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The Number and Levels of the Heavens

     There are numerous references to Heaven in sources such as The Secret History and Rashid-ad-Din’s Sudaryn Chuulgan, but there is no mention of the number and level of Heavens. Perhaps the Mongols of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had no specific beliefs in this respect. However, through analysis of Nanai’s shamans, A.B.Smolyak became the first researcher to suggest a more detailed conception of heaven’s strata and quantity. The Nanais considered that Heaven has nine levels or strata. Moreover, Shamaness Tsevenii Horol of White Huular origin |1900-1978|, Zegviin Tseveen |1892-1965| and Dugaryn BArii |1898-1973| of Black Darhad origin said in the nineteen fifties and sixties that:

Heaven has many strata. The most powerful spirits, who are generally invisible to modern Shamans like us, are located in the upper levels. But the weak ones, the spirits of Shamans who died in the last five to ten years, are visible on the lower 4strata. They are susceptible to calamities such as the Socialist Revolution of the twenties, so they are the first victims. now they are not visible at all.

     It seems that Mongolian Darhad and Huular Shamans had a similar conception of the levels of Heaven to the Nanais. It is also similar to the conception of some Tureg tribes such as Evenkh, Altai and Tuvan Shamans. However, the Shamans of Altai and the Tuvans had a significant influence over the Huular and Darhad shamans, who dwelled mostly to the west of Lake Hovsgol. This is not to say, however, that Darhadian and Huular Shamanism copied the beliefs of Tuvan Shamans. The Darhad and Huular shamans of Mongolian Tureg origin believed in the ancient Mongolian Shamanist idea of the three Continents. Consequently, they considered that each of these three Continets was subdivided into three Heavens. The shamans of Central Asia, including original Mongolian tribes such as the Black and Great Darhads, Sharnuud, Chonos, and Mongolized Tureg ones such as black, red, green and white Huulars had a similar world-view. This might be preserved from ancient forms of Mongolian Shamanism. A legend, which was found and published by D.Mansan, says, “In the beginning, the upper nine Heavens had only Angel, a younger sister…”

     So the Mongols used to pray to the Nine Heavens using milk or tea “deej” in the nine sockets of a “Tsatsal” |milk sprinkler, see foornote|. In this way, they considered that the nine deej |libations| reached the nine Heavens simultaneously. If the number of sockets was greater or less than nine, or the offering too small, then some of the Heavens would be offended. An ethnologist, painter, and lecturer at the Mongolian State University’s subsidiary in Hovd aimag, Mr.Baasankhuu compiled some interesting findings on milk sprinklers, which had been used in various localities of Mongolia. In Oirad they have thirteen sockets, in Sartuul ten and five in Tangud. Nine sockets are common among the majority of other Mongolian tribes. The number of sockets is related to the number of Heavens worshipped locally and also Buddhist influence, which appears to have changed the numbers in some cases.

     There is no record of the number of Heavens in the Secret History, but it is emphasized the only upper Heaven was given titles such as “Lofty Heaven’, “Han Tengger” and “Eternal Sky”. Since then, the number of Heavens has changed substantially. Citing examples about the Heaven’s name in Tibetan, Chinese, Persian, and Arabic, D.Mansan wrote, “The Secret History had no conception of Heaven. However, since then Mongols have believed in three, then nine Heavens, and, later, as many as thirteen and ninety-nine…”

     The changing number of Heavens was primarily related to the following causes: Firstly, many nations had close ties at various points in time and so there was a transfer of beliefs and customs. Secondly, the influence of religions such as Buddhism, which revere many Burhans of diverse natures, led Mongolian Shamans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to desire many Ongons and Heavens of their own. Consequently, the number of Heavens incresed to as many as two hundred.

     There is no mention of ninety-nine Heavens in The Mongolian Black Faith or Shaman Religion, published in Russia in 1846 by Dorje Banzarov of Mongolian Urianhay origin, who was born in Hiagt, a Mongolo-Russian frontier village. Thus, at that time, the Shamans of Outer Mongolia had no common belief in ninety-nine Heavens. 

     However, when Dorje Banzarov was compiling his work, Wandan Iumsunov |1823-1883| published a legend about ninety-nine Heavens, which was current among the Buriads in the north of Lake Baikal. They divided them systematically into fifty-five Heavens of the West |fifty fro praying and five for offerings| and forty-four Heavens of the East |forty and four respectively|. This conception of ninety-nine Heavens also reached the twenty Banners of Horchin, which was founded in the seventeenth century by the amalgamation of Aba Horchin from Barguujin and the Barga Mongolians, who emigrated from Russia to today’s Barga in the north-east of the People’s Republic of China. In Outer Mongolia, the conception of ninety-nine Heavens began to spread after the establishment of Dayan Deerh temple in 1864 as a Center of yellow Shamanism. Nevertheless, it is clear from historical sources, including S.Badamhatan’s work that the conception of ninety-nine Heaven’s did not spread into northwestern Mongolia, and the Hovsgol Lake surrounding regions in particular, until the twentieth century. Therefore, it seems that the belief in nine Heavens of Mongolian Shamanism is similar to the Only Heaven of the Secret History. According to D.Mansan, nine Heavens probably emerged from the belief in three Heavens during the seventeenth century. However, the conception of ninety-nine heavens probably emerged between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, under the influence of Buriadian Shamanism, when Buddhism had already spread throughout Mongolia.

     Moreover, the above-mentioned Buriad conception of “nine worshipping Heavens” was closely related to the original “Nine Heavens” of Mongolian Shamanism, which demonstrates the similarities of Central Asian Shamanism. In this regard, there are a number of relevant studies. According to T.M.Mihailov, M.N.Hangalov published the first proper study of ninety-nine Heavens on the basis of Wandan Yumsunov’s legend. Subsequently, Ch.Dalai of Mongolia, v.Khaisag, D.Mansan, and Mr.yonsog |both of China| have studied the belief in ninety-nine Heavens in Outer Mongolia, Horchin and Barga. Hagan Choloo of Taipei University produced a map showing the main sites of Barga and Horchin Shamans. D.Mansan and Mr.Yonsog collected and published the names of the ninety-nine heavens in their works.

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