Ancestoral Spirits and Worship

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 body.


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?
During 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 into balance.
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 world.


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 (winter stars).


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 of June.


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.
- Representations 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.

Barisaa Prayer 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.

Buyan  The 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 (power) decreases. 

Arshaan Energized 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!).

Hurai A 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.

Suld One of the three human souls, it is a non-reincarnating soul that remains on earth as a nature spirit after death.

Ariulga This 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 takes place.

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 them. 

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.
When shamans 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 caled kobuz.

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 mankind.
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 of mankind.
"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.
Raven 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.
Various 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).