Based on oral transmission rather than written sources and texts, the institution of folk healers or medlgch is eclectic, syncretic, and open to new ideas and healing rituals. This can even be seen in the naming of medlgch. One and the same healer can be addressed differently by different patients. For example, Valentina is a Kalmyk woman known for being a medlgch. Like many others in her position, she is also known by other names, such as syakuste ‘the one who is protected by Buddhist gods’, emch ‘doctor’, otch ‘bone-setter’, and eeldech or belgch ‘the one who foretells the future’, because she has a guardian deity and can, among other abilities, cure illnesses, set bones, and see into the future. In contrast to the term medlgch, the terms emch, otch, syakuste, belgch, and eeldech do not, as a rule, denote separate categories, but are used more widely as adjective-nouns. So people who come to see Valentina to ask for divination may describe her as eeldech or belgch; those who revere her curing abilities may characterize her as emch; those who ask for bone-setting procedures call her otch, and those who appeal to her supernatural powers may call her syakuste. As a medlgch, ‘the one who knows’, Valentina happens to know and fulfil all these roles. She prefers to describe herself either as syakuste ‘the one who is protected by Buddhist gods’, or emch ‘doctor’, although she does not mind being referred to by others as medlgch. It has to be emphasized, however, that not all medlgch healers, even at the height of their careers, are equally powerful, having varying degrees of experience, skills, and expertise, which is reflected in their naming.

With regard to Buddhist doctors, being educated in proper monasteries in India, Mongolia, and Buryatia, they are specialists in Tibetan medicine and are usually attached to temples, the most famous being the Central Temple in Elista.

Nimya Erdni-Goryaev, About Bone-setting

Born in 1932 in Yashkul’, Nimya is a Torghut man of the Ik Tsookhr clan. He is a bone-setter and receives patients daily who are usually local people, although some come from as far away as Astrakhan’. He does not cure internal illnesses nor uses medicinal herbs. His expertise is setting dislocated bones and curing headaches and head injuries by massaging. Nimya uses goat’s butter to soften his hands before massage. Another method of curing headaches is to hold a freshly cooked, hot sheep’s head over the head of a patient. If the patient does not have a serious head injury, this method is quite effective. During treatment Nimya also reads prayers in Kalmyk, rings a bell and turns a small prayer wheel in order to calm down his patients. After treatment, the injured joints have to be bandaged with a cloth soaked in salt water.

Nimya is a religious man himself. He goes to a Buddhist temple. His uncle was also a monk and a famous bone-setter. It is he who taught Nimya how to cure and massage people. According to Nimya, healing skills can be inherited only through the patrilineal line. One of Nimya’s grandsons is a bone-setter and has a medical degree.

Nimya began to cure people in the Soviet period on the advice of a monk who said to him, ‘You are ill, you must cure people. Otherwise you will continue being ill’. Before healing people, Nimya suffered from poor health, nightmares, head aches and had problems with his kidneys. All these stopped when he became a healer himself.


Nimya Erdni-Goryaev, About Bone-setting


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