I recommend this book for travelers to the Altai Republic or others with a special interest in this region. Spiritual Wisdom is an introduction to a lesser known, newer faith known as Burkhanism or White Faith. The strength of the book lies in its insights into the mindset of the Altai people-invaluable for visitors. The Altai Mountains, located in the Altai Republic of Russia is at the crossroads of cultural influences from neighboring Mongolia, Siberia, China, Tuva and Kazakhstan. The people of the Altai practice a number of different faiths. Spiritual Wisdom describes the world view of White Faith within its geographical and cultural context.

Burkhanism incorporates shamanic and animistic elements but is distinct from Altai's shamanism because it evolves to accept modern scientific understanding. White Faith shares the New Age focus on positive energy. The Soviet era squelched religious and shamanic practices with violent repression. White Faith could be seen as a reaction to these horrors with its focus on the best one can be. High mountain areas are considered holy places where the faithful can achieve personal energetic purification. These energies flow between earth, the sun and the Milky Way. Beyond the seen world exists an invisible, subtle, other world known as Kangyi. The practice of the faith involves healing ceremonies with jarlykchi, clairavoyants and others with extrasensory skills.

The author, Nikolai Andreevich Shodoev, is an unofficial ambassador for the culture of the Altai. Over decades he has pieced together the Altai Bilik, this collection of folk beliefs that underpin the newer White Faith. The Bilik is a mostly unwritten, fluid world view consisting of myth, philosophy, scientific knowledge and spiritual beliefs. The actual practices and beliefs can vary and even be contradictory. It would be impossible to learn the practices of this faith without a total immersion in the culture. Spiritual Wisdom introduces the basic concepts of the world view and includes diagrams of Kangyi, heaven and earth, Tyn the soul and its six stages, and the Gods, Burkhans and Spirits of Kan Altai. The chapter entitled Cycles expands on the cycles of the soul to include the cycles of nations and Altai prophesy. I would advise any visitor to the region to read this chapter.

Compiling the beliefs of Bilik into a sensible, comprehensive, readable book was a tremendous undertaking. The concepts of White Faith in the Altay language was initially presented in Russian. The English translation of this book was done with care. To get the most out of this book requires the patience to learn foreign vocabulary and a completely different world view. Spiritual Wisdom is an excellent introduction to the basics of the White Faith and provides some contrast with other local religions like Tengriism and shamanism. For travelers to the Altai, this a very helpful ethnographic guide and essential reading. Highly recommended for a select audience.

~review by Larissa Carlson

Author: Nicolai A. Shodoev with translation by Joanna Dobson
Publisher: Moon Books, www.moon-books.net, 2012
Originally published in 2005 in Russian
pp. 107, $14.95