Most of the prehistoric religions, also tengerism has, apart from the real word,
this upper world (heaven realm with the tengers – heaven gods) and a lower world,
which are linked by the navel of the world (the world axis). In tengerism this umbilical
cord is the so-called World Tree or World River. The belief is based on the heaven
god Tengri and comprises animism, shamanism, ancestral worship as well as a special
form of totemism with influences taken from the understanding of Chinese universism.
The people could pray directly to these tengers or nature spirits and did not really
need the help of a shaman for this.
The oldest written proofs for the worship of
the heaven god Tengri may be found in old Chinese writings, which did not only deal
with the Chinese people themselves but also with their neighbouring and enemy peoples.
In there you may see that the Hsiung-nu already in the 4th century before Christ
did worship Tengri (Tengri; Blue Father-Heaven, supreme heaven god). They believed
that the blood of their rulers was ennobled by the god Tengri. According to a legend,
the holy she-wolf Asena was their ancestor. There are also found a great many Old-Turk
inscriptions on stone plates in the steppes dating from the 6th century; they give
evidence of the old Turk's belief. The Göktürks (Kokturks), the first Turk herd,
left a lot of written evidence to their descendants; especially information on their
culture, their belief and their politics. These Kül-Tengin stelen (written on with
Orchon runes; 7th century) is the source of the Tengric creed. Information may also
be found in writings by the Persians and Arabs. The Yakuts called tengerism ayy.
Animism (from Latin anima = soul, breath) is used for generally script-less religions,
which were in its purest form only inherent to societies of hunters and gatherers
to describe them as original religion. Animism is based on the assumption of a generally
animated nature, on the concept of the personification and animated status of all
appearances in nature. There are two things that follow from animism: one is totemism
(ancestral worship) and the other one is the use of helping spirits.
Totemism – is an attitude, according to which individuals or a group of people (clan,
family) do have permanent relations with animals, objects and appearances (the totems),
which they are convinced to be related to in an emotional or mystical or family-like
(descent) sense. Frequently, the totem is an animal, but it may also be a plant,
rock or mountain. The religious community believes that the totem represents their
mythical forefather or creator. The totem is put under taboo, especially the prohibition
to eat it/her/him – to oppose its/her/his will. These fundamental ideas originated
in a conception which was rather logical for the hunters and gatherers as well as
the nomads and which is related to an animistic view of the world. This results in
the idea that souls with human-like wishes and attitudes live in objects and phenomenons
(totems). They are seen as animated and powerful entities having the power to punish
when taboos are broken (for example, lack of success in hunting). They may be appeased
by means of magic, by offering sacrifices.
Totem also means "clan, family sign or also personal tutelary spirit". The Turk people
see the wolf, their forefather as the most important totem. In their creation stories,
there is given the legend that it was the wolf that fathered them.
In tengerism, the meaning of life is for a human being to live in balance with everything
found beneath heaven, this is, with his environment. Man is in the centre of the
worlds and sees his existence between the eternal Blue Heaven-Father, Mother Earth
supporting and nourishing him, and the Creator Ruler, the son of heaven. With a well-balanced
way of living, man keeps his world in balance and radiates his own personal power
"windhorse" towards the outside. The universe, the nature spirits and the ancestors
make sure that man is not in need of anything, and they protect the people. If the
balance is out of control due to actions by evil spirits (illness, natural catastrophy,
etc.), it is the shaman's duty to restore this balance.
Windhorse = soul – The personal mental power of a human being is often called windhorse,
this being situated in a person's chest. This increases with the accumulation of
spiritual merit and living life in balance. It is the ability to use the powers,
which the spiritual self naturally possesses, without limitations given by the physical
Soul Travels and Ecstasy In general, this tradition was linked to the belief in life
on earth and in life on the other side. Souls were seen as being only brief appearances
in bodies living on earth that, later on, returned to their homeland. This concept
of the ontological distinction of Earth into a world of spirits and the world of
Earth (bone-like existence) was common among Siberian as well as Iranian and Indian
peoples; they also performed a cult in which, after death, the body became food for
vultures by abandonment of the corpses. This cult is still celebrated today among
the Parsi people in India.
