, 3723

This wooden carving was of unknown age among the Nganasan, but certainly very old. It had a difficult history during the last couple of centuries, having been stolen from the Nganasan at least once and later recovered. In the mid-twentieth century it was in the care of the most famous Nganasan shaman, but, being old, he was worried about what would happen to it after he died.

So he passed it on to a friend, the Russian ethnologist Yuri Simchenko, for safekeeping at his apartment in Moscow in order that it would not fall into the wrong hands.

In the 1980s, during a period of social and economic upheaval in the then Soviet Union, food became scarce in Moscow, and Yuri Simchenko soon was desperate for funds to feed his family. He contacted a visiting Finnish ethnologist to see if the Nganasan figure could be sold in the West to get some money for food. Heimo Lappalainen agreed to help and smuggled the carving out of Russia. Heimo, a friend and colleague, then contacted me, explaining how he needed to sell it at Yuri’s request, and told me Simchenko’s price.

Heimo and I agreed that we did not want to let the object be lost by selling it on the open market. So money was found to buy the carving from Yuri for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. On behalf of the Foundation, I kept it in our home, covered and stored in a safe place.

My intention was to return the power object to the Nganasan when the political and economic situations in the former Soviet Union settled down and made it safe to do so. I treated it with respect and care, offering the image tastes of foods that I presumed the Nganasan folk ate, and making assurances that I would get it home. I had long since concluded that spirits were real.

Siberian Nganasan Idol

Then I noted that a curious series of fatalities occurred as the “idol” was taken farther and farther away from its own people. First the Nganasan shaman, Seime, died soon after turning over the figure to Yuri Simchenko. Then when Simchenko transferred the figure to Heimo Lappalainen to take to Finland, Simchenko died, and then when Heimo left the figure with me in America and returned to Finland, he died as well.

Bear Grylls Survival SEA Series 3729
Bear Grylls Survival Sea Series, 3729

Needless to say, this chain of events had a healthy effect on my conscientiousness, and I mentally elevated the spirit to deity-status just to be on the safe side. Over the subsequent years I kept giving it traditional offerings.

Finally, a few years ago, after many difficulties and false starts in Russia, the Foundation was able to return the object successfully to the Nganasan folk through a meeting and ceremonial exchange at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. There Dr. Bill Brunton of the Foundation turned it over to a representative of the Nganasan folk who, with her companions, was to take the idol back to Siberia.

Bill noted that she was observably nervous and trembling as she accepted the power object, spoke to it, and gave it offerings.

She and her entourage later reported, apparently with some relief, that their trip home to Siberia had gone amazingly well. For my part, I’m happy to relate that by all accounts, Bill Brunton and I both are still alive.