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The Black Shamanist concept of Three Continents

Despite the powerful, positive and negative influences of Lamaism and Shamans of neighboring regions |such as the Tuvans of Tureg descent|, the Shamans of the north and northwest, including Renchinlhumbe, Ulaan-Uul, Bayanzurh and Tsagaan Nuur soums of Hovsgol aimag, were the most successful at protecting and maintaining the ancient forms, customs, and beliefs of Mongolian Shamanism.

     In this regard, Academician B.renchin wrote:

In the localities of modern Hovsgol aimag, which was situated far from Orgoo |the capital city| and Javzandamba Hutagt’s palace, Buddhism was not accpeted. Thus, the dwellers and believers of this area struggled implacably against the lamas, worshipping and praying to their Shamans most reverently until the 1921 Popular revolution. Although many of their historical customs  and traditions were lost, many others were preserved and continued to be practiced by the Shamans.

     S.Badamhatan, who carried out detailed studies in the area around Hovsgol during the 1950s and 1960s wrote:

Darhadian Shamanism has an inseparable relationship with the Tureg tribes and clans, for their beliefs concerning the origins of the World are the same. According to Darhadian Shamanism, there are Upper, Middle, Lower Continents. The inhabitants of the Upper continent wear their belts around their hips. makind lives in the Middle world”.

     During my own childhood, I heard such descriptions of the Three Continents many times, as did my brother |the translator| too, and if we wore our belts below the waist the elders would scold us that we were “like the devils of the Bottom continent” and they urged us to wear them properly. This is exactly the same as S.Badamhatan’s findings. However, according to the idea of the Three Worlds of the Yellow Shamans, who were affected by Buddhism more potently, the word “Continent” was replaced by “World” and the explanation that “we live in the Middle Continent” was redefined as “mankind lives in the Middle World”, This creates some ambiguity for, on the one hand, men live in all the Three Continents and, on the other, they live only in the Middle one.

     Academician B.Renchin published a legend concerning the existence of what the Mongols generally refer to as an “Udgan |shamaness| Tree| or “Shaman Tree” in the western and southwestern areas of Lake Hovsgol. According to the inhabitants of this area, they distinguished between “Shaman Trees of the upper, middle, and bottom Continents”. In this regard, he commented that there was a saying that, “A huntsman of mankind’s Middle Continent stayed for a night under a savage Shaman Tree of the Lower Continent stayed for a night under a savage Shaman tree of the Lower Continent and in the morning shot down a deer…” Thus, Mr.renchin did not change the word “Continent” from Hovsgol into “World”. He explained the term “World” did not reject the idea of human existence in all the three Continents. Indeed, the expression “We exist…” was occasionally changed to “mankind exists on the Middle Continent”. If we give due consideration to Mr.Renchin’s idea concerning the existence of the “Savage Shaman Tree of the Lower Continent in our Middle one”, it is possible to reach the conditions that all the “Shaman Trees” of the Three Continents exist on our Middle Continent and a stunned larch or cedar which |perhaps because of disease| grew with branches bunched or twisted together is called a “Shaman or Udgan Tree” by the Mongols and an “Almas |abominable snowman’s| Broom” by the Russians.

     In this way, trees such as larch, cedar, birch, aspen, pine and willow were considered to have a close relationship to earth |Savdag| and water |Lus| spirits and, therefore, prayers were offered to them. The Russians as well as the Mongolian Shamans and Shaman believers worshipped such trees, with bent and gathered branchers. It is evident that the Shaman believers have prayed to such trees since the Matriarchal period, for the first Shamans were women and these trees are known as “Etuggen |originator| Mother’s Tree|. The dwellers of the west and south-west of Lake Hovsgol call one a “Boo” can signify both male and female Shamans. In this regard, it should be noted that, among the dwellers of the aforementioned localities, the stunted section of a Shaman Tree is called the Shaman Part. So, a tree with the Shaman Part located in its lower regions is called a Shaman Tree of the Lower Continent and is deemed to have a close relation with earth and water spirits who are gathered there.

