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Land and Water Spirit

Lus and Savdag

This is one of the three main aspects of the Mongolian Shamanist belief. The majority of researchers are agreed that the Mongols have respected and worshipped Land and Water because their Shamans considered that land and water have their own Spirit of Masters.

     To my mind, the tradition of praying to land and water was the result of worshipping these spirits, but not of their existence. That is to say, the Shamans originally conceived these spirits as invisible ghosts and gradually gave them form and began to worship them as spirits. This abstraction of the land and water spirits was the earliest manifestation of Mongolian Shaman’s understanding of invisible spirits.

     Under the influence of Buddhism, the Land spirits became known as “Savdag’, which means soil in Mongolian, and the Water spirits as “Lus” from “Us” or water, both of which have the origin of a foreign language. Moreover, Water, as the source of life, was first and the Land, which was inseparable from it, second. Consequently, they are commonly known by Mongols as “Lus and Savdag”. The words Lus and Savdag are inseparable, just as land and water are also inseparable. Thus, all events related to the Lus and Savdag concern human attempts to balance man and nature. Humans are in close contact with Lus and Savdag as a result of mistreating them are the main victims of their wrath. Natural disasters such as drought, floods, zud |snow plagues|, famine, outbreaks of disease among people or livestock, as well as man-made disasters such as war, conflict are all considered to be acts of the Lus and Savdag. Therefore, it is necessary to offer appropriate prayers and rituals to pacify these spirits. While the Shamans consider that, “Lus” is water and “Savdag” are land spirits, they do not exist only in the water and on the soil respectively. instead, they also exist in a special place between the earth and the sky.

     According to the results of shaman studies carried out around the western areas of Lake Hovsgol in regard to Lus’s operation and location, it appears that each Lus or water spirit has a direct path between two tangible points that remains constant. This makes it difficult to define a Lus’s running route exactly, which is the main reason why people come to harm from them. Erecting a ger along a Lus’ route can lead to the death of a man or cattle from disease and a man sleeping on one of these routes might be taken ill.

     The distance between the two end-points of a Lus path ranges from a few meters to tens of kilometers, but its width is relatively narrow at one “ald” so. A Lus runs across every river and lake, from one hill to another or between two lone tresses of a steppe, but an Ongon |a late shaman’s spirit| runs only in the surrounding areas between the Asars of two Ongons, so it does not run across any water, whether river or lake. Lus will not run through a mountain pass, but they will pass over the mountaintops. For example, Nadmaid Udgan, a shamaness since 1945, said that an Ongon of the eighteenth century, known as “Harmayn Aav” |Harmay’s Father| or Haj Zayran’s spirit ran from the foot of Mount Harmay’s Gurvansayhan, across the River Harmayn Gol, to the top of Mount Tuyag, a distance of about fifteen kilometers. There are many localities in Mongolia, which are associated with a Lus’ path. 

     According to the Shamanist conception, the “homes” of the Savdag are mountains and hills, so it as considered, and imaged that a Savdag that was walking on the ground could disappear by literally dissolving into the soil of a mountain or hill. Until recently, there were many stories about Savdag pretending to be humans in Hovsgol, especially in mountain-taiga and forest localities, where Shamanism was predominant rather than Buddhism. The soil or topsoil was considered to be the skin of an animal, the earth, stones and planet roots under it as its veins, arteries, and muscles. For this reason, it was generally forbidden to touch it, to drive in a stake or erect a post without a clear and urgent need, such as to tether animals. Any “wounds” caused to the earth by such actions were “healed” by filling in the stake or post-holes and restoring disturbed soil or turves. There was also a custom that before leaving the site of a dismantled ger the surrounding area was tidied, litter buried or burned and special incense burned in honor of the local Savdag. Thus, the Shamans teach that human beings are closely connected with the Savdag of their birthplace and so the earth of that place should always be honored. 

Shaman 1

     As noted above, one of the main places where Lus are located in water, which is their home. Consequently, it should not be polluted with milk, blood, excrement, dirt, hair, wool or any other rubbish. Making a fire near the source of a river or stream also forbidden because fire and water are opposed. To sleep or to set up a ger at the confluence of two rivers is also forbidden. Accordingly, all the Ongons for worshipping Lus and Savdag were established on mountaintops or by rivers, because the Spirit was considered to live in these places. According to the location of the Lus and Savdag, and Shaman legends about their existence, the ancient rituals for worshipping these Spirits changed over the course of time. It said that earth and water spirits appeared in places such as foot-hills and on the banks of melted streams, which might have initially been a Black Shaman belief.

