The Phurba or Kila is extensively used within Shamanism. Here is the best description I’ve come across, written by Nicholas Breeze Wood for his ‘Sacred Hoop Magazine’ and available to read for free here:
The Phurba or Kila is extensively used within Shamanism. Here is the best description I’ve come across, written by Nicholas Breeze Wood for his ‘Sacred Hoop Magazine’ and available to read for free here:
This is a woman shaman’s ritual coat, from the Evenk people. It is made from deer skin with cloth, suede and fur details, and comes from Southern Central Siberia, c1900.
Attached to the coat are beads and bells made from metal, as well as glass beads, and it is hung with numerous toli (bronze shaman’s mirrors) which form part of the ‘shaman’s armour’, helping to protect the shaman when she was in the spirit world.
The three layers hung with bells on the lower part of the front of the coat represent the three layers of the cosmos. Attached to the lower right front, among a group of toli, is an elongated representation of the Garuda bird spirit.
The coat comes with a shaman crown made of iron, hung with another toli over the third eye, and strips of cloth, and bells, and small iron antlers representing the spirit of the reindeer.
On the chest, over the shoulders and down the back, there is a collared cape called a dilkaptun. This is covered with buttons made from mother of pearl. This cape protects the back from hostile spirits, and also represents the wings of the Garuda bird upon which the shaman flies.
This will be a brief introduction to the use of the ‘Phurba’ otherwise known as a ‘Kila’ and the deity practices associated with it.
The origin of its use may be traced back to India, and the role of Padmasambhava in bringing the practices to Tibet and the Himalayan region generally. The Phurba is used both by Buddhists and Shamans in that region. There are various explanations of the form of the practices, but all seem to be wrathful protection against harmful spirits and the forms in which they may manifest. The act may be one of pinning or pegging or of directing the energy of the deity invited to enter with a pointing action.
The Aghori sect of India use the kila to create a protective circle by hammering pegs of bone into the ground and binding them with black thread, a ritual practice known as kilana. Source:
The ‘Kila’ is an important element in the hands of other deities and may also form the lower part of their body to indicate that the deity practice encompasses Vajrakilaya.
BENEFITS OF THE MANTRA:
1. Each single mantra recitation creates the actual Deity, also creates the Dakini
It is an offering to all the Buddhas and acts like creating an army to help all sentient beings.
2. The mantra is also an offering. This is an antidote to attachment and greed, as we give happily with faith and love. Natural phenomena arise through the power of such Bodhichitta.
3. The mantra is a source of blessings – as we think of the love for the deity our wisdom increases and our self-cherishing dissolves.
4. Compassion towards sentient beings increases and obscurations (our own and those of other sentient beings) decreases.
5. There is also the accomplishment of the deity – self disappears and you will attain all the qualities of the deity, the siddhi acomplishment. The love for the deity is always in our mind and the appears instantly to us. This love extends to all sentient beings and this also marks the accomplishment of the deity.
6. The mantra is enlightened activity. In acquiring the common siddhis we can perform to benefit others, such as healing or using our supernatural powers.
7. The mantra is the whole mandala, and so reveals the whole universe of the deity, and all appears to us as pure.
8. The mantra is a higher level offering similar to ganachakra. Our bodies contain hundreds of tiny beings and is the mandala of the deity so, for example, food then becomes an offering to ourselves as the deity.
9. Ultimately the meaning of the mantra is that it brings pure perception of objects and the nature of emptiness: form is emptiness and emptiness is form.
Here are a few of my own phurbas, followed by some very informative articles and texts The hand-carved iron ones are from Solu Khumbu region of Nepal (near mount Everest). :
The bone item is of unknown origin, but I assume it has a similar use!
ABOVE: VAJRAKILAYA AS DORJE ZHONU
Here is a really useful article by Peggy Malnati, from the’3 Worlds’ site of shaman Nicholas Breeze Wood:
Here are a few sources I have found really useful, not only about the Phurba or Kila, but about the deity associated with the practice, Vajrakila(ya) or Dorje Phurba:
HIMALAYAN ART: Here is an explanation of the Kila/Phurba and of Vajrakilaya, with many excellent pictures and explanations of various forms and practices:
HIMALAYAN ART: KILA/PHURBA:
HIMALAYAN ART: VAJRAKILA/VAJRAKILAYAYA:
The Practice of Vajrakilaya by Khenpo Namdrol:
The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs:
HARD TO FIND BUT MAY BE HELPFUL:
A Bolt of Lightning from the Blue by Dr. Martin J Boord:
Gathering the Elements: The Cult of the Wrathful Deity Vajrakilaya by Dr. Martin J. Boord:
The above text may also be found at:
The Dark Red Amulet: Oral Instructions on the Practice of Vajrakilaya by Kenchen Palden Sherab & Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal:
Other texts from Scribd relating to Vajrakilaya, including practice,s such as that of Pema Lingpa, for which the relevant initiation should be sought:
WIKIPEDIA (as usual, reproduced from Wiki) here:
The kīla (Sanskrit Devanagari: कील; IAST: kīla; Tibetan: ཕུར་བ, Wylie: phur ba, pronunciation between pur-ba and pur-pu, alt. transliterations and English orthorographies: phurpa, phurbu, purbha or phurpu) is a three-sided peg, stake, knife, or nail like ritual implement traditionally associated with Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Bön, and Indian Vedic traditions. The kīla is associated with the meditational deity (Srkt:ishtadevata, Tib. yidam) Vajrakīla ( वज्रकील) or Vajrakīlaya (Tib. Dorje Phurba).
