In this TEDxVilnius talk entitled, Jew's Harp, Listen and You Will Hear It: Valentinas & Viaceslavas at TEDxVilnius the following claim is made,

But if we talk about Russia, in time of Stalinism Jew's Harp in Russia was forbidden. Because of its close connection to shamanism.

Did Stalin's Russia ban the instrument for its connection to shaminsm?

1 Answer 1


That claim seems to be broad at best and seemingly unverifiable. So to me it seems like the claim is “truthy” at best and simply an exaggeration at face value without any direct evidence provided to back it but.

That said, here are some links and info I dug up that touch on the topic.

Did some digging and have found a just two references to the Jew’s harp being banned. This 2009 article on Russia-IC talks about the vargan—the Russian name for Jew’s harp—and states:

In the Stalinist epoch the vargan was banned as an adverse vestige of the past, in particular because of its close connection to shamanism. In spite of that, the older generations contrived to preserve the traditions of vargan playing and pass them on their children and grandchildren.

But that’s about that. The only other Eastern European banning I can find seems to have happened in Austria for non-shamanistic reasons; bold emphasis is mine:

Some time later, in nineteenth-century Austria, silver Jew’s harps were a popular serenading instrument among eligible young bachelors. “So popular was the custom and so discreet and persuasive the sound of the guimbarde (maultrommel) that female virtue was endangered and instruments were repeatedly banned by the authorities,” write Anthony Baines in Musical Instruments Through the Ages. This phenomenon is not reserved to European culture, because the use of the instrument in courting practices has also been observed in places such as Siberia, China, Cambodian, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Zealand and New Guinea, with several traditions in existence that use the Jew's harp during actual conversation.

But back to Russia, I can’t find any specific references to the vargan (Jew’s harp), but it’s clear shamans in general—who were connected to the use of the vargan—were really treated poorly by the Stalinist regime of the 1920s; again bold emphasis is mine:

After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, shamanism had a brief revival as the power and influence of the Orthodox Russian Church and Buddhism in Siberia faded away. However, with the beginning of the bloody Stalinist regime in the 1920s, the new policy of agricultural collectivism caused drastic changes in Siberian society. The Soviet communists regarded the shamans as an example of primitive superstition and social inequality and they were condemned as enemies of the state. There are horrific stories of KGB agents throwing shamans out of helicopters to prove to their followers that they could not fly and also randomly executing them by firing squad. In 1980 the central government in Moscow claimed that shamanism was extinct in Siberia.

I also attempted to do a search for “vargan” using the original cyrillic characters (Варган) but not clear on how to properly explore that content for a specific reference to a ban.

  • 3
    That link on KGB throwing shamans out of helicopters is really suspect. KGB had very different purposes, and there are no facts on violent persecution of any form of religion in USSR, at the time when there were helicopters and KGB already around.
    – vpekar
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 1:26
  • 2
    @vpekar maybe you can put together some evidence and write your own answer, what do you think?
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 18:23

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