Methods employed by folk healers are varied and eclectic, consisting of herbalism, medicinal diet advocacy, hand massage, massage with oil or butter, as well as shamanic and Buddhist elements, such as pulse treatment, prayers, cleansing rituals, and divination. Implements or tools used for this purpose also vary, including 'medicinal' stones, metals, a saigak horn, an iron arrow, silver and copper coins, sticks, a rosary, lamps filled with oil, a Buddhist bell and vajra, statues and depictions of deities, etc. As a repository of diverse knowledge, the institution of folk healers employs a number of assumptions about the causes of illness or misfortune. For example, depending on the patient, sometimes folk healers work on the assumption that illnesses are caused by the dissatisfied or angry spirit of a deceased relative. Once the needs of this spirit are satisfied – for example, by offering food if the cause of the spirit’s dissatisfaction happens to be hunger – the patient is expected to return to health. Another healing method is used when a child becomes frightened or psychotic. Firstly, the head of the child is covered with a white sheet. Then a piece of melted lead is poured into a bowl with cold water held by another person above the head of the child. When the lead cools down, the folk healer takes it out to read for the shape(s) which indicate what the fear was – for example, a dinosaur or a dog. Afterwards, the shapes are destroyed with a hammer, signifying the destruction of the cause of fear or phobia. The child is advised not to watch cartoons with dinosaurs or keep away from dogs.
Alexei Naranov, About Curing Sick Children with Coins
In the past, Kalmyk milk tea and a soup made of sheep’s neck were used as medicine. Since many illnesses among the Kalmyks were connected with cold, or exacerbated by catching a cold, Kalmyk tea and soup were consumed widely, for they were believed to be good for colds. Folk healers also used various medicinal herbs.
Anatoliy Safinov, About Traditional Medicine
Anna relays a story she heard from her father-in-law who claimed to have found a luugin sum (a dragon’s arrow). There is a belief that only those who are supposed to find it, find a luugin sum. Having said this, not all who do find it can benefit equally. A luugin sum looks like a small lump of metal. It falls from the sky during lightening. Once fallen, it is only after about eight years that it resurfaces from under ground. The luugin sum is used in the treatment of swellings not only in humans but also in livestock. Especially cows and sheep that have their udder swollen, for example during suckling, can be effectively treated with a luugin sum by touching or massaging the swollen part with it. Anna keeps her father-in-law’s luugin sum on her domestic altar along with other gods. Sometimes she lends it to others in need. Anna points out that her luugin sum has helped many people. When people return the luugin sum they are supposed to give her white and red coins, which is a custom.
Anna heard from her father-in-law the following legend about luugin sum. Once upon a time monks prepared an elixir of longevity in a cup. While they were away, a dragon drank the elixir and filled the cup with its urine. Upon their return, the monks decided to shoot the dragon down. But the dragon flew high up beyond their reach to the sun. Since then the dragon returns to earth during solar eclipses. It is the arrow with which it was shot that falls from the sky.
Anna Mandzhieva, About Luugin Sum (A Dragon’s Arrow)
Badma says that when her family lived in Siberia her grandmother collected hare’s fat. It is good for both burns and frostbite. In Siberia people also drank hare’s fat and that of the ground squirrel. Since it is very cold in Siberia, hare’s fat was in great demand. A Tatar man, Badma recalls, would ask her grandmother to give him hare’s fat, which means that other nationalities were also aware of its medicinal qualities.
Badma Ochirova, About the Healing Properties of Hare’s Fat
Bosya talks about how she found a luugin sum (a dragon’s arrow). It looks like a small metallic object with a sharp end. Before picking it up, Bosya prayed three times. It is believed that luugin sum is good for toothache and other swellings. It also helps cows that have swollen udders. To cure a swelling or a lump on the skin, one has to prick that place with the sharp end of the luugin sum. Bosya kept her luugin sum wrapped in a red cloth, as tradition requires it. However, she did not keep the precious object for long, for she gave it to a folk healer called Volodya who convinced her that the luugin sum was not meant for her. Later Bosya learnt that the same Volodya also got hold of her uncle’s luugin sum. Bosya regrets her decision to give it away. People can borrow a luugin sum from each other, but are expected to compensate the owner with red and silver coins when they return the object.
Bosya also says that snake’s skin is good during childbirth. This story happened to a woman from her village in 1965. After giving birth, the woman had a pain in her stomach. After she drank a cup of water boiled with snake’s skin, her pain stopped. Cattle having a difficult birth are also treated with such water. In Kalmykia snakes are believed to be the embodiment of the masters of localities.
