Perhaps one of the oldest forms of religion in the world, Shamanism arrived in Kyrgyzstan with the earliest invaders from Siberia. An essential feature of Shamanism is a belief in spirits which inhabit all living things, and which can live in men, animals, trees, and even in mountains. Ordinarily, normal mortals cannot enter the spirit world - but the shaman (a sort of cross between a medicine man and prophet, attempts to communicate with the spirits by entering into a trance.
Perhaps the most obvious remains of Shamanism in Kyrgyzstan are the many sitres containing Petroglyphs to be found around the country - with pictures of animals, hunters, and trees as well as designs representing the sun, moon and stars. (Many of the designs still found in traditional handicrafts - for example on shyrdaks - resemble many of the designs found on petroglyphs). Also, it is thought that balbals (small stone statues that are thought to have been grave markers) holding a cup is a symbol of the deceased submission and willingness to serve in the spirit world.
Many shamanistic ideas, traditions, rituals and practices can still be seen throughout Kyrgyzstan today. One example is the practice of hanging an animal carcass, (or part of an animal such as a horse tail), from a tree. It is sometimes said that sheep killed by a wolf is displayed in this way to show visiting inspectors that the livestock was indeed they prey of a natural predator - not killed and eaten - but some scholars think it is a sign that the place - a tree or stream - is a place of special, holy, significance - perhaps the spirit of a great shaman has taken up residence in the tree or stream. One tradition which is derived from this is to tear a piece of material and tie it to a tree around a stream - as a sign of good luck and wishing to return. If there is no tree, then sometimes poles are erected, and possibly even a cairn van be used.
The shaman is often characterized aa a healer, and many Kyrgyz, (and even Russians) still consult a holy man - he may not want to be called a shaman - who practices form of herbal medicine as well as consulting a doctor.
It is said that a cave near to the Issyk Ata Sanatoria, near to Bishkek, was the home of an Uzbek shamans, famous for her healing powers, and who led a hermit life there until the 1950 after her husband and son were both killed as Basmachi rebels