THE GODS OF THE TURKS
From the Chuvash Republic to Kazakhstan and from Moldova to Altai, there is an ever-increasing number of Turkic people who are rediscovering ancestral traditions. Muslims scholars are starting to feel uneasy and have scrambled to formulate theories regarding the 'monotheistic nature' of the old religions. Islam we are told, suited the Turks so much, that they flocked to it willingly.
Tibet's Bon Traditions were wiped out violently and the country was ruled by lamas, who 'redefined' Tibetan Identity. Every year, during Monlam Chenmo (the Great Prayer), monks from the three surrounding monasteries would pour into Lhasa to rape and plunder the terrified citizens, who hadn't managed to flee in terror. Even today, Christian missionaries in Nepal, have returned to find their new Tibetan converts murdered. The 'Bon Revival' has been hijacked and taken over by the lamas. Today's neo-Bonism comes complete with monasteries and not-so-celibate monks.
The Bulgars who entered the Balkans were later converted to Orthodox Christianity by their saintly Kniaz (Khan) Boris I, after he decapitated not only the boyars (lords) but also their children. This Byzantine-inspired prince returned after twenty glorious years from a monastery to find the new king, his son, flirting with the Old Religion. He had his son's eyes plucked out, his daughter in-law shaved and sent to a monastery, and his own grand-child sold into prostitution to the Saracens. For his troubles Boris became a saint.
The following article is based, with permission, on Norm Kisamov's translation from Russian, of chapter III (pp 71-95) of Rafael Bezertinov's book "TENGRIANISM: RELIGION OF TURKS AND MONGOLS", Naberezhnye Chelny, 2000. Original versions can be found at turkicworld.org and hunmagyar.org
Tengri, the Sky God
The ancient Turks believed that 17 Deities ruled the Universe, whilst the Mongols counted 99. From ancient and medieval sources (Turkish, Mongolian, Chinese, Byzantine, Arab and Persian) we learn that in both the Turkic and Mongolian Pantheons superiority belonged to Tengri. The various Turkic peoples had similar names for the Sky God: Tatar - Tengri; Altai - Tengri; Turks - Tanri; Khakases - Tigir; Chuvash - Tura; Yakuts - Tangara; Karachai-Balkars - Teyri; Kumyks - Tengiri, Mongols - Tengeri. The Turks and Mongols believed that all existence in the Universe was attributed to Tengri, the Sky God. It was Tengri who ruled the fate of entire nations and their rulers, the Khagans. The Orkhon Stone contains the following inscription: "All human sons are born to die in time, as determined by Tengri." Tengri was worshipped by lifting one’s hands upwards and bowing. Prayers to Tengri were only for health and assistance in good deeds. Tengri later received a Persian name (Khodai) and missionaries attempted to identify him with the Christian God or the Islamic Allah, in order to win converts. However, the great Sky God, Tengri became neither God, nor Allah.
Yer (Earth-Spirit) and Tengri (Sky-Spirit) existed in harmony and complemented each other. The Earth gave man a material shell, but his soul (Kut) was given at birth by Tengri who took it back after death. There is an element of dualism here, but Tengri reinged supreme. It is known from Chinese sources that the ancient Turks believed that Tengri determined man’s longevity. Tengri justly rewarded and punished. Expressions such: ‘Tengri jarlykasyn’ (may Tengri reward you), ‘Kuk sukkan’ (damned by the Sky) and ‘Kuk sugar’ (the sky will damn) are heard even today. Tengri gave the Khagans (Khans) wisdom and authority. We read on the monument honouring Bilge-Khagan: "After the death of my father, at the will of Turkic Tengri and sacred Turkic Yer-Sub (Earth-Water), I became Khan... Tengri who gives the states (to Khans), made me Khagan, it should be known, so that the name and glory of the Turkish people would not disappear." In the monument honouring Kul-Tegin, we read: "Tengri, who rules my father, Ilterish-Khagan, and my mother, Ilbilgya-Katun, from above, ennobled them... As Tengri gave them strength, the army of Khagan, my father, was like a wolf and his enemies like sheep."1
On the 8-9th century stone carvings, found on the banks of the Orkhon and Tola rivers, in Altai and in Tuva, the Turkic Khans-Batyrs (mighty Heroes) left to their descendants these words: "… For the Turkic people I did not sleep nights and days, did not rest... Let not the Turkic people vanish! Let not the name and glory of the Turkic people perish!"