Other items used in traditional medicine include dog’s meat, ground squirrels’ fat, fat from the intestines of a pig and various herbs. Water mixed with milk or grain is also good for a cold.
Bosya Ochirova, About Traditional Medicine
Ekaterina cures sick children. She says that she first heard about her curing abilities from an old woman called Bosya who lived in the village of Dzhalykovo. Being a teacher herself, Ekaterina did not believe what the old woman said. Bosya gave Ekaterina a coin with which she was supposed to massage sick children and said that Ekaterina’s healing gift came from her mother. She also asked Ekaterina to sew a pink robe. Ekaterina did what she was asked to do and came back to see the old woman. Bosya explained to her how to cure sick children. For example, if a child cries and bends her/his neck, stretch the child’s legs and hands and metaphorically cut the belly with the coin. The child will gradually calm down. If a child is scared of something, the following ritual should be performed. Cover the head of the child with a white cloth, hold a cup with cold water over the child’s head and pour hot lead into the cup. The figures that form in the water (people, animals, objects etc.) indicate the source of fear. The sore eyes of children should be treated with their mother’s milk. Ekaterina says that she received her healing knowledge from Bosya.
The reason for children’s illnesses may be envious looks from others. Since children are pure and innocent, even envious words can harm them. The face of a sick child should be cleaned with the skirt of their mothers. According to Kalmyk tradition, newborn babies should not be shown to strangers until they are a year old. The first bath of a child should be performed in a bathtub placed on four red bricks so that the child grows strong and healthy. The people who bath the baby should be their mothers and paternal grandmothers. During the first haircut boys’ hair should be shaven completely and kept in the house.
Ekaterina Boldyreva, Healing and Upbringing Children
In this video Galina performs a ritual to remove fear. For this she melts a piece of lead on a gas stove. Her patient is a girl who suffers from anxiety. The girl’s mother covers the head of her daughter with a white cloth and holds a cup with cold water over her head. Then Galina pours the hot lead into the cup. The lead freezes into forms that resemble dinosaurs and prickly objects. Galina takes these figures out of the cup, puts them on the table and destroys them with a hammer, which symbolizes the destruction of the source of fear and anxiety. If the patient experiences a high level of anxiety, this ritual can be performed three times on three consecutive days. One can recycle and use the same piece of lead for these rituals.
If anxious children are not treated, they may become ill, cry and throw their heads back. This ritual of removing fear can be performed on toddlers, children and grown-ups alike.
Another ritual to remove fear, which Galina performs on the girl, is done with matches. She lights a match and moves it clockwise over the head, shoulders and the back of the patient. Galina explains that this should be done 9 times with 9 matches. She puts the 9 burnt matches into a cup with clean water one by one. Then she gives the bowl to the girl to blow the surface of the water. Then Galina looks at how the matches are floating and which direction their burnt heads are facing. Galina says that this ritual can be seen as a purification with a fire.
Galina Badnyaeva, Rituals to Remove Fear and Evil Eye
Galina talks about two medicinal herbs, namely shagan budg (silverweed) and sharljn (wild grass).
Shagan budg grows in Kalmykia. It is good for coughs. People with tuberculosis must drink an infusion made from it. The herb grows in April and May in places where sheep graze. It is collected as follows. After a sheep steps on it, bring the herb home and dry it. Then boil it in water to make a medicinal drink.
Sharljn, by contrast, does not grow in Kalmykia but is imported from Tibet. That is why it is an expensive herb. People with tuberculosis should drink it, especially when they have a lung inflammation.
Galina Suikieva, About Medicinal Plants
In her childhood Gerel witnessed in Lagan' how sick people were cured with leeches that were collected from the local lake. In Gerel’s native village there is a hydrogen sulphate spring which is good for mosquito bites. But the spring is poisonous and many children in the village suffered from goiter.
Gerel says melted butter was widely used in the treatment of many diseases. People smeared their hair with butter, massaged their ailing joints and drank butter with Kalmyk tea (which is believed to be good for breastfeeding mothers). Also, soup from mutton or wolf’s meat is believed to help to recuperate.
People made a decoction from wormwood to cure alcoholism. Alcoholics were also treated with powdered lobster shell.
