Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Raven's Gift

Just finished reading The Raven's Gift: A Scientist, a Shaman, and Their Remarkable Journey Through the Siberian Wilderness by Jon Turk (2010, St. Martin's Press).

Jon Turk has a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado (hence "scientist" in the title) but seems to have worked most of his professional life as a environmental and geoscience textbook author.  His great love is adventure travel and he's kayaked the North Pacific, biked through the Gobi, rock climbed on Baffin Island, and, of course, traveled in the Siberian wilderness (Kamchatka Peninsula area) among other things.

I picked up this book for two reasons - first, as I've mentioned in a previous post, I like reading books about travel to exotic locales I'll likely never see.  Second, never mentioned before in this blog, is that I have had an interest in shamansim stretching for many years (I think it started many, many years ago when, as a young college student, I took a class called Psychology of Consciousness with Dr. Stephen Larson, author of The Shaman's Doorway: Opening Imagination to Power and Myth).

While kayaking the coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula in 2000, Turk met some Koryak people, natives of the Siberian coast, and an elderly female shaman named Moolynaut.  Turk had been suffering from chronic pain from a broken pelvis due to being caught up in an avalanche while skiing.  Moolynaut heals him by appealing to Kutcha, the Raven Spirit.  Over the next decade, Turk makes several trips back to Kamchatka to meet with his Koryak friends and Moolynaut.  He was also given psychotropic mushrooms (Amanita muscaria) - a traditional shamanistic practice in Siberia.

The book is intensely personal, sometimes uncomfortably so, and large parts of it are about Turk coming to terms with the untimely death of his wife in a second avalanche accident.  We learn about the sad demise of a way of life for the Koryak, traditional reindeer herders, who, like many indigenous people around the world, were decimated by the dominant culture (in this case the Russians).   The descriptions of the tundra landscape in Kamchatka are interesting.

I have to confess some disappointment with the book, however.  While well-written and holding my interest, there was very little in it of shamanism, per se.  Turk's experiences with Moolynaut are short and almost perfunctory.  Almost nothing is given about the Kolyat's beliefs or Kutcha, the Raven.  I would have liked to learn more about the Koryak's shamanistic beliefs.  Also, while Turk talks in the book of taking photographs, none are given in the book. Despite these criticisms, it still is a worthwhile read.

1 comment:

  1. Seven, I see that you are either an early morning or late night person. This in itself probably explains your interest in the other worlds beyond this. I just started reading Jon's book and will post something after I have gotten further into it. It came to me via my daughter who has her own life's journeys in strange and exotic places. Stay tuned.