Re-burying the ancestor: glorious past and harmonious future in contemporary shamanic construction of the cult of Altaian Mummy
(Fonds de la recherche scientifique, Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Paper short abstract:
The presentation analyses the emerging Altaian "cult" of the Mummy Princess of Ukok in its discursive and ritual dimensions, and the construction of the Princess as an anti-technological symbol, as a personification of the past Golden age, and as a key to the future harmony of humanity.
Paper long abstract:
The mummy of a young rich woman dead IV-III centuries BCE and unburied in 1993 on the highlands of the Ukok plateau in Russian Altai is considered one of the major discoveries of Russian archaeology. Contrary to other archaeological discoveries in the region, the "Princess of Ukok" triggers a constant mobilization in the context of politicized religious revival in Altai. For some contemporary Altaian shamans, as well as for many lay people, she was an ancestor of the Altaian nation and a shaman of the ancient times, who was keeping the Earth safe from the evil forces. Autochthonous discourses interpret the Princess' actual "unrest" as the cause of many natural and social catastrophes. Only her reburial in the sacred land of Ukok would bring harmony to Altai people and to the whole world. The presentation will analyse the emerging Altaian "cult" of the Princess in its discursive and ritual dimensions. I will argue that the Princess is constructed at the same time as an anti-technological symbol of the respect for the nature in opposition to the culture of consumption; as a personification of the Golden age of Altaian nation in the remote past; but also as a symbol of a future utopian change, which can be endlessly manipulated in asymmetrical relations between the West (represented by Russians) and the East.
Making a better future with ancient pasts: heritage and utopia in neo-paganism and neo-shamanism