The Ritual

by Nikola Kuprešanin (Croatia)

Making a local connection Russia


To appease the evil spirits you slaughter a ram and hang its intestines from the branches of the forest altar. To appease the good spirits you offer cookies, milk, tea and vodka. To appease a traveler you invite him to witness it all. “He'll fly, of course,” Lamayeva says. “Fly? Like fly fly? Are you sure?” “Yes silly, how else?” she answers, so casual. Inside the sacred grove, I believe her. The rope around the meadow divides two worlds, the mundane and the magical. Gates to other dimensions will soon open and gods will descend from the skies. I check the wristwatch. My visa expires tomorrow and like her father I’ll soon have to fly. He may be able to bend the laws of physics to his will, but for me time and bureaucracy are unappeasable. A human skull rests atop the chief shaman’s staff as he jumps and hisses, his tongue whirling. The spirits have possessed him. Dozens of others follow, trembling and shaking in the same pattern, sinking to the ground and rising, following the drums like waves upon a spirit’s shore. Lamayeva's father stands under the sacred birches, a blue and silken kimono resting on his shoulders. He waits in silence for the gods to arrive. Once they come they’ll tie their horses to the treetops above and he'll go and meet them. Up. “Can you pass me the camera? Plee-aase?” Lamayeva pleads. She is the chosen one, predestined to become a great shamaness of her people. She just turned fourteen. She loves movies and is far more interested in my camera than the transcendental dance taking place before us. I first read Carlos Castaneda when I was her age. And just as she seems oblivious to the magic within her, I did not know at fourteen that I would someday witness the kind of ritual described in his books. Let alone to capture a human actually levitating in front of the camera. I check the time. Who’s going to fly first, me or him? She takes the camera. In childlike excitement we intertwine our fantasies. She’s making her first movie, I’m immersing myself in the beating of the drums. The sun sinks low. Sacrificial meat hangs from the branches. Flies gorge on at the altars drenched in blood. Suddenly I am sucked into the vortex. As if by magic, I see my whole journey. Behind me, the glamour of the Moscow boulevards and coffee shops, the stark soviet relics of Siberia’s reinforced concrete and missile silos. Before me, the sands of Gobi desert and Hokkaido’s frosts. Spaces melt. I become a dot on the rails of time. The drumming intensifies. The rhythm shifts into hoofsteps of the ancient horseborne gods. They’re coming. I can feel it. The alarm sounds on my wrist, sharp and painful. Lamayeva looks at me. Is she about to cry? “I'm sorry it takes them so long. Sometimes the gods are like that. Sometimes they make us wait for days,” she tells me. “Well. There are some forces in this world more powerful than the spirits of the taiga”, I say, the crushing monotone of a Russian immigration office cutting through. She hands me my camera. A train howls in the distance, taking me further and back.