     Similarly, a Shaman Tree with the Shaman Part situated in its middle part is called a Shaman Tree of the Middle, and in its upper part a Shaman Tree of the Upper Continents. The Shaman Tree of the Lower Continents is considered the most savage or dangerous. Therefore, it is strictly forbidden to climb on these trees, break off branches or twigs, steal offerings, or to tread on their roots. Sleeping under these trees or whistling near them is also forbidden. One such tree grew in Algag of Ovor-Gol River, Iveg Bag, Renchinlhumbe soum, Hovsgol aimag. Semjeegyin Mend Zayran of Red Huular tribe |1757-1826| and Sharavyn Dashdavaa Udgan of White Huular tribe |1899-1936| were able to commune with it and so became good shamans fortified by both the Earth |Savdag| and Water |Lus| Spirits.

     Thereupon, Shaman Trees were an important symbol of Shamanism when it still held a monopoly in Mongolia. Shaman Trees exist in every forested region of the country.

     There are a number of interesting legends and anecdotes concerning Mend Zayran’s society and miracles and many of them have been included in various studies. According to research undertaken by G.D.Sanjeev in 1930, D.Marhaahuu in 1990 and S.Dulam in 1992, several thieves from Balgga |a tributary of the river Delger-Moron| robbed some horses of Iveediin Gol-River cattle-breeders. Mend, who still was a young man nicknamed “Delden Shar” |Protruding Yellow Ears| pursued them. On his way up the Shaman Tree, which could not fail to attract the attention of the young man. When he was about to pick it up, it suddenly disappeared; this meant that an “Algag” or female spirit of the place had possessed him. As he had been possessed by the Aglag’s spirit, mend had to become a shaman. He studied under the tutelage of Ayush Zayran, the chieftain of Jogd Arvan |ten families|. Algag’s Spirit also possessed Dashdavaa udgan, who was obliged to spend many days and nights in the open and then become a shamaness. Tseveg Udgan |1877-1950|, Dashdavaa Udgan’s mother was responsible for her training.

     There were |and still are| many saying and legends among the Mongolian shamans and believers concerning Shaman Trees linked to the Three Continents. Here are extracts from some of them:

A sallow stole fire from the Upper Continents. On its way to the Middle Continent an archer of the Upper Continent shot it with a bow. The arrow split forked the swallow’s tail but did not harm it. The swallow, whose tail was now split and rear exposed, felt ashamed to bring the fire to the Lower Continent’s dwellers. So, they remained with their own “dying blue” fire, and the people of the Middle Continent called this “Devil’s fire”.

     Another version from some part of Mongolia concerning the Shaman Butterfly or Hoovgono says, “The Butterfly, as a weak creature of the Lower Continent, always tries to steal fire from candles, but without the means to do so is scorched and dies.” Besides, one f Mr.Mansan’s myths say:

Once upon a time, people lived in the upper Continent and all the other kind of aniamls in the Lower world. The Top nine heavens had a younger sister, who was going to be taken away by a cruel and ugly teacher. She slipped away to the Lower World, where the animals lived in harmony. However, after a long time, she and her brothers missed each othe greatly and in the end, she returned to them. after much discussion, they declined together to create a figure of their Heavenly Sister. Each agreed to make a part of her figure according to their talents: when assembled, these parts would provide a complete figure. The first attempt was unsuccessful, and so was the second, but finally, at the hundredth attemot they succeeded in creating a figure identical to their Heavenly Sister.

     D.Mansan took this legend as an example of the Shaman concept of male origination, which, like others, is an expression of Mongolian Shamanism’s understanding of the world’s structure and existence.