This cult of the dead and the cure of the ill constituted
an important feature of shamanistic belief. Their thinking was characterised by the
assumption of life on the other side in contrast to the physical world with the soul
being able to free itself from the body (soul with rebirth). In the case of illness,
the shaman had to make out the person's soul which had either run away or had been
caught by spirits by force and bring it back home: If the patient is possessed by
evil spirits, the shaman had to expel them from the body, frequently by calling helping
spirits in order to be given support in exorcist ceremonies. Rituals and also hunting
spells were intended to reconcile the hurt souls of animals.
The skilled mastership
of instruments was the basis for the ceremonies performed in public and the prerequisite
of the acrobatics performed by the actors in trance with their audience. If one did
not succeed in mastering something extremely extraordinary, he was not respected
among the people living in his village. The purpose of these actions was to expose
oneself to hurt and death by not surpassing the line of death by a hair's breadth
- was this the secret purpose of these techniques of ecstasy? The state of ecstasy
in which the shaman leaves his body in order to find souls wandering around or to
search for the soul of fatally ill people in the lower world definitely requires
a complete diastasis from one's own body; this is nearly publicly shown as the shamans
want to make plausible the inner ability of soul searching and trans-somatic travelling?
ecstasy the soul is able to leave the body, and shamans send this soul to the world
of spirits and gods, into the other worlds: this is the type of soul that practices
the so-called shamanic soul-flight or soul-ride.
The Shaman's transformation – zoomorphic
- into the animal is connected with his helping spirit or his guard spirit. In most
cases, the imitating of animals is classified as a dance, such as a bear, an elk,
a seal, a wolf, a hare, a deer, etc. In case of the imitating ritual dance, there
is the transformation into zoomorphic spirits into which the shaman changes himself
on his journey. The ritual dance is intended to help the shaman reach ecstasy. The
shamans themselves create all the melodies performed during the spell. For some peoples
the sound imitations act as the call signs - the uttering sounds of different animals
or of birds can be imitated by means of different whistling techniques. Text forms
of speech acts do not really exist and lose their meaning outside the ritual context.
They are validated not only by the text, which, apart from certain phrases, is mostly
improvised, but also by being spoken, by the act itself. After the ceremonial act
the shaman has to gather together with all the spirits.
Rituals and Ceremonies Siberian
shamanism, moreover, is involved in the cult of the dead, in the celebration of ancestors
and mountains, and in rituals of animal sacrifice. As a conclusion, one could say
that the deepest meaning or message of Siberian animism was to bring human and nature
In every single ritual veneration was the act performed first; if
there was to be drunk a special drink, it was tradition to first pour some of it
apart to offer it to Father Tenger, Mother Earth (Yer – Gazar Eej) and the ancestors.
Women regularly performed Kumys or Tea sacrifices by walking around the tent and
pouring the drink three times into all four directions of the world. Sacrifices for
mountain spirits, calls for help in plight or religious festivals were performed
at different places, and it was allowed to perform them without the help of shamans.
White Moon Festival It is a tradition of the Mongols and Buryats to celebrate the
White Moon Festival two lunar months after the new moon following the winter solstice.
The year Sagaalgan, also known as Tsagaan Sar, begins with the White Moon Festival
(at the next new moon after the 21st of December), on the 27th of February. This
is the beginning of spring season in their homeland. It also has great significance
from a shamanic point of view – it is the day when all the spirits go to the upper
On the occasion of the White Moon Festival, they light up 14 incense sticks, of which
7 are intended for the Man with the Seven Tears (Big Dipper) and 7 for the Pleijades
Another solstice festival takes place when day and night are equally long; this is
called the Red Sun Festival which takes place at the full moon following the 21st
But celebrations may also be performed in connection with other rituals. Days when
the moon covers the Pleijades are good days to honour the Spirits of the Seven Stars
of the Big Dipper.
