Saturday, August 19, 2006

Celtic Polytheism

Celtic polytheism (also called Druidic polytheism) is the term for the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Celts.

Extent of Celtic polytheism

As the religion of the ancient Celts, the shifts in the fortunes of Celtic Polytheism coincided with those of its people. The Celts, like other ancient Indo-European peoples, practised a form of polytheism, which reached the apogee of its influence and territorial expansion during the 4th century BC, extending across the length of Europe from Great Britain to Asia Minor.

From the 3rd century BC onward their history is one of decline and disintegration, and with Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul (58 –51 BC) Celtic independence came to an end on the European continent. In Great Britain]] and Ireland this decline moved more slowly, but traditional culture was gradually eroded through the pressures of political subjugation; today the Celtic languages are spoken only on Western Europe, in restricted areas of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany (in this last instance largely as a result of immigration from Britain from the 4th century to the 7th century AD). It is not surprising, therefore, that the unsettled and uneven history of the Celts has affected the documentation of their culture and religion.


Three main types of sources provide information on Celtic polytheism: the minted coins of Gaul, the sculptural monuments associated with the Celts of continental Europe and of Roman Britain, and the insular literatures of Celtic mythology that have survived in writing from medieval times. All pose problems of interpretation. The pre-Roman coins of the 1st century BC and early 1st century AD bear no inscriptions, and their iconography derives partly from standardized Hellenistic numismatic prototypes and partly presents highly local emblems. Most of the monuments, and their accompanying inscriptions, belong to the Roman period and reflect a considerable degree of syncretism between Celtic and Roman gods; even where figures and motifs appear to derive from pre-Roman tradition, they are difficult to interpret in the absence of a preserved literature on mythology.

Only after the lapse of many centuries—beginning in the 7th century in Ireland, even later in Wales—was the mythological tradition consigned to writing, but by then Ireland and Wales had been Christianized and the scribes and redactors were monastic scholars. The resulting literature is abundant and varied, but it is much removed in both time and location from its epigraphic and iconographic correlatives on the Continent and inevitably reflects the redactors' selectivity and something of their Christian learning. Given these circumstances it is remarkable that there are so many points of agreement between the insular literatures and the continental evidence. This is particularly notable in the case of the Classical commentators from Poseidonius (c. 135–c. 51 BC) onward who recorded their own or others' observations on the Celts.

Syncretism with other forms of polytheism

The locus classicus for the Celtic gods of Gaul is the passage in Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico (52–51 BC; The Gallic War) in which he names five of them together with their functions. Mercury was the most honoured of all the gods and many images of him were to be found. Mercury was regarded as the inventor of all the arts, the patron of travellers and of merchants, and the most powerful god in matters of commerce and gain. After him the Gauls honoured Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva. Of these gods they held almost the same opinions as other peoples did: Apollo drives away diseases, Minerva promotes handicrafts, Jupiter rules the heavens, and Mars controls wars.

In characteristic Roman fashion, however, Caesar does not refer to these figures by their native names but by the names of the Roman gods with which he equated them, a procedure that greatly complicates the task of identifying his Gaulish deities with their counterparts in the insular literatures. He also presents a neat schematic equation of god and function that is quite foreign to the vernacular literary testimony. Yet, given its limitations, his brief catalog is a valuable and essentially accurate witness. In comparing his account with the vernacular literatures, or even with the continental iconography, it is well to recall their disparate contexts and motivations. As has been noted, Caesar's commentary and the iconography refer to quite different stages in the history of Gaulish religion; the iconography of the Roman period belongs to an environment of profound cultural and political change, and the religion it represents may in fact have been less clearly structured than that maintained by the druids (the priestly order) in the time of Gaulish independence.

On the other hand, the lack of structure is sometimes more apparent than real. It has, for instance, been noted that of the several hundred names containing a Celtic element attested in Gaul the majority occur only once, which has led some scholars to conclude that the Celtic gods and their cults were local and tribal rather than national. Supporters of this view cite Lucan's mention of a god Teutates, which they interpret as "god of the tribe" (it is thought that teuta meant "tribe" in Celtic). The seeming multiplicity of deity names may, however, be explained otherwise—for example, many are simply epithets applied to major deities by widely extended cults.

Cosmology and eschatology

Little is known about the religious beliefs of the Celts of Gaul. They believed in a life after death, for they buried food, weapons, and ornaments with the dead. The druids, the early Celtic priesthood, taught the doctrine of transmigration of souls and discussed the nature and power of the gods.

The Irish believed in an otherworld, imagined sometimes as underground and sometimes as islands in the sea. The otherworld was variously called "the Land of the Living," "Delightful Plain," and Tir na nOg "Land of the Young" and was believed to be a country where there was no sickness, old age, or death, where happiness lasted forever, and a hundred years was as one day. It was similar to the Elysium of the Greek mythology and may have belonged to ancient Indo-European tradition. In Celtic eschatology, as noted in Irish vision or voyage tales, a beautiful girl approaches the hero and sings to him of this happy land. He follows her, and they sail away in a boat of glass and are seen no more; or else he returns after a short time to find that all his companions are dead, for he has really been away for hundreds of years. Sometimes the hero sets out on a quest, and a magic mist descends upon him. He finds himself before a palace and enters to find a warrior and a beautiful girl who make him welcome. The warrior may be Manannan mac Lir, or Lugh himself may be the one who receives him, and after strange adventures the hero returns successfully. These Irish tales, some of which date from the 8th century, are infused with the magic quality that is found 400 years later in the Arthurian romances.

Something of this quality is preserved, too, in the Welsh story of Branwen, daughter of Llyr, which ends with the survivors of the great battle feasting in the presence of the severed head of Bran the Blessed, having forgotten all their suffering and sorrow. But this "delightful plain" was not accessible to all. Donn, god of the dead and ancestor of all the Irish, reigned over Tech Duinn, which was imagined as on or under Bull Island off the Beare Peninsula, and to him all men returned except the happy few. This appears in Welsh mythology as Annwfn (from *Andubnion, very deep level) and ruled by seemingly different gods Arawn (*Ariomans) and Gwyn ap Nudd (*Vindos).


According to Poseidonius and later classical authors Gaulish religion and culture were the concern of three professional classes—the druid, the bards, and between them an order closely associated with the druids that seems to have been best known by the Gaulish term vates, cognate with the Latin vates ("seers"). This threefold hierarchy had its reflex among the two main branches of Celts in Ireland and Wales but is best represented in early Irish tradition with its druids, filidh (singular fili), and bards; the filidh evidently correspond to the Gaulish vates.

The word "druid" is often cited as meaning means "knowing the oak tree" and may derive from druidic ritual, which seems in the early period to have been performed in the forest. Caesar stated that the druids avoided manual labour and paid no taxes, so that many were attracted by these privileges to join the order. They learned great numbers of verses by heart, and some studied for as long as 20 years; they thought it wrong to commit their learning to writing but used the Greek alphabet for other purposes.

Classical sources claimed that the Celts had no temples (before the Gallo-Roman period) and that their ceremonies took place in forest sanctuaries. Archaeology demonstrates this to be incorrect, with a large number of temple sites excavated. In the Gallo-Roman period, more permanent stone temples were erected, and many of them have been discovered by archaeologists in Britain as well as in Gaul.

Celtic polytheism was evidently sacrificial, practising various forms of sacrifice in an attempt to redeem, obligate or appease the gods. Human sacrifice was practiced in Gaul: Cicero, Julius Caesar, Suetonius, and Lucan all refer to it, and Pliny the Elder says that it occurred in Britain, too. It was forbidden under Tiberius and Claudius. There is some evidence that human sacrifice was known in Ireland and was forbidden by St. Patrick.

Religious castes


A Druid (often cited as being from the Celtic: "Knowing [or Finding] the Oak Tree") was a member of the learned class among the ancient Celts. They seem to have frequented oak forests and acted as priests, teachers, and judges. The earliest known records of the Druids come from the 3rd century BC.

According to Julius Caesar, who is the principal source of information about the Druids, there were two groups of men in Gaul that were held in honour, the Druids and the noblemen (equites). Caesar related that the Druids took charge of public and private sacrifices, and many young men went to them for instruction. They judged all public and private quarrels and decreed penalties. If anyone disobeyed their decree, he was barred from sacrifice, which was considered the gravest of punishments. One Druid was made the chief; upon his death, another was appointed. If, however, several were equal in merit, the Druids voted, although they sometimes resorted to armed violence. Once a year the Druids assembled at a sacred place in the territory of the Carnutes, which was believed to be the centre of all Gaul, and all legal disputes were there submitted to the judgment of the Druids. Caesar also recorded that the Druids abstained from warfare and paid no tribute. Attracted by those privileges, many joined the order voluntarily or were sent by their families. They studied ancient verse, natural philosophy, astronomy, and the lore of the gods, some spending as much as 20 years in training. The Druids' principal doctrine was that the soul was immortal and passed at death from one person into another.

The Druids may have offered human sacrifices for those who were gravely sick or in danger of death in battle. Caesar said that huge wickerwork images were filled with living men and then burned, for which no other evidence has been found. Although the Druids preferred to sacrifice criminals, they would choose innocent victims if necessary. Caesar is the chief authority, but he may have received some of his facts from the Stoic philosopher Poseidonius, whose account is often confirmed by early medieval Irish sagas. Caesar's description of the annual assembly of the Druids and their election of an arch-Druid is also confirmed by an Irish saga. It must be remembered that Caesar was at war with the Celts, and that all information is questionable because much of it was Roman propaganda.

In the early period, Druidic rites were held in clearings in the forest. Sacred buildings were used only later under Roman influence. The Druids were suppressed in Gaul by the Romans under Tiberius (reigned AD 14–37) and probably in Britain a little later. In Ireland they lost their priestly functions after the coming of Christianity and survived as poets, historians, and judges (filid, senchaidi, and brithemain). Many scholars believe that the Hindu Brahmin in the East and the Celtic Druid in the West were lateral survivals of an ancient Indo-European priesthood.

Bards and filid

A bard was a poet, especially one who wrote impassioned, lyrical, or epic verse. Bards were originally Celtic composers of eulogy and satire; the word came to mean more generally a tribal poet-singer gifted in composing and reciting verses on heroes and their deeds. As early as the 1st century AD, the Latin author Lucan referred to bards as the national poets or minstrels of Gaul and Britain. In Gaul the institution gradually disappeared, whereas in Ireland and Wales it survived. The Irish bard through chanting preserved a tradition of poetic eulogy. In Wales, where the word bardd has always been used for poet, the bardic order was codified into distinct grades in the 10th century. Despite a decline of the order toward the end of the European Middle Ages, the Welsh tradition has persisted and is celebrated in the annual eisteddfod, a national assembly of poets and musicians.

The Irish bards seem to have been the filid. A Fili ( Old Irish: "seer", from the Proto-Celtic *welits) was professional poet in ancient Ireland whose official duties were to know and preserve the tales and genealogies and to compose poems recalling the past and present glory of the ruling class. The filid constituted a large aristocratic class, expensive to support, and were severely censured for their extravagant demands on patrons as early as the assembly of Druim Cetta (575); they were defended at the assembly by St. Columba. Their power was not checked, however, since they could enforce their demands by the feared lampoon (áer), or poet's curse, which not only could take away a man's reputation but, according to a widely held ancient belief, could cause physical damage or even death. Although by law a fili could be penalized for abuse of the áer, belief in its powers was strong and continued to modern times.

After the Christianization of Ireland in the 5th century, filid assumed the poetic function of the outlawed Druids, the powerful class of learned men of the pagan Celts. The filid were often associated with monasteries, which were the centres of learning.

Filid were divided into seven grades. One of the lower and less learned grades was bard. The highest grade was the ollamh, achieved after at least 12 years of study, during which the poet mastered more than 300 difficult metres and 250 primary stories and 100 secondary stories. He then could wear a cloak of crimson bird feathers and carry a wand of office. Although at first the filid wrote in a verse form similar to the alliterative verse prevalent in Germanic languages, they later developed intricate rules of prosody and rigid and complicated verse forms, the most popular of which was the debide (modern Irish deibide, "cut in two"), a quatrain composed of two couplets, linked by the rhyme of a stressed syllable with an unstressed one.

After the 6th century, filid were granted land. They were required not only to write official poetry but also to instruct the residents of the area in law, literature, and national history. These seats of learning formed the basis for the later great bardic colleges.