Most of what is known of the Indian kīla lore has come by way of Tibetan culture. Scholars such as F. A. Bischoff, Charles Hartman and Martin Boord have shown that the Tibetan literature widely asserts that the Sanskrit for their term phurba is kīlaya (with or without the long i). However, as Boord describes it, “all dictionaries and Sanskrit works agree the word to be kīla (orkīlaka). I suppose this [discrepancy] to result from an indiscriminate use by Tibetans of the dative singular kīlaya. This form would have been familiar to them in the simple salutation namo vajrakīlaya (homage to Vajrakīla) from which it could easily be assumed by those unfamiliar with the technicalities of Sanskrit that the name of the deity is Vajrakīlaya instead of Vajrakīla. It should also be noted that the term (vajra)kīlaya is frequently found in Sanskrit texts (as well as in virtually every kīlamantra) legitimately used as the denominative verb ‘to spike,’ ‘transfix,’ ‘nail down,’ etc.”
it is possible, on the other hand, that the name Vajrakīlaya as favoured by the Tibetans could in fact have been the form that was actually used in the original Indic sources, and that there is no need to hypothesize a correct form “Vajrakīla”. “Vajrakīlaya” could have come from the second person singular active, causative imperative, of the verb Kīl. Indigenous grammar (Pāṇini Dhātupāṭha I.557) gives to Kīl the meaning of bandha, i.e. “to bind”, while Monier-Williams (285) gives the meanings “to bind, fasten, stake, pin”. Hence the form kīlaya could mean “you cause to bind/transfix!”, or “bind/transfix!”. This, taken from mantras urging “bind/transfix”, or “may you cause to bind/transfix”, might have come to be treated as a noun; and the noun might then have become deified; hence Kīlaya might have started out as a deified imperative, in some ways comparable to the famous example of the deified vocative in the name Hevajra, and a not unheard of phenomenon in Sanskrit tantric literature. This suggestion is supported by Alexis Sanderson, a specialist in Sanskrit tantric manuscripts whom I consulted on this problem.
The fabrication of kīla is quite diverse. Having pommel, handle, and blade, kīla are often segmented into suites of triunes on both the horizontal and vertical axes, though there are notable exceptions. This compositional arrangement highlights the numerological importance and spiritual energy of the integers three (3) and nine (9). Kīla may be constituted and constructed of different materials and material components, such as wood, metal, clay, bone, gems, horn or crystal. Wooden kīla are favored by shamans for healing and energetic work.
Like the majority of traditional Tibetan metal instruments, the kīla is often made from brass and iron (terrestrial and/or meteoric iron. ‘Thokcha‘ (Tibetan: ཐོག་ལྕགས, Wylie: thog lcags) means “sky-iron” in Tibetan and denote tektites and meteorites which are often high in iron content. Meteoric iron was highly prized throughout the Himalaya where it was included in sophisticated polymetallic alloys such as Panchaloha for ritual implements. The pommel of the kīla often bears three faces of Vajrakīla, one joyful, one peaceful, one wrathful, but may bear the umbrella of the ashtamangala or mushroom cap, ishtadevata (like Hayagriva), snow lion, or stupa, among other possibilities. The handle is often of a vajra, weaving or knotwork design. The handle generally has a triune form as is common to the pommel and blade. The blade is usually composed of three triangular facets or faces, meeting at the tip. These represent, respectively, the blade’s power to transform the negative energies known as the “three poisons” or “root poisons” (Sanskrit: mula klesha) of attachment/craving/desire, delusion/ignorance/misconception, and aversion/fear/hate.
The kīla is one of many iconographic representations of divine “symbolic attributes” (Tibetan: phyag mtshan) of Vajrayana and Hindu deities. When consecrated and bound for usage, the kīla are a nirmanakaya manifestation of Vajrakīlaya.
Chandra, et al. (1902: p. 37) in their Dictionary entry ‘korkor’ (Tibetan: ཀོར་ཀོར, Wylie: kor kor) “coiled” (English) relates that the text titled the ‘Vaidūry Ngonpo’ (Tibetan: བཻ་དཱུརྱ་སྔོན་པོ, Wylie: bai dUry sngon po) has the passage: ཐག་བ་ཕུར་བ་ལ་ཀོར་ཀོར་བྱམ “a string was wound round the (exorcist’s) dagger [phurba].”
One of the principal methods of working with the kīla and to actualize its essence-quality is to pierce the earth with it; sheath it; or as is common with Himalayan shamanic traditions, to penetrate it vertically, point down into a basket, bowl or cache of rice (or other soft grain if the kīla is wooden). The terms employed for the deity and the tool are interchangeable in Western scholarship. In the Himalayan shamanic tradition the kīla may be considered as axis mundi. Müller-Ebelling, et al. (2002) affirm that for the majority of Nepalese shaman, the kīla is cognate with the world tree, either in their visualisations or in initiatory rites or other rituals.