After a Khagan ascended to the throne, he was referred to as a son of Tengri, for it was Tengri who had given the Khagan to his people and it was He that punished those who turned against their ruler, "... instructing the Khagan, who attends to state and military affairs."2 A man became Khagan, and lived under Tengri's protection only for as long as he himself lived by Tengri's laws. During the election of a Khagan, the Beks felt that Tengri Himself had determined the outcome. A legitimate Khan was therefore looked upon as "Tengri-like... begotten by Tengri... a wise Turkic Khagan". A Khagan (Khan) should be brave, clever, honourable, vigorous, fair, and have the virtues of a Bozkurt (wolf). With these qualities, a Khagan could unify Turkic tribes into a single nation. Ancient Turkic inscriptions refer to punishments by Tengri of individuals and tribes. Oath breakers were subject to heavy punishment, as was disobedience to the Khagan. However, Tengri could also punish the Khagan. Chinese chronicles describe a case where one Khagan decided not to keep his promise to give his daughter as a wife to the emperor of the Northern Chow dynasty. He later kept his original oath out of fear of punishment. If the Khagan ruled improperly, it was said that it was Tengri who caused him to lose his authority, via the will of the people. Divine punishment followed transgression during one's lifetime and Tengri's power over man ended after his death.
Timing and Protocol of Sacrifices to Great Kuk Tengri
The Kuk-Tengri (Blue Sky) is a non-material spiritual Sky, the words ‘Tengri’ and ‘Sky’ being synonymous. The epithet ‘Kuk’ was also given to some animals, such as horse (kuk at), ram (kuk teke), bull (kuk ugez), deer (kuk bolan), dog (kuk et), wolf (kuk bure). This did not describe the animal's colour, but rather it’s divine origin.
Chinese references to Kuk Tengri rituals are few. The Choushu Chronicles state: "In the 5th month, the Turks usually slaughter sheep and horses as a sacrifice to Tengri." Another record adds: "Each year the Khagan leads nobles to the cave of his predecessors with offerings... to Tengri’.4 The ancient Turkic ritual of sacrifice to Great Kuk Tengri is still preserved among the Altai peoples. Likewise, Khakases organise the annual prayer to Tengri in the middle of June. This coincides with the time of prayer recorded by the Chinese sources, which in the modern calendar falls between the 5th and 10th of June. Tatars also preserve the celebration at the beginning of summer, but only in a truncated form and under the name Saban-Tui. The Buryats living in Transbaikalia and Siberia use the name Subarkhan. The epithet of the deity, ‘Kuk Tengri’ (Blue Sky) is a distinctive aspect of ancient Turkic and Mongolian ritual terminology, carried through the centuries and preserved by the Altai.5 For almost 1,500 years (2nd c. BC to 14th c. AD) the Turkic kingdoms organised annual national sacrifices to Tengri, lead by the Khagan himself. In the beginning of summer, at a time determined by the Khagan, the tribal leaders (Beks), important warlords and Noyons would gather in the Horde (capital). Together with the Khagan (Khan) they would go to the sacred mountain to sacrifice a colt to Tengri. Thousands of people from nearby auls (villages) and cities would gather at sacred mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes and springs simultaneously and tens of thousands of fires would be lit on these sacred grounds, prior to the sacrifice of horses and sheep. Sacrifices ended with common celebratory feasts and competitions.
The rituals of the ancient Turkic peoples had various functions and consequently they varied. Some were accompanied by sacrifice, whilst others were limited to prayer. The national ritual sacrifices were meant to reconstruct the most sacred point in the Universe, the Cosmic Tree. The ritual was conducted on a spring morning on a mountain between four sacred birches, symbolising the four points of the compass. A large sacred fire was lit in the East. The East symbolised the beginning of space and time and became a starting point in the creation of the world. Then, whilst walking in the direction of the sun, each mountain and river were honoured by invoking their names. The symbolic Universe was filled with objects, in imitation of the Cosmos, and participants circled the periphery of this ritual space. At the beginning, a rope was tied to the eastern birch. Whilst circling, it was stretched around the four birches, replicating an enclosed space with a boundary, as a sign of stability. The same symbolism defined the forms of many ritual structures, i.e., the ‘memorial fences’, of the ancient Turks. In mythological tradition the world is reliable if the same coordinates coincide for all its spheres. It becomes repeatable, reproducible and as a consequence, controllable by humanity.
L.P. Potapov studied the ancient beliefs of the Turks for more than a half-century in the Altai. He collected, recorded and preserved valuable materials about worship and sacrifices to Tengri by the Kachines and Beltirs, commonly called Khakases today.
Prayer was organised on the top of a specific mountain, next to a sacred birch (bai kaen). If no naturally growing birch was there, it was dug out from elsewhere with the roots, brought here and replanted. The Abakanian Kachines (Troyakov, Ulus) organised worship to Tengri on a mountain called Saksor. The inhabitants of various seoks (localities where particular clans lived) gathered there. The ceremony was sponsored by only one seok, in accordance with an agreement reached at a previous gathering. Neither women, nor girls were permitted to participate and even female domestic animals could not be present. The sacrificial lambs were mostly white males, preferably with a black face. Three to 15 were sacrificed, depending on the number of participants who had brought animals. Men coming to the ritual attached two ribbons, white and blue, to their headdress. After their arrival on the mountain the ribbons were removed, fumigated with a medicinal herb (yerben od) and attached to the branches of the sacred birch.
