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Animals and People of the Heaven

The late Mr.Seded was son of Tseveen Zayran of white Huular origin, an official of the former Western Otog of Javzandamba Hutagt’s Darhad Shavi. He explained that ancient people had an excellent remedy for a throat disease which involved swallowing a total of 21 biles |7 of squirrel, 7 of fish, 7 of marmot|. On the basis of that conception, Shamanists divided animals into categories: water or aquatic animals; amphibious animals; land animals and flying animals. All aquatic animals such as fish were included in the animals of Lus. According to this idea, a special space called “Lus” was located underwater. 

     In the human world, as forecited, there are three pillars of state: King, Queen and Army. Shamans believe that all soldiers are their people. Likewise, all animals have their own place. 

     Animals such as marmots and mice were classified as land animals. In addition, all animals need water, so the Lus spirit cares for all the Land animals. Shaman believers also accounted for animals such as snakes and tortoises that are able to live on both land and water. So, they were considered as the animals of Lus-Savdag. However, these amphibians could not live for long in either Lus or Savdag’s domain but required both. 

     The Mongolian shamans considered that the snake should be respected for its good and bad qualities alike. On the positive side, if a white snake were found inside the ger of a family, that family would give birth to a boy in the near future. If a snake crosses the path of a traveler, then it said that he/ she would be lucky and wealthy. Encountering a group of snakes is considered a portent of future wealth, so, as a prayer, the hem of the gown should be spread on the ground and the shoes removed to secure this good fortune. There is also a figurative saying that a snake is one of the six kings of the Earth and all the snakes symbolize both good and bad for people in accordance with the desires of this king. On the negative side, if a black or mottled snake is found inside a ger, it is to be a portent of misfortune for the family. So, generally, the Mongols will never kill a snake. However, a few years ago, a young man from Tov |Central| aimag was preparing the winter fodder for his animals when he found a snake in his ger. Thinking nothing of it, he hacked the snake to pieces and threw the body away. As a result of this, all three of his children died that year. There are other examples of such inappropriate treatment of animals and plants protected by Lus leading to misfortune. 

     Nevertheless, there are some cases when a snake should be killed. If a snake moves across your right-hand side |the side the traditional deel opens on| then it should be trampled to death under the hooves of an animal such as a horse or camel. If someone wants to remove a snake from their home, they must first anoint some milk or other kinds of dairy products such as yogurt or airag its head and then take it out carefully with a pair of fire-tongs. If no snakes are seen for ten years in an area, where their existence seemed certain, then this is considered a bad omen, which has to be countered by magic rituals. 

     There is evidence that the Mongols have respected snakes since ancient times. For example, L.Sodnomtseren found a snake’s image related to the Bronze Age, and there are other finds from the tombs at Noyon-Uul and Harhorin |the ancient city of Kharakhorum|. Furthermore, G.Sukhbaatar noted, “The day of the ‘Snake’ or ‘Dog’ was considered the most auspicious day by the Hunnus, which is a shamanist custom. So, four bronze plates with snake decoration that were found at Evolga in the Hunnu period graves may be shaman paraphernalia.

     However, under the influence of Buddhism, many customs and ritualistic principles of Mongolian Shamanism were changed or assimilated, including this one. Buddhism sometimes employed its influence to subvert Shamanism. For instance, a Lama from Hovsgol depicted four snakes under a Burhan’s image. In the picture “Mount Bogd Han’s Savdag” there is the image of a falcon eating a snake, which also shows the influence of Buddhism on Shamanism. Moreover, it appears to be symbolic of Buddhism defeating Shamanism, for the falcon represented the Savdag of Bogd Han Mountain. If this is true, then it is clear that the symbol of Shamanism was the snake. 

     Mongolian Shamanism considered that all birds were included as Heaven’s animals. According to Ts.Seded, squirrels, which jump over from one tree to another, are also counted among Heaven’s animals. Mongolian shamans and believers were most respectful towards Heaven’s animals such as eagles, falcons, and magpies. once, when Chinggis Haan was appointing his guard soldiers, he said to Boorche, Monkhulai, Dodoi, and Dodolkhu about Genigedei and Hunan:

Let the Hunan become an attacking wolf at night,

Let him become a circling crow during the day,

Let him follow me at all times whether moving or waiting, 

Let him make no contact with my enemies, 

Displayinf loyalty to any other,

Let usact together, consulting with Hunan and Khokhoches in all things. 

     Thus, Chinggis Haan considered wolf and crow as symbols of sincerity for both the state and people. Moreover, it was an expression of the Shaman belief that the crow was a messenger |who carried word from Lus people|, and the wolf was a weapon to fight enemies with. Modern Shaman believers share this attitude concerning the wolf and the crow. 