The kīla is used as a ritual implement to signify stability on a prayer ground during ceremonies, and only those initiated in its use, or otherwise empowered, may wield it. The energy of the kīla is fierce, wrathful, piercing, affixing, transfixing. The kīla affixes the elemental process of ‘Space’ (Sanskrit: Ākāśa) to the Earth, thereby establishing an energetic continuum. The kīla, particularly those that are wooden are for shamanic healing, harmonizing and energy work and often have two nāgas (Sanskrit for snake, serpent and/or dragon, also refers to a class of supernatural entities or deities) entwined on the blade, reminiscent of the Staff of Asclepius and the Caduceus of Hermes. Kīla often also bear the ashtamangala, swastika, sauwastika and/or other Himalayan, Tantric or Hindu iconography or motifs.
As a tool of exorcism, the kīla may be employed to hold demons or thoughtforms in place (once they have been expelled from their human hosts, for example) in order that their mindstream may be re-directed and their inherent obscurations transmuted. More esoterically, the kīla may serve to bind and pin down negative energies or obscurations from the mindstream of an entity, person or thoughtform, including the thoughtform generated by a group, project and so on, to administer purification.
The kīla as an iconographical implement is also directly related to Vajrakilaya, a wrathful deity of Tibetan Buddhism who is often seen with his consort Diptacakra (Tib. ‘khor lo rgyas ‘debs ma). He is embodied in the kīla as a means of destroying (in the sense of finalising and then freeing) violence, hatred, and aggression by tying them to the blade of the kīla and then transmuting them with its tip. The pommel may be employed in blessings. It is therefore that the kīla is not a physical weapon, but a spiritual implement, and should be regarded as such. The kīla often bears the epithet Diamantine Dagger of Emptiness (see shunyata).
As Müller-Ebelling, et al. (2002: p. 55) states:
The magic of the Magical Dagger comes from the effect that the material object has on the realm of the spirit. The art of tantric magicians or lamas lies in their visionary ability to comprehend the spiritual energy of the material object and to willfully focus it in a determined direction. . . The tantric use of the phurba encompasses the curing of disease, exorcism, killing demons, meditation, consecrations (puja), and weather-making. The blade of the phurba is used for the destruction of demonic powers. The top end of the phurba is used by the tantrikas for blessings.
The sting of the scorpion’s whip-like tail transfixes and poisons its prey, and in this respect it is identified with the wrathful activity of the ritual dagger or kīla. Padmasambhava’s biography relates how he received the siddhi of the kīla transmission at the great charnel ground of Rajgriha from a gigantic scorpion with nine heads, eighteen pincers and twenty-seven eyes. This scorpion reveals the kīla texts from a triangular stone box hidden beneath a rock in the cemetery. As Padmasambhava reads this terma text spontaneous understanding arises, and the heads, pincers, and eyes of the scorpion are ‘revealed’ as different vehicles or yanas of spiritual attainment. Here, at Rajgriha, Padmasambhava is given the title of ‘the scorpion guru’, and in one of his eight forms as Guru Dragpo or Pema Drago (‘wrathful lotus’), he is depicted with a scorpion in his left hand. As an emblem of the wrathful kīla transmission the image of the scorpion took on a strong symbolic meaning in the early development of the Nyingma or ‘ancient school’ of Tibetan Buddhism…”.
To work with the spirits and deities of the earth, land and place, indigenous people of India, the Himalayas and the Mongolian Steppe pegged, nailed and/or pinned down the land. The nailing of the kīla is comparable to the idea of breaking the earth (turning the sod) in other traditions and the rite of laying the foundation stone. It is an ancient shamanic idea that has common currency throughout the region; it is prevalent in the Bön tradition and is also evident in the Vajrayana tradition. According to shamanic folklore current throughout the region, “…the mountains were giant pegs that kept the Earth in place and prevented it from moving.” (Kerrigan, et al., 1998: p27) Mountains such as Amnye Machen, according to folklore were held to have been brought from other lands just for this purpose. Stupa (compare cairn) are a development of this tradition and akin to kīla.
(Kerrigan, et al., 1998: p27) states that:
“Prayer flags and stone pillars throughout the country also pierce the land. Even the pegs of the nomads’ yak wool tents are thought of as sanctifying the ground that lies beneath…”.
Traditions such as that of the kīla may be considered a human cultural universal in light of foundation stone rites and other comparable rites documented in the disciplines of anthropology and ethnography; e.g., turning of the soil as a placation and votive offering to spirits of place and to preparation of the land as a rite to ensure fertility and bountiful yield.
In the Kathmandu Valley, the kīla is still in usage by shamans, magicians, tantrikas and lamas of different ethnic backgrounds. The kīla is used particularly intensively by the Tamang, Gurung and Newari Tibeto-Burmese tribes. The kīla is also employed by the Tibetans native to Nepal (the Bhotyas), the Sherpas, and the Tibetans living in Dharamasala.
The phurbas of the gubajus are different from those of the jhankris. As a rule, they have only one head on which there is a double vajra as shown here. Gubajus focus on the head as a mirror image of themselves in order to meditatively connect with the power of the phurba. The three or more heads of the upper area of the phurba indicate the collection of energies that the jhankris use.
A “Bhairab kīla” is an important healing tool of the tantric Newari gubajus. As Müller-Ebelling, et al. (2002: p. 55) state:
Tantric priests (guruju) use Bhairab phurbas for the curing of disease and especially for curing children’s diseases. For these cases the point of the phurba blade is dipped into a glass or a bowl of water, turned and stirred. The sick child is then given the magically charged water as medicine to drink.