This ritual did not involve a Shaman (Kam), but was led by an old man who knew The Algys (the words of a text called Algyschan Kizi). He was dressed in felt clothes and wore a high headdress. A sacred fire had been lit some distance behind the western birch. Between it and the birch was a little table, made from branches. Cups, dishes and spoons made from bark were placed upon it. The ritual started with an appeal to the sacred birch and utensils. Simultaneously the procession encircled the birch three times. The Algyschan Kizi would make appeals to the sacred birch, whilst followers splashed wine and milk onto it. After a third circle, they stopped, drank one sip of the remaining wine and milk from the cups and slaughtered the lambs. This was done the ancient way, Osot Sogarcha, where the animal was rolled onto its back, a hole made in the thorax, before a hand plunged through the incision to rip out the aorta. The blood could not be spilled onto the ground during the ritual slaughter. The meat was then cooked and the broth with pieces of meat was put on the little table, together with wine, milk and cheese. Another procession followed, which again circled the birch three times, whilst participants carried the table. After each round, the Algyschan Kizi threw pieces of meat, cheese and sprayed wine and milk over the tree, whilst asking Tengri for health. Simultaneously everybody raised their hands to the sky, bowed and exclaimed: 'Tengre! Tengre!' With the last circle around the sacred birch the prayer ended and the ritual meal began. After the meal, all remaining meat, bones and the skin of the sacrificed lamb, including the head and legs, were burnt in the sacred fire. Before departure they agreed which seok would sponsor the following year's ritual. After the descent from the mountain, the games and entertainment began.
The Tengri rutual of the Beltirs had some specific features. It was organised by the Beltirs in the Teya River basin. The supplier of the sacrificial lamb braided an eight-yard rope and bought a dead eagle or bercut. The bird was plucked before the ceremony and those that would attend took feathers, from which they made feather hat-bands (ul durbe). Adult sons living with their parents did not wear hat-bands. In addition to feathers, red, black and white ribbons were added to the hat-bands. The feathers and the ribbons alternated between facing up and down. This attractive band was worn over the headdress at the time of departure for the ceremony, after performing an Alas (fumigation with ‘yerben’ grass). On the day of the ceremony, the man who provided the sacrificial animal left home early. He was called Tutchan Kizi and had to be the first to arrive at the site to light a sacred fire. Reaching the top of the mountain, he approached the four birches, unsaddled his horse, spread shabrack (kichim) on the site and placed his headdress on it. Then using only flint, he started a fire near the birches. Not far from the main fire (ulug ot) was a second, smaller fire (kichi ot). The first fire was intended for burning the sacrificial animal, the second for cooking the meat of another eight lambs, slaughtered for the ritual meal. Only men were allowed to participate, who removed their hats on arrival and placed them on the shabrack, next to that of the Tutchan Kizi.
Climbing the mountain was possible only on colts or geldings. Those arriving on a mare, left it at the base of the mountain and ascended by foot, or joined some other rider. The men sat to the south of the small fire and drank araka, before slaughtering the lambs. The sacrificial lamb was slaughtered the ancient way, the others as per usual, by slitting the throat. The sacrificial lamb’s meat was cooked on the main fire, the others on the smaller one. The cooked meat of the sacrifice was placed in a separate wooden dish (tepsi), and the meat of the other eight lambs placed in another. During cooking one of the Beltirs, who knew the words of the Tengri prayer, approached the pile of headdresses (uldurbe) and attached them to a long rope (chilpag). He braided the rope with the ul durbe bands, then went to the opposite (eastern) sacred birch and attached the end of the rope to it. Then, holding in his hands the other end of the rope, he went southwards for its full length.
Behind the man with the chilpag (Chilpag Tutchan Kizi) there were two Beltirs with tepsi. The leader made a prayer to Tengri, whilst a man standing behind him sprinkled sacrificial wine towards the Sky with a bark spoon. The men holding dishes with boiling meat extended their hands and the man with the chilpag rope raised and waved it. The old man leading the prayer called the names of prominent mountains and rivers, turning towards the four directions, each time raising boiled meat, waving the chilpag, sprinkling wine and bowing. After the ritual, they ate lamb, drank araka and burnt the meat of the sacrificed lamb on the first fire, together with its entrails, skin and bones, until nothing remained. The chilpag rope was tied to all four birches. The plucked bird was left to dry on the birch, where the chilpag had been tied . After the prayer, the men discussed who would supply the sacrificial lamb and start the fire the following year. When a man was chosen, a large wooden cup of araka was offered to him. The ceremony ended before sunset.