     In the nineteenth century, Euroult Zayran |of today’s Bayanzurh soum of Hovsgol aimag| was with his servant-woman in Ikh Huree |modern day Ulaanbaatar|. While returning to Hovsgol, several men from Ahai Beis Hoshuu stole their camels and their luggage. Outraged, the Zayran carried out divination to establish who had stolen his goods. However, when he complained to the Hoshuu’s Noyon |chieftain| and officials, they insulted him rather than giving him assistance. Euroult Zayran was furious and after he arrived home he sent away one of his Ongod to the Ahai Beis Hoshuu from a rocky mountain near his home. This Ongon sent a pack of wolves, its own servants, to the Hoshuu, where they injured many cattle. Additionally, a number of cattle and people were struck by lighting. However, there were fortune-tellers who realized that Euroult Zayran’s Ongod caused this damage, and the dispute was subsequently resolved amicably. 

     On the same subject, there are some important Shaman invocations. For example, the invocation of ‘Iveediin Hos’ Father” |the spirit of famous Mend Zayran |1757-1826|| says “My black crow interpreter, my seven blue wolf messengers…” Moreover, I have observed on numerous occasions that several crows and eagles would congregate near the Asars of famous Shaman Ongons in the Hovsgol region. 

     Besides, the above-mentioned painter S.Sharav depicted a human figure with three crows in the foreground of his work “The Savdags of Shishged Valley”. It means the crow was interpreter of Lus Haan and the wolf was his mount. They further considered that wolves culled the weak from their livestock. This belief is also present in many callings of Halha shamans such as, “My Heavens with a fire-snake whip, my Ongons mounted on fierce wolves…” 

     They considered the magpie to be the go-between of the Heavenly animals. So it was customary that when a magpie called outside a ger, the housewife, who heard it would exclaim, “Oh, magpie! Oh, magpie! Why are you muttering? Please tell me if there is good news, but forget any bad tidings!” When a magpie is seen in a place of worship, Shaman believers consider that the magpie has sent their prayers to the Lus. Soon afterward, as the confirmation of this symbol, another animal would be seen. Also, if a crow flew overhead, or called outside, Shaman believers traditionally prayed to Lus and Savdag. The appearance of other animals such as an antelope, deer, elk, fox, bear or wold close to a ger or cattle-barn also causes prayers or rituals. 

     Thus, Shamanism had a complete set of procedures and rituals connecting people with Heaven’s animals. When people ceased to obey these rules they began to be subjected to nature’s punishment. In the spring of 1984, S.Dolgor was living with her daughter and grandchild by a river that runs into Talyn Nuur |Lake|. This was the same area in which Sanjemiatav, her father, and her ancestors had lived. One spring day, a roe seer was on the frozen lake and one of the young men in her household killed it. The same day, two of the family’s cattle died mysteriously. Her aunt, Delgeriin Dashnyam Guai, who was seventy-four years old, heard about this incident. In 1938, Delger Zayran was arrested for political activities, and some years before had told Sanjemyatav:

There are two Ongons of called “Buren’s Mother” and “Tsaram’s Mother”, who were sacred in our hearth according to a curse. Only I was able to communicate with them. They appeared as roe deer in my prayers. Whenever you see such an animal near the ger or one of the barns, you should sprinkle some milk and burn some incense such as Juniper and Sandalwood-sticks. Someone other than you would be unable to communicate with them.”

     Furthermore, Dashnyam said that Dolgor’s father had not told them this and so they had caused offense. She told them that they had to make appropriate prayers and offerings to the Heavens and the Ongons to pacify them. On the first of July 1991, D.Dashnyam Guai said that Dolgor had insulted her by neglecting her advice. In 1984, Dolgor’s son saw a she-elk with its calf and next to them a bear with two clubs on the edge of a forest near their home. October that year, a bear attacked and destroyed Dolgor’s ger. As a result, she and her three-year-old grandchild have killed their bodies savaged by the bear. All of their furniture and belongings were thrown into the hearth, along with the body-parts. The stove was overturned and the ash scattered all around the fireplace. The next morning, her daughter Darijav, who was returning from the soum’s center-village after spending that night with friends, witnessed the result of the attack along with two other locals. Through the efforts of neighbors, the bear was killed about a kilometer away from the victims’ ger and, according to veterinary examination, was perfectly healthy |apart, that is, from the cause of death|. Moreover, a pack of wolves attacked the cattle of the young kinsman of the late Dolgor who killed the bear. Although a new ger was prepared for the departed woman’s daughter and grandchild, unfortunately, both of them died within a few months. In this way, her family was wiped in less than a season. It is noteworthy that the tracks of the bear passed by numerous other gers over a route of about twenty kilometers and yet it only attacked Dolgor’s ger. It is said that this bear was not a Mongolian ordinary brown bear, but a black bear with a longer tail, a type that lives in the Tagna/ Sayan TaigaRidges of Russian Tuva. This may mean or seem that a single black bear came from Russia to destroy this family in Mongolia. 

     Thus, why did the bear do this, and why were some animals found only around Dolgor’s ger in the winter of 1984? Yet similar incidents have apparently occurred elsewhere in Mongolia. From this kind of incident, researchers should endeavor to determine the precise relationships between man, nature and natural phenomena such as the weather.

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