Müller-Ebelling, et al. (2002: p. ?) interviewed Mohan Rai. (Mohan Rai is a shaman from the border area of Nepal and Bhutan and belongs to the Mongolian people of the Rai and/or Kirati. Mohan Rai is the founder of the Shamanistic Studies and Research Centre, Baniya Goun, Naikap, Kathmandu, Nepal)  who in an interview is directly quoted as saying:
‘Without the phurba inside himself [sic], the shaman has no consciousness’…’The shaman himself [sic] is the phurba; he [sic] assumes its form in order to fly into other worlds and realities.’
Müller-Ebelling et al. (2002) affirm that some Kukri may be considered kīla, as ultimately, everything that approximates a vertical form. The kīla then is a phallic polysemy and cognate with lingam ~ the generative instrument of Shivathat is metonymic of the primordial energy of the Universe. The kīla as lingam, actualizes the yoni essence-quality of whatever it penetrates.
The wrathful heruka Vajrakilaya is a meditation deity who embodies the energetic ‘activity’ (Wylie: phrin las) of all the buddhas, manifesting in a powerful and wrathful yet compassionate form in order to subjugate the delusion and negativity that can arise as obstacles to the practice of Dharma.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on the practice of Vajrakilaya states that:
“Vajrakilaya, or kīla, means something sharp, and something that pierces – a dagger. A dagger that is so sharp it can pierce anything, while at the same time nothing can pierce it. That is the quality. This sharp and piercing energy is what is used to practice and out of the many infinite, endless Vajrayana methods this happens to be one of most important methods.”
Vajrakilaya is a significant Vajrayana deity who transmutes and transcends obstacles and obscurations. Vajrakila is the divine ‘thoughtform‘ (Tibetan: སྤྲུལ་པ།, Wylie: sprul pa) that governs the kīla. Padmasambhava achieved realisation through practicing ‘Yangdag Heruka‘ (Tibetan: yang dag he ru ka) but he first practiced Vajrakilaya to clean and clear obstacles and obscurations.
Vajrakilaya is also understood as the embodiment of activities of the Buddha mind. Sometimes Vajrakilaya is perceived as the wrathful vajrayana form of Vajrapani, according to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Many great masters both in India and Tibet, but especially in Tibet, have practiced Vajrakilaya (especially in the Nyingma lineage, and among the Kagyu and also within the Sakyapas). The Sakyapa’s main deity, besides Hevajra is Vajrakumara or Vajrakilaya.
Vajrakilaya (also known as Vajrakumara) is the deity of the magic thundernail, the kīla, a tool of the sharp adamantine point of dharmakaya, a wisdom forded through the power of one-pointed concentration. This ‘one-pointed’ (Sanskrit:eka graha) focus is a concerted mindfulness on the unity and interdependence of all dharmas. This one-pointed focus is understood as ‘applying oneself fully’ (Tibetan: sgrim pa). Vajrakilaya is a favoured tantric archetypal deity embraced by the Nyingmapa. The awesome and wrathful manifestation of this empty yet apparent deity assists practitioners in clearing the obstructions to realisation.
A common manifestation of Vajrakilla has three heads, six arms, and four legs. Vajrakilaya’s three right hands except for the right front one held vajras with five and nine prongs. The right front one makes a mudra as granting boonswith open palm. Vajrakilaya’s three left hands hold a flaming triple wishfulfilling jewel or triratna, a trident and the kilaya. Vajrakilaya’s back is covered by the freshly flayed skin of the elephant representing ‘ignorance’ (Sanskrit: avidya; Wylie: marigpa), with the legs tied in front. A human skin is tied diagonally across his chest with the hands lying flat on Vajrakilaya’s stomach and solar plexus representing the flailed ego that has released its powerful grip obscuring the ‘qualities’ of the Sadhaka. Qualities are represented iconographically by the ‘vortex’ (Sanrkit: chakra; Wylie: Khorlo) of the Manipura (Sanskrit: Maṇipūra). A rope ripples over his body with severed heads hanging by their hair representing the Akshamala or ‘garland of bija‘ (Sanskrit: Varnamala). A knee length loin cloth winds around his belly belted with a tiger skin complete with tail, claws and head. This deity wears manifold nāga adornments and jewellery: naga earrings, naga bracelets, naga anklets and a naga cord over his chest, sometimes referred to as a naga gurdle and a naga hairpiece or hair ornament. Vajrakilaya’s faces are round and small compared to the tall body. Despite the large fangs and bulging eyes and his wrathful appearance, Vajrakilaya is perceived as having a benevolent demeanor.
Although at one point the Indic origin of kīla practice was widely questioned, Boord claims that “the existence of a Kīla cult among the Buddhists in eighth century India…must now surely be accepted as established” and further claims that it has been “conclusively demonstrated that all the basic doctrines and rituals of Vajrakīla had their origin in India.” Robert Mayer, one of the leading scholars of the kīla literature, shares the same view, writing that prior research had been plagued by “elementary misunderstandings” based on a lack of familiarity with crucial Indic primary sources. Mayer says of Boord’s work, “our understandings of the deity are quite similar” insofar as both do not doubt that “the phur-pa and the deity are Indic.”