By the 12th century filid were composing lyrical nature poetry and personal poems that praised the human qualities of their patrons, especially their generosity, rather than the patrons' heroic exploits or ancestors. They no longer strictly adhered to set rules of prosody. The distinction between the fili and the bard gradually broke down; the filid had given way to the supremacy of the bards by the 13th century.


Insular sources provide important information about Celtic religious festivals. In Ireland the year was divided into two periods of six months by the feasts of Beltane (May 1) and Samhain (Samain; November 1), and each of these periods was equally divided by the feasts of Imbolc (February 1), and Lughnasadh (August 1). Samhain seems originally to have meant "summer," but by the early Irish period it had come to mark summer's end. Beltine is also called Cetsamain ("First Samhain"). Imbolc has been compared by the French scholar Joseph Vendryes to the Roman lustrations and apparently was a feast of purification for the farmers. It was sometimes called oímelc ("sheep milk") with reference to the lambing season. Beltine ("Fire of Bel") was the summer festival, and there is a tradition that on that day the druids drove cattle between two fires as a protection against disease. Lughnasadh was the feast of the god Lugh.


Beltane, also spelled Beltine, Irish Beltaine, Beáltaine, or Belltaine and also known as Cétsamain, was a festival held on the first day of May in Ireland and Scotland, celebrating the beginning of summer and open pasturing. Beltane is first mentioned in a glossary attributed to Cormac, bishop of Cashel and king of Munster, who was killed in 908. Cormac describes how cattle were driven between two bonfires on Beltane as a magical means of protecting them from disease before they were led into summer pastures—a custom still observed in Ireland in the 19th century. Other festivities included Maypole dances and cutting of green boughs and flowers.

In early Irish lore a number of significant events took place on Beltane, which long remained the focus of folk traditions and tales in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. As did other pre-Christian Celtic peoples, the Irish divided the year into two main seasons. Winter and the beginning of the year fell on November 1 (Irish: Samain) and midyear and summer on May 1 (Irish: Beltaine). These two junctures were thought to be critical periods when the bounds between the human and supernatural worlds were temporarily erased; on May Eve witches and fairies roamed freely, and measures had to be taken against their enchantments.

Cormac derives the word Beltaine from the name of a god Bel, or Bil, and the Old Irish word tene, "fire." Despite linguistic difficulties, a number of 20th-century scholars have maintained modified versions of this etymology, linking the first element of the word with the Gaulish god Belenos.

In Ireland, the word "Beáltaine" is generally pronounced /ˈbʲɑlˠ.t̪ˠə.n̪ʲə/ (IPA) or b-YOWL-ten-ah.


The beginning of the month of Samhain (Old Irish samain), was one of the most important calendar festivals of the Celtic year. At "the three nights of Samhain", held around the beginning of November, originally at plenilune, the world of the gods was believed to be made visible to mankind, and the gods played many tricks on their mortal worshipers; it was a time fraught with danger, charged with fear, and full of supernatural episodes. Sacrifices and propitiations of every kind were thought to be vital, for without them the Celts believed they could not prevail over the perils of the season or counteract the activities of the deities. Samhain was an important precursor to Halloween.

Cults within Celtic polytheism

The notion of the Celtic pantheon as merely a proliferation of local gods is contradicted by the several well-attested deities whose cults were observed virtually throughout the areas of Celtic settlement.

Cult of Lugus-Mercurius

According to Caesar the god most honoured by the Gauls was "Mercury (Greek: Hermes). ," and this is confirmed by numerous images and inscriptions. His Celtic name is not explicitly stated, but it is clearly implied in the place-name Lugudunon ("the fort or dwelling of the god Lugus") by which his numerous cult centres were known and from which the modern Lyon, Laon, and Loudun in France, Carlisle (formerly Castra Luguvallium, "Fort Strong in the God Lugus"); Leiden in The Netherlands, and Legnica in Poland derive. Clearly Lugus, also called Lug, (from Celtic: *Lug- ambivalently meaning "Lynx," "Oath," "Deceiver" and "Moonlight"), was one of the major gods, whose cult was widespread throughout the early Celtic world . The Irish and Welsh cognates of Lugus are Lugh and Llew, respectively, and the traditions concerning these figures mesh neatly with those of the Gaulish god. Caesar's description of the latter as "the inventor of all the arts" might almost have been a paraphrase of Lugh's conventional epithet sam ildánach ("possessed of many talents"). An episode in the Irish tale of the Battle of Magh Tuiredh is a dramatic exposition of Lugh's claim to be master of all the arts and crafts, and dedicatory inscriptions in Spain and Switzerland, one of them from a guild of shoemakers, commemorate Lugus, or Lugoves, the plural perhaps referring to the god conceived in triple form.

An episode in the Middle Welsh collection of tales called the Mabinogion, (or Mabinogi), seems to echo the connection with shoemaking, for it represents Lleu as working briefly as a skilled exponent of the craft. In Ireland Lugh was the youthful victor over the demonic Balar or Balor "of the venomous eye." He was the divine exemplar of sacral kingship, and his other common epithet, lámhfhada ("of the long arm"), perpetuates an old Indo-European metaphor for a great king extending his rule and sovereignty far afield. His proper festival, called Lughnasadh ("Festival of Lugh") in Ireland, was celebrated—and still is at several locations—in August; at least two of the early festival sites, Carmun and Tailtiu, were the reputed burial places of goddesses associated with the fertility of the earth (as was, evidently, the consort Maia—or Rosmerta ("the Provider")—who accompanies "Mercury" on many Gaulish monuments).

According to Irish tradition, Lug Lámfota ("Lug of the Long Arm") was the sole survivor of triplet brothers all having the same name. At least three dedications to Lugus in plural form, Lugoues, are known from the European continent, and the Celtic affinity for trinitarian forms would suggest that three gods were likewise envisaged in these dedications. Lug's son, or rebirth, according to Irish belief, was the great Ulster hero, Cú Chulainn ("Culann's Dog").

In Wales, as Llew Llaw Gyffes ("Llew of the Dexterous Hand"), he was also believed to have had a strange birth. His mother was the virgin goddess Arianrhod ("Silver Wheel"). When her uncle, the great magician Math, tested her virginity by means of a wand of chastity, she at once gave birth to a boy child, who was instantly carried off by his uncle Gwydion and reared by him. Arianrhod then sought repeatedly to destroy her son, but she was always prevented by Gwydion's powerful magic; she was forced to give her son a name and provide him with arms; finally, as his mother had denied him a wife, Gwydion created a woman for him from flowers.

The variety of the attributes of Lugh Samildánach ("Skilled in All the Arts") and the extent to which his calendar festival Lughnasadh on August 1 was celebrated in Celtic lands indicate that he was one of the most powerful and impressive of all the ancient Celtic deities.

Cults of tribalism lordly power and thunderous force

Teutates, also spelled Toutates (Celtic: "God of the People"), seems to have been an important Celtic deity, one of three mentioned by the Roman poet Lucan in the 1st century AD, the other two being Esus ("Lord") and Taranis ("Thunderer"). According to later commentators, victims sacrificed to Teutates were killed by being plunged headfirst into a vat filled with an unspecified liquid, which may have been ale, a favourite drink of the Celts. Teutates was identified with both the Roman Mercury (Greek Hermes) and Mars (Greek Ares). He is also known from dedications in Britain, where his name was written Toutates. The Irish Tuathal Techtmar, one of the legendary conquerors of Ireland, has a name that comes from an earlier form, *Teuto-valos ("Ruler of the People"); he may have been an eponymous deity of the district that he is reputed to have conquered, but he was probably just another manifestation of the great god Teutates.

The Gaulish god "Mars" illustrates vividly the difficulty of equating individual Roman and Celtic deities. Of two later commentators on Lucan's text, the famous passage in Lucan's Bellum civile mentioning the bloody sacrifices offered to the three Celtic gods Teutates, Esus, and Taranis, one identifies Teutates with Mercury, the other with Mars. The probable explanation of this apparent confusion, which is paralleled elsewhere, is that the Celtic gods are not rigidly compartmentalized in terms of function. Thus "Mercury" as the god of sovereignty may function as a warrior, while "Mars" may function as protector of the tribe, so that either one may plausibly be equated with Teutates.

Cult of radiance or healing

The problem of identification is still more pronounced in the case of the Gaulish "Apollo," for some of his 15 or more epithets may refer to separate deities. The solar connotations of Belenus (from Celtic: *bel-, "shining," "radiant" or "brilliant") would have supported the identification with the Greco-Roman Apollo, or, if that etymology does not hold up, the healing attributes of the same (from Proto-Celtic *belen- "henbane", "intoxicating herb") still suggest his similarity to that Greek deity. Several of his epithets, such as Grannus and Borvo (which are associated etymologically with the notions of "boiling" and "heat," respectively), connect him with healing and especially with the therapeutic powers of thermal and other springs, an area of religious belief that retained much of its ancient vigour in Celtic lands throughout the Middle Ages and even to the present time.

Cult of youthful masculinity

Maponos ("Divine Son" or "Divine Youth") is attested in Gaul but occurs mainly in northern Britain. He appears in medieval Welsh literature as Mabon, son of Modron (that is, of Matrona, "Divine Mother"), and he evidently figured in a myth of the infant god carried off from his mother when three nights old. His name survives in Arthurian romance under the forms Mabon, Mabuz, and Mabonagrain. His Irish equivalent was Mac ind Óg ("Young Son" or "Young Lad"), known also as Oenghus or Angus, who dwelt in Bruigh na Bóinne, the great Neolithic, and therefore pre-Celtic, passage grave of Newgrange (or Newgrange House). He was the son of Dagda (or Daghda), chief god of the Irish, and of Boann, the personified sacred river of Irish tradition. In the literature the Divine Son tends to figure in the role of trickster and lover.

Cult of thermal spring-water

There are dedications to "Minerva" in Britain and throughout the Celtic areas of the Continent. At Bath Minerva was identified with the goddess Sulis, whose cult there centred on the thermal springs. Through the plural form Suleviae, found at Bath and elsewhere.

Cult of impressiveness

Ogmios (from Celtic *Ogmio- ‘furrow-maker,’ ‘impresser.’) was apparently a Celtic embodiment of ‘impressiveness’ both literal, as with the impressing action of ploughing and carving symbols, and figurative, as with the impressive nature of eloquence and prowess in warfare. In Gaul, he was identified with the Roman Hercules. He was portrayed as an old man with swarthy skin and armed with a bow and club. He was also a god of eloquence, and in that aspect he was represented as drawing along a company of men whose ears were chained to his tongue.

Ogmios' Irish equivalent was Ogma, whose Herculean, warlike aspect was also stressed. In Irish tradition he was impressively portrayed as a swarthy man whose battle ardour was so great that he had to be controlled by chains held by other warriors until the right moment. Ogham script, an Irish writing system dating from the 4th century AD, seems to have been named after him, a fitting association for a god of eloquence. Impressiveness being an aspect of eloquence, he was seen as a psychopomp, presumably by association with words spoken at funerary rituals.

Cult of exaltedness

Brigantia (Celtic: Highness), known variously Brighid, Bride, or Brigit seems to have embodied Exaltedness and so was the goddess of all such things considered exalted as the poetic arts, crafts, prophecy, healing, wisdom, homely fires, traditional learning, rivers, hills and divination; she was the equivalent of the Roman goddess Minerva (Greek Athena). In Ireland this Brigit was one of three goddesses of the same name, daughters of the Dagda, the great god of that country. Her two sisters were connected with healing and with the craft of the smith. Brigit was worshipped by the semi-sacred poetic class, the filid, who also had certain priestly functions.

Brigit was taken over into Christianity as St. Brigit, but she retained her strong pastoral associations. Her feast day was February 1, which was also the date of the pagan festival of Imbolc, the season when the ewes came into milk. St. Brigit had a great establishment at Kildare in Ireland that was probably founded on a pagan sanctuary. Her sacred fire there burned continually; it was tended by a series of 19 nuns and by the saint herself every 20th day. Brigit still plays an important role in modern Scottish folk tradition, where she figures as the midwife of the Virgin Mary. Numerous holy wells are dedicated to her.

Brigantia, patron goddess of the Brigantes of northern Britain, is substantially the same goddess as Brigit. Her connection with water is shown by her invocation in Roman times as "the nymph goddess"; several rivers in Britain and Ireland are named after her. Her name is cognate with that of Briganti, Latin Brigantia and, as the tutelary goddess of the Brigantes of Britain, there is some onomastic evidence that her cult was known on the Continent, whence the Brigantes had migrated.

