The person performing the ritual blessing ceremony is called Algyschyt or white shaman. The ceremonial blessing is the most religious and spiritual part of the Ysyakh. It is believed, however, that ancient Sakha people, especially those living in the Upper Yana river, preferred their blessing ceremonies to be carried out by more than one algyschyt. They believed the more the better, as the ‘white shamans’ have closer connection with a spiritual world and the Gods as they could reach out to each God individually. The blessing ceremony is attended by all festival guests.
The Nine Thrones
As the algyschyt approached the ceremonial firepit, he was greeted by 18 young dancers who would place 9 decorated seats in an aisle. This ceremonial dance tells a story of nine Gods that descend upon the thrones to watch the festive celebrations of living men in the middle world.
Along with the dancers, the algyschyt, standing by the firepit, turns his head to the east, then to the south, west, and north while gracefully bowing to the Gods and invites the Gods of Aiyy to signal the opening of the festival.
“Dom!” – is a word used by the shamans at the end of the divination when they end their journey into other worlds and finish their blessings. Since the revival of the Ysyakh celebrations in 1997, the young dancers that accompany the algyschyt also would use this word in acapella.
This is a ritual dance worshiping the spirits of the nature and sending a message to the Gods. The Creators of the Sakha people, the Aiyy, carefully watch every dancers’ movement.
The dancers stand in line with their backs straight and knees bent and then slowly start moving in a rhythmic, strong, and quick steps imitating horse trotting. In total, there are nine different types of “bitii” dances.
Sun Salutation ceremony
Before the ceremony starts, the grounds of the festival, “tyhylge”, is purified of all negative energy using by the smoke of burning incense. The alhyschyt enters with his entourage – the “Bitii dancers”. All the congregation stands around and bows to the algyschyt, who bows to the spirits of the East, South, West, and the North and having received the blessings of the Gods of Aiyy, lights the fire and completes the ceremony by offering the Gods salamaat (a rich porridge), oladi (pancakes), and kumys – the national drink made of fermented mare’s milk.
At dawn, when the sun starts to rise, the participants of the ceremony stand facing the sun to catch the first rays of the solstice with their hands raised in front of them and palms facing the sun. Bringing their hands to their heart, each person prays: for health, prosperity, luck, or happiness.
Kumys drinking ceremony
Traditionally, the white shaman would bring the choroon (a wooden bowl) with kumys to the most senior of the kin who would first share the drink with the Gods by raising the choroon high above his head chanting “Urui!”. Then he would taste the blessed kumys and other guests would be invited to share the drink.
The blessing ceremony
At the start of the ceremony the three algyschyts gather around the firepit and the “bitii” dancers would stand behind them in a V formation. The first algyschyt starts with the thanksgiving to the God of the Mother Nature, Aan Alakhchyn, then to the spirits of the alaas (local meadows and fields). After that he invites the Gods to commence the celebration of Ysyakh by lighting up the holy fire.
The second algyschyt praises the wise and gentle God of humanity, Urun Aal Toion. The last algyschyt prays to all the Gods asking for protection and guardianship. The dancers, representing the heavenly creatures, finish off the ceremony by performing their graceful dance imitating flying birds and bowing to the Gods. The festival guests repeat after them with their hands high up towards the heavens and absorbing all the needed energy for the next year.
Another distinctive feature of the festival is Osuakhai – a circular group dance. The love for this dance has been revived in the post-Soviet times as it is inextricable part of the ethnic culture that unites the Sakha people. Since the 80s, this there has been a lot of effort to resurrect and popularize the dance led by Mr. N.E. Petrov, a Doctor in Philology.
Purification of the Tyhylge (the festival grounds)
The process of purification of the Tyhylge is performed by burning and spreading the smoke of dry manure to scare off the evil spirits. Young men use deibiir (a fan made of horsehair) to spread the smoke around the tyhylge. Stray dogs were not allowed on the grounds as it was believed that the evil spirit could catch and obstruct the blessings of the Aiyy reaching the crowds. That is why our ancestors would leave the dogs behind. The dark shamans were not allowed to attend Ysyakh festivities and would hide in their huts covered by hay.