Tibetan tradition, which Boord credits as generally credible, holds that the entire corpus of Indian kīla lore was systematized by Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, and the Nepali Śīlamañju, while on retreat together at Yang-le-shod(present-day Pharping, Nepal). According to Boord, “it was precisely during this retreat that the many strands of kila lore were finally woven together into a coherent masterpiece of tantric Buddhism and thus it helps to illuminate the process by which tantric methods were being related to soteriology at this time. Beautifully codified in terms of both theory and practice, this divine scheme of meditation and magic was subsequently transmitted to Tibet and became established there as one of the major modes of religious engagement. So much so, in fact, that many previous writers on Tibet have actually assumed the kila cult to be of Tibetan origin.” Renowned Tibetologist and Buddhologist Herbert Guenther concurred in a review of Boord’s work, concluding that his “careful research of all available texts relevant to the study of this figure” was “much needed and long overdue” in correcting longstanding “misrepresentation of historical facts.”
Beer (1999: p. 246) conveys the entwined relationship of Vajrakilaya with Samye, the propagation of Secret Mantra in Tibet, and the importance of the sadhana to both Padmasambhava’s enlightenment, and his twenty-five ‘heart disciples’, who are of the mindstreams of the principal terton (according to Nyingma tradition):
In the biography of Padmasambhava it is recorded that he travelled to the northern land of Kashakamala, where the cult of the kīla prevailed. Later, whilst meditating on the deity Yangdak Heruka (Skt. Vishuddha Heruka) in the ‘Asura Cave’ at Parping in the Kathmandu valley, he experienced many obstructions from the maras, and in order to subjugate them he request the Kīla Vitotama Tantras to be brought from India. Having established the first Tibetan monastery at Samye, the first transmission that Padmasambhava gave to his twenty-five ‘heart disciples’, in order to eliminate the hindrances to the propagation of the buddhadharma in Tibet, were the teachings of the Vajrakilaya Tantra. From its early Nyingma origins the practice of Vajrakilaya as a yidam deity with the power to cut through any obstructions was absorbed into all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Vajrakilaya Puja has long unbroken lineage within the Sakyapa. Vajrakilaya Puja was received by Khön Nagendra Rakshita and his younger sibling Vajra Ratna from Padmasambhava. Since then it has been transmitted in the Khönlineage and has been enacted every year until the present. Even in the challenging times of 1959 His Holiness the Sakya Trizin maintained the tradition.
The Rigpa Sangha of Sogyal Rinpoche practises several Vajrakilaya sadhanas. The empowerment of Khön Tradition of Vajrakilaya has been given to the Rigpa sangha by H.H. Sakya Trizin at Lerab Ling, 22–23 June 2007 .
The 1986 film The Golden Child features a magical phurba called the Ajanti Dagger which has the ability to kill mystical beings, specifically the titular child and the demon Sardo Numspa. In the 1994 movie The Shadow, the phurba was a dangerous weapon which moved of its own accord. In the 2009 video game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, a golden phurba is the key to the mythical kingdom of Shambhala.
This is a brief introduction to the shamanic world of Siberia, especially
from the perspective of the Mongols. In spite of the linguistic differences
there are overarching themes and images which appear among all forms of
shamanism in Siberia. Indeed, the classic studies of shamanism have given
special attention to the shamanism of Altaic peoples such as the Buryat,
Mongols, and Tungus, creating an image of a “classic” Siberian shamanism.
Some of you may find that certain of the features of Mongolian shamanism
which I describe may not completely be true in all its points for all
Mongolian or Siberian groups. This is the result of the great geographic
area which they occupy and differences in environment and tribal history
which allowed for some variation from the observances or beliefs of their
kindred. Many of you have some acquaintance with the beliefs of Native
Americans, and how their relationship with the world shaped their beliefs
and behavior. This is also true of Mongols and Siberian peoples in general.
Reverence for mother earth and father heaven above as well as for all the
spirits of animals and nature create a way of life which expresses respect
for natural forces and abstains from harm to them whenever possible.
Mongols believe that the goal of life is to live tegsh, in balance with the
world. One stands alone and in power at the center of the world, with
infinite blue Father Heaven above and Mother Earth supporting and nurturing
below. By living an upright and respectful life, a human being (hun) will
keep his world in balance and maximize his personal power (windhorse,
hiimori). Heaven and Earth and the spirits of nature and the ancestors
supply every need and protect all humans. Shamans play an important role in
restoring balance when it is thrown off by disaster or spirit interference.
• Mongolian shamaness Sarangerel provides a hands-on guide for serious students of the shamanic path.• Includes complete directions for traditional Siberian rituals, meditations, and divination techniques never before published.• Shows how to recognize and acknowledge a call from the spirits.
• Offers traditional wisdom for nurturing a working relationship with personal spirit helpers to promote healing and balance in a community.
The shaman’s purpose is to heal and restore balance to his or her community by developing a working relationship with the spirit world. Mongolian shamanic tradition maintains that all true shamans are called by the spirits–but those who are not from shamanic cultures may have difficulty recognizing the call or nurturing the essential shamanic relationship with their helper spirits.
Buryat shamaness Sarangerel has written Chosen by the Spirits as a guide for both the beginning shaman and the advanced practitioner. Although raised in the United States, she was drawn to the shamanic tradition, and in 1991 returned to her ancestral homeland in the Tunken region of southern Siberia to study with traditional Buryat shamans. Her first book,Riding Windhorses, provided an introduction to the shamanic world of Siberia. Chosen by the Spirits delves more deeply into the personal relationship between the shamanic student and his or her “spirit family.” Sarangerel recounts her own journey into shamanic practice and provides the serious student with practical advice and hands-on techniques for recognizing and acknowledging a shamanic calling, welcoming and embodying the spirits, journeying to the spirit world, and healing both people and places.