Cult of Sucellos

The Gaulish Sucellos (or Sucellus), possibly meaning "the Good Striker," appears on a number of reliefs and statuettes with a mallet as his attribute. He has been equated with the Irish Dagda, "the Good God," also called Eochaidh Ollathair ("Eochaidh the Great Father"). A powerful and widely worshiped Celtic god, his iconographic symbols were usually his mallet and libation saucer, indicative of his powers of protection and provision. His Irish equivalent seeming to have been the Dagda, Sucellus was possibly one of the Gaulish gods who were equated by Julius Caesar with the Roman god Dis Pater, from whom, according to Caesar, all the Gauls believed themselves to be descended. Sucellus was sometimes portrayed with a cask of liquid or with a drinking vessel, which may indicate that he was one of the gods who presided at the otherworld feast. He was also often accompanied by a dog. In Irish forms of his cult, Eochaid Ollathair ("Eochaid the All-Father") , or In Ruad Ro-fhessa ("Red [or Mighty] One of Great Wisdom"), the Dagda ( Celtic"Good God") is one of the leaders of the Irish pantheon, the Tuatha Dé Danann ("People of the Goddess Danu"). The Dagda was credited with many powers and possessed a caldron that was never empty, fruit trees that were never barren, and two pigs—one live and the other perpetually roasting. He also had a huge club that had the power both to kill men and to restore them to life. With his harp, which played by itself, he summoned the seasons. The Dagda mated with the sinister war goddess Morrígan.

Cults of maritime forces

Whereas Ireland had its god of the sea, Manannán mac Lir ("Manannan, son of the Ocean"), and a more shadowy predecessor called Tethra, there is no clear evidence for a Gaulish sea-god, perhaps because the original central European homeland of the Celts had been landlocked.

The Irish sea god Manannan, from whom the name of the Isle of Man allegedly derived. Manannán traditionally ruled an island paradise, protected sailors, and provided abundant crops. He gave immortality to the gods through his swine, which returned to life when killed; those who ate of the swine never died. He wore impenetrable armour and, carrying an invincible sword, rode over the waves in a splendid chariot. He and his Welsh equivalent, Manawydan, brother of the god Brân, are apparently derived from an early unattested Celtic deity, *Manavos "Hand God," or perhaps even from the Proto-Indo-European sacrificer-god, *Manu "man".

Llyr or Lir, divine embodiment of the ‘Tidal Sea’ was depicted as the leader of one of two warring families of gods; according to one interpretation, the Children of Llyr were the powers of darkness, constantly in conflict with the Children of Dôn, the powers of light. In Welsh tradition, Llyr and his son Manawydan, like the Irish gods Lir and Manannán, were associated with the sea. Llyr's other children included Brân (Bendigeidfran), a god of bards and poetry; Branwen, wife of the sun god Matholwch, king of Ireland; and Creidylad (in earlier myths, a daughter of Lludd). Hearing of Matholwch's maltreatment of Branwen, Brân and Manawydan (Manannan) led an expedition to avenge her. Brân was killed in the subsequent war, which left only seven survivors, among them Manawydan and Pryderi, son of Pwyll. Manawydan married Pryderi's mother, Rhiannon, and was thereafter closely associated with them.

Cults of craftsmanship

The insular literatures show that certain deities were associated with particular crafts. Caesar makes no mention of a Gaulish Vulcan, though insular sources reveal that there was one and that he enjoyed high status. His name in Irish, Goibhniu, and Welsh, Gofannon, derived from the Celtic word for smith (Celtic: *Gobanos Divine Smith). The weapons that Goibhniu forged with his fellow craft gods, the wright Luchta or the metalworker Creidhne or Credne (from Celtic *Cerdanos Crafting God), were unerringly accurate and lethal. He was also known for his power of healing by suture, and as Gobbán the Wright, a popular or hypocoristic form of his name, he was renowned as a wondrous builder. Gofannon-Goibniu, as an embodiment of smelting fire formed a rational trinity with the embodiments of carpentry (Luchta the wright) and metallurgy (Creidhne the metalworker). Goibhniu was also the provider of the sacred otherworld feast, the Fled Goibhnenn; he allegedly brewed the special ale thought to confer immortality on those who drank it. In Christian times he became known as Gobbán Saer (Gobbán the Joiner), legendary builder of churches and other structures; as such he is still remembered in modern Celtic folk tradition. His Welsh equivalent, Gofannon, figured in the Mabinogion (a collection of medieval Welsh tales). It was believed that his help being vital in cleansing the plough at the end of the furrows commemorates an ancient ritual in which fire was used to symbolically 'purify' the plough by singeing before further use.

Cults of agricultural gods

Medieval Welsh also mentions Amaethon (from Celtic *Ambaxtonos "great ploughman"), evidently a god of agriculture, of whom little is known.

Cult of terrestrial bounty

Danu, also spelled Dôn or Dana (from Celtic *Danoa ‘Giving Goddess’ ) was the earth-mother goddess or female principle, who was honoured under various names from eastern Europe to Ireland. The mythology that surrounded her was contradictory and confused; mother goddesses of earlier peoples were ultimately identified with her, as were many goddesses of the Celts themselves. Possibly a goddess of fertility, of wisdom, and of wind, she was believed to have suckled the gods. Her name was borne by the legendary Tuatha Dé Danann ("People of the Goddess Danu"), the Irish company of gods, who may be considered either as distinct individuals or as extensions of the goddess and who survive in Irish lore as the fairy folk, skilled in magic.

In Celtic polytheism, the earth-mother was an eternally fruitful source of everything. Unlike the variety of female fertility deities called mother goddesses (q.v.), the Earth Mother is not a specific source of vitality who must periodically undergo sexual intercourse. She is simply the mother; there is nothing separate from her. All things come from her, return to her, and are her.

The most archaic form of the Earth Mother transcends all specificity and sexuality. She simply produces everything, inexhaustibly, from herself. She may manifest herself in any form. In other mythological systems she becomes a more limited figure. She becomes the feminine Earth, consort of the masculine sky; she is fertilized by the sky in the beginning and brings forth terrestrial creation. Even more limited reflections of the Earth Mother occur in those agricultural traditions in which she is simply the Earth and its fertility.

Cult of the power of boggy terrain

Some of Danu's alises, Anu, Anann are apparently derived from the Celtic *Hanona, meaning ‘Bog or Bread Goddess.’ According to classical authors, the Roman Iron Age people of northern Europe offered human sacrifices to celebrate military victories, to gain relief from illness, and to execute people as punishment for crimes. Many of those found in the bogs died violent deaths. Over the past centuries, remains of many hundreds of people--men, women, and children--have come to light during peat cutting activities in north-western Europe, especially in Ireland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark. These are the "bog bodies." The individual bog bodies show a great degree of variation in their state of preservation, from skeletons, to well-preserved complete bodies, to isolated heads and limbs. They range in date from 8000 B.C. to the early medieval period. Most date from the centuries around the beginning of our era. We do not know exactly how many bog bodies have been found--many have disappeared since their discovery. Clearly this must have been an aboriginal Pre-Celtic cult that was continued by the Celtic peoples. Bogs were a valuable source of peat, game, herbs, grazing and bog iron but may also have seemed mysterious environments, apparently neither land nor water, where the bodies of the dead were preserved and full of mist and flaring will o’ the wisps with a tendency to make victims of humans who had the misfortune of sinking in the quick mud. The bog then would have seemed to have power over human fortunes and so would have demanded high sacrifices both to redeem the gifts of resources and to appease its apparent anger. Anu may have represented the ambivalent boggy aspect of the earth-mother.

Cult of maternity

One notable feature of Celtic sculpture is the frequent conjunction of male deity and female consort, such as "Mercury" and Rosmerta, or Sucellos and Nantosuelta. Essentially these reflect the coupling of the protecting god of tribe or nation with the mother-goddess who ensured the fertility of the land. It is in fact impossible to distinguish clearly between the individual goddesses and these mother-goddesses, Matres or Matronae, who figure so frequently in Celtic iconography, often, as in Irish tradition, in triadic form. Both types of goddesses are concerned with fertility and with the seasonal cycle of nature, and, on the evidence of insular tradition, both drew much of their power from the old concept of a great goddess who, like the Indian Aditi, was mother of all the gods. Welsh and Irish tradition also bring out the multifaceted character of the goddess, who in her various epiphanies or avatars assumes quite different and sometimes wholly contrasting forms and personalities.

The goddess is the Celtic reflex of the primordial mother who creates life and fruitfulness through her union with the universal father-god. Welsh and Irish tradition preserve many variations on a basic triadic relationship of divine mother, father, and son. The goddess appears, for example, in Welsh as Modron (from Matrona, "Divine Mother") and Rhiannon ("Divine Queen") and in Irish as Boann and Macha. Her partner is represented by the Gaulish father-figure Sucellos, his Irish counterpart Dagda, and the Welsh Teyrnon ("Divine Lord"), and her son by the Welsh Mabon (from Maponos, "Divine Son") and Pryderi and the Irish Angus or Oenghus and Mac ind Óg, among others.

Mother-goddesses were maternal symbols of creativity, birth, fertility, sexual union, nurturing, and the cycle of growth, analogous with figures as diverse as the so-called Stone Age Venuses and the Virgin Mary. Because motherhood is one of the universal human realities, Celtic polytheism was no different from many other socio-religious systems in using some maternal symbolism in depicting its deities. Mother goddesses, as a specific type, were distinguished from the Earth Mother Danu (q.v.), Unlike the mother goddess, who was a specific source of vitality and who was believed to periodically undergo intercourse, the Earth Mother was a cosmogonic figure, the eternally fruitful source of everything. In contrast, mother goddesses were individual, possessing distinct characters, young, and non-cosmogonic, and highly sexual. Although the male played a relatively less important role, being frequently reduced to a mere fecundator, mother goddesses were usually part of a divine pair, and their mythology narrates the vicissitudes of the goddess and her (frequently human) consort, as with Rhiannon and Pwyll.

The essential moments in the myth of the mother goddess is her disappearance and reappearance and the celebration of her divine marriage. Her disappearance had cosmic implications: decline in sexuality and growth. Her reappearance, choice of a male partner, and intercourse with him restored and guaranteed fertility, after which the male consort is frequently was set aside and sent to the underworld to be replaced the next year (this has led to the erroneous postulation of a dying-rising deity).

The other major form of the mother goddess emphasizes her maternity. She is the embodiment of protection and nourishment of a divine child and, by extension, of all humanity. This form occurs more frequently in iconography—a full-breasted (or many-breasted) figure holding a child in her arms—than in myth.

Cults of femininity & majesty

Other goddesses may be the embodiment of Sovereignty, Youth and Beauty in union with her rightful king, or aged and hideously ugly when lacking a fitting mate.

Cults of cyclicality in nature

There appear to have been divine embodiments of various forms of cyclicality. Arianrhod (from Celtic *Argantorotoa Divine Silver Wheel) seems to have represented astral cyclicality, as manifest in the predictable movements of astral bodies and constellations. Thirdly, another deity, sometimes masculine as Aericurius, or feminine as Aeracura, Heracura or Aericura (from Celtic *Haerecura Divine Pastoral Cycle) is known to have been concerned with the earth and underworld and so may have embodied the believed cyclicality of life, death, reincarnation and rebirth as taught by the druids.

Cult of the trinitarian war-goddess

Goddesses may be the embodiment of perceived Dreadful Majesty, like the fearsome war-spirit Morrígan, or of Martial Conflict. like the Badhbh Catha or Badb ("Scald-crow of Battle"), whose name is attested in its Gaulish form, Catubodua, in Haute-Savoie, or the lovely otherworld visitor who invites the chosen hero to accompany her to the land of eternal youth. Irish tradition depicts these as in a trinity of ‘Martial Conflict’ (Badhbh Catha, Catubodua), along with ‘Horse power’ (Macha-Epona-Rhiannon), ‘Dreadful Majesty’ (Morrigan), and ‘Venomous Enmity’ (Nemain). It will be noted that this list contains more than three goddesses, but this confusion is also present in the early modern Irish literary sources. There are other goddesses, as well, who are counted in various sources as part of this "trinity", including Fea and Anann among others. A great slaughterer of men, the ‘Dreadful Majesty’ that was the Morrígan (from Celtic *Mororiganis ‘Nightmare Queen’) , also called Black Annis. Though the etymology is unclear (and possibly incorrect), some trace her survival in Arthurian legend as Morgan le Fay. The name Nemain, symbol of ‘Venomous Enmity,’ derives from Celtic *Namanta ‘Enemy Goddess.’