Pleijades - (winter stars - Old Turkish: Ülker) - in October, the winter stars rise
and announce the dark season. People thought that very powerful heaven spirits lived
there. The Pleijades: Mushin have an important place in the Buryat-Mongolian cosmology.
In the earliest times it is said that the Tenger of the western direction met the
Pleijades to discuss how to help mankind against disease and death. During this meeting
they created the Eagle, the first shaman.
The Pleijades - Mushin also play an important figure in the epic Geser.
Big Dipper – the Great Bear - the seven brightest stars - the 7 Ubgen - Doloon Uvged
are honoured also at the White Moon Festival.
Altan Hadaas – Pole Star People believed that the sky was attached to the Pole Star
and that the sky rotates around this star.
Turk peoples in Siberia held the compulsory family holiday "fire-feast“ every month
at new moon. An absolute taboo was to stir up fire with sharp metal objects or to
put rubbish on it.
Rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices by the calender year:
Spring, summer and autumn festival, cult for animals, burial ceremonies, slaughtering
rituals are sacrifices to determine certain rules and taboos, rituals for water spirits
(los) – rituals for making rain - rituals on owoo – rituals for fire - sacrifices
for telling the future, sacrifices offered to spirits. Such festivities always went
hand in hand with feasting, drinking and reciting epics.
The most regular sacrifices are the autumn slaughtering or the winter slaughtering,
the ceremony for hunting (Antlers - hunting horn); these ceremonies are connected
with the killing of animals (very strong rules and taboos – blood must not touch
the ground; bones must not be broken - the zuld (tsuld) must not be separated*),
the sacrifice to the new moon.
Zuld – the head, throat, lungs and heart, which is collectively called zuld is the
residence of the ami (body soul). When an animal is killed for a sacrifice, the hide
and the zuld are hanging up on poles pointing to Heaven.
Apart from these seasonal ceremonies, there is also a Thanksgiving ceremony, which
each family must perform once or twice a year on different occasions.
Ceremonies of the northern tribes of the Chukchee (Tshuktshen), Kamchatkan or Asiatic
Eskimos and Yakuts. Bloody and bloodless sacrifices are offered during these ceremonies.
Their performance for the welfare of the community and the incantations are the main
basis of their rites. They sacrifice to the sea in order to ensure good fortune in
subsequent sailing on sea-ice in winter. Early in spring there follows the ceremony
of the boats,
Ceremonies of the Maritime Koryak; whale festival, the putting away of the skin-boat
for the winter, launching the skin-boat, wearing masks in dance.
Reindeer Koryak; ceremony on the return of the herd from summer pastures, the fawn-festival.
Ceremonies common to both Koryaks and Yakuts (Sakha); bear-festival, wolf-festival,
practices in connection with fox hunting
Koryaks - live on the peninsula Kamchatkan in the farthest east of Russia. There
are groups who live as nomads and breed reindeers as well as settled groups who live
on hunting and whaling. - Itelmens, Chukchee (Tshuktshen) and Evens are also indigenous
peoples living in this region.
Yakuts (Sakha) - originally migrated from the Orchon River and the region of Lake
Baikal to the basins of the Middle Lena, the Aldan and Vilyuy Rivers, where they
mixed with other indigenous peoples such as the Evens and Evenks. - The Yakuts in
the north are semi-nomads, hunters, fishermen and reindeer breeders. - The group
in the south raised cattle and horses. Both groups live in yurts.
Sites of Ritual and Ceremony In these particular worlds (the upper, lower and the
middle world) there exist human souls, spirits and deities. The communities and the
shamans perform ceremonies and sacrifices for them. There are spirits who are owners
of mountains, lakes, regions, etc., at which places they arrange ceremonies for and
pray to them. Guardian and helping spirits are used by the shamans for their journeys,
flights or rides to the other places or into the upper and lower world. Evil spirits
(burkhans or monsters) are very dangerous, and only powerful shamans are able to
deal with them, and they use the guide given by a powerful helping spirit. Every
clan or family has its own spirits or deities who they honour and pray to.
of deities and spirits such as in fetishes (Ongons – spirit houses - totems) are
made of wood, metal, or bone and can be also children’s dolls. People and shamans
wear many of these (amulets - lucky charm). It is to be noted that they bring the
owner luck, protection, well-being and health.