     At the beginning of the thirteenth century, Temuujin worshipped Mount Burhan Haldun with his own prayers spells, “I will honor Burhan Haldun with sacrifices every morning and pray to it every day. My children and my children’s children shall be reminded of this”. The Secret History continues: “With these words, he turned towards the sun, his belt around his neck as prayer beads, his cap hanging over his arm by its noose, beat his breast and he knelt before the sun nine times, saying prayer spells to the Burhan Haldun and making an offering to the sun with a milk sprinkler”. Moreover, when Ogoodey Haan was ill during his conquest in China, he asked his shaman why. He replied that “The Great Haan is suffering from a Lus evil-intent because of killing many people, ruining towns and villages and touching the earth and water of this country illegally. So, the Lus and Savdag of these localities required, in compensation, the life of a blood relative of the great Haan”. Consequently, Ogoodey’s own younger brother and assistant, Toluy, was killed according to his own initiation, and his sacrifice offered to the spirits of the Lus and Savdag. Marco Polo noted that “The Great Haan of Yuan Dynasty, Hubilay, worshipped Lus and Savdag on the twenty-eight day of the eighth month |about October| of each year by offering a white mare’s milk in order to protect all living things, including people, wild and domestic animals, birds, crops, plants and so on. All of which leads us to conclude that:

Firstly, it was acceptable in that time to worship anywhere one desired, perhaps because Ovoos and Ongons were rare.

Secondly, Chinggis Haan and his descendants, who were deeply affected by it, officially endorsed this kind of activity. 

Thirdly, the Mongolian Shamans still use the milk of a white mare as an offering to Lus, which means that this ancient ritual custom has survived to the present day.

     Nadmid Udgan said in 1995, that the Lus of Deed Ih Ovor |Harmayn-Gol, Tsagaan Nuur soum, Hovsgol aimag| was worshipped by a zayran with Shamanist invocations only at the beginning of spring, when the mountain anemones began to grow, with the nine Orgols, the meat of nine whole sleep and nine large platters of all kinds of foods and dairy products. Dulam Udgan of Chonos tribe, aged sixty, said in 1969, “The Lus is located in a smokeless place. Being water spirits, they dislike meat, but they have a good appetite for milk products. They are divided into black, Blue and White, and some domestic animals, specifically goat, ox, and horse, are protected by a Seter of the same color. Moreover, Bayar Udgan said, “The Lus of a Shaman Tree in Algag at the source of the Iveediin Gol River is fond only of raisins and sweets.” In this way, the Black shamans of Hovsgol disobeyed the law adopted by Tumed’s Altan Haan in 1578 prohibiting animal sacrifice for Ongon or spirit worship until the 1930s because of their beliefs. 

     In Jargyn Am and Baraltyn Zah, near the confluence of the Shishged or Ih Gol and Tenggis rivers, are two stones, which are called “The Tether-Line stakes of Chinggis Haan’s foals”, a mound called “The foundation of his ger”, and some small hollows on the stones are known as “the footprints of Chinggis Haan and his horse”. It is said that near to this place was a Kus, which was worshipped by the locals and their Shamans. Moreover, our forefathers claimed that the name of “Tenggisiin Gol” |Tenggis River| is originated from “Chinggisiin Gol” |Chinggis’s River|, according to Ohinjiin Chuluu, who was eighty-four years old in 1995. 

     One, two became a shaman by communing with Lus, or as a result of their malice, is considered “fortified by Lus” and their magical powers are much greater than ordinary Shamans. Acquiring shamanist magic suddenly, Tseveenii Ayur Zayran |1848-1948| of black Darhad tribe left his home and spent and customs of Shamanism. He was a Shaman who could give immediate responses to the questions, problems, and requests of those who sought his guidance without having to carry out rituals or invocations. There were, and still are, shamans with the same abilities. The Lus that comes in according to a shaman’s calling is reluctant to enter their body further than the hollows behind the knees. So, to respect and receive it properly, Shamanizing |that is, the act of carrying out a Shaman ritual| has to be carried out seated, because the backs of the knees are the temporary locations of the Lus in a Shaman’s body. Otherwise, the Lus may depart angrily, creating bad luck for the Shaman who failed to grant it proper respect. In this regard, Chinggis Haan’s aforementioned ritual, during which, he knelt on his own saddle-mattress and worshipped the spirit of Mount Burhan-Haldun, might also be related to this customs of calling a spirit to enter the heart. The Shamans say that the form of Lus spirits is invisible to example, T.Purev’s family spent many summers in the vicinity aimag. Many livestock died from disease, bad weather, and attack by wolves, so the carcasses were dropped into the lake or buried in holes by the shore. As a result, many years later his eldest son suffered from the malevolence of the Local Lus. This evil was revealed to Purev’s wife, shamaness L.Nadmid, by a number of rats running all over her son’s body and they seemed about to devour him. even though the boy’s mother Nadmid Udgan was a good Shamaness fortified with Lus power, she was unable to deal with a calamity, which was going to damage her fire-health. Therefore, she enlisted the help of Ch.Baatar, who was able to calm the spirit and banish it from her hearth. This is a clear case where “the sharpest knife is useless for its own handle”. However, this is a common occurrence among the Shamans. 

     More skillful shamans say, “Lus become clearly visible only near a riverbank, gorge, a cluster of willows or during a strong storm. Thus, the lamas worship them on behalf of the Indian or Tibetan Burhans”.

     However, those spirits considered by shamans as Lus or Savdag might actually be the result of air currents or magnetic fields, which were oxidized with some kinds of other chemical elements. According to the Shamans, these spirits of the water and earth located in a plane about fifty to sixty centimeters deep on the surface of the ground or water. In this regard, perhaps the air, and magnetic currents which take place between human and animal spirits and every kind of natural things, are considered as a Lus running.

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