Snow Raven doesn’t need traditional plant medicines to tap into an altered state of consciousness—she can do that with her voice alone. Born and raised in the Arctic freeze of the Sakha Republic, a region located in the Russian Far East, this remarkable singer has mastered a range of traditional singing and performance techniques native to the Sakha people. She combines folk elements with her own physically demanding imitations of bird calls, reindeer breathing, and other animal sounds while tapping into a heritage of shamanic Sakha practices to explore a deeper connection with the world.
“Sakha shamanism is based on a natural, psychedelic state of consciousness,” Snow Raven tells DoubleBlind. “We believe that our bodies are able to be altered and to be in a transcendental state through drumming, through singing, through chanting.”
The Sakha (also known as the Yakut) are a Turkic ethnic group with ancient roots in northern Siberia, and their unique shamanic traditions center around rituals like the Yhyakh, a New Year’s festival observed during the summer solstice. Following a similar approach as critically acclaimed throat-singing groups like The Hu from Mongolia and Siberian TikTok sensations Otyken, Snow Raven has sought to popularize her native music for a wider audience. Her solo work involves collaborating regularly with the musician Andreas OM, who adds pulsing electronic beats and synthesizer drones to her bass-heavy panting, high-pitched flutters, and hypnotic runs on the mouth harp. She’s made common cause with beatboxers, showcasing her famed “Arctic beatbox” during a special guest performance at the 2022 American Beatbox Championships in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She’s also focused on expanding awareness of her snowy homeland with Olox, a “neo-shamanic portal” where she shares information about her culture and sells a willow-herb tea harvested from the Arctic countryside.
Wearing a decorative metal headband, glittering septum ring, and decorative dots tattooed around her eyes and jawline, Snow Raven got on Zoom recently to speak with DoubleBlind about (among other things) her education as a singer, her love for mushrooms, and the fading shamanic traditions of her homeland. She also imparts some valuable lessons to anyone eager to learn how to sing like her. After you’ve warmed up your vocal cords and studied how the mouth muscles move, it helps to put yourself in the shoes of the animal you’re trying to imitate.
“The power of imagination is incredible, and it’s also very shamanic when you enter that realm—the kingdom of the animals, of these beasts,” she says. “You see through their eyes and you feel that you’re inside of their bodies.”
This interview was edited for length and clarity. You can also watch the entire video on our Instagram.
Snow Raven: I’m using a special Sakha technique. It’s like yodeling. You can close your eyes or you can look very carefully at what kind of muscles are working. I teach people how to open up their own voice. It’s very good to watch someone do it—to learn visually. You can see what part of the body works, and that’s one of the key things when I sing. I feel the activation of the three worlds in me: Lower, middle, and higher. Which I will explain a little bit later. [sings]
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So the difference between yodeling and [the Sakha technique] is it comes from the belly area. When I sing like that, it empowers me so much. It activates all three worlds. I don’t feel that I’m breathing through the chest or something. I’m breathing through the belly, like a newborn baby.
I feel the engine, the power coming from root chakra, and it activates all the energy, which is primal and [about] animal survival. And then I feel the whole resonation here in my chest. We call that the middle world, where there is love. With positive intention, with grateful intention, we can elevate that energy even higher to the higher world, the upper world. You can feel this technique. I’m going to the head sound and then down, chest, head, chest, head, chest. It happens so fast, right? And so I feel three spots in my body—lower is fear. Middle, love. And higher, gratitude. All balanced together and it basically shows the cycle of life. We are all in that great dance of the cycle of life, activating all these three important spots in our body, inside and outside.
Are these things that you learned yourself or is this wisdom that came to you or is this something that’s actually passed down in your lineage through people in your family?
My grandmother taught me how to sing traditional songs—this specific singing technique—when I was 3 years old. Maybe two and a half. She passed away when I was six years old, and she told me because she wanted me to participate in some ceremonies, [called] Yhyakh. In those, all the elders and kids, teenagers, they all come for a circle dance called Ohuokhai.
Every second person in Yhyakh, they know how to do this. It’s very common, traditional. And of course, when it becomes your passion and your profession, you start to experiment with it, add different harmonies sometimes, go beyond certain dogmas. Combining it with birds and animal sounds. It’s very extreme for the vocal cords. If my brain tried to learn it as a musical education from the beginning, it probably would’ve been very hard.
