Mongolian Shamanism

Among the Mongol and Siberian indigenous peoples, the universe is conceived as a living organism. The polar star is a celestial nail, also called the Golden Nail, and the Altaic shamans decorate their drums with the symbols of Venus and the constellation of the Great Bear. In Buryat shamanistic symbolism, the World-Tree is connected to the World-River, which interlinks with all the three worlds. It must be traversed by the shaman in order to reach any part of the Otherworld.

In Siberian cosmology, the universe is also associated with animal concepts, such as the elk for the Middleworld, the bear for the Master of the Animals, or, among the Evenks, for the ethnogenic father. In addition, the universe has a tripartite structure consisting of the Upper, Middle, and Lower worlds, each one being a replica (imago mundi) of the other two. The Yakut shaman embarks on a soul journey by ascending progressively several celestial poles, the World-Tree. It is particularly important that the drum of a Siberian shaman be made from the wood of the World-Tree. The cosmological symbolism depicted on the drumskin, in conjunction with the whole drum, stands for the entire universe. All these types of symbolic devises are internalized by the shaman as his or her personal metaphors.

The origin of Mongolian shamanism is rendered by a traditional account from the Chahar region, undoubtedly of an aetiological nature - that is, an old myth attempting to explain the existence of a still older ritual behavior - which underscores the importance of the ancestor cult and the shaman's role as a socio-religious mediator. Shamanism was born in Mongolia, according to native legend, through the will of ancestral spirits, ecstatic seizures, and flying horses (the shamans' drums). Mountain tops have been the dwelling places of deities and spirits. However, in the face of the awesomeness exuded by the high sanctity of such places, coming from the numen of the residing supernatural beings, it is forbidden to utter the name of such a sacred mountain. The shamanistic attributes, if not origins, of the cult of the mountain gods can be observed unequivocally in the northwest corner of Mongolia, near the lake of Khoso Gol, where the shamans and other religious suppliants have venerated the mountain god, Khan Boghda Dayan Degereki Khayirkhan, in the form of the holy mountain. The designation khayirkhan, meaning "the loved, the beautiful," is a euphemistic allusion to this sacred topographic outcrop.

The name Mongol was not originally an ethnic name. It was the name of a single tribe, which grew politically to form a confederation with other tribes, giving its name to that confederacy. It is likely that Chingis Khan was from the Mongol tribe. The Secret History of the Mongols relates that Chingis Khan was born by the Onon River, some 200 miles northeast of Ulaan baatar. Culturally and linguistically, the Mongols are divided into East Mongols (Mongols proper) and West Mongols. East Mongols are comprised of many tribes, e.g. Khalkha, Chahar, Ordas, Qorchin, Tatars, and Buryats. West Mongols are known as Oirat and Kalmuck.

 

 

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