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The Belief in Three Souls

Mongolian shamans consider that people and animals have not one, but three kinds of souls, an idea first talked about by B.Renchin in his aforementioned conversation of 1965:

Every person has three souls. Two of them are mortal, but the remaining one is immortal. According to Shamanism, they are the three spirits or deities of a man or woman, including the female spirit of flesh and blood, the male spirit of bones and lastly the Heaven spirits. After a person’s death, the mortal spirits will remain in the body for three years, for example the paternal spirits rests in the center socket of the pelvic bones. When this bone dies, the mortal spirits disappear and finally the immortal spirit will rise up. This is the main belief of the Mongolian Shamans in regard to the souls and spirits.

     Afterward, in 1985, H.Buyanbat wrote, “According to Shamanist belief, every person has three kinds of souls: “Main”, which always remains with the physical body; “Ghostly”, which is always going away or traveling everywhere around the world; and “Body” souls. The third is the soul of the dead body”.

     Moreover, according to Mr.Yonsog consideration of 1992: “Every human being has three souls known as of “Life”, “Mind” and “Future Birth”. Although there are few differences between the theabove-mentioned definitions, it is obvious that Mongolian Shamans have believed in the idea of three souls since ancient times. While, I do not know how H.Buyanbat and Mr.Yonsog conducted their research on Shamanism, but the late academician B.Renchin has researched Shamanism since 1927. Therefore, it seems that his explanation of souls in Mongolian Shamanism is both the clearest and best researched. Moreover, it coincides with Black Shamanist understanding concerning Souls and Spirits. 

     There were many notable shamans and their descendants, who still talked about the existence of the three souls (flesh, bone, and mind) in the 1950s and 1960s. According to them, the first, or flesh or blood soul, a maternal soul exists in all the body’s organs until the heart stops beating. As the heart dies, so does this soul. The bone soul is paternal and exists in all of the bones disappearing only after the death of the pelvic bones. 

     Thirdly, the mental or vital soul is introduced through the left ring finger to the fetus in its mother’s womb. After birth, the soul moves through marrow, brain, and pulses. When the body dies, the soul rests between the first (Atlas) and second (Axis) cervical vertebrae. Afterward, when the body has decomposed entirely, the soul rises up to the Darkness where it will remain for eternity. This is not the same as the explanation provided by H.Buyanbat and Mr.Yonsog. However, with the sole difference in the terminology for vital and Heaven souls, it is exactly the same as B.Renchin’s view of the Three Souls. Besides which, the Mongols would not leave a meatless pelvic bone in the home at overnight, because they believe that this socket holds the third or immortal soul of any person or animal. Moreover, if a pelvic bone is found on the road the whole or at least its socket should be broken. Similarly, there are some saying that a whole pelvic bone is the home of a devil. Nevertheless, some shamans consider that it is not a devil, but the soul of a dead man or animal. Sanje Zayran, a Red Huular who had lived in Hovsgol during the 19th century, his son Sambuu, nicknamed “Danar”, who died in 1954, his tutor Noorog Zayran and daughter Namjil shamaness (1914-1993) explained that there were no demons at all, but only soul or spirits. Devils were created by people to explain otherwise inexplicable phenomena. 

     Moreover, it was considered taboo to leave the skull of a goat or sheep, especially one with empty eye-sockets, in the home overnight. If it is impossible to take it out of the home, the eye-sockets should be plugged with animal hair or sheep wool according to the Halha, or the sockets were broken according to Zahchin custom. According to the Darhad, the skull-bone should release souls resting in the eye-sockets. However, a horse’s skull should be put on a mountaintop or cairn, because of the horse, known as “Horse-Erdene (treasure)”, is the most respected animal among the Mongols. 

     The burial of a guard dog has involved cutting off its tail to put under its head and put some butter or a large sheep’s tail in its mouth. In this way, people hope that the dog’s soul will be transformed. The Black Shamans hope that the soul will become a human soul, while Yellow Shamans hope that the dog will be reincarnated as a human. It is forbidden to give tea to someone in a chipped or cracked cup, for it is a cup no more, being only the soul and is, therefore, unsuitable for serving the living. 

     In regard to Buyanbat and Yonsog’s definition of three souls or more exactly their six variations: “Main”, “Ghostly”, “Dead body”, “Vital”, “Mind”, and “Future Birth” are incorrect. In this way, they have absolutely denied the two kinds of “Bone” and “Flesh” souls, which are the most important in Black Shamanism. I, therefore, doubt their conclusions and suspect that they may even have misunderstood Mongolian Shamanist belief in the Soul and the Spirit.

     Moreover, concerning the Soul (Spirit), Indian yogis believe that we leave our bodies and that our spirit moves freely in the astral, or spirit dimension during sleep and also in some deep states of meditatilisetion or trance… The shamans or medicine people of many cultures have developed conscious control over many of these out-of-body experiences, and utilize such traveling to heal the sick and more through other planes of existence. They move beyond the physical plane of existence, and the limits of time where past, present and future events exist concurrently.   

Source : Mongolian Shamanism by Purev Otgony

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