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Washed in Blood: A Guest of Shaman Bifatima

Hiking on Love Mountain, getting beaten with cow lungs, bathing in blood and other healing rituals — Sanat Ongarbaev oversees the work of 75-year-old shaman Bifatima Dauletova in photos.

Sanat Ongarbaev, 32

Lives in Almaty (Kazakhstan). Has been doing photography for the past three years. Prior to that he studied mining engineering, mined silver, and worked as the director of a mine. His favorite photographers are Yegor Voynov, Max Avdeyev, Dick Eggleston, and Trent Park.

A true dervish, the last of the Sufis, a black shaman by the name of Bifatima Dauletova, was born in 1940 in Turkestan (South Kazakhstan Oblast). She doesn’t know how to read or write. At age 13, according to Bifatima herself, spirits (aruakhi) began speaking to her. Then, they began to teach her how to treat the sick. In the mid 90s she moved to the village Ungurtas in Almaty Oblast and built a house on the site where, according to her, there once stood a Sufi mosque in the XVI — XVII centuries.

“Zher-ana (Mother of Earth) — the main aruakh (spirit) — led me here. I saw her in a dream, along with this river and these mountains. She helps me with everything, Zher-ana,” says Bifatima.

According to the laws of Islam, pagan rites should not be mixed with Muslim canon, as it is a grave sin. But Bifatima rejects this accusation, “Dividing people is a sin. I just bring them together. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists — they all come to me. In the name of Allah and the essences I help them with healing.” In late spring to early fall she takes in 50-60 people every day.

Aydarly Aydakhar-ata Ayman Sholpan Mountain is known as Love Mountain. Bifatima sends those in search of a life-partner to this place. You have to walk 10 kilometers on foot from Bifatima’s house to the mountain, kneel in front of a granite slate and confess your problems.


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Bifatima prepares cow lungs in order to carry out one of her acts of healing. In her opinion, lungs are the strongest inner organ of an animal, and very useful for relieving one’s illness.


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With all her might, she hits the patient in his lower back five times with the lungs. This point is the place on the body where diseases cluster, she believes. At the end the meat is given to a dog, which is also considered a part of the ritual.


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The next stage is washing with water from the creek next to Bifatima’s house. This water is considered to be healing and cleansing of sins from one’s past life. It works the strongest in the place which the healer herself indicates.


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The room for those coming for long-term healing.


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The pricing table for patients’ most necessary belongings. The obligatory payment of thanks for the healing is 15,000 tenge (80 dollars). You can buy the livestock used for the rituals and other necessary things for healing (in particular, the carpet for expulsion of evil spirits) from Bifatima’s inventory. The gender and quantity of cattle that need to be killed are also specified. The price of one sheep is $150, one bull — $1,000. During Muslim holidays, Bifatima takes in those who are especially in need.


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Bifatima was invited to the opening of an ecological festival organized by the Almaty Oblast municipality.


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They’ve now invited Bifatima to this festival for the second time. They spoke about her argument with a famous Indian yogi at the first one. Supposedly, he didn’t react to the warm greetings of Bifatima, which summoned her anger and a tree fell on him. The yogi was unharmed, but was so impressed that he immediately asked for an apology, which was granted to him.

After a short walk they set up a table and some chairs for Bifatima and she began to accept those who wished to see her for treatment. The placing of hands, especially on children, she claims is the most reliable method, “Hands remove all evil spirits.”


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Head and neck strikes — Bifatima’s traditional, short healing seances.


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Before returning to Ungurtas.


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One of the main rituals is the rite of washing in blood. Livestock is used as a sacrifice: a goat, a sheep, a cow, or sometimes even a camel. Everything depends on what kind of illness the patient has.


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The action begins with loud, slow singing, which Bifatima uses to induce herself into a light trance. It starts like this, “Koshkar-ata (spirit-keeper of animals)’ Koshkar-ata, take away the pain, Zher-ana (Mother of Earth), forgive, forgive the sins.”

The gist of the process is this – first, you have to crawl to the sacrificial animal under the bellies of other animals, and then you have to go back while laying on your back. Next, you have to use a chain to crawl towards the animal, holding each other by the legs. In order, men go first, then women. Animals, according to Bifatima, absorb a person’s illnesses, and the ground performs a renewal.


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People get in a hole about 3 meters in diameter and 2.5 meters deep. There, they will be covered in the blood of the animal under which they crawled. Bloodletting is a guarantee of the spirits’ good nature. One of the conditions — whether you’re a man or a woman — is that you must take off all your clothes down to your underwear. Only under special conditions and with Bifatima’s approval can women retain special clothing.

A man holds a bucket in order to get as much blood as possible.


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The blood should be spilled on a person’s forehead. This symbolizes rebirth. Some people were afraid that they wouldn’t get enough blood and clashed with others in an attempt to catch the trickle and direct the blood to their heads.


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Several people lost consciousness while in the hole and had to be dragged out by their arms.


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One man yelled in utter excitement, “Born again, born again!”.


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After that you need to go to the river, dive in headfirst, wash the blood from your body, and turn over seven times with the flow of the river. You absolutely mustn’t look back when you leave the river. The illnesses and sins will return to you if you look back.


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Having seen the fire, Bifatima came quickly, sat on her knees and clasped her hands in prayer, whispering, “Flame, flame, burn, but don’t flare up! Give strength, but don’t kill! Flame, you are a god. The world is reeling, there is no equilibrium. And when he will come, no one knows. Above all, live openly, above all, don’t kill. If you feel bad, come to me and I will cleanse your sins. I know how,” says the sorceress at parting.


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