Cults of fluvial water

As arteries of life-giving water, rivers were often seen as manifestations of nourishing mother-goddesses, such as the Sequential Fluvial Water of the Seine (Sequana, *Sepana) and the Mothering Fluvial Water of the Marne (Matrona) in Gaul, or the Boyne (Boann) in Ireland. Many rivers were called simply Devona, the Divine (Water).

Cult of the stag’s vitality

The rich abundance of animal imagery in Celto-Roman iconography, representing the deities in combinations of animal and human forms, finds frequent echoes in the insular literary tradition. Perhaps the most familiar instance is the deity, or deity type, known as Cerowain (from *Cervanios, Stag-God) or Cernunnos, (either from Celtic *Carnonos, Deer-Hoofed One or *Cornonos Horned One ) even though the name is attested only a few times, on a relief at Notre Dame de Paris (currently reading ERNUNNOS, but an early sketch shows it as having read CERNUNNOS in the 18th century), an inscription from Montagnac (αλλετ[ει]υος καρνονου αλ[ι]σο[ντ]εας, "Alleteinos [dedicated this] to Karnonos of Alisontia"; Recueil des Inscriptions Gauloises I (1985), pp.318-325), and a pair of identical inscriptions from Seinsel-Rëlent ("Deo Ceruninco"; L'Année Épigraphique 1987, no. 772). (There is also a libellus from Dacia which mentions a "Jupiter Cernenus", but this may be unrelated.) The interior relief of the Gundestrup Cauldron, a 1st-century-BC vessel found in Denmark, provides a striking depiction of the antlered Cernunnos as "Lord of the Animals," seated in the yogic lotus position and accompanied by a ram-headed serpent; in this role he closely resembles the Hindu god Siva in the guise of Pasupati, Lord of Beasts. The god seems to represent the vitality of stags or of horned male mammals in general, to which warriors aspired. Interestingly, the English word horniness connotes not only being adorned with horns, but also with sexual potency, a natural token of vitality and creativity. Likewise, the word stag connotes in English not only a male cervid, but also a sexually successful male. There may have been a similar linguistic motivation behind his name in Proto-Celtic.

An archaic and powerful deity, widely worshipped as the "lord of wild things." Cernunnos may have had a variety of names in different parts of the Celtic world, but his attributes were generally consistent. He wore stag antlers and was sometimes accompanied by a stag and by a sacred ram-horned serpent that was also a deity in its own right. He wore and sometimes also held a torque, the sacred neck ornament of Celtic gods and heroes. The earliest known depictions of Cernunnos were found at Val Camonica, in northern Italy, which was under Celtic occupation from about 400 BC. Cernunnos was worshipped primarily in Gaul, although there are also traces of his cult in Britain.

An alternate interpretation of the meaning of the Stag-God holds that he represents the power of crossing boundaries, whether those boundaries are between physical locations or concepts. This helps to explain his apparent role as a god of commerce (he is often shown with a cornucopia overflowing with coins,) as well as his attributes of androgyny and therianthropy. If this interpretation is correct, he may be equivalent to the insular maritime deity (see above.) The fact that he possesses antlers rather than horns also seems to be a clue toward this interpretation (antlers, unlike horns, are shed on a seasonal basis.)

Cult of the bullish vitality

Another prominent zoomorphic deity type is the divine bull, the Donn Cuailnge ("Brown Bull of Cooley"), which has a central role in the great Irish hero-tale Táin Bó Cuailnge ("The Cattle Raid of Cooley") and which recalls the Tarvos Trigaranus ("The Bull of the Three Cranes") pictured on reliefs from the cathedral at Trier, .Germany., and at Nôtre-Dame de Paris and presumably the subject of a lost Gaulish narrative. Other animals that figure particularly prominently in association with the pantheon in Celto-Roman art as well as in insular literature are boars, dogs, bears, and horses. The god seems to have been the embodiment of perceived Bullish Vitality to which warriors aspired.

Cult of horse power and horsemanship

The horse, an instrument of Indo-European expansion, has always had a special place in the affections of the Celtic peoples. The goddess Epona, whose name, meaning "Divine Horse" or "Horse Goddess," epitomizes the religious dimension of this relationship, and was a pan-Celtic deity. Her cult was adopted by the Roman cavalry and spread throughout much of Europe, even to Rome itself. She seems to be the embodiment of Horse power, or Horsemanship perceived as a vital power for the protection and welfare of the tribe. She has insular analogues in the Welsh Rhiannon and in the Irish Édaín Echraidhe (echraidhe, "horse riding") and Macha, who outran the fastest steeds.

The Welsh manifestation of the Gaulish horse-goddess Epona and the Irish goddess Macha, *Rigantona 'Great Queen,' (Rhiannon), is best-known from The Mabinogion, a collection of medieval Welsh tales, in which she makes her first appearance on a pale, mysterious steed and meets King Pwyll, whom she marries. Later she was unjustly accused of killing her infant son, and in punishment she was forced to act as a horse and to carry visitors to the royal court. According to another story, she was made to wear the collars of asses about her neck in the manner of a beast. In Irish versions of her cult, ‘Horse power’ (Macha) forms a trinity with ‘Martial Conflict’ (Badhbh Catha) and ‘Venomous Enmity’ (Nemain), often each known individually as an Mor-Ríoghain ("Queen of Phantoms".) Macha, the Irish name for Epona, is mentioned as one of three war goddesses, who were also referred to as the three Morrígna. As an individual, Macha was an example of a class of goddesses with similar attributes, including Badhbh Catha (also known as Badb "Crow," or "Raven"). Inasmuch as ‘horse power’ was a part of and determined martial earthly affairs, Macha was the great earth mother, a ruthless female principle and a great slaughterer of men.

The effect of Christianity

The conversion to Christianity had inevitably a profound effect on this socio-religious system from the 5th century onward, though its character can only be extrapolated from documents of considerably later date. By the early 7th century the church had succeeded in relegating the druids to ignominious irrelevancy, while the filidh, masters of traditional learning, operated in easy harmony with their clerical counterparts, contriving at the same time to retain a considerable part of their pre-Christian tradition, social status, and privilege. But virtually all the vast corpus of early vernacular literature that has survived was written down in monastic scriptoria, and it is part of the task of modern scholarship to identify the relative roles of traditional continuity and ecclesiastical innovation as reflected in the written texts. Cormac's Glossary (c. 900) recounts that St. Patrick banished those mantic rites of the filidh that involved offerings to demons, and it seems probable that the church took particular pains to stamp out animal sacrifice and other rituals grossly repugnant to Christian teaching. What survived of ancient ritual practice tended to be related to filidhecht, the traditional repertoire of the filidh, or to the central institution of sacral kingship. A good example is the pervasive and persistent concept of the hierogamy (sacred marriage) of the king with the goddess of sovereignty: the sexual union, or banais ríghi ("wedding of kingship"), that constituted the core of the royal inauguration seems to have been purged from the ritual at an early date through ecclesiastical influence, but it remains at least implicit, and often quite explicit, for many centuries in the literary tradition.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Ancient Turkic Gods


Sky God – Tengri.
The ancient Türks believed that 17 Deities – Tengri, Yer-Sub, Umai, Erlik, Earth, Water, Fire, Sun, Moon, Star, Air, Clouds, Wind, Storm, Thunder and Lightning, Rain and Rainbow, ruled our Universe. Mongols believed that 99 Deities-Tengris, ruled our Universe. From ancient and medieval written sources (Türkic, Mongolian, Chinese, Byzantian, Arabian, Persian etc.), it is clear that between Türkic and Mongolian deities the superiority belonged to Tengri. The faith in Tengri of ancient Türks and Mongols was continuous, and it was preserved partially by the Altai peoples to the present time. The Türkic peoples named the Sky God almost identically: Tatars – Tengri; Altais – Tengri, Tengeri; Turks – Tanri; Khakases – Tigir; Chuvashes – Tura; Yakuts – Tangara; Karachai-Balkars – Teyri; Kumyks – Tengiri, Mongols – Tengeri, etc.

In the beliefs of the ancient Türks and Mongols all existing on the Earth is subject to Tengri – the incarnation of a celestial beginning, the Creator of a Universe, the ‘Spirit the Sky’. It was Tengri who first of all appeared as a Supreme deity located in a celestial zone of the Universe, ruling the fates of entire peoples, and their rulers, the Khagans, Khans etc. In the Orkhon stone inscriptions was imprinted the belief expressed by Bilge-Khagan of the role of Sky – Tengri: ‘All human sons are born to die in time, as determined by Tengri’.

The Kuk-Tengri (Blue Sky) is a non-material Sky, as opposed to the usual, visible sky. The appearance of Tengri is unknown. The words ‘Tengri’ and ‘Sky’ for the ancient Türks and Mongols were synonyms. The epithet ‘Kuk’ was also given to some animals, such as a horse (kuk at), ram (kuk teke), bull (kuk ugez), deer (kuk bolan), dog (kuk et), wolf (kuk bure). This epithet was not for a hue of the animal (skewbald), but it’s belonging to Sky, Kuk – Tengre, i.e. of a divine origin.

Yer (Earth) and Tengri (Spirit of the Sky) the Türks perceived as the two sides of a single beginning, not opposing each other, but mutually complimentary. A man is born and lives on the land. The Earth is his habitat. After the death the Earth swallows him. But the Earth gives the man only a material shell, and to be creative and to differ from others, living on the earth, at birth Tengri gives a Kut (Soul) to the man, and takes it back after death. There is an element of dualism here, but Tengri is supreme. It is known from Chinese sources that ancient Türks believed the lifetime of the man was at the will of Tengri. Bilge-Khagan said of the death of Kul-Tegin: ‘Human sons are all born to die in time, as set by Tengri’. And consequently the Türks addressed to Him for the help, and if the call was to Yer, Tengri was also always mentioned. Tengri could be mentioned without the Earth, but not Yer without Tengri. Tengri was considered a father, and Yer a mother.

Tengri acts freely, but He is fair, He awards and punishes. The well being of the persons and peoples depends on His will. Expressions ‘Tengri – jarlykasyn’ – Let Tengri award you, ‘Kuk sukkan’ (damned by the Sky) and ‘Kuk sugar’ (the sky will damn) were preserved from ancient Türkic times until now and are connected to faith in Tengri.

The Omnipresent Tengri was worshipped by lifting hands upwards, and giving low bows, praying for Tengri to give good mind and health, to help in good deeds; and nothing else. And Tengri assisted those who revered Him and also were active themselves. Tengri was God of the Sky, and was superior in the Universe. His greatness was emphasized by an addition to His name of the title ‘Khan’.

Further in the monument in honor of Kul-Tegin is: ‘Tengri (Sky), ruling my father Ilterish-Khagan and my mother Ilbilgya-Katun from the (celestial) heights, ennobled them (above the people)’. ‘As Tengri (Sky) gave them strength, the army of Khagan my father was like a wolf, and his enemies like sheep’.1

Tengri gives Khagans (Khans) wisdom and authority. We read on the monument in honor of Bilge-Khagan: ‘After the death of my father, at the will of Türkic Tengri (Sky) and Türkic sacred Yer-Sub (Earth and Water), I became Khan’. ‘Tengri who gives the states (to Khans), put me, it should be thought, as Khagan, so that the name and glory of the Türkic people would not disappear’.

After Khagans ascended to the throne, he became the state Patriarch for the people and for the nobility. He is esteemed as a son of Tengri. Tengri gives Khagan to his people, and punishes those who sinned against Khagan, ‘instructing the Khagan, attends to state and military affairs’.2 Crimes or offences against their Khagan were punished by Tengri (or by His will), for He gave the authority to Khagan. By Tengri a man became Khagan, and lived under His protection for as long as he himself was in accord with Tengri, was in His favor. There was a system of election of Khagan and during the election, the Beks felt and spoke, that Tengri Himself points to the candidate. A legitimate Khan was looked at as ‘Tengri-like, begotten by Tengri, a wise Türkic Khagan’. Election of Khagan was done with full responsibility. The Khagan (Khan) should be brave, clever, honorable, vigorous, fair, be in all features a real Bozkurt (wolf), be respected by the people and by the nobles. With help of these qualities Khagan unified all subordinated Türkic peoples and clans into a united nation–army, and stood to lead them. Only very energetic Khans knew how to keep under control this force, dangerous for the enemies. Khagan (Khan) had to take care of the people and Motherland. The care consisted not only of feeding and clothing his people; his main task was to raise the greatness of the Türks and the national glory.