RIDING WINDHORSES Book Description on Amazon:
The first book written about Mongolian and Siberian shamanism by a shaman trained in that tradition.• A thorough introduction to Mongolian and Siberian shamanic beliefs and practices, which, until the collapse of the Soviet Union, were banned from being practiced.• Includes rituals for healing and divination techniques.
In traditional Mongolian-Buryat culture, shamans play an important role maintaining the tegsh, the “balance” of the community. They counsel a path of moderation in one’s actions and reverence for the natural world, which they view as mother to humanity. Mongolians believe that if natural resources are taken without thanking the spirits for what they have given, those resources will not be replaced. Unlike many other cultures whose shamanic traditions were undermined by modern civilization, shamans in the remote areas of southern Siberia and Mongolia are still the guardians of the environment, the community, and the natural order.
Riding Windhorses is the first book written on Mongolian and Siberian shamanism by a shaman trained in that tradition. A thorough introduction to Mongolian/Siberian shamanic beliefs and practices, it includes working knowledge of the basic rituals and various healing and divination techniques. Many of the rituals and beliefs described here have never been published and are the direct teachings of the author’s own shaman mentors.
The information which follows is, as far as I can tell, unique in offering an insight into the use of ’Tiger Bells’ across several cultures in different continents, including shamanic usage.
The author has kindly given permission for me to reproduce it here. Please go to the original website and contact the author for further information or if you wish to copy any of the information.
Original Website: http://www.tigerbells.nl
Author and owner of all Copyright: Fekke de Jager
What are tiger bells?Tiger bells are bronze jingle bells. Jingle bells are globularly shaped, hollow and have a pellet made of metal or stone inside which produces the sound when the bell is shaken. Tiger bells stand apart from other bells because of the peculiar design on the surface: a stylized tiger’s head. Very often the hoop is rectangular. On the top half of the bell’s surface you often see one or two Chinese characters and some curls and curved lines, possibly floral motifs. Detailed information is on the pageVarious types.
Side view of a tiger bell from S.E. Mindanao (the Philippines)
Bells with this design occur all over Asia, from Turkey and the Middle East toSiberia and Indonesia. They come in different sizes and there are variations in the design. The face, the tiger’s head, is however very consistent. That is why I have called these bells ‘tiger bells’.
I noticed these bells for the first time in 1974, in Mindanao, Southern Philippines. They were in use by several ethnic groups, as dance bells and amulets.
In 1975, in the Musée de l’Homme in Paris (France, now the Musée Quay Branly) I found several bells on a shaman’s costume from the Ewenk, an ethnic group in southern Siberia. These were almost identical to tiger bells I had seen inthe Philippines. I found this enormous distance between the two locations intriguing and decided to try to find out more about the history of these bells: how old they are, how they came to be where they are, where they were produced and where and how they are used. Not being an anthropologist, I had to start from scratch.
A tiger bell on a shaman’s costume from Siberia
Collection Musée de l’Homme, Paris
I started this informal research in 1975. Since then I have found out a number of things. The most important finding is that some groups have bells with this design by the tens and hundreds while other groups within the same area, sometimes neighbours, do not have one single tiger bell. Examples are several minority groups in S.E. Mindanao and several Dayak groups in Kalimantan, This occurs in several places in East Asia and has led to the assumption that trade could not have been the only distribution factor. Trade is too indiscriminate to explain this obvious preferencewith some groups. It would be more likely that these groups already possessed tiger bells before they reached their present location. This could link those groups with the tiger bell and those without the tiger bell to the various migration waves in East Asia through time. It could also mean that tiger bells found with these groups are very old.
A tiger bell on a child’s ankle, Bahau Dayak, Kalimantan
Another striking fact is that the bells with the tiger’s head design as we see it on the tiger bell from Mindanao, the Philippines, occur at the northern and southern extremes of the distribution area: Siberia, Mongolia and insular S.E. Asia. In between we find tiger bells of varying age, the majority possibly younger than those in northern Asia and S.E. Asia, and with many variations in shape, size and design, although all are clearly tiger bells. The tiger bells as we see them in Mindanao and Siberia have the most consistent and complete design; they are probably the oldest bells as well. Therefore I call this type of bell the ‘classic type’.
The function of these classic tiger bells differs per group. They are used as an amulet by shamans from Kalimantan and Siberia. Other uses are: a necklace or a dance attribute. Other types are used as animal bells.
A tiger bell in a wooden yak bell, from Burma
The link with certain ethnic groups could indicate that the tiger bells are old. On the other hand, some of these bells are evidently newer than others. This indicates that these bells must have been produced in large numbers, over hundreds of years. In fact, they are still being produced. I have been told that there are at least several workshops that still produce tiger bells of different types: in Peking, in Dehra Dun (Northern India). There are also indications that tiger bells are still being produced in Taiwan and Mongolia.
New bells, made in Peking
While we were collecting information in various museums and institutes, we found that although many people had seen all kinds of bronze bells, they had never recognized the tiger bells as being different from other pellet bells. Those who had noticed the particular design were satisfied with the observation that these bells were apparently of Chinese origin. Yet, the number of individual observations is vast and we now have reports of occurrence of tiger bells in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos,China, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Mongolia, Siberia, Tuva, Burma, Nepal, Bhutan,Tibet, Bangladesh, India, Northwest Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Turkey and even Maltaand Russia. Also, we found that there are distinctly different types of tiger bells, and variations within these types.