When she was a child Gerel was frightened and had seizures. An old woman treated Gerel with a coin: she drew a line with the coin along Gerel’s arms and body, imitating a cutting movement. Another woman performed a ritual consisting of pouring melted lead into water. To cure Gerel’s seizure, healers also massaged her head and face.
Gerel’s furunculosis was cured with sulphuric ointment made from various ingredients, including pig’s fat.
Since traditional medicine helped her, Gerel has a respect for those who practice it.
Gerel Shakeeva, Traditional Medicine
Not far away from where Maria lives is a well called Kets where water is believed to have medicinal properties. People from far away come here for water. In the past people who carried the water from the well were not supposed to greet others on their way home. Toddlers that had a temperature were given a cloth to suck had been dipped in the medicinal water.
Maria Dordzhieva, About Medicinal Water
Oleg says that he heard about sweating stones from the Kalmyk writer Sandzhi Kalyaev, who spent his entire life looking for an elixir of immortality. These stones, the whereabouts of which Oleg cannot recall, produce a droplet every half an hour. These droplets, which are believed to be medicinal, are salty and sour by taste. In the past, old men collected these droplets in small bottles. Oleg’s father also collected such droplets and mixed them with something, probably with seeds of some kind.
In Yashaltinskiy rayon of Kalmykia there is one salty lake that has medicinal mud. In a laboratory in Moscow it was established that this mud has medicinal properties.
Oleg Mandzhiev, About Sweating Stones and Medicinal Mud
Roman heard from elderly people that in the past the Kalmyks dried the wolf’s gall bladder, turned it into powder and mixed it with food. A fresh gall bladder was also mixed with bread pieces and refrigerated to be consumed later in small portions. The gall is believed to be good for lung inflammation and pneumonia.
If a wolf’s skin was damaged and not fit for use, the skin around the wolf’s mouth, usually that of a female one, was cut off to use it in the following ritual. Toddlers were passed through this piece of skin in a belief that this keeps them healthy.
Roman also heard that the wolf’s genitals are used in the treatment of infertility. The male’s genitals are used for the treatment of men’s infertility and that of female wolves for women.
The wolf’s lung and liver are also believed to have medicinal properties. They are fried wrapped in the wolf’s own fat.
Roman Lyariev, Traditional Medicine: Wolf
When people, no matter what their age, are afraid of something, a ritual is performed to deal with their fear. It is performed as follows. After a mantra, the head of the patient is covered with a white cloth and a vessel with water is held over their head. Then melted lead is poured into the vessel. The ritual is performed three times. In Kalmyk understanding there are 5 elements in nature, including a fire, water, air, earth and metal. During this ritual all the 5 elements are believed to interact with each other, thus producing a splash of energy which cleanses the frightened person.
Sangadzhi Kononov, About a Ritual to Remove Fear
Apart from supernatural powers, people could be affected negatively by other human beings. For example, people envy each other. Envy or jealousy turns into a negative energy and blocks the life of the person who is the object of the envy. People who are envied feel that something is not completely right with them. In this case, it is advisable to perform a special ritual of pouring melted lead into a vessel with water.
When people say good things about others, this may attract malign supernatural beings to the recipients of these praises. That is why the Kalmyks give bad names to their children in order to keep malign beings away. Such names include Nokha (a dog), Gakha (a pig) etc.
When people say bad things about others, it is not good either for the person to whom it is directed. If a person reads mantras of cutting evil tongues, prays with beads and lights candles on fasting days (matsg odr), this diminishes the effect of evil tongues.
In order to protect oneself from envious looks the following ritual has to be performed. Prepare a bowl with water and purify it with incenses. Prepare 9 matches. Light the first match. The person for whom the ritual is being performed has to look at the burning match. When the match burns out, throw it into the bowl by saying ‘khar nudn’ (the black eye). When the second match burns out, say ‘shar nudn’ (the yellow eye) and throw it into the bowl. The third match should be accompanied by the phrase ‘kok nudn’ (the blue eye). Do this three times (3 x 3 = 9). If the matches drown in the water vertically, this means that the patient has been affected by something negative. Afterwards, move the bowl over the head of the patient three times, both clock-wise and anti-clock-wise. Give the water to the patient to drink and then sprinkle it on the patient’s face, arms and legs. Then take a knife and make a movement three times as if you are cutting the surface of the water that is left in the bowl, while saying the following phrase three times – ‘khar kelyan uttulzhanav’. After the ritual, pour the water where people go or cars drive by, while wishing that all the negativity that has been absorbed in the water goes away by being picked up by the legs of by-passers. Turn the bowl upside down and leave it outside for a day.
