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Shamanism of Hunnu

Shamanism in the Hunnu Period

The Shaman religion, in a society of Shaman adherents, played a coordinating role in the establishment of public order, protection, unification, and spiritual orientation of the people. In other words, they regulated society and its interaction with nature and other peoples. A major component of the shaman ideology in regard to this was the respect and reverence due for the fire-health.

     The belief developed that the hearths of inferiors or subordinates belonged to the superior clan, tribal chieftain or official. These hearths, therefore, played a significant role as a focal point for the gathering of subordinates around their rulers and contributed to the consolidation of these clans and tribes. As a result of the disintegration of the tribal system, the differentiation between superiors and inferiors became more and more evident. Then an aristocratic minority began to struggle between themselves and their tribes for power and wealth. This led to many bloody battles and only powerful states were able to provide security and peace. Therefore, the Shamans supported the leader of their own tribes, encouraging them to gain victory in battle. They elevated and glorified those leaders who became victorious by their own organizational ability, claiming that they were of divine ancestry or held the favor of powerful spirits.

     The solidarity of the Shamans and their hold over society intensified in the century before the establishment of the Hunnu dynasty. The Hunnu became better organized, better equipped, and better led than the Chinese Army. In that period, the first man to become famous for his “divine origins” was Maoduni, from a tribe of Siulianty, an official of a Hunnu tribal federation. He established the Hunnu Dynasty in 209 BC and became its ruler under the title of “Great Shaniuy” of the Hunnu. He sent a letter to the Haan |king| of the Hani Dynasty, introducing himself as “Great Shaniuy”, who became Haan, thanks to the power of the Heavens”. This signifies that, on the one hand, he was confident, as a Shaman, that he had become Emperor with Heaven’s aid and blessing. On the other hand, he was honored by the masses after the establishment of the Hunnu Dynasty as having a divine origin, with great personal wisdom and strength of mind, which granted him access to higher powers.

     Shaniuy Maoduni enforced the virtues of courage and will, his warriors gaining their power from the savage Black Heaven and the Black spirits of the Shaman religion. Following the belief that the cruel Heavens were located in the North and the peaceful White ones in the West, he situated the barracks for soldiers with black horses in the North and those with white horses in the West. Those with chestnut horses were billeted in the East and the men with gray horses in the South. With this attitude, he not only demonstrated his military authority but also signaled that he intended to maintain a peaceful relationship with his southern neighbor. Nevertheless, if peace were to fail, he was ready to defeat it by the power of his savage Black Heaven of the North. 

     The Hunnu adopted the twelve-year Chinese lunar calendar, with each year named after an animal. Each of the four colors of the directions was divided into male and female subgroups and four animal names were added from the Chinese astrological chronology. The Hunnus began to use this chronological framework for their activities that we’re able to show twelve years and twenty-four directions.

     On the Black or Northern direction of the four colors and twenty-four orientations was the spirit Suld. The typical Ongon of a given family represents the Savage Black Emblem of the Mongolian State. Since the adoption of the twelve-year cycle, it has been located in the Northern or rear part of a ger during the year of the Rat, the so-called “White Leader” of the twelve animals of the zodiac. It also became a symbol of respect for the Holy Spirit and Heaven.

     The peaceful White Heaven was located on the White side, also used for receiving and accommodating honored guests. Mongolian Black Shaman and their believers maintained this tradition from the period of the Hunnu Dynasty to the middle of the twentieth century. The Red Huular tribe’s Udgan Gianchivyn Tsedev |known as the Mother of Harmay’s Hos, grandmother of the translator| a shamaness of the black side |1866-1939| invoked her Ongons:

… The Heaven that sounds like thunder ,

The Heaven that roars like a tiger,

The Heaven of majestic aspect,

The Heaven that crowds in the western side…” therebery indicating the location of her Ongons.

     According to Ch. Dalay’s Brief History of Mongolian Shamanism |in Mongolian|: In the period of the Han Empire’s U-dy Haan, there were many shamans among the Hunnu prisoners of war… U-dy Haan himself worshipped Shamanism devoutly and the Jing-Lu temple was established for the prayers and offerings of Hunnu Shamans; considering that the power of the Hunnu army might be related to the Shamans, he was interested in and tried to attract Shamans, as much as possible, to his own side…

     It is evident from this that the origin of Hunnu military power was related to the Shamanist religion, which supplied ideological instruction to the soldiers and belief that victory against their enemies was assured. The Hunnu gathered together three times per year. In the lunar New Year, the Conference of  Chieftains was opened and offerings were made in the Palace of Shaniuy. In the fifth month |about July| of each year, a great gathering took place in the town of Dragon and they worshipped the spirits of their ancestors, Heaven, earth, and water. In the fall or autumn, when horses were fat, there was another great assembly, during which a census was taken both of people and cattle. At this time prayers, rituals, and offerings to the spirits were made. During each of these gatherings and religious celebrations, there would have been horse and |or| camel races and other festivities. Government policy was discussed at meetings and decisions made. In both the promulgation and implementation of these, the Shamans played an important role.