On the ancient stone carvings of the 6-9 cc., found by the scientists on the banks of Orkhon and Tola rivers, in Altai region and in Tuva, the Türkic Khans – batyrs (mighty Heroes) left to their descendants these words: ‘Forward, to the sunrise; right, to the noon; back to the sunset; left, to the midnight... For the Türkic people I did not sleep nights and days, did not rest... Let not the Türkic people to vanish! Let not vanish the name and glory of the Türkic people!’ ‘My silver people increases the freedom, wealth, possessions... ‘ But when Khagan ruled improperly, it was said that Tengri reclaimed his capacity, requests him to be de-elected. Usually the Khagan perished incidentally, i.e. went to Tengri.

The sources of the ancient Türks, especially the Türkic inscriptions, contain facts, from which it is possible to extract data about punishment by Tengri of the individuals and sometimes of the whole people, with death and other retributions for some or other crimes or offences.

The forswearers swearing by Tengri were subject to a heavy punishment by Him; as was punished disobedience to Khagan, let alone attempts to overthrow him, switch to the enemy side, etc. Because Khagans usually lived in harmony with Tengri and were set on the throne by Him. Death of the criminals, with whatever circumstances it occurred, was caused by the will of Tengri; Tengri punished Khagan and even the whole nations by death, captivity etc., if they conflicted with Tengri. The disobedience to a deity or resistance to His will was inevitably punished by death.

Khagans themselves were fearful of the punishment by Tengri, even though they declared that He gave their authority. Chinese chronicles describe a case when one of the Türkic Khagans decided not to fulfill his promise to give his daughter as a wife to the emperor of the Northern Chjow dynasty. Later, however, he rescinded this intention, and only because he was afraid of a punishment by Tengri. The idea of a sin in a Christian or Islamic sense did not exist. Good and bad, goodness and evil, happiness and misfortune during the earthen life depended on Tengri, and reward and punishment followed immediately after offences. Tengri power over man ended after his death.

Mongols also worshipped Sky – Tengri. The information about Mongols’ Supreme Almighty God is written in ‘Secret Story’. There Tengri is also named Eternal Sky. Gengiz-Khan, addressing to his sons, says: ‘Eternal Sky will multiply your strength and power and will pass to your hands Togtai’s sons ‘. And later: ‘with the help of Eternal Sky shall we transform our commonwealth state’.3

Gengiz-Khan said that Tengri (Eternal Sky) requires not only a pray, but also activity: ‘... You, Djurchedai, have struck an enemy. You overturned them all: Djurginians, and Tubeganians, and Dunkhaits. And one thousand of selected guards of Khori-Shilemun. When you advanced to the main central regiment, then with arrow – uchumakh you wounded rose-faced Sangum in a cheek. That is why Eternal Sky opened for us gates and paths’.

As we see, Eternal Sky – Tengri not only assists, but also requires action of the worshipers, that is in addition to the pray the actions are also needed. Does it explain the startling successes of the ancient Türks in international arena?

Sky God – Tengri received in the Middle Ages a Persian name Khodai and later the missionaries of world religions tried to identify Him with the Christian God or Moslem Allah. But even such mighty religions as Islam and Buddhism failed to erase from the memory of the Türks and Mongols the name of Sky God – Tengri. Thus the great Sky God – Tengri never became neither God, nor Allah. Even now Moslem Türks in speech and writing use Tengri instead of the Allah.

Times and rules of sacrifice ritual to Great Kuk Tengri.
The Chinese testimony about rituals of Kuk Tengri are few and brief. The ‘Chjoushu’ chronicles about ancient Türks say: ‘In the 5-th month Türks usually slaughter sheep and horses to sacrifice to Tengri’. Another record: ‘Each year Khagan led nobles to the cave of his predecessors with offerings, and in the middle decade of the 5-th month they gathered at river Tamir to sacrifice to God Tengri’.4 The ancient Türkic peoples carried the ritual of sacrifice to Great Kuk Tengri through the centuries, and preserved it among Altai peoples. Likewise, Khakases organize the annual prayer to Tengri in the middle of June. It coincides with the time of prayer recorded by the Chinese sources, in the modern calendar falling between 5 and 10 of June. Tatars also preserved the celebration in the beginning of summer, but only in a truncated form and under a name Saban-Tui, and Buryats living in Transbaikalia and Siberia, have it under a name Subarkhan.

During a period of almost 15 hundred years (2 c. BC to 14 c. AD) in Türkic and Mongolian Khaganates, Khanates and Empires were organized annually on a statewide scale grandiose public warships – sacrifices to Great Sky God Tengri. Leading these warships to Sky God Tengri were Khagans and Khans themselves, since the authority of the Khagan was considered given by Tengri, and therefore he was a Patriarch of the state for the people and nobility.

In the beginning of a summer, at the time determined by Khagan, tribal leaders, Beks, famous commanders and Noyons etc. gathered in the Horde (capital). Together with Khagan (Khan) they went to the sacred mountain to sacrifice a colt to Great Tengri. The prayer to Tengri on this day was held throughout the whole state. Thousands of people from nearby auls (villages) and cities gathered at sacred mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes and springs. It was an impressive show. Tens of thousands of fires burnt near birches on sacred grounds, where were sacrificed horses, sheep, lambs. The purpose of warship was to pray for a crop, condition of cattle, abundance of milk, health and smarts for the people, help in just deeds. The prayer was held without women and Kams. They ended with a common celebratory feast, fun, various games, competitions, and races. Unfortunately the modern Tatars have retained only this materialistic part of a holiday (Saban-Tui).

The written evidence about Altai peoples, and especially about the Central Asia Türks, not only records a wide spread worship to Tengri as a highest Deity, but also underlines the solemnity of the sacrifice ceremony. Also testifies about the large role in the past of Tengri religion between Türks and Mongols the preservation of its ancient name among modern peoples, even among those who accepted Islam, Lamaism, and Christianity.

With abandonment by Türkic and Mongolian Khanates of the religion of ancestors (Tengrianizm), and with acceptance of the world religions the grandiose All Türkic worships to Tengri on the state scale ended. A local tribal worships proliferated in these conditions. The ritual side of Tengri worship began to weaken, and then vanished and turned to a vestige.

The recorded rituals of the ancient Türkic peoples in the past had various functions. And consequently the ritual rites varied. Ones were accompanied by sacrifices. Others were limited only to prayer. The collective ritual sacrifice to Tengri was made as an act of Creation. The ritual was meant to reconstruct Cosmos in the most sacred point of its space, at a world tree. The ritual was conducted on a spring morning in a place associated with a center, on a mountain between four sacred birches. The ritual accentuated the East: in this direction from the trees was set up a large sacred fire. The East, spring and morning corresponded with the beginning of space and time, with a place and time of the sunrise. The East in the ritual became a starting point in the ‘creation’ of the world. Then, strolling in the direction of sun, each mountain and river were worshiped, not only those within sight, but also those invisible, but real. Invoking names of the mountains, rivers etc. replicated a symbolical creation of space. In the direction from center to periphery it was ‘filled’ with objects. The replication of Cosmos was done cyclically; people in order turned to the sides of the World and thus closed the Earth circle. Following the path of the sun closed the circle of times. Thus the ritual physically re-created and embraced the space. At the beginning of circling the sides of the World a rope was tied to the eastern birch. Having made a complete circle, it was stretched around other birches and tied at the other end to the extreme western birch. The rope, stretched between four birches, visibly replicated the enclosed space with a boundary, a sign of steadiness and stability. The same symbology of the semantic center, enclosing four-cornered spaces, defined the forms of many ritual structures, ‘memorial fences’ of the ancient Türks. In mythological tradition the world is reliable if the same coordinates coincide for all its spheres. It becomes repeatable, reproducible and, as a consequence, ‘controllable’ by people.

A known scientist-researcher L.P.Potapov studied the ancient beliefs of the Türks for more than a half-century in the field in the Altai territory. He collected and recorded the most valuable materials about the preserved worship and sacrifices to Tengri by Kachines and Beltirs, nowadays commonly called Khakases. The first description will be about the Kachines.

‘Prayer was organized on the top of a specific mountain, next to a sacred birch (bai kaen). If no naturally growing birch was there, it was dug out with the roots, brought here and replanted. If it did not take root, the next year another birch was brought and replanted.

The Abakanian Kachines (Troyakov Ulus etc.) organized worship to Tengri on a mountain Saksor, on the right bank of Uybat (influent of Abakan). The inhabitants of various seoks (localities where particular kins lived. – Translator’s note.) gathered there. But it was organized and conducted by Kachines of one seok, in accordance with the agreement reached at a previous gathering. Neither women, nor girls were admitted here. Even the female domestic animals (mare or sheep) could not be here. The sacrificial lambs were usually male of white hue, but with black head or black cheeks. They were sacrificed in various quantity (3-15 heads), depending on number of the participants desiring to bring their animal as a sacrifice to Tengri. Men coming to the prayer attached to their headdresses two ribbons, white and blue. After arrival at the mountain the ribbons were removed, incensed with a medicative herb, called in Kachinian ‘yerben od’, and attached to the branches of the sacred birch. During worship could not be worn hats and there was no tobacco smoking.

Prayer went on without involvement of Shaman (Kam). Led it a selected old man who knows algys, i.e. the words of Tengri litany, named Algyschan kizi. He was dressed in felt clothes and high female cap. Behind a sacred birch (on the west), at some distance, was a sacred fire. Between it and the birch was a little table, hastily assembled of birch branches; cups, dishes, and spoons made from bark were left there. The worship started without any sacramentation, with appeal to the sacred birch and food alms. Simultaneously the procession encircled trice the birch (as orbits the sun), striding in such order: first went Algyschan kizi; then two worshippers (one with a cup of vine, another with a cup of kumys); behind them the householders leading their sacrificial lambs (with right leg folded), each holding a birch branch; then, crowding, followed all others. Algyschan kizi was saying blessings and appeals to sacred birch, the followers were splashing with spoons vine and milk on its top, and all others were bowing to it. After a third circle they stopped, drank from the cups the rest of vine and milk (everyone one sip) and went on to slaughter the sacrificial lambs. It was done in an ancient way (osot sogarcha): tumble the animal down on its back, cut the hide at the breastbone, squeeze the hand into the slot and tore up an aorta. The blood could not be spilled to the ground when the animals were butchered. Meat was cooked and the broth with pieces of meat was put on the little table; vine, milk, and cheese were also placed there. Then again circled the birch three times carrying the little table. After each round Algyschan kizi threw to Tengri pieces of meat (from the broth), cheese, sprayed vine and milk, throwing it all over the top of the birch and asking Tengri for a well being. Simultaneously everybody raised their hands to the sky, bowed and exclaimed: Tengre! Tengre! Here are some algys phrases recited by the old man:

Sacred is the birch with nine leaves. Tengri!

Nine lambs we offered up, Tengri!

We ask for a rain, Tengri!

We ask for a crop, Tengri!

Let the life be prosperous. Tengri!

With the last circle around the sacred birch the prayer ends and a ritual meal started. After the meal, all remaining meat, bones, skin of the sacrificial lamb (with head and legs) were burnt in a sacred fire. After prayer there were no games on the mountain. Before departure they agreed which seok and who from it specifically would host the following prayer. After a descent from the mountain the games and entertainment begin.

