A Magar shaman sitting on a symbolic World Tree, a tree-trunk erected in the center of a village. He’s crouching on that tiny “shelf” blindfolded, and remains perched on the tree-trunk for hours. Photo by Michael Oppitz (1979)
Climbing a symbolic world-tree or ladder is part of the shaman’s initiation rites in various shamanic cultures throughout Eurasia. In some cultures a rope is also tied around the waist of the shaman-to-be, which is jerked by someone standing below when the neophyte reaches the top. This practice is meant to determine if the neophyte is indeed favored by the spirits and meant to be a shaman. If s/he succeeds in climbing the tree or ladder, or succeeds in not getting seriously or lethally injured when falling off, s/he’s the real deal. If s/he fails, gets seriously hurt or dies, then s/he’s not favored by the spirits, so it’s time to look for another shaman.