     Shaman rituals accompanied the ratification of a treaty between the Hunnu and Hani Dynasties, and any problems concerning war or diplomacy with neighboring nations were solved according to the principles of Shaman belief. When the warriors of Maoduni Shaniuy besieged the soldiers of Hani’s Liu-Bin Haan, his queen said, “Why are the two Emperors laying siege to one another? You, honored Shaniuy, are already on Chinese earth soli! You will not live here, in any case. You should beware that the Chinese Emperor also has his own Heaven!” Maoduni Shanuiy had not expected this so, frightened by the warning, he called oo his blockade and gave Liu-Bin safe passage to depart.

     When Kun-Movey of the Usun tribe was born, his parents abandoned him in the countryside. A crow was flying overhead when a female wolf found him, nursed him with her milk, and so Kun-Movey survived. Hearing this, Shaniuy of Hunnu was surprised, and, considering it as a mark of divine favor, Shaniuy adopted him. Subsequently, when Kun-Movey had grown up, he led his followers beyond the reach of Shaniuy’s authority. When Shaniuy’s powerful invading army was defeated by Kun-Movey, Shaniuy considered him to be a spirit from Heaven, so Shanuiy retreated immediately. 

     After the capitulation of a Chinese commander Li-Go-Van to the Hunnu Great Army, the Shane, after provocation, arrested him, and arranged for Li-Go-Van to be sacrificed in thanks for their victory. However, when the Chinese commander was going to be killed, he cursed the Hunnu Dynasty, “I am sure that the Hunnu Dynasty will fall after my death”. Immediately thereafter, starved, people succumbed to disease and the crops failed. Therefore, Shaniuy was afraid, and he decided to build a monument to Li-Go-Van’s memory.

     Henceforth, the shamans of Hunnu became accustomed to killing cows or sheep and burying them across routes from where the Chinese warriors were about to attack the Hunnus, or sinking them into a river or lake for special damnation. The Udgans specially prepared the horses and furs sent to the Chinese Emperors, wrote Mr.Yonsog.

     In fact, the Mongols, especially the Shamans, disliked seeing the dead body of an animal on their way to a hunt, wedding, or any other occasion. They considered it as mortal filth and a bad omen. According to an old tradition that is still practiced today, they would postpone their business until the next suitable opportunity. It seems clear that, by putting dead animals into holes or sinking them into the water across the path of attacking Chinese warriors, the Hunnu Shamans intended to discourage and weaken their rivals’ resolve. It also demonstrates that Shaniuy was a devout Shamanist. 

     At the instigation of the Hunnu Emperors, a number of the Shaman temples were constructed, including some built on the banks of the river Hatan |in the southern part of Ordos|. Temples continued to be built until more recent periods. 

     Thus, the Shamanist religion provided the organizational basis of governmental, administrative, and military activity. It was the main source of education, state support, and ideology for the earliest Mongolian states. Within this system, the honorable rituals of the While Shamanism flourished, and infractions such as general disorder, intoxication, and adultery were strictly forbidden.

     Unfortunately, the aristocracy who looked only to their own authority, rights, and assets, frequently disregarded these restrictions. This war was a major cause of the disintegration of the state, and the loss of independence, and resulted in the nation becoming a soft target for would-be invaders. In this way, one state collapsed to be replaced by another, which was replaced in turn, but the Shaman religion adapted to sit ever-changing circumferences.

     The second phase in the history of the Shaman religion spans the period of the Hunnu dynasty, from the beginning of the third century or 209 BC through the second century AD.

     In this period, Shamanism reached the peak of its development and became an official or state religion. Every social stratum, from Haans, kings, and aristocrats to ordinary people, worshipped Shamanism.

     During this relatively short period, the main ideology and ritual customs of the Mongolian Shaman religion included the “Three Pillars”, or “tripod” belief. These pillars consisted of the White and Black symbols of the Haan State |and other symbols of white and black|, the rituals of family hearth superiority, evil deeds, and belief in the soul or spirit. These were all three supports of Shamanism and with the Black and Whitesides made the religion stable and enduring. 

     Nevertheless, it is impossible to ascertain what new beliefs and practices entered into Mongolian Shamanism after the second century AD. However, from this period Shamanism began to act as a major support to the state as the provider of a coherent ideology and, as such, it was an important part of the state.

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