The word Yer-Sub had two meanings. One was the name of a Goddess, the other the visible world, i.e., the Native Land. Yer-Sub existed in the middle of the Universe and Her residence was on Khangan Plato (specifically, on the Lanshan Mountain in Mongolia). This place was called 'The Otuken Homeland'. The Turks depicted Yer-Sub as a voluptuous, beautiful woman, who was patroness of the Homeland (Land-Water). Nature and all living beings were subordinate to her. Therefore, the Turks viewed Yer-Sub as the second highest deity, after Tengri. Yer-Sub is mentioned together with Tengri in the Orkhon Inscriptions, under the name Yduk Yer-Sub (Sacred Earth-Water). One of the records states: "Turkic Tengri and Turkic sacred Yer-Sub said in Heaven: ‘Let not the Turkic people vanish! Let them be a Nation!’" The ancient Turks called the visible world occupied by their people Yer-Sub (Land-Water) or Middle Earth, emphasising its central location. Each clan and tribe had their territory, the boundaries of which outlined their world. This Yer-Sub (Land-Water) was theirs, beyond which were others' possessions. Their own limited Yer-Sub was not just a settled space but also a smaller version of the world in general. For each clan, their land was the centre of the world and a focus of order and harmony. 'Native land' was not only a geographical concept, but was also a space that could be emotionally perceived by man. It was the land of the Clan and of the Ancestors and could never be sold or given away.
The dominant role in determining the fate of people and nations belonged to Tengri, but natural forces yielded to Yer-Sub. Sometimes on Tengri's command, Yer-Sub punished people for their sins. But she was generally considered a benevolent Goddess. To appease Yer-Sub, sacrifices were made every spring in preparation for the cattle-breeding season and before planting crops. Sacrifices were also conducted in the autumn, after the completion of the harvest. During the times of the Khaganates, sacrifices to Yer-Sub had a nation-wide character. They were conducted near rivers and on the banks of lakes. A reddish horse was sacrificed with appeals for the fertility of cattle and crops, and for general well being. With the disintegration of the ancient Turkic states, the rituals to Yer-Sub began to take on distinct local forms. As in ancient times, they were conducted in the upper rivulets and on the shores of lakes. White rams were sacrificed and hung on a tree, under which a prayer was conducted. After the ritual, participants feasted and exchanged gifts.
Umai (Ymai, Mai, Omai)
Umai was a female Deity associated with benevolent deities and spirits. She was considered to be a favourite wife of the Sky God, Tengri. Like Yer-Sub, Umai obeyed Tengri. If Yer-Sub ruled over all the living on land and water, Umai was the giver of special divine powers to mankind. Umai lived in the skies and radiated down to the Earth. Her rays penetrated man and dwelled in him like a spark until he died. This spark accounted for man's vital energy and physical force, but it was not Kut (spirit). It was rather a divine power linking man to the heavens, sent by Tengri. Once the spark perished, death followed. Thus, everything spiritual and physical in our Universe was subject to two Goddesses, Yer-Sub and Umai. The Turks did not sacrifice domestic animals to the Goddess Umai, but dedicated carefully prepared dairy and meat dishes in solemn ceremonies. Umai protected the Turkish tribes and participated, together with Tengri and Yer-Sub, in the victory of their forces over an enemy. In the Orkhon Inscriptions honouring Tonyukuk we read: "Tengri, Umai and Sacred Yer-Sub, it should be known, gave (us) victory." In the inscriptions there is also a comparison of the Khagan's wife to Umai: "...Her majesty, my mother Katun, is comparable to Umai..." This testifies to the reverence of this Goddess by the highest ruling classes, especially the representatives of divine authority on Earth, the Khagans.
After the disintegration of the ancient Turkic states and the migrations of the ancient populations of Eurasia, the Goddess Umai began to be considered only as a protector of pregnant women and small children, from malevolent earthly spirits. The reverence to Umai (Ymai, Mai) remained fresh in the memory of the Altai until recent times. Today, some Altai testify that when the Kut of a child reaches the Earth, he is weak and helpless, and therefore Umai descends with him from the heavens, and guards him even in the womb. This is necessary, for the malicious spirits penetrate the body and the womb of the pregnant woman, ruining the child and causing abortion. As delivery approaches, Umai helps the child arrive, entering sometimes in a struggle with a malicious spirit, who interferes with the delivery and pulls at the child. This is how late and difficult deliveries are explained. Umai helps to properly cut the umbilical cord.