As to the praying to Tengri of the Beltirs, it had some specific features. It was organized by Beltirs in the basin of river Teya, in the upper rivulet Sari-Khol, and had an expressed clannish character. In preparation to it, vine was made, various products prepared for a ritual meal and a lamb for the sacrifice (eight lambs, and a ninth was especially for Tengri). The supplier of the latter lamb braided at home an eight yards’ rope and bought a dead eagle or a bercut (golden eagle. – Translator’s note). The bird was plucked ahead of the prayer; householders going to the prayer took the feathers. At home they made bands from feathers for a headdress – ul durbe. The grown-up sons living with parents did not wear a band. To the band in addition to feathers were also added red, black and white ribbons. The feathers and the ribbons were alternatively attached to the band, so that a first was upwards, and next hung down. This attractive band was put on a headdress at the time of departure for prayer, first performing an alas – incensing it with grass ‘yerben’. On the prayer day a man selected for the delivery of the sacrificial animal left the house early in the morning, with a band on the hat. Following tradition, he had to arrive the first at the site of the prayer and start the sacred fire at once. Therefore he was called tutchan kizi. Reaching the top of the mountain, he approached the four birches growing there, unsaddled his horse, spread shabrack (kichim) and laid his hat with the band on it, then using only flint started a fire near the birches (in the space assigned for prayer). Not far from the main fire (ulug ot) was set a second, ‘a small fire’ (kichi ot). The first fire was intended for burning a sacrificial animal, second for cooking meat of the other eight lambs slaughtered at the prayer for a ritual meal. The prayer participants soon started showing up. Only men could come. Every householder on arrival removed his hat with a band and laid it on shabrack, next to the hat of the tutchan kizi. To come up the mountain was possible only on colts and geldings. Arriving on mares left them at the foot of the mountain and ascended on foot or joined some rider. Not only women and girls could not come to the mountain, but even to be near it on the day of prayer, where, for example, were left mares. The arriving men (independent homeowners, and also those who arrived without carriages, and the visitors from others seoks and tribes) sat to the south of the small fire. Everyone was without a hat. Having settled down, they started to drink araka and slaughter lambs. The sacrificial lamb was slaughtered by the ancient way, the others as usual, by cutting the throat. Sacrificial lamb’s meat was cooked on the main fire, the others – on a small fire. The cooked meat of the sacrificial lamb was put in a separate wooden dish (tepsi), and the meat of the other eight lambs was put in a second tepsi. During the meat cooking one of the Beltirs, who knew the words of prayer to Tengri, approached a pile of headdress uldurbe and attached them to a long rope (chilpag). He braided it with the ul durbe bands, then went to the opposite (eastern) sacred birch and attached the end of the rope to it, and then, holding in the hands the second end of the rope, went south for the full length of the rope. East of the small fire were tueses (vessels made from birch bark. – Translator's note.) with araka (one tues from each master), with a special attendant. Behind the man with chilpag (chilpag tutchan kizi) there were two Beltirs with tepsi. The leader of the prayer prayed to Tengri, and a man standing behind him sprinkled sacrificial vine at the Sky with a bark spoon. The men holding dishes with steaming meat extended hands, and a man with chilpag raised the rope and waved it as a fan. Everyone was bowing. The old man leading the prayer called out by the name the prominent large and small mountains and rivers, turning from the east to the south, west, north and again to the east, and for each of them the prayers raised boiled meat, waved chilpag, sprinkled vine, and bowed. After the ritual of revering Tengri and treating of mountains and rivers, they ate the meat of the lamb, drank araka, and burnt on the first fire the meat of the sacrificed lamb, together with guts, skin and bones, until nothing was left. Chilpag was tied to all four birches. The bird with plucked feathers was left on the birch where chilpag was tied in the beginning of the prayer. The bird was left there to dry up.

After the prayer the men discussed, who will arrange a sacrificial lamb and start sacrificial fire on the mountain in the next year. When a person was chosen, a large wooden cup of araka was poured and given to him to drink. The ceremony ended before the evening, and all departed home.

It is possible to analyze some of the elements of the prayer to Tengri based on the factual material of its ritual side. The ritual part of the prayer is sated with ancient Türkic features. Except for timing and periods, and also the general character of the prayer, we shall point to the epithet of the deity: ‘Kuk Tengri’ – ‘Blue Sky’. It is a distinctive aspect of ancient Türkic and Mongolian ritual terminology, carried through the centuries and preserved with Altai peoples, despite of their complex ethnic history’.5

The word Yer-Sub for ancient Türks had two meanings. One is a Great Deity. Another is the visible world, an image of the native Land. In the believes of the ancient Türks and Mongols the Great Deity Yer-Sub existed in the middle section of the Universe, and of Her residence was on Khangan Plato (more exactly, on a mountain Lanshan at the upper course of Orkhon river, in modern Mongolia); this place the ancient Türks called Otüken homeland. The Türks depicted Yer-Sub Deity as a voluptuous beautiful woman. The Yer-Sub Deity patronized Homeland (Land and Water) where lived Türks and Mongols. Except for the Man, the nature and all alive on the Earth and in the Water subordinated to her. Therefore Türks esteemed Yer-Sub Deity as a highest deity after Tengri, which found a reflection in ancient inscriptions. Yer-Sub is mentioned together with Tengri in Orkhon inscriptions under a name of yduk Yer-Sub (sacred Earth and Water). One of the records says: ‘Türkic Tengri and Türkic sacred Yer-Sub said in Heaven: ‘Let not vanish the Türkic people! Let them be a Nation!’. It is possible to conclude, based on ancient monuments, that dominating role in determination of the fate of the people, and of whole nations, the ancient Türks attached to Tengri, and a force had Yer-Sub’s decisions that had consent of Tengri. Sometimes on an order from Tengri Yer-Sub punished people for their sins. But she was considered mainly as a kind Goddess, she patronized and defended the Türks in consent with Tengri. To appease Yer-Sub, in all lands where lived Türks, in preparation for cattle brooding were made sacrifices every spring, and the farmers did it before the beginning of the fieldwork. Sacrifices were also conducted in autumn, after completion of agricultural work. During Türkic Khaganates sacrifices to Yer-Sub had a nation-wide character. They were conducted in the upper flow of the river, on the banks of a lake. A reddish hue horse was sacrificed with appeals for fertility of the cattle, crop, health and well being of the Türks.

With the disintegration of the ancient Türkic states, with the loss of state centralization, with the splitting of tribal and territorial subdivisions, the rituals of reverence to Yer-Sub began to be conducted in a narrower territorial, local forms. As in ancient times, they were conducted in the upper rivulets and on a shore of the lakes. Mostly were sacrificed white rams, their hide was not burnt, but hung out (with head and legs in it) on a tree, under which a prayer was conducted. After the sacrifice ritual they had feasts, mass celebrations, gave presents to each other.

The ancient Türks called the visible world occupied by people Yer-Sub (Land-Water) or the place of Middle Earth, emphasizing its focal, central location. Each clan, each tribe owned their territory. This territory had fields, meadows, mountains, pastures, summer and winter hamlets, hunting grounds. The boundary of the economically employed territory outlined the world, in which members of a clan or tribe lived generation after generation. This Yer-Sub (Land-Water) was theirs, beyond its boundaries were possessions of others, and further away were places little generally known. Their own limited Yer-Sub was the not just a settled space, but a copy of the world as a whole. For each clan their land is a center of the world, center of the Earth, a focus of the order and harmony.

The native land is not only a geographical concept: it is a space emotionally perceived by a man. It is the land of the clan, the land of fathers, here the man was born, has grown. That is why this Yer-Sub, the Native Land, is not for sale, under any circumstances it can’t be given away, but should be defended. People die in fight for it, because in other lands people would not have the protection of Tengri, or Yer-Sub, and so no happiness.

Umai (Ymai, Mai, Omai). In the believes of the ancient Türks and Mongols Umai was a female Deity associated with benevolent deities and spirits. She was considered to be a favorite wife of Sky God Tengri, living in the heavenly zone. Like Yer-Sub, Umai directly deferred and performed assignments for Tengri. If Yer-Sub ruled over all alive on land and in the water, Umai was giving a special divine power to the people.

It is impossible to picture an image of Umai. Living in the heavenly zone, she radiates rays down to Earth, which penetrate into a man and as hot sparks live in him to his death. This spark supports in the man his vital energy and physical force, but it is neither spirit, nor Kut (luck; mercy, fortune; spirit. – Translator's note.). It is a divine power linking the man to the heavenly zone and it is sent by Tengri for his magnanimity. If the spark perishes, so perishes the man, he dies... Thus, everything spiritual and physical in our Universe was subjected to the two Deities Yer-Sub and Umai.

For the ancient Türks, Umai appeared as highly revered female Deity, who patronized all Türkic people. She participated, together with Tengri and Yer-Sub, in reaching a victory by the Türkic forces over an enemy. In the Orkhon inscription in honor of Tonyukuk there are such words: ‘Tengri, (Goddess) Umai, Sacred Yer-Sub, they, it should be believed, gave (us) victory’. In Orkhon inscriptions there is a comparison of the Khagan spouse with Umai: ‘...Her majesty my mother Katun, comparable to Umai...’. This testifies to the reverence of this Goddess by the highest ruling ranks of the ancient Türks, and first of all by the representatives of the divine authority on the Earth – the Khagans.

The ancient Türks did not sacrifice domestic animals to Goddess Umai. They prepared dairy and meat dishes and with solemn ceremonies dedicated them to Her.

After disintegration and fractionation of the ancient Türkic states and the detachment of the ancient Türkic population of Eurasia, the Goddess Umai began to be considered only as a protector, from bad spirits of the earthly world, of pregnant women and small children. The reverence to Umai (Ymai, Mai) Deity remained fresh in the memory of the Altai Türks until recent times.

And today a part of the modern Altai Türks thinks so. ‘When the Kut of the child reached the Earth, he was weak and helpless, and therefore together with him Umai descended from heavens, and guarded him even in the womb of the mother. It was necessary, for the malicious spirits, penetrating the human, could penetrate the womb of the pregnant woman and ruin the child, resulting in abortion. At the approach of delivery Umai helped the child to arrive, entering sometimes in a struggle with a malicious spirit, who interfered with delivery and pulled the child to itself. So were explained late and heavy deliveries. Umai helped to properly cut the umbilical cord. She not only safeguarded the child, but also looked after him, washed his face, cleaned eyelashes. Umai entertained the kid, educated him and talked to him in Her own way. They well understood each other. Sometimes the child, lying in the cradle, suddenly started to smile or laugh in a dream, and sometimes did it while awake. But sometimes child cried in a dream, slept restlessly, for Umai at that time left him.

Part of the Altai Türks, on the child reaching the age of six months, invited a Kam for a special sacramentation to Umai-ana (ana – mother), with a sacrifice of a young bull. During sacramentation they asked Umai to safeguard and to look after the baby, and attached to the cradle as a talisman a small model of a bow with an arrow, symbolizing the weapon Umai used for malicious spirits trying to attack the child. The complete care and the constant presence of Umai near the child continued until he learned not only to walk freely, and run, but mostly until he understood speech well, and spoke fluently. It happened at approximately 5-6 years of age. Now the child was completely included into his social environment, first of all in the circle of the parents and relatives, was being accustomed to work, played with children of his age, etc. At this point his connection with Umai-ana completely stopped.’6 When a child reached this age, a special kamlation (sacramentation. – Translator’s note) to Tengri was organized at the request of the parents, with a sacrifice of a domestic animal, and with an appeal for longevity for the child, because Tengri endowed the Kut (soul) to the child.

‘A part of Altai-Sayan Türks preserved Umai as a patroness of pregnant and small children. Here was well preserved a concept about archaic attributes of a deity personifying a female side of the human reproduction, as a patroness and defender of pregnant and newborn from malicious spirits of the earthly world. The babies, just born in the earthly world by the will of Heavenly Deities, were especially sensitive to malicious spirits.

Children saw and felt the malicious spirits in the dwelling, unlike the adult people, and certainly with exception of a Kam. The representation of a female biological beginning was also mirrored in the name Umai, which (equally for Türks and Mongols) meant the womb of the mother, uterus, placenta, and even cut off umbilical cord. It underlined the specificity of Umai functions as a deity of popular reproduction. It was Her, that the childless or unprolific spouses, and women, whose children died in infancy, and the like, asked for children.’7 Kams revered Umai at difficult deliveries, the women called Her Umai-ana – ‘mother Umai.’

The concept of placenta and umbilical cord under a name Umai (Mai, Ymai, Omai) are not alien to both modern Altai-Sayan Türks and Mongols. Believing that Umai will remain in the umbilical cord and will permanently patronize the child, customarily the umbilical cord was buried in the yurt near a hearth. Revering Umai, the Türks in many families made a symbolical small bow with arrow or spindle, to serve as a talisman for the babies. The bow with arrow was for the boys, spindle was for the girls. These amulets were attached to the dwelling, near the usual place where was a cradle with child. They were made at the first placement of the newborn into the cradle, with the invited Kam, and removed when children grew up and did not use a cradle any more.