The way I teach people in my courses to open up their own voice and mimic birds and animal sounds is actually imagining that they are that animal or bird. The power of imagination is incredible, and it’s very also shamanic when you enter that realm—the kingdom of the animals, of these beasts. You see through their eyes and you feel that you’re inside of their bodies. That’s part of the shamanism too in my culture, and that technique is also used in shamanic ceremonies.
Remind me where you were born?
Arctic Siberia in the Republic of Sakha, Yakutia. It’s near the North Pole.
It’s very extreme to live there. January and February are the coldest months, and we have six months of darkness. But then it changes slightly. Summer starts with the end of May with the very first sounds of the brown bird. They migrate and they bring summer to us. [makes a high pitched bird call] They’re soaring in the sky and they’re [makes bird call again]. And me and my mom are like, “Oh, summer starts today! They came!” Spring sound is a cuckoo bird. They’re one of the first migration birds. Their sound is like [hoo hoo, hoo hoo]. They’re calling each other to mate. That’s how we recognize the spring time. The summers are very hot. It’s 100 degrees.
I was curious what brought you to Vegas. When you told me you were in Vegas, I thought, “Oh, interesting contrast.”
I used to live in the Bay Area—Marin County. I’m more of a green, nature-based person. Living in Vegas, it’s a little bit hard but it’s good for work and we have a very good studio here. But I’ve been pretty nomadic lately, with everything opening up after the pandemic.
You could put on an amazing Vegas show. Are you mostly performing on your own right now? What’s happening with your Olox project?
So Olox is my baby, right? I created that six years ago. The musical part—the whole electronic and drums section and throat singing—came with Andreas [Om], my musical partner. And then with the pandemic it was hard to sustain and we decided to do it as a solo project.
[My solo project] came with me accepting my spiritual name, Suor, which means Snow Raven. That was given to me by a shaman woman four years ago. I kept pushing her away because for me it was heavy to be Suor. But I was very, deeply connected since I was a kid [who loved] ravens. My traditional diet is raw meat and raw fish, and I would share food with ravens. They would follow me. They’re very mysterious, very intelligent. They can mimic a lot of sounds. And they can predict death.
[When the shaman woman gave me the name Suor], I was like, “Oooh, this is really heavy. I don’t feel that I’m in that realm.” Then after I accepted, I felt so free, like my wings were wet before and now I can spread it so wide and fly and soar.
Are you using any plant medicines actively for any of your creative works or projects? What plant medicines have aided you or helped you or shown you the most on your path?
My lineage, the Sakha shamanism, doesn’t use any plant medicines. It doesn’t mean that I do not respect other kinds of shamanism around the world, or that I don’t respect other plant medicines. On the contrary, I would say Sakha shamanism is based on a natural, psychedelic state of consciousness. We believe that our bodies are able to be altered and to be in a transcendental state through drumming, through singing, through chanting. Our shamans also play mouth harp.
Also [the transcendental state comes] through pain and suffering. Being a shaman in my culture, it’s a burden. It’s not an easy path, and it might take decades for a future shaman to become a shaman. They usually experience their shamanic disease. It is usually called… I’m going to give you an example using Western psychiatric terminology—epilepsy, schizophrenia, or losing consciousness, or having seizures. That’s pretty common as a shamanic illness. But in my culture, before Russians discovered us and they brought the medical system, shamans were the doctors. There would always be some person like that in the family. Family would not deny them, on the contrary family would unite and support that person, and ask the elder shaman to help that person go through the rite of passage.
We believe that energy enters our physical body, and our physical body is like a vessel—it’s a device that constantly receives. We have invisible antennas, and when that energy enters in, when the body physically is not ready, it reacts. It can create all these symptoms I described that might happen to a future shaman. To be a shaman is to learn how to work with that energy and use it for healing, redirecting it.
During the Soviet Union, there was a huge oppression of the shamans. A lot of incredible, gifted future shamans, they couldn’t find their own path and they ended up being alcoholics or ended up at mental hospitals or even committed suicide. That’s why it’s very important to understand. It’s still mysterious, right? There is no science proving or disproving what’s going on. I think it’s very important to keep researching that realm. Psychedelic assisted therapy, it’s becoming very trendy and I see how it could be helpful for some people who don’t believe in magic anymore. You know, some people, they might need psychedelics—but some of them not. If your channel is already open, it could be dangerous if you don’t know your own dosage. Every person is unique.
