Book Review

Entering the Circle: Ancient Secrets of Siberian Wisdom Discovered by a Russian Psychiatrist by Olga Kharitidi, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996; 224 pages, ISBN 0062514172, paperback, $13.00.

Anyone curious about shamanism will find this autobiographical book of interest. As a young psychiatrist living in Novosibirsk, Siberia, the author worked in a large psychiatric hospital in the early 1990s. Entering the Circle describes how seemingly by chance she became the pupil of a Siberian shaman and her subsequent visions and investigations into altered states of awareness.

Her adventures began when a good friend contracted a medical condition that the doctors could not relieve. A neighbor, Nicholai, persuaded the friend to visit a shaman who lived near his remote village in the Altai mountains. Earlier this young man had consulted Dr. Kharitidi because he was hearing his dead uncle's voice often and insistently. He revealed that his uncle, a renowned shaman, had declared loudly just as he died that he was bequeathing his power to the nephew. After resisting this fate for some time, Nicholai had finally decided to return to his old home to pursue the shaman path, and offered to take the two women along.

The shamans there were wary of strangers. In earlier times outsiders had come and persuaded all the shamans to gather and meet in a hut, which then was doused with kerosene and set alight; only two shamans survived. Afterwards came persecutions by Christians, Russians, and Soviets, so their suspicions were well grounded. However, the neighboring shaman did agree to heal the friend, who recovered fully and immediately. Despite initial reservations, Dr. Kharitidi's admiration for and attraction to this shaman increased. She received teachings through visions and lucid dreams, several of which are recounted. Some of these concern the hidden land of Belovidia or Shambhala, said to be located south of the Altai mountains. Siberian legend holds that it is the age-old, primeval residence of perfected men and women, known and seen by few, whose duty continues to be spreading spiritual truths throughout the world. Other teachings she received include the fact that everyone has a "Spirit Twin," an immortal observer whose influence channels intuition and wisdom to the everyday self or material twin. When this spiritual aspect of our being is neglected from over-concentration on outer matters, people are cut off from their inner strength and resources and their lives become empty. Her teacher also gave her the shaman's First Rule: before making any decision, large or small, ask yourself whether it will lead to Truth, Beauty, Health, Happiness, and Light? If the answer is yes, then all will be well. If not, do not act on it.

Back in Novosibirsk, Dr. Kharitidi began applying some shamanic methods to her own patients, presenting them to her colleagues as scientific experiments. One night she had a visionary visitation from her teacher, who in parting said, "Just ask your [inner] Healer to come out and do the work. Don't be surprised at your own actions, even if they seem strange or even foolish. Try it tomorrow and see for yourself" (p. 183). The next day she was assigned a hopeless schizophrenic, a completely unresponsive, passive woman who seemed doomed to remain incarcerated for life. Sitting across from this patient and feeling frustrated, the author did silently call on her inner Helper. What she heard herself saying was unexpected and, she judged, probably wrong, making her regret her foolish impulsiveness. However, several days later she found the patient completely cured, readying herself to return to her husband and children. The now lively, excited woman swore that her "rescue from hell" was due to their session together.

Another intriguing episode concerns insights gained from contact with an eminent Russian physicist who had constructed a mirrored tube which induced altered states of consciousness. She shares, all too briefly, the results of her sessions with him and a few of his views. In her visions there, the author saw that there are several lines of human evolution, and that up to the present our humanity's goal has centered on the development of intellect. Now two cycles are meeting which will bring about profound changes in human life. People gradually will realize that progress is impossible unless awakened mind is firmly merged with spiritual development and the power of a loving heart.

The events she describes seem fantastic but are undoubtedly sincere, though each reader must decide how much credence to give them. The author has since devoted her life to exploring alternative methods of healing and spiritual growth -- particularly shamanism and lucid dreaming -- found among the natives of Siberia and the former Soviet republics. She currently lives in the United States to better bring these ancient methods to public attention. -- Jean B. Crabbendam

 (From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2002; copyright © 2002 Theosophical University Press)