The modern Volga Tatars do not revere Umai deity. This reverence was preserved in the pre-Islamic Tatar dastans (poetic tales) and legends, in language and in customs. In Tatar language are many well-known words derived from roots um, ym, im, am, expressing female womb or link between the mother and child ym, ymsynu, ymyn amu, yyumalau, im-gek, imu, imezu, imezlek, -imi, -imchak, am, amyi, mai etc.

Today the Türks do not know about Umai deity, and therefore, do not recognize Her. But with it they did not become neither spiritually, nor materially richer. The divine birth of the child, childcare have simply turned to a usual reproduction, but even that is not for themselves, but as a service to other peoples.

The ancient Türks and Mongols considered Erlik a Deity of the Underground World. He is a leader and potentate of the underground world, where is no sun, nor moon. In the Orkhon-Yenisei monuments Erlik is mentioned in transcription Erglik. The ancient Türks also called him Erlik-Khan.

The appearance of Erlik is described in the appeals of Kams. Erlik is described as an old man with athletic built. His eyes and eyebrows are as black as soot, the beard is parted and reaches his knees. The moustache is similar to tusks, curling behind the ears. The horns are like the roots of a tree, and the hair is curled.

With a name of Erlik the Türks connected the worst disasters, for example epidemics and illnesses of the people and cattle. He caused these illnesses to force man to give Him a sacrifice. In normal times and especially with an illnesses, a man felt a painful fear of Erlik, and was afraid to say His name, calling Him the instead Kara-Name, i.e. something black.

The ancient Türks and Mongols believed that Erlik had a family. The sons of Erlik helped Him to rule the underground world, where there are lakes, rivers and seas. Erlik has several daughters. In the ancient Türkic myths the number of them is from two to nine. They are described as idle, sexually promiscuous, desirous to lure to their beds Kams when they descend to the underground world in time of sacramentation, and to snatch the sacrifices that Kams bring to Erlik.

Ancient Türks believed that Erlik was closely connected with Kams. Ancient legends said that Erlik taught the first black Kam sacramentation. Sacramentation to the underground world was done only by black Kams (kara kam), white Kams (ak kam) never went to the underground world. Though Erlik was a deity managing the underground world, he caused an evil rarely. He did not control the death of the people and did not take away their Kut, but only accepted in his kingdom the material body of the diseased. The ancient Türks believed that the Kut, after the body being burnt, returned to Sky, or after being buried went to the land of diseased, to the world of ancestors, instead of the care of the Master of Hell (Erlik’s) as it is in the doctrines of the world global religions. In the Erlik kingdom were live malicious spirits – Kermeses who sometimes rose to the land under the sun to harm people. Especially many of them come at sunset.

Sacrifices to Erlik were conducted at night, by slaughtering domestic animals with some defect (broken horn, lame, etc.), as it was believed that the underground, the invisible world is a contrast to the visible world.

The Earth.
The great Sky God Tengri was a dominating deity in the Universe and, undoubtedly, was believed to be a father, a ruler. The deity Earth was considered to be a mother and a wife of Tengri. She appears as a force of nature, She is one of the main deities, only Sky was higher. Therefore ancient Türks and Mongols highly esteemed deity Earth. In ancient mythologies there is a theory that on the Earth people appeared from a marriage of deities Tengri and Earth. In Orkhon monuments there is a record: ‘In the beginning there was a blue sky above, and below a dark land, and human sons appeared between them. The sky sanctions life, it fertilizes, but the birth is given by Earth, Who is a natural incarnation of ‘body’s bottom’. People are born, live and die on the land. After a death the land swallows them. Land grows the grass, cereals and trees, including the Sacred Tree that connects the worlds. The people revere the Earth as a giver of crops and abundance, as a source of treasures that give the material happiness to humans.

In the spring, before the beginning of the production year, and in the autumn, after finishing the work, as a sign of gratitude for the abundance of food and happiness of the people, the ancient Türks and Mongols made a sacrifice to deity Earth. Milk, kumys and tea were sacrificed to her; pleads for fertility of the land, rich crop etc. were addressed to Her.

Ancient Türks believed deity Water was born earlier than deity Earth. Therefore She was believed to be a senior sister of Earth. Per ancient mythologies it was believed that the beginning of the Earth started from Water. From the bottom of Water ‘a heavenly duck’ lifted sand, clay, silt, from which the Earth was created.

The closest deity for Water was Rain. The Rain helped grow children and grandchildren of Water – sea, river, lakes and springs. She was hostile to deity Fire.

The ancient Türks related to Water twofold. On the one hand they believed that water ‘is a commencement, initial state of everything existing, equivalent of primordial chaos,.. water is a medium, agent and basis of global grandeur and incipience. Water evenly bore with foreign and hostile. It is the possession of spirits and the entrance in another world. It is not accidentally that to wash the face with water in mythological tradition is conceptually equivalently to ‘die’.

But on the other hand, Water was greatly respected, as without the water the life on the Earth is impossible. Even a human consists of 80 percents of water. In the mother womb the child is surrounded and protected from everything by water. Türks named this water ‘vivifying water’. Water in unclean lakes and boggy pools, filled with stale muck, were called ‘dead water’.

The life, fertility and productivity of land depend on Water deity. Therefore sacrifices were brought, at the river sources and lakes, to Earth and Water, asking for good harvest, increase of cattle and well being in life.

Ancient Türks believed deity Fire was a grandson of Sky God Tengri and a son of the Sun. His brother was Lightning. Therefore, in spite of the fact that Fire was born and has grown on the Earth, after death It rises to the Sky as smoke, to again return to the Earth.

In Fire the ancient Türks saw an omnipotent deity, which arises, breathes and permanently varies. The Türks associated with Fire a birth, growth, development, and the life in general. As scientist N. Katanov wrote in his records, ‘In perception of the Tatars, the spirit of Fire grows and warms beings, and as soon as the spirit of Fire departs from the being, he dies, the body unites with the land, and the soul joins the multitudes of spirits, soaring above the Earth’.

The ancient Türks visualized in myths deity Fire as an image of a Red cow, Red bull, and Red cock. In other images, Fire was personified with by a female figure – Ut-Ana, Mother Fire. Ut-Ana was believed to be the mother of all people. When Fire whistled in the hearth, they bowed to the flame and invocated: ‘Fire, you are our Mother with 30 teeth, you are our mother-in-law with 40 teeth’.

In the yurt Fire was deemed to be a part of the sun (Heavenly Fire). The hearth in the center of the yurt was round in form (solar disk). Warmth, emanating from the sun and fire, their bright luminescence and the colors bore certain analogies between them. Sun and fire, and the link between them and the life, were extended to the woman as a forebear and guardian of descendants.

The Fire-hearth was protected and kept clean, a careless attitude could result in Him becoming angry and ‘leaving’ the yurt. Fire was believed to be a clan deity, but each family had also a family Fire, and to mix Him with Fire of other family, to borrow Him from the neighbors was a sin, it was even impossible to cook food in a utensil that has earlier been on another Fire.

Completely inadmissible was to desecrate Fire, i.e. to throw any garbage and leftovers, foully smelling substances, mix coals by a sharp object, to swing at and step over Fire, to push in fuel by a leg, to step on ashes, to spit: for spitting on lips would come blisters. It was prohibited to deviate from the daily ritual of feeding and treating Fire, giving slivers of food and drinks used by the inhabitants of the yurt. For sacrifice to Fire usually was used fat. Even ashes from the home hearth were taken somewhere to a secluded place, where neither people, nor animals would not go. For violation of these and other rules Fire punished inhabitants by various illnesses, deprived of the protection from malicious spirits, sometimes even burnt some or other things, and occasionally also the dwelling. A burned object was seen as the most terrible signal of Fire anger, and a special prayer with sacrifices was then organized. If it occurred on a hunt, the hunters abandoned hunting. When the burning wood in the hearth cracked or a whistling was heard, it meant Ut-Ana’s good mood, and the master should expect good news and visitors.

‘Once a year in a yurt were organized family prayers to Ut-Ana. The purpose of them was to ask for the family’s well-being: that nobody fell sick, the cattle was not lost and a good luck. a Kam conducted in a yurt a prayer to Ut-Ana. A white ram with a black head was given as a sacrifice. Before the sacrifice, simmered milk was poured upon the ram, it was decorated with multi-colored ribbons and released back to the herd, thus devoting it to Ut-Ana. After the slaughter of the sacrificial ram the right front part of the carcass and heart were burnt, and the remaining part with the hide were given to the Kam.

A required attribute at all Kam’s sacramentations was a birch, symbolizing link of the upper and lower world, and in the yurt its branches – sis were used. They, decorated with chalama (ribbons of blue, red and white color), were set in the floor around the hearth. After a sacrifice to Fire the Kam threw into the hearth pieces of fatty meat, the flames flashed with large blazes. In invocations to Ut-Ana the Kam usually said: ‘You, Fire, Mother of ours. You have 40 teeth, You are covered with red silk, and You have white silk bed. I did not step on white ashes. Small children and dogs did not touch you. I sacrificed the white ram, I gave the white lamb, I bow to you, Fire, give us, give us easier (life— Translator’s note)’.8

The sacrificial food for deities and spirits was prepared on flames. People ate the meat, and the Deities and Spirits were fed the smell of the roasted meat.

Fire had a cleaning quality. A desecrated thing was held above the flames for cleaning. The ambassadors arriving to Khagan were always led through a flame, between two fires, subjecting them to a fiery clean up. Leaving the winter quarters, the Horde passed between two fires. A man giving a public oath also had to be cleared by flames. For this purpose fires were set in two places, he was led between fires and had to kiss a sable or sword, and in the Middle Ages he had to kiss a mouth of a gun, with which a man was killed before. Only after that the man could give the oath.

“Fire was a patron of dwellings, a home sanctuary, therefore a bride, at the entrance to a new family, had to bow to Fire of the husband’s house, so that her family would be as happy as the ancestors. Women led the bride entering a new family to a yurt of the father-in-law. Indoors she did usual kneeling (entering into a yurt of the relatives older than her husband and accidentally seeing them, brides kneel every time). Then she was seated in the center on a tanned calfskin, so that the bride was soft, as a skin,... then poured fat into flames, and she bowed to the ground a few times, invocating, ‘Mother-Fire and Mother-Fat, award me with your favor!...’ At this time women pat her on the face with palms warmed in the flames"9. And the Kam, stretching his hands above the flames, invocated: ‘Lady Hearth Ut-Ana! By your will this flame is born. So let this flame be protection of the dwelling against malicious spirits, a barrier from human treachery, let the goodness to warm without burning, and the evil be eliminated without a trace. Let Fire last for thousands of years! Bless the hearth, Ut-Ana!’ After that the Kam declared the bride to be a wife of the groom and a full mistress of this hearth, and the groom to be a husband and a master of this yurt.

Fire was applied for treatment of various diseases. So, if a child or adult had crusts on the face (Russ. ‘fiery fly’ – Translator’s note), above them were made sparks by a flint. And Kam, addressing the crusts, said, ‘Why a sole branch of a tree does not move anywhere, why do you wander here and there? Let all the crusts together with fiery sparks fall from the face. Just as knoll does not move anywhere, you too do not move. Do not build your yurt here any more. Tfu, tfu to you. Do not come back here any more’.

With the help of Fire Kam treated child from milk disease (disease of the mucous membrane of a mouth, when it becomes covered by a bright-white film). The treatment consisted of the Kam laying the child on the back and burning on his chest a piece of a birch bark, in the place of the burn remained a stain-mark. The same procedure was conducted for the treatment of salivating.

‘To the number of diseases cured by flames belonged rheumatism – pain in the legs, which, in the opinion of the ancient Türks, was caused by careless walking in places of old encampments. Mongols thought precisely the same, because they had a legend that Khonkirat people suffered pains in the legs because they came from Yergena-Kun mountain valley and stomped the good of other peoples under their feet.

The treatment by fire was such: from the seven parts of a cattle body were cut pieces, thrown into flames and then a sick place (rheumatism) was heated with them. The ritual to clear the illness with the sacrificial fire was such: a tin scoop was thrown into flames, heated red-hot, then filled with oil and a blue cloth was sunk in there, when it all was ignited, the scoop was brought under the nose of the patient and cold water was poured, producing a terrible steam. This treatment was called ‘jelaushek’ (spell by a wind).’10

It was believed that the ashes also had medical property. So, a bleeding wound was strewed with hot ashes, which accelerated the healing. At sudden pain in the stomach a man took hot ashes by the right hand and a few times smeared it across a bare stomach.