She protects the child, educates and talks to him, for they understand each other well. When a child cries during a dream and sleeps restlessly, Umai is said to have left him. Many families make a small bow and arrow (boys) or spindle (girls), to serve as talismans. These amulets are attached to the dwelling near the cradle. They are made when the newborn is first placed in the cradle and removed when the child no longer needs it. On the child reaching the age of six months, a Kam is invited for a special ceremony to Umai-Ana (Mother Umai), involving the sacrifice of a young bull. During this they ask Umai to safeguard and protect the baby. A talisman is attached to the cradle, i.e., a small bow and arrow, symbolising the weapon Umai uses against malicious spirits. The complete care and the constant presence of Umai near the child continues until he learns to walk, run, understand speech and speak fluently. This happens at approximately 5-6 years. When the child becomes accustomed to his social environment, especially his parents, relatives and later his playmates, his connection with Umai-Ana ends.6 When a child reaches this stage, a special ritual is performed for Tengri, which involves the sacrifice of a domestic animal. Appeals are made for the child’s longevity. The name Umai also referred to the womb, placenta and cut umbilical cord. This underlined Umai’s functions as a Goddess of reproduction. It was to Her that barren couples prayed for a child.7 These concepts are not alien to both modern Altai-Sayan Turks and Mongols. Some still believe that Umai remains in the umbilical cord to protect the child. The umbilical cord may be buried near the hearth.
The modern Volga Tatars do not revere Umai, but she is remembered in the pre-Islamic Tatar dastans (poetic tales) and legends, in their language and customs.
Erlik was the Chief God of the Underworld. In the Orkhon-Yenisei Inscriptions, Erlik is called Erglik. Erlik is described as an old man with an athletic built. His eyes and eyebrows are jet-black and his parted beard reaches his knees. His moustache is like tusks that curl behind his ears. His horns are like tree-roots and his hair curled. Erlik was connected with the worst disasters, epidemics and illnesses of people and cattle. He caused these illnesses to compel man to sacrifice to him. Men feared Erlik, especially when ill and were afraid to use his name, calling him Kara-Name (something black) instead. The sons of Erlik helped him rule the Underworld, where there were lakes, rivers and seas. Erlik also had several daughters whose number varied between two and nine. They were described as idle, sexually promiscuous and had a desire to lure Kams to their beds, as they descended into the Underworld for ceremonies. They stole the sacrifices Kams made to Erlik, with whom they were closely associated. Ancient legends state that Erlik taught ritual to the first Black Kam (Kara Kam). Ceremonies in the subterranean world were performed by black Kams, whilst white Kams (Ak Kam) never ventured there. Though Erlik was the supreme God of the Underworld, he rarely caused evil. He did not regulate the death of mortals and did not take away their Kut. He only accepted their material bodies after their demise. Kut returned to the Sky, after the body was cremated. Malicious spirits (Kermeses) dwelled in the Underworld and sometimes surfaced at sunset to cause harm. Sacrifices to Erlik were conducted at night, by slaughtering domestic animals with some defect (a broken horn, lameness, etc), as it was believed that the invisible Underworld contrasted with the visible one, where humans dwelt.
The Earth Goddess
The great Sky God, Tengri was a dominating deity in the Universe and was believed to be a divine father and ruler. The Earth Goddess was considered to be both a mother and wife to Tengri. She appeared as a force of nature, and was subordinate only to Him. In ancient mythology there was a theory that mortals were the product of the union of Tengri and Earth. In the Orkhon Stone we read: “In the beginning there was a blue sky above, a dark land below, and human sons in-between." The Turks revered the Earth Goddess as a giver of crops and abundance. In the spring, before the beginning of the agricultural season and in the autumn, after the harvest, as a sign of gratitude for the abundance of food and happiness, the ancient Turks and Mongols made a sacrifice to the Earth Goddess. Milk, kumys and tea were offered and pleas made for a fertile land and a rich yield.
Water was born earlier than Earth. Therefore She was believed to be a senior sister to Earth. The beginning of the Earth emanated from Water. From the bottom of the Water a 'heavenly duck’ lifted the sand, clay and silt, from which the Earth was created. The closest deity to Water was Rain. She was hostile to the Fire Diety. The Turks believed that “Water was the initial state of everything in existence, equivalent to primordial chaos. Water was the medium, agent and source of global grandeur. Water evenly gave rise to both foreign and hostile elements. It was the possessor of spirits and the entrance into the other realm.” Water was greatly respected, as without it, life on Earth is impossible. The life, fertility and productivity of land depended on the Water Goddess. Therefore sacrifices were made to Earth and Water at river sources and lakes, asking for a good harvest, increase in cattle and general well being.
Fire was a grandson of Tengri and the Sun. His brother was Lightning. The Turks associated Fire with birth, growth, development, and life in general. N. Katanov states, "In the perception of the Tatars, the spirit of Fire grows and warms beings. As soon as the spirit of Fire departs from the being, it dies. The body unites with the land, and the soul joins the multitudes of spirits, soaring above the Earth." A red cow, red bull, or rooster represented Fire. In other representations, Fire was Ut-Ana (Mother Fire). Ut-Ana was believed to be the mother of mankind. When Fire whistled in the hearth, they bowed to the flame and invocated: "Fire, you are our Mother with 30 teeth, you are our mother-in-law with 40 teeth." Fire was deemed to be like the Sun (Heavenly Fire) and the hearth in the centre of a yurt was purposely made round. Warmth, emanated from both Sun and Fire, as did light and colour. Sun and Fire were linked to Woman, who bore and guarded the descendants. The Hearth was protected and kept clean, a careless attitude could result in the Fire God becoming angry and leaving the yurt. Fire was associated with the clan, but each family also maintained a family Fire, which was united with that of other families. However, borrowing Fire from neighbours was considered impious.