- Daban-Sagan-Noyon, the owner of
the whole earth is represented as an old man with grey hair. His host play an important
role in celebrations.
- Ceremonies of prayer and honour to spirits are arranged at
places such as the World Tree, Serge or Barisaa. Trees growing in unusual places
are especially powerful, such as the lone birch, the "shaman tree", the home of the
shamans' helping spirits (Ongons). Trees symbolise the world center, where heaven
and earth touch, and these are places for prayers and symbolise the homes of spirits.
Toroo – the top of the World Tree, which is usually visualised as a birch or willow
or the open ring of the yurt / ger, is the entry gate for shamans on their journeys
to the other world.
BarisaaPrayer tree, is an important site of worship in Siberia and Mongolia - a
barisaa, a shaman's shrine next to a tree is the home of the nature spirits, it is
a sacred tree which establishes the contact between the spiritual and the physical
world. It is a convergence point of all worlds, times, and potentialities. For this
reason, a prayer offered with true intention accompanied by a small offering or ribbon
is especially effective.
BuyanThe act of giving creates buyanhishig (power) and increases a person's windhorse
(soul). Spiritual merit strengthens one's own spiritual power and neutralizes bad
karma. Buyanhishig can also be accumulated through selfless acts of generosity and
kindness and works to restore balance where things have gone wrong. Depending on
how a person behaves, the buyan (the personal psychical power) increases or decreases.
If a person breaks taboos, either by respectless behaviour towards his ancestors
or by senseless killing of animals, the nature spirits will get angry, and the buyan
ArshaanEnergized water (medicine water) with magical power granted by the spirits.
Drinking arshaan water brings this energy into the body and is good for health. (Today,
unfortunately, people also like to drink vodka!).
HuraiA magic word, when said with the accompanying circular movement (yohor dance)
of the hands, it literally brings down energy from Father Heaven or from other spirits.
SuldOne of the three human souls, it is a non-reincarnating soul that remains on
earth as a nature spirit after death.
AriulgaThis ceremony is performed in order to clean everything from bad or evil
influence, with the help of the nature spirits of the community where this ritual
The Shaman In general, shamans are normal human beings, with some members of their
family already being shamans. The chosen few, at some point of time, fall into a
deep state of unconsciousness, a so-called catalepsy, during which they have visions
of becoming shamans. There are many stories about such events. After their death,
the shamans become spirits with magic powers (Utha) and serve new shamans and accompany
A shaman's duties are:
- to accompany rituals and ceremonies - they know the will of Heaven (heaven gods
- tengers, burkhans or other spirits) and guide the people in telling them what they
have to sacrifice and which ceremonies are to be held; they are experts in arranging
ceremonies and prayers. Besides the communal ceremonies at which they are officiates
(representants), they also conduct various private ceremonies.
- to heal illnesses and diseases - the shaman performs certain ceremonies in order
to expel the evil spirit from the patient or bring back the lost soul.
- to tell fortunes- he tells fortune either by means of the shoulder-blade of a sheep
or by the flight of arrows.
Family shamanism is connected only with the domestic hearth, whose welfare is under
its care. The family shaman is in charge of the celebration of family festivals,
rites, and sacrificial ceremonies, and also of the use of the family charms and amulets,
and of their incantations. The mother shares with the father the role of shaman in
the family ceremonies; she is in charge of the drum and the amulets, and in exceptional
cases it is she, and not the father, who performs the family sacrifice.
are communicating with spirits, they use a special dress (coat, mask, cap) and special
accessory; mirrors, „totems – spirit houses“ (in copper or iron with ornaments).