Absolutely. You know, my mother is Algonquin First Nations, so I have Native blood on my mom’s side, and I’ve always wondered what are the songs that the women before me sang. How can I tap in more to that voice in me? And it comes out sometimes, in the medicine or in ceremony. I just feel like there’s an honor and there’s a responsibility that we carry from our ancestors, you know? To just keep carrying the language, the particular medicine that each culture and lineage has—the messages, the songs. I don’t know if you have any particular reflections on that, or any stories?
So one of the techniques that I do, it’s reindeer breath, and I would love to share it with you. It’s when I inhale through the chest. In beatboxing, they already have that technique, it’s called inward and outward chest bass. I would love to bring shamanic awareness, Indigenous awareness through [beatboxing]. It’s a very testosterone-driven community—they’re competing with each other. But the interesting thing is, beatboxers are supernatural people. They use their bodies fully to be able to do those sounds.
So I’m going to show you the reindeer breath, which makes me fall into a trance. The main bass, it comes from the reindeer. The northern people, they mimic the reindeer. So that sounds like this. [Snow Raven makes a deep, vibrating sound with her voice. It’s very rhythmic, going from deep, guttural breathing to high pitched squeaks.]
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[laughs] That’s definitely trance-y.
You have a lot of oxygen going through your body and you kind of get really altered.
I just try to imagine how to practice these things and not put strain on my voice. I’m so vocally active all the time. I’m singing, performing, teaching, and my voice gets tired. Back in my young days, I was beatboxing all the time. I just realized, watching you, I feel out of practice with certain things like this. I would love to try this or tune into one of your workshops. What was that called?
Arctic beatbox—reindeer breath. Johnny Buffalo taught me how to combine the hip-hop drum kick and snare with my reindeer breath.
Who else is doing that?
I don’t know, but it’s a tradition that came from northern people. The whole Arctic Circle. They’re reindeer herders. It’s a mimicry of reindeer breathing. That’s the only rhythm, but they combine it with all kinds of different rhythms that became more rich and complex, so I call it Arctic beatbox.
Do you have any specific stories about plant medicine and how it’s been a part of your journey?
It’s definitely part of my journey in terms of me collaborating with shamans who have a lineage of certain plant medicines. I came from the lineage that we don’t have it in our ceremonies, although there are three tribes in Siberia that use [Amanita] muscaria in their shamanic ceremonies. You’ve probably seen that mushroom, it’s red with white dots. Another name is Fly Agaric. The oldest tribes, they’ve been using it for a long time. But unfortunately that ceremony tradition is dying because of Soviet Union oppression, and also it’s the most poisonous [mushroom].
I love collecting mushrooms. Back in Arctic Siberia, my mom and I would collect all kinds of edible mushrooms. But that red one with white dots, my mom would say, “Don’t touch it! It will kill you!”
It’s an ongoing joke here. The Amanita muscaria mushrooms are so fucking gorgeous, but it’s like… [laughs] Learn yo’ shrooms, people! But mushroom foraging is incredible. You really start to tap into that higher intelligence and to get to know them, to start speaking to them to know which are okay. I haven’t done it in so long but I love it. Especially eating them, that’s my favorite part. The harvest! I love mushrooms so much.
Oh, wow, that’s amazing. What happens with mushrooms that I’ve heard a lot of—a lot of my friends and a lot of the circle, the community I am in, they shared stories about how mushrooms helped them to open up their voice and go through trauma and healing work. What I feel through the singing and with their stories, it’s that teacher brings us to the mother earth. It reconnects us to the roots. It’s interesting that the roots are connected to the mycelium, right? The mycelium is the whole network, they pass information and also nutrition to trees and plants, so that trees can connect to each other through that web of life. The mycelium is really smart.
The mushroom is actually genitalia. You probably watched Fantastic Fungi, they explain it there. I actually met Louie Schwartzberg, the movie director of Fantastic Fungi, today on Zoom. His time lapse footage is amazing. We’re going to collaborate on a special music video with his time lapse footage. Also I would like to bring some storytelling to my concerts about the three worlds I spoke of before, and have him participate with footage with that storytelling. It’s going to be really epic.
I’m working on recording an album for the ceremonies, for the journey. It would be for aya or mushrooms or any other kind of journey, and for different kinds of states of our consciousness. I would say, during the day, we microdose on different kinds of moods. We become angry, right? Or we’re joyful or we’re sad or we’re anxious. These are all micro-schizophrenia—I call it that. If we’re able to shift and control those emotions and control our moods and be able to always come back to our center, this is very important. This music I’m creating, it’s going to bring people back. It’s going to serve people whenever they feel anxious or their system is too charged. I truly believe that the music is really powerful teacher and a powerful medicine.
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