A silver prayer mill, from Tibet
Since there is little literature on this subject and since I cannot visit all museums and libraries I have to rely for new facts on observations by others. All these years, travelling friends, colleagues and museum curators have helped. By presenting my search on the Internet I hope that I can reach more people and institutes. All relevant information on variations in shape, design, size, location, possible age, origin, ethnic groups, use, value, etc. is welcome. The more detailed, the better. Please mail your information, or your questions, to me. On every page you find a button Contact us. If you want to send pictures or anything other than text, let us know and we will give you another e-mail-address. That allows you to send photographs or video recordings of bells in use, etc. If your contribution is not free of cost, please let me know in advance. With your help we can try to find more solid facts to support the preliminary conclusion: that the presence of the tiger bells makes it possible to link ethnic groups to their movements over the Asian continent. Thus the tiger bells could become a migration tracer.
Tiger bells: various types
Tiger bells made of bronze. They differ from other bells because of several characteristics:
- Musicologically they belong to the group of jingle bells or crotal bells: they have a hollow, globularly shaped body in which a small pellet of metal or stone (hence the also often used term pellet bell) is held. When the bell is shaken, the pellet hits the inside surface and thus the bells sounds. The bells have an opening, usually a split in the lower side of the body which lets the hollow body act as a resonator. The hoop for suspending the bell is very often square or rectangular, sometimes round, sometimes trapezium shaped.
- The characteristic that makes the tiger bells really stand out from other bells is the design. It is evidently a face with large eyes, a nose and a mouth or beak. Our first association was that of a frog’s head. Later, on a catalogue card of the Ethnological Museum in Leyden describing the bells on a baby carrier from the Kajan in Kalimantan, there is a quote from Prof. J J. M. de Groot saying that the face is a snake’s head. According to him the Chinese characters on the ‘forehead’ could meanThe Hing Company. He had seen these characters on the bells of the Lanun in The Philippines .
On other bells with the face-design other characters appear. We find these characters on both sides, in the center of the top half of the bell. Very often these characters have been corrupted by the casting process or are just meaningless scribbles. Around the characters and around the eyes and nose we find curls and curves.
- On the ‘forehead’ there is a Chinese character , the character Wang. It means ‘emperor, royal’ and is usually found on Chinese representations of tiger’s heads such as this toy tiger.
- The tiger bells on the back of the shaman’s costume in the Musée de l’Homme in Paris (now Musée Quay Branly), France, were described as: Grelot; tête de tigre en laiton (transl.Crotal bells, tiger’s head, made of brass. For the full description: click here).
- In 1914 Russian ethnologist Sieroszewski gives us an account of the meaning of a shaman’s coat ornamentation, which he heard from an old Yakut. On the bells on the costume he says:‘Hobo’, copper bells without tongues, suspended below the collar; like a crow’s egg in size and shape and having on the tipper part a drawing of a fish’s head (bold by author). They are tied to the leather straps or to the metal loops.
Since the Wang character occurs since ancient times on bronze statues of tigers, such as the statue from the Chinese Chou-period (appr.500 B.C.), and because the description of the bells in the Musée de l’Homme clearly mentions the tiger’s head, I decided to call these bells ‘tiger bells’ to distinguish them from other brass bells. But for reasons just as good they could be called fish bells, frog bells or snake bells. However since I introduced the term ‘tiger bell’ in my very first report in 1976, it is quite widely used and now occurs in many web pages (and even in a computer game although the bell in the game is not a tiger bell). Therefore I will continue to use the term ‘tiger bell’ until it is more correct to use another name.
Bronze statue of a tiger, the Wang character on its forehead
Middle Chou (946 – 600 B.C.); collection: Freer Gallery,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
Courtesy: Orientations Magazine, April 1972
Tiger bells vary in shape, size and design. The majority of the bells belong to one of four type groups: type A, type B, type C and type D. Some variations exist. Those variations that are inspired by the tiger bell but miss on or more of the typical characteristics are grouped into the Alternatives. Alternatives are inspired by or resembling type A bells and type B bells.
Type A tiger bells occur over a wide area and are used in many different ways, as a dance attribute (Pakistan, southern Philippines), as an amulet for adults, children and sometimes animals (goats and sheep in Afghanistan, cats with the Minangkabau in Sumatra, dogs inThailand (Akha), horses in Sumba and Malta). There is a strong link between tiger bells and shamanism. Shamans in Kalimantan, Sarawak, Mongolia, former Inner Mongolia and South Siberia have type A tiger bells in their costumes and paraphernalia (while shamans fromTibet and Nepal use type B and type C tiger bells). One shaman’s costume of the Solon(former Inner Mongolia) is decorated with over 60 type A tiger bells of various sizes.
There are not very many records from mainland China. The examples known are mostly from the 19th century, and a belt, most likely from one of the ethnic minorities in China.
In recent years new tiger bells are produced, sometimes copies of old type A tiger bells, sometimes variations inspired by the type A tiger bell. These bells are produced for trade to be sold to members of local Chinese communities and to tourists. So far they are reported in shops in Singapore, New York and Amsterdam.