Desecration of Fire was forbidden. This included throwing rubbish, leftovers or foul smelling substances onto it; stoking coals with a sharp implement; stepping over it or stepping on ashes. Ashes from the hearth were taken to a secluded place, where neither people, nor animals would go. To spit on a flame meant that one’s lips would become blistered. It was prohibited to deviate from the daily ritual of tending the Fire and offering it food and beverages. If these rules were violated, the Fire would punish the inhabitants by burning possessions or the dwelling itself, or depriving the inhabitants of the Fire God's protection against malicious, illness-causing spirits. A burnt object was seen as a terrible sign of Fire’s anger and a special prayer with sacrifices had to be made. If it occurred whilst on a hunt, the hunters abandoned their forays. When the burning wood in the hearth crackled or whistled, it meant that Ut-Ana was happy and the master of the house expected good news and visitors.
Once a year family prayers to Ut-Ana were organised. Their purpose was to ask for the family’s health and fortune. A Kam conducted the household prayer to Ut-Ana. A white ram with a black face was often given as a sacrifice. Before the sacrifice, simmering milk was poured upon the ram and it was decorated with coloured ribbons, before being released back into the herd. In this way it was devoted to Ut-Ana, before being slaughtered. The right front part of the carcass and heart were burnt and the remaining parts given to the Kam. A required component of all the Kam’s ceremonies was birch, which symbolised the link between the upper and lower worlds. Birch branches (sis) decorated with chalama (ribbons of blue, red and white) were placed on the floor around the hearth. After a sacrifice to the Fire God, the Kam threw pieces of fatty meat into the flames, which would then intensify. In invocations to Ut-Ana, the Kam usually said: “You, Fire, Mother of ours. You have 40 teeth. You are covered with red silk, and have a white silk bed. I did not step on white ashes. Small children and dogs did not touch you. I sacrificed the white ram, I gave the white lamb, I bow to you, Fire, grant us an easier life.”8 The sacrificial food for deities and spirits was prepared on flames. People ate the meat, and the Deities and Spirits fed on the smell of the roasted meat.
Fire had a cleansing quality. A desecrated object was held above the flames for cleansing. Ambassadors visiting a Khagan were always led between two fires. Leaving the winter quarters, the Horde also passed fires. Before a man give a public oath he had to be purified by flames. For this purpose fires were set in two places and he had to pass between them.
“Fire was a patron of dwellings and a home’s sanctuary. A bride on arriving at her husband’s household had to bow to the Fire on entering the dwelling, so that her family would be as happy as the ancestors. Women led the bride entering a new family to the yurt of her father-in-law. When inside, she usually knelt… She then poured fat onto the flames and bowed a few times, invoking, ‘Mother-Fire and Mother-Fat, award me with your favor!...’”9 The Kam, stretched his hands over the flames, calling: "Lady Hearth Ut-Ana! By your will this flame is born. So let this flame protect the dwelling against malicious spirits and act as a barrier against human treachery. May the goodness warm without burning and may evil be eliminated. Let Fire last a thousands years! Bless this hearth, Ut-Ana!" After that, the Kam declared the bride to be a wife and a mistress of the hearth and the groom a husband and master of the yurt.
Fire was applied for the treatment of various diseases. If a child or adult had facial lesions, sparks were made over them using flint. The Kam, addressed the lesions, "Why does not a single branch move? Why do you wander here and there? May all the crusts together with the fiery sparks fall from this face... Do not build your yurt here any more… Do not return." With the help of Fire, the Kam treated a child from 'milk disease' (sic), a disease of the oral mucous membrane. The treatment consisted of the Kam laying the child on its back and burning a piece of a birch bark on its chest, leaving a small mark. The same procedure was conducted for the treatment of excessive salivation. The diseases which could be cured by flames included rheumatism, which in the opinion of the ancient Turks, was caused by carelessly walking into old encampments. The Mongols believed the same, as they had a legend that the Khonkirat people suffered leg-pains because they descended from the Yergena-Kun valley and had trampled on the land of other peoples.10 It was believed that ashes also had medicinal properties. So, a bleeding wound was covered with hot ashes, which accelerated healing. Hot ashes smeared across the belly with one’s right hand were a cure for abdominal pain.
Koyash, the Sun God
The Sun was the son of Tengri and the Earth Goddess. Therefore, He circled between the two. The Turks and Mongols honoured the power and vital force of the Sun God.