Sangadzhi Kononov, About Rituals to Avert Evil Tongues and Jealous Eyes
In a place where thunder hits the ground one can find small metal objects that resemble the head of an arrow. In Kalmykia these objects are referred to as lugin sum (the dragon’s arrow) and are used in the treatment of both sick animals and people. It is believed that a lugin sum contains powerful energy.
Snakes with horns come to some people. If you see one, put a white cloth on the ground and pray to the snake. The snake will throw off its horns. These horns are also used for the treatment of sick people.
Sangadzhi Kononov, Healing Implements: The Dragon's Arrow and the Snake's Horn
Sofia grew up in Dolbanskiy rayon of Astrakhan oblast’. This place is rich in terms of flora and various plants grow there, including the poppy flower which was used by the Kalmyks for medicinal purposes. Sofia’s mother collected poppy flowers, dried them and kept them in bags. Decoctions prepared from poppies were used for various illnesses. For example, a boil on top of Sofia’s head that she suffered with from when she was a child, was treated with a poppy decoction.
In Sofia’s childhood decoctions prepared from fish and rice were also used. Sofia used to cook a decoction from rice by boiling it in water without adding salt.
For the Kalmyks the Kalmyk tea (a tea with salt, milk and fat) is the most important drink. Not only does it help with tiredness, it also invigorates people.
When they were in Siberia, many Kalmyks suffered from frostbite. A decoction from poppy flowers and a dog’s or goat’s fat are good for this. Since there was no medicine available in Siberia, many Kalmyks also used massage. Sofia’s grandmother knew how to do it.
Sofia says that every person has a belief inside themselves. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union which created a spiritual vacuum, Sofia decided for herself that she needed to believe in something. She characterizes herself as a spiritual person. Spirituality helps people overcome illnesses and stay optimistic. According to Sofia, there are two aspects to healing – physical and spiritual healings. Physical health depends on the spiritual one.
Sofia Lidzhi-Goryaeva, Healing and Belief
Ubush’s cousin suffered from anxiety and continuously cried at night. The following ritual was performed for her. A piece of melted lead was poured into a cup with water. When it hardens, lead turns into shapes that indicate the source of fear and anxiety. In the case of his cousin, the lead turned into shapes resembling dogs and pigs. After the ritual, the girl was explained that she should not be afraid of these animals.
Ubush says that the Russians have a similar ritual, but they use wax instead.
Ubush Darzhinov, About a Ritual to Remove Fear
In the past, Kalmyks used boiled water, melted butter, and salted butter as medicine. Zinaida says that, after her family returned to Kalmykia from Siberian exile, her son fell ill with a typhoid fever. She approached an old folk healer who asked her to bring her son’s urine. After examination, the folk healer told her to give the boy a soup made from 100 grams of fatless meat. Then the healer told her to increase the meat to 200 and then 300 grams. After drinking the soup, the boy gradually recovered.
Datura grass is good for toothache. It is used as follows. A folk healer reads prayers and then smokes the patient with the grass. The same method is used for a cold or angina.
When Zinaida was young, her ears secreted pus. Her mother used all sorts of remedies that she learnt from folk healers, including putting a hare’s tail on the inflamed ears, inserting cotton pads into the ears, and filling the ears with yoghurt. Nothing helped. Then Zinaida’s mother cut fresh beef into long thin slices and inserted it into Zinaida’s ears. She heard about this method from her friends. Although Zinaida recovered, one of her ears remained permanently damaged. Whenever water gets into it, the ear inflames. Also, she has headaches when exposed to noise.
Zinaida talks about how to heal a stye in the eye, a stomach ache, and a cough.
Zinaida Lidzhieva, About Traditional Medicine
Zurgada talks about an old female folk healer who healed sick children. The folk healer used a coin (a Soviet kopek) with which she touched the body of the patient. Frightened children were treated by melted tin as well. A piece of tin is melted on a fire. The head of the frightened child is covered with a white sheet. A white sheet of paper is put into a wooden cup and filled with water. Then the melted tin is poured into the cup above the head of the child. The hiss produced by the hot tin interacting with water makes the child jerk. When the tin cools down, the healer reads for the shapes which indicate what the fear was about – a dog, bird, a man etc. After the ritual, the cup is kept outside for three days before it can be brought back into the house.