Set of four bells, collected in China, Steyl Mission Museum
Size and dimensions
Type A tiger bells occur in many sizes, from about 2.5 cm. to about 4,5 to 5 cm. in width. Most larger type A tiger bells have a square or rectangular hoop. Smaller type A tiger bells can have square or reactangular hoops but also trapezium shaped and even round hoops (see the shaman’s belt from Kalimantan). There is one report of a tiger bell from China (see below) with a width of more than 6 cm. Two bells, reported in China and in Korea are extremely large; these are however exceptions.
Tiger bell with a width of 4,5 cm. Iban (Sarawak).
One tiger bell, possibly from China, has a width of more than 6 cm. This is however an exeception.
Several type A tiger bells are probably locally made with variations in the design (as inNepal, Syria and China). These variations could occur because the producer did not recognise the Chinese characters and considered them as meaningless, or possibly as floral motifs. Because of the whiskers, the face on the Syrian bell and on one of the Chinese bells bell looks more like a cat.
Small tiger bell with whiskers, probably from China
Left: side view of type A Right: side view of type B
Type A bell from Turkey
Bells from this group occur in large numbers on the southeast Asian mainland. Until now there are reports from Thailand, Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh and possibly former Inner Mongolia (China), Laos and Assam (Nagaland). In Thailand (Bangkok) these bells are sometimes painted gold. They have the following characteristics:
Type B tiger bells are roughly the size of an chicken’s egg. The ‘Wang’ character on the ‘forehead’, so typical for the A type tiger bells, is missing. On the top half we can distinguish Chinese characters, sometimes one, sometimes two. The round character here means ‘long life’. The surrounding curls and curves are not always there. The hoop is always round.
Tiger bells of type B bells occur by the hundreds. In Bangkok they can be bought in many handicraft and antique shops. They come ‘from the north’ but it is not clear what place or region that is. It is likely that these tiger bells are still produced.
Type B tiger bells are used in many ways. In the Tibetan market in New Delhi (India) belts for yaks and horses with 10 to 12 of these bells were sold. One shopkeeper in Bangkok told me these bells were used as doorknobs. Nepalese and Tibetan shamans wear these bells on a chain across the chest as part of their costume. Type B bells of a smaller size are used as dog bells in Tibet and northern Thailand.
Size and dimensions
These bells are large, with diameters varying from about 3.5 cm. to 4.5 cm. and heights from 3.7 cm. to 5 cm. or more.
Examples of decorations on the ‘forehead’ of type B bells
Two Chinese characters
A circle shaped Chinese character
The Chinese character for ‘long life’
The bells are all from the Tibet – Mongolia area
Typical C type bell from Nepal
Type C bells have the shape of B bells but are smaller. On most bells we see the ‘Wang’ character, although sometimes corrupted. In general the eyes are more bulging than with the other types. Also the relief of the design and the Chinese characters isthick and relatively high on the surface of the bell. The hoop is always rectangular with rounded corners. One handicraft shop owner in Kathmandu, Nepal, told me that bells of this type were being produced in a workshop in Dehra Dun (Uttar Pradesh, near the border with Himachal Pradesh).
Many of these bells are sold as souvenirs in handicraft and ethnography shops. They occur in larger numbers on belts for horses and yaks. On chest chains worn by shamans they are sometimes found together with other bells.
Size and dimensions
The size of the C type bells is rather consistent: a width of about 3.4 cm. and a height of about 3.8 cm.
Examples of decorations on the ‘forehead’ of type C bells The lines could be inspired by two characters. The remains of a ‘Wang’ chartacter are in the centre of the picture. These are clearly two Chinese characters.
Horse bells, Fou tribe, Vietnam
Type D bells are more or less similar to smaller type A bells. The ‘Wang’ character is missing and the design is less detailed. The bronze of these bells has a dark, almost black patina.
The bells are used as horse bells (in Vietnam) and as a musical instrument (in Burma).
AlternativesThese bells are variations mainly on the type A bells and the type B bells. Some of these variations could be made locally for people who had a need for them but were for some reason unable to acquire the original bells. The majority is however produced in such large numbers that they are types in their own right.See also: Alternatives
All text and photographs are copyrighted,
for information please contact F. de Jager
Tiger bells in the world
Countries with tiger bells
Afghanistan Bangladesh Bhutan Burma Cambodia China India Indonesia Korea Laos Malaysia Malta Middle East Mongolia Nepal Pakistan The Philippines Russia Siberia Singapore Syria Taiwan Thailand Tibet Turkey Tuva Vietnam The West
Click on one of the names or options
Original Website: http://www.tigerbells.nl
Author and owner of all Copyright: Fekke de Jager
Here are 4 Chinese bronze mirrors I have acquired. The first two are possibly shamanic and are likely to be from the Ming period (1368-1644). The third one is probably a copy of a ‘Warring States’ period mirror and is decorated with 4 creatures which may be dragons or serpents. The last one, probably 20th Century, has some Chinese engraving which means something like: ‘I place my seal here for the good of others’ or ‘I made this to reveal the truth’. 🙂
Any imperfections in a mirror’s surface were filled in with copper. The entire surface of the mirror was then covered with a mercury amalgam that created a silvery, smooth reflective surface. On these mirrors that surface has worn off in places and the copper has oxidised. The odd trace of rust is sometimes also seen, which may be due to the soil chemistry etc.
An informative and useful article is now available online. Here is the link:
It was written as part of a thesis by the author, Walter Cooke, whose site is dedicated to healing practices.
The article explores the history and context of of these mirrors, as well as their use and the variety of qualities they may possess.
Copyright remains with the author, who has kindly given permission for this link.