     Comparing the works of S.Badamhatan and B.renchin with legends that circulated among Shamans and shaman believers from the west and southwest of Lake Hovsgol, it would seem that all the Three Continents are supposedly inhabited. In other words, humans live in all of them; under their nine Heavens, on the only earth, on which the oceans were founded first, next animals and plants, and after that, thanks to Heaven’s blessing, humans were created.

     Therefore, the earliest world conception of Mongolian Shamanism is not after the manner of three independent worlds arranged vertically, rather of three inhabited continents, some higher than others, but all essentially on the same plane.

     The Mongolian world “Tiv” |Continent| is originated from an oriental foreign language “Zambutiv” |World| or “Yertonts” in Mongolia. Consequently, the “Yertonts” is a larger space than “Tiv” and is divided into several “Tivs”; bu the worlds “Deed” |Upper|, “Dund” |Middle|, and “Dood” |Lower| perhaps originated from the geographic situation of a given place. In this regard, the thirteenth century’s Hohochu Shaman’s adopted name Tiv-Tengger might have signified “He who is the only or Heavenly Shaman of our Continent”.

     Taking all of these factors into consideration, the logical conclusion appears to be that ancient man explained visible objects and events according to their knowledge and imagination, but sought to explain the intangible by reference to Spirit and Deities. To some extent though, the Three Continents belief was probably grounded in geographical reality. Numerous studies have revealed that the Hunnus and other Mongolian tribes and clans before them who dwelled in Central Asian plateau had links to the Indians, Persians, Sogods, Koreans, Hunnus along the Silk Road. “The Uighur’s received their alphabet from Iran and the Sogod’s”.

     Moreover, there are several Persian or Indian originated words in the Mongolian language such as “Asar” |a tent or shelter, in Persian “Akhuura” and an Indian “Asuura”|, “Hurmast” noted that scholars term the shelter or shed that holds an Ongon and its paraphernalia an asar and the Mongols call the highest of the ninety-nine Shaman Heavens Hurmast.

     Conversely, in the Nanay language, there are several Mongolian words such as “Degd” |the plant Gentiana algida| and “Muyh” |snake|.

     The ruins of an ancient Korean town have now been located inside the current Mongolian territory. Moreover, there is additional evidence for interaction between the Mongols and Koreans in ancient times. For example, the Korean scholar and shaman researcher Kim Tai Gon revealed that, like the Mongols, Koreans dislike wearing the “sweaty cap” of another. The Mongols called Korea “Guulin” and today there are still placenames in Mongolia that retain this element, such as “Guulin” and “Guulin’s Tal |steppe|”.

     Among the Mongols, there was the saying that “To the northeast, on the far side of Hentii Han |the Hentii Ridge|, there is a Dynasty of Hell king with Basalt Mountains, where the greatest Mangases |monsters| with ten heads constantly gush forth red hot ash. It was also said that there were no men among them, so women do all their daily works and pass the nights with dogs, therefore, it is named the country “Dogmen”. For this reason, the northeast was considered a “bad direction” and women, especially at night, were forbidden to relieve themselves in this direction. There is some sense to these stories for in what is now Eastern Siberia and Kamchatka, there are many volcanoes. The men of that region were worked in their absence and spent the nights with the dogs indoors to protect themselves, possessions, and their guests.

     According to the world conception of the Darhad, Huular, and Nanay shamans concerning universe “Three Continents”, “Three Strata”, geographical, linguistic and mythical evidence, it is clear that the Mongols had broad knowledge of the area stretching from India to the Arctic Oceans, the Kamchatka and the Kurils; from Middle Asia to shores of the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, they accurately described the independent countries of that time as “The four foreign, and five color nations”. Although they could not know the whole globe, the Mongols of the thirteenth century had a reasonable grasp of Asian geography. In this regard, the Mongols and Tibetans generally considered the Tibetan high Mountains as upper, Central Asian plateau as Middle and other localities to the mouths of the large rivers as Lower “Continents”. This is the probable origin of the Three Continent’s belief and explains why the Mongols live in the Middle one.

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