Huns, leaving their villages in the morning, welcomed the rising sun and bowed towards Him. Turks would turn towards the sunrise when praying. They worshipped the Sun because Tengri supervised the creation of the world by the Sun’s rays, which are but strings linking the spirits of plants to the Sun. Solar rays were considered a medium for transmitting the life force sent by Tengri to the infant. A vivid example is the legend of the birth of An-Lushan by a Shamaness, from Ashide, a noble Turkic clan. He became famous for rebelling against the Tan dynasty of imperial China. At his conception it was said that a ray of light penetrated the yurt. “The famous pra-mother of the Mongols, Alan-Goa, who belonged to the clan of Cengiz-Khan, conceived from a ray that penetrated the yurt through a smoke hole.”11 The Turks associated the Sun’s path in the sky with the flight of a fiery bird or a winged horse. Winged horses as symbols of the Sun were widely used in the cosmological myths of Turkic peoples. In addition to horses and birds, other animals (rams, deer, bulls) were also connected with the Sun. Large numbers of domestic artifacts decorated with solar symbols are found throughout Eurasia and testify to the wide distribution of the Sun cult amongst the Turks. Such images are seen in large numbers on ceramic vessels and female earrings.
Ai, the Moon Goddess
The Moon Goddess was a daughter of Tengri and Earth and was viewed with both fear and affection. The moon represented the night and was pictured as a noble woman. The night’s darkness heralded the emergence of malicious spirits from holes. The feasts and celebrations of malicious spirits occurred at night. The rituals and trances of witches were always timed according to the phases of the Moon (usually a full moon). At night, illnesses got worse and caused more deaths. Robberies and murders usually occur at night. On the other hand, the Turks trusted the magic influence of the Moon. She was their sole ‘night lantern’. To please the Moon Goddess, those born during a full moon were given names as such: Aisylu, Aituly, Ainir, Aizirek and Ainaz.
From ancient times the Turks believed that women had secret lunar powers. The menstrual cycle seemed to coincide with the monthly phases of the moon. Female pregnancy lasts about nine lunar months and women often deliver during a full moon. The three phases of the moon were also symbolic. It was believed that at ‘Ai Naazy’ (new moon) the moon symbolised a growing young girl, who is pure and modest. At ‘Ai Toly’, ‘Tuly Ai’ (full moon), the moon personified a mature good-natured mother. At ‘Ai Karty’ (old moon) the moon aged, became wise, but at the same time quarrelsome and malicious. Before its death, the moon reigned over a totally dark night. The forces of life and death met during these three nights. After the meeting they separated, only to meet again after a defined period. When the old moon died, a new one was born and so on, ad infinitum.
The Star deities influenced human happiness, wealth and cattle and each star corresponded to the Kut of a man on Earth, whose star fell to Earth on his death. A happy man, protected by fate was called ‘a man with a star’.
Timer Kazyk (Iron Stake) The Polar Star was a traveller's reference point during the night. The name Iron Stake was probably given due to its seemingly static position. Two close stars moved around it like horses on a cord tied to a stake and were named ‘Two White Horses’. The Polar Star was also called ‘The Smoke Hole of the Sky’, which acted as a passageway between worlds.
"There was a time when the Sky and Earth were in disorder. The Sky pressed on the Earth, which fragmented. Great Chaos came upon the Universe. The Black Storm grasped the Earth and the ashes of it were mixed with the clouds, whilst thunder roared, lightning flashed and hailstones fell the size of ducks' eggs. People, animals and birds perished and only groans were heard upon the Earth. Fear, confusion, suffering and grief reigned. Mountains moved, rivers overflowed, fire destroyed forests and steppes. The moon, sun and stars lost their orbits and were swept into chaotic spinning. Chaos and disaster reigned for three years, until the Lord of the Sky, Tengri, in great anger hammered a Golden Stake into the Universe. This secured the Sky and Earth and became an axis to the world, which guides the path of the moon, sun, stars and comets. The end of this staff is seen at the night and was named Timer Kazyk."
The Seven Elders (Ursa Major) They were offered kumyz, milk and animals. The Seven Elders kept a kidnapped daughter of the Pleiades.
Urker (Pleiades) The Turks noticed that Urker leaned towards The Seven Elders and thought that Urker pursued them to free His daughter. The Turks determined the time of night and the seasons by the Pleiades.
The Shepherd’s 'Star' (Venus) With the rising of this planet, shepherds brought herds to the aul (village) corral.
Chulpan, the Morning Star12 The Turks named children in honour of this favourite star.
The Air God
The Byzantine historian Theophylact Simocatta wrote "The Turks worship fire, water, earth, sky and air."13 The Turks believed that the Air God supervised life between the Sky and Earth. Air, as well as all other deities, was subordinate to Tengri. Without Air, life on the Earth is impossible. Air was a vital force that entered the body with breath.