Sun. (Koyash).
Sun for the ancient Türks was an esteemed God. The ancient Türkic mythologies said that the Sun is the son of Tengri, and His mother is Earth. Therefore, it circles between the father and mother. The ancient Türks and Mongols worshipped power and vital force of the god Sun. It was not possible to imagine life without energy and influence of the Sun.

In antiquity was a ritual of greeting sunrise. Huns, coming out in the morning from aul (village. – Translator’s note), welcomed the ascending sun and bowed to Him. Praying Türks turned to the sunrise. They worshipped Sun because Tengri and His assistant Kun (Sun) supervise the created world by means of the Sun rays which are strings linking the spirits of plants with the Sun.

The ancient Türks knew a solar ray as a transmission medium for embryo of life sent by Tengri to the man. A vivid example is the genealogical legend of the birth by a shamaness, from a Türkic ancient noble clan Ashide, of the son An-Lushan, later famous, who rebelled against Tan dynasty of imperial China. At his conception a ray of light penetrated the yurt. It is possible to also recollect the ‘famous pra-mother of the Mongols, Alan-Goa, who originated the clan of Gengiz-Khan, conceiving from a ray which penetrated the yurt through a smoke hole.’11

The ancient Türks associated the movement of the sun in the sky with a flight of a fiery bird, winged horses, etc.

Winged horses as a symbol or personification of the Sun were widely spread in the cosmogonic myths of the Türkic peoples. In addition to the horse and birds with the symbol of Sun were also connected such animals as ram, deer, bull.

The huge number of domestic artifacts decorated with signs and symbols of solar ornament, found on all the territory of Eurasia, testifies to a wide distribution of the cult of the Sun between the Türks. Such signs are pictured in large numbers on ceramic vessels and female earrings.

Moon (Ai).
Ancient Türks’ mythology regarded Moon as a daughter of Sky God Tengri and Earth. Ancient Türks perceived goddess Moon dually: Moon frightened them and at the same time they loved Her.

The moon was represented as a Lady and as a symbol of the night. The night is darkness, when the malicious spirits emerge from all holes. All feasts and jamborees of malicious spirits occur at night. The rituals and hypnotic sessions of witches were always conducted according to the phases of the Moon and, mainly, in a full moon. At night the illnesses amplified, causing more often deaths at this time. Robberies, murders are done mainly at night. On the other hand, the Türks trusted the magic force of the Moon. She was a sole night lantern. To please Moon those born during full moon were given names as such: Aisylu, Aituly, Ainir, Aizirek, Ainaz, etc.

From ancient times the Türks noticed that woman and moon have the same secret force. The female cycles, her mysterious bleedings, coincided with the monthly phases of the moon. Female pregnancy lasts about nine lunar months, and more often women deliver during a full moon.

Three phases of the moon also had their signs. It was believed that at ‘ai naazy’ (new moon) the moon symbolized a young girl, who grew day to day. She is pure and modest. At ‘ai toly’, ‘tuly ai’ (complete moon) Moon personified a mature woman – mother. In this period she is good-natured and favorable. At ‘ai karty’ (old moon) the Moon aged, became wise, but at the same time quarrelsome and malicious. Before death Moon reigned in absolutely dark night, She was not visible. In these three nights, it was believed, life and death meet together. After the meeting they separate, to meet again in a definite period. The old Moon died, a new one was born, and together with Her a new life, new cycle, new round was born, and so on indefinitely.

Stars. The ancient Türks and Mongols revered stars. For them were brought sacrifices. The Star deities, in the opinion of the Türks, influence the human happiness, richness, cattle, and others, and each star corresponds to a Kut of a man on the Earth, and when the man dies, his star also falls on the Earth.

A happy man, protected by a fate, was called ‘a man with a star’. The ancient Türks knew many stars, but the most popular, which they continuously encountered in practical life, were:

1. A Polar star – Timer Kazyk (iron stake) was a reference during night travels. The name Iron Stake, probably, was given due to a visual immovability and, consequently, two close stars moving around it, like horses on a cord tied to a stake, were named ‘two white horses’. According to the cosmological ideas of ancient Türks, the sky looked like a cupola of a yurt. The Polar star was called ‘A Smoke hole of the Sky’, a mythological center the Sky ostensibly serving as a pass to other worlds. The history of its creation is:

There was a time, when the Sky and the Earth came in disorder. The Sky pressed on Earth, and the Earth split. A great Chaos came to the Universe. Black storm grasped the Earth, the ashes of earth mixed up with clouds, the thunder roared, lightning flashed, hailstones fell the size of a duck egg.

People, animals and birds perished, only groans were heard above the Earth, fear and confusion, suffering and grief reigned.

Mountains moved, rivers were overflowing, fire clinched forests and steppes. The moon, sun and the stars lost their tracks, and were swept in a chaotic spinning.

Three years reigned Chaos, three years lasted the disaster, until the Lord the Sky, god Tengri in great anger hammered into Universe a golden stake.

The golden stake of the god Tengri secured the Sky and the Earth, and became an axis of the world, around which hold the path the moon and the sun, stars and comets. And the end of the stuff can be seen at the night in a dark sky, people named it a Polar star.

2. Big Bear was called Seven Elders. They were given as offerings kumyz, milk and animals. Seven Elders kept a stolen daughter of Pleiads.

3. Pleiads – Urker. The Türks noticed a forward movement of Pleiads to Big Bear and thought that Pleiads pursued Seven Elders to free the daughter. The Türks determined by Pleiads the time of night and the seasons.

4. Venus – Shepherd’s star. By the rise of this planet the Türkic shepherds brought herds to the aul (village) corral.

5. A morning star – Chulpan12. The Türks named children in honor of favorite stars.

The Byzantian historian Th. Simocatta wrote that ‘the Türks worship fire, water, earth, sky and air’.13

Ancient Türks believed that deity Air supervises the life between Sky and Earth. Air, as well as all other deities, accedes to Great Sky God Tengri. Without Air the life on the Earth is not possible. Therefore in ancient Türkic mythologies deity Air had properties of life, of a vital force. Life entered through breath. Stop breathing, and without air comes death. In the myths sometimes inhaling life revived dead heroes.

Thunder and Lightning.
Ancient Türks believed that Great Sky God Tengri controlled Thunder and Lightning. By His order deity Thunder and Lightning punished malicious forces. The Türks believed that a thunder is an angry voice of Tengri, and lightnings are heavenly arrows, which strike malicious spirits. A house struck by lightning was not extinguished and nobody would come near it until it completely burned down. A house struck by lightning was believed to deserve the anger of Tengri. No new house was built on that place; it was believed that there would be no happiness. The beliefs of the ancient Türks prohibited a use of a tree struck by a lightning, not only in construction, but also as fuel. Splinters from the tree which undergone an impact of a lightning were used as medical means. A patient was fumigated with coals of a tree struck with lightning. The Türks noticed, that the lightning does not struck sacred birches, because they have links with Sky. A man killed by a lightning was considered ‘sacred’. In a place hit by a lightning were brought sacrifices to spirits.

In ancient Türkic mythologies deity Wind mainly symbolized mischievous, brawling, sometimes a violent character. Nobody could imagine how Wind looks, but in some myths His image is shown similar to the unbridled horse. The Türks called, and do it until today, the thoughtless people or horses ‘born of a wind’.

Ancient Türks believed that deity Wind directly reports to Great Spirit Tengri. Because of His restless character Wind cannot get along with deities Earth, Water, and, sometimes, with spirit Fire. He permanently clashes with them and does not let them rest. When angry, in the winter He sends to the Earth snowstorm, and, in the summer, hurricane, bringing misfortune to the people, animals, and nature. Therefore, running into hurricane, the Türks spat three times: ‘tfu, tfu, tfu’. The ancient Türks believed that some spirits of illnesses appeared as a wind and struck people. If, during a hunt, the wind destroyed a tent of the hunters, they stopped hunt and immediately went home, believing that hunting would not be successful. They returned back to hunt a bit later, first arranging a small prayer, addressed to the master of a forest or a mountain where they hunted.

Western and northern winds were considered ‘bad’. In the autumn they brought bad weather: rain, snow, clouds covering the sun. In January and February are some very windy days, therefore they are called ‘Jil aiy’, months of wind. ‘Do not admit malicious spirit, do not admit evil wind,’ addressed to Umai Altais. The ancient Türks perceived the wind as a touch of the other world and its breeze was believed to be a reason for discomfort, especially, if the wind was an ‘envoy of the lower world’.

Wind, as one of the elements of nature, creates a situation of change. It brings not only clouds, storm, but in mythological plots it also brought diseases. Certainly, a violation of stability in itself was not a trouble yet, but the wind could become a trouble. Therefore possession of wind, skill to control weather was one of the characteristics of strong Kams, Yadachi and other sacral persons. Their interference was required in situations when elements could turn into a trouble for a man.

The ancient Türks esteemed Him, despite the negative effects of the Wind. In honor of deity Wind and in reverence to Him, per Chinese chronicles, the Türks constructed a temple under a name ‘Dispersing the clouds’. The Türks visited this temple before a military campaign, made a sacrifice and asked for a victory.

A light air movement produced with a fan was part of the Tengrian ritual. The sense was that blowing a light wind was considered as showing up of spirits, to whom this or that request was addressed.

As it is known, one of the main movements of a Kam during sacramentation with tambourine or a fan was a fast spinning on feet. This movement symbolically represented a whirlwind. Kam turned clockwise. The same rotation performed the faithful around the sacred birches, fire etc during a sacrifice. People trusted the spirit of Wind, a personifying force of the nature, which gave them energy. At the same time the Türks had the idea of a whirlwind as an evil spirit, if the rotation was counter-clockwise. Such a whirlwind could steal the Kut of a man.

Ancient Türks saw Tornado as a malicious deity. The tornado was not so much frightening as inducing admiration as a deity personifying the force of nature.

Ancient Türks believed that deity Cloud directly subordinated to Great Sky God Tengri. Thunder and Lightning were His brothers. A violent wind sometimes mischieved and drove Cloud in a boundless Sky. White clouds were forerunners of a sunny day. Black clouds were forerunners of a rain. No Clouds was for hot, droughty weather.

The most esteemed deity for the Türks was Rain. Both the harvest and the well being of a man depend on Him. In May a sacrifice was made to deity Rain. After the sacrifice started the ‘rain celebration’.

By ancient mythologies, the ancient Türks portrayed Rain as a human. He lived in the Sky, but was more connected with Earth deities. His brothers were Thunder and Lightning, Cloud, Wind, and sister Water on Earth. The sources of water on the Earth especially esteemed deity Rain. By the ancient believes, if a spring flows with a murmur, it means that there will be a drought. The most esteemed and sacred for ancient Türks was the first rain in the beginning of the spring – Leysen, which is in many myths and legends of the Türks. The ancient Türks believed in His vivifying, curative properties and used water as medicines. Türks – Tatars till today give names to the children in honor of the first spring rain.

Rainbow. Ancient Türks believed that Rainbow was a sister of Rain. After a spring warm rain Rainbow had a habit of milking the sheep, tied with a cord into a row by the necks. This row people from the Earth see as beautiful semicircles.


Chapter III. Deities

1. Malov.S.E. Monuments of Ancient Türkic writing, M.L., 1951. Pp 37-39.

2. Klyashtorny S.G. Mythological scenarios in Runic monuments // Turkological Collection. M., 1981. P. 131.

3. Magazine Baikal. Sacred Tale. Ulan-Ude, 1989. No.6

4. Liu Mau-Tsai. Op.cit Bdl. S.42.458.

5. Potapov L.P. Altaic Shamanism. L. 1991, Pp. 264-267.

6. Potapov L.P. Altaic Shamanism. L. 1991, Pp. 37-38.

7. Potapov L.P. Altaic Shamanism. L. 1991, Pp. 291.

8. Gladyshevsky A. Newspaper ‘Soviet Khakassia’, 22 November 1991.

9. Chokan Valikhanov, Selected Works, M., 1986. p. 305.

10. Chokan Valikhanov, Selected Works, M., 1986. p. 226.

11. Rashid ad-Din, Collection of Chronicles, M., 1952, Vol. Book 2, p 14.

12. Chokan Valikhanov, Selected Works, M., 1986. p. 306.

13. The Byzantian Historians. Trans. S. Destunis, SPb., 1860, p. 376 (In Russian.)