The drum has the power to transport the shaman to the other world and to evoke spirits
by its sound. The shaman uses two other musical instruments, a stringed instrument
(accompaniment to narration of heroic epics) and a jew's harp. In earlier time it
was the blacksmith who was chosen to manufacture costumes and ritual utensils. Today
these are produced by the people themselves, but not without the consent given by
the powerful. Tribal and clan differences exist in regard of the shaman's coat, and
it would be difficult to say whether a sharp line can be drawn between black and
white shamanistic garments.
Manyak – Shamanistic garments are made from hides of special animals, with bones
and feathers with a particular meaning serving as ornaments.
Prayer and invocation are special forms of speech acts, which do not exist and lose
their meaning outside the ritual context. It is mostly improvised but assumes meaning
by being spoken, by the act itself.
Among the Mongols, Buryats, Yakuts, Altaians,
Torguts, Kidans, Kirgiz, there is one general term for a female shaman, which has
a slightly different form in each tribe: utagan, udagan, udaghan, ubakhan, utygan,
utiugun, iduan (iduana); whereas the word for a male shaman is different in each
of these tribes. By the Yakuts, he is called oïun; by the Mongols, buge; by the Buryats,
buge and bö; by the Tunguses (Evenks), samman and hamman; by the Tartars, kam; by
the Altaians, kam and gam; by the Kirgiz, baksa (basky); by the Samoyeds (Nenets,
Nganasan), tadibey. The drum is called tunkun by the Manchu; by the Mongol, düngür;
by the Altaians, tüngur; by the Uriankhai, donkür; by the Shor and Khakas, tüngur;
among the Yakuts there are found two names, tünür and donkür; by the Kirgiz it is
Shaman's drum – Legend tells that Erlik Khan, son of the Heaven God, built the first
shaman's drum and performed first rituals.
Among several tribes there may be found the tradition that the shaman's gift was
first bestowed upon a woman. In Mongolian myths deities were both, shamans themselves
- like the Daughter of the Moon - and the bestowers of the shamanistic gift upon
There were so-called white and black shamans who possessed different forms
of healing powers. White and black shamans can be women or men. There are nowadays
more female than male shamans which does, however, differ from tribe to tribe. In
some tribes women must not become shamans as they are considered impure during menstruation.
Folk Legend and Myth The "Age of the Gods" is, according to the myths, a more or less
clearly defined period of time between the origin of the world and the beginning
"Travel descriptions" of shamans often comprise motifs of legends of
origin as well as those of belief legends. A shaman needs to move about in the shamanic
world and to communicate with spirits; this is expressed as certain abilities or
skills normally attributed to animals, birds, fish, or supernatural creatures that
are characterised in legends. Oral tradition, and a great part of the narratives
influencing beliefs can be classified as legends - mythical time of creation stories.
Supernaturalness is still manifested in the shape moulded by oral tradition.
Creation story, Creator Ulgen, Evil God Erlik Khan, Kaira Khan, Creator Ak Toyun,
Geser Epic, Creator Kors-Torum – Evil God Yanykh-Torum, etc.
When we speak about
the borderline between legends and memories, we must stress that it is not very clear
when exactly a memory might develop into a legend.
This was especially true in Siberia
where the archaic beliefs and the mythology, the heroic epic as well as the narrative
tradition have preserved the identity of the ethnic minorities. This meant that shamanism
was among the elements of traditional culture to be eradicated – magical power.
beliefs of the Siberian tribes can be observed by means of their mythology and their
rituals. You will find, not only in Mongolia but rather in all northern areas and
a part of Central Asia, this way of observing the outer world, the nature, and the
inner world, the soul (animism). After the introduction of Buddhismus, the Mongolian
called their old religion "The Black Faith" (Khara Shadjin) and Buddhism "The Yellow
Faith" (Shira Shadijin). Male or female shamans are practically limited to ceremonies
performed within the family. Ceremonies on the level of communities are performed
by specialists and professionals, who are representants like priests (powerful).