Thunder and Lightning
Tengri controlled Thunder and Lightning, who punished malicious forces. Thunder was the angry voice of Tengri and lightning his heavenly arrows, which struck malicious spirits. A house struck by lightning was believed to have deserved Tengri’s anger and was not extinguished until it had completely burned down. Nobody would come near it and no new house was built there, for it was believed that it would not sustain happiness. The beliefs of the ancient Turks prohibited the use of trees struck by a lightning, not only for construction, but also as fuel. However, splinters from such a tree were used as medicines and the sick fumigated with coals from it. The Turks noticed that lightning did not strike sacred birches, because they had links to the Sky. A man killed by lightning was considered ‘sacred’. Sacrifices were offered to spirits, in places struck by lightning.
The Wind God
Wind symbolised a mischievous, sometimes violent character. In some myths, the Wind was represented by a wild horse. Even today, Turks describe thoughtless people or horses as being ‘born of the wind’. Because of his restless character, the Wind could not get along with Earth, Water and sometimes the Fire God. When angry, in the winter he sent down snowstorms and in the summer hurricanes, bringing misfortune. Therefore, when running into a hurricane, the Turks spat three times. Some illness-bearing spirits appeared as winds and struck people. If during a hunt, the wind destroyed a tent, the hunt was abandoned, as it would be unsuccessful. The hunters returned later to arrange a small prayer, addressed to the master of the forest or mountain. Western and northern winds were considered ominous. In the autumn they brought bad weather: rain, snow and clouds that covered the sun. In January and February there were some very windy days and these months were called ‘Jil Aiy’, months of wind. The Altai would plea with Umai: “Do not admit malicious spirits nor an evil wind!” The wind was perceived as a 'stroke' from the other world and a breeze was cause for discomfort, as it might prove an ‘envoy of the lower world’. The ancient Turks esteemed the Wind God and in His honour the Turks constructed a temple called ‘Dispersing the Clouds’. The Turks visited this temple before a military campaign and made sacrifices when asking for a victory.
Wind, as one of the elements of nature, creates a situation of change. It not only heralds clouds and storms, but in mythological plots it also brings diseases. Therefore the ‘possession of wind’, a skill to control weather, was one of the characteristics of strong Kams, Yadachi and other sacred persons. Their involvement was required in situations when the elements might cause problems. A light breeze produced by a fan was a part of Tengrian ritual. Blowing a light wind was considered an appeal to the spirits. One of the main movements of a Kam during ceremonies, which involved a tambourine or fan, was spinning around on one’s feet. This movement symbolically represented a whirlwind. The Kam turned clockwise, the same direction taken around sacred birches or fire during a sacrifice. People trusted the Wind God, a force of Nature that gave them energy. At the same time the Turks considered a counter-clockwise whirlwind as being evil. Such a whirlwind could steal the Kut of a man.
Tornado was as a malicious deity that induced admiration, as personifying the forces of Nature.
The Cloud God's brothers were Thunder and Lightning. White clouds were forerunners of a sunny day. Black clouds were forerunners of rain and the absence of clouds meant hot, dry weather.
Both the harvest and the well being of man depended on Rain. In May, a sacrifice was made to the Rain God, which was followed by a 'Rain Celebration'. Rain was represented in human form and lived in the Sky, but was connected predominantly with the Earth deities. His brothers were Thunder and Lightning, Cloud, Wind, and His sister was ‘Water on Earth’. The first rain in the beginning of the spring (Leysen) was particularly sacred and had curative properties. Tatars today give names to their children honouring the spring’s first rain.
Rainbow was a sister of Rain. After a spring rain, Rainbow had a habit of milking ewes, tied together with a cord tied around their necks. The Turks saw this when they looked at Her.
1. Malov.S.E. Monuments of Ancient Turkic writing, M.L., 1951. Pp 37-39.
2. Klyashtorny S.G. Mythological scenarios in Runic monuments / Turkological Collection. M., 1981. P. 131.
3. Magazine Baikal. Sacred Tale. Ulan-Ude, 1989. No.6
4. Liu Mau-Tsai. Op.cit Bdl. S.42.458.
5. Potapov L.P. Altaic Shamanism. L. 1991, Pp. 264-267.
6. Potapov L.P. Altaic Shamanism. L. 1991, Pp. 37-38.
7. Potapov L.P. Altaic Shamanism. L. 1991, Pp. 291.
8. Gladyshevsky A. Newspaper ‘Soviet Khakassia’, 22 November 1991.
9. Chokan Valikhanov, Selected Works, M., 1986. p. 305.
10. Chokan Valikhanov, Selected Works, M., 1986. p. 226.
11. Rashid ad-Din, Collection of Chronicles, M., 1952, Vol. Book 2, p 14.
12. Chokan Valikhanov, Selected Works, M., 1986. p. 306.
13. The Byzantine Historians. Trans. S. Destunis, SPb., 1860, p. 376 (Russian)