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Myths of Mongolia and Tengriism
Transcript of Myths of Mongolia and Tengriism
In Tengriism, there are many powerful spirits, collectively called tengri. They are not deities. There is only one supreme God, also called Tengri. Tengri is also the Mongol word for the sky.
Tenets of Tengriism
So Tengriism is essentially monotheistic, with an astounding amount of tolerance for other beliefs. This is highlighted quite strongly in two quotes from Mongke Khan and from Argun Khan:
Mongol Animistic Symbols and Other Myths
The Horse: At least in part owing to their nomadic origins, the horse is a central part of Mongol symbols. It is considered an extension of the rider, and many Mongol leaders were known as At-Beyi, Horse Lords.
The primary tengri spirits are:
Bai-Ulgan: One of the creator tengri.
Esege Malan: Bai-Ulgan's counterpart creator tengri.
Umay: Patroness of fertility and virginity.
Erlik Khan: King of the Underworld, patron of death, time, and justice.
Ot: Patroness of marriage.
Tung-Ak: Patron of tribal chiefs.
Daichin Tengri: The Red Tengri of War.
There exists one supreme God, Tengri. He is the unknowable One who knows everything. He is the Judge of people's good and bad actions. Tengri can bless a person richly but can also utterly destroy those whom he dislikes. His actions cannot be predicted. His ways are difficult to know.
Tengri is the intelligence and power behind all of nature. Everything is ultimately controlled by him, from the weather to the fate of individuals and nations. This is why Genghis Khan says in the Altan Tobchi: 'I have not become Lord thanks to my own bravery and strength, I have become Lord thanks to the love of our mighty father Tengri. I have defeated my enemies thanks to the assistance of our father Tengri. I have not become Khan thanks to my own all-embracing prowess. I have become Lord thanks to the love of our father Khan Tengri. I have defeated alien enemies thanks to the mercy of our father Khan Tengri.'
There exists many other spirits or 'angels' besides Tengri. These spirits are diverse. They can be good or bad or of mixed temperament. They can be gods residing in the upper heavenly world, wandering evil spirits from the underworld, spirits of the land, water, stars and planets or spirits of the ancestors. They can be in charge of certain tribes or of certain nations. Under Tengri these spirits all have some limited influence, but it is near impossible for normal people to contact them. Only chosen people can contact them. Chosen people can also do the same thing these spirits do, like send destructive thunderstorms on enemy soldiers
The spirits can harm people or act as agents in transmitting a message or prophecy about the future. It is said the spirits of the land and water of Northern China were angry about the slaughter of the local population and harmed the Mongol Ogedei Khan with an illness that left him in bed unable to speak. In the Secret History of the Mongols, a spirit called Zaarin transmits a prophecy about the future rise of Genghis Khan.
There is no 'one true religion'. Humanity has not reached full enlightenment. Nonetheless Tengri will not leave the guilty unpunished and the virtuous unrewarded. Those upright in spirit and righteous in thought are acceptable to Tengri, even if they followed different religions. Tengri has given different paths for man. A man may be Buddhist, Christian or Muslim, but only Tengri knows the righteous. A man may change his tribal allegiance but still be upright. Tribal customs can be changed if they are harmful to people, which is why Genghis Khan did away with many previous customs in order to ensure orderly government.
All people are weak and therefore shortcomings should be tolerated. Different religions and customs should be tolerated. Like the life of the nomads, peoples' lives are difficult enough and subject to the pressures of nature. No one is perfect before Tengri, which is why Genghis Khan said: 'If there is no means to prevent drunkenness, a man may become drunk thrice a month; if he oversteps this limit he makes himself guilty of a punishable offence. If he is drunk only twice a month, that is better — if only once, that is more praiseworthy. What could be better than that he should not drink at all? But where shall we find a man who never drinks? If, however, such a man is found, he deserves every respect.'
“We believe that there is only one God, by whom we live and by whom we die, and for whom we have an upright heart. But as God gives us the different fingers of the hand, so he gives to men diverse ways to approach Him.”
“...Your saying 'May [the Ilkhan] receive silam (baptism)' is legitimate. We say: 'We the descendants of Genghis Khan, keeping our own proper Mongol identity, whether some receive silam or some don't, that is only for Eternal Tengri (Heaven) to know (decide).' People who have received silam and who, like you, have a truly honest heart and are pure, do not act against the religion and orders of the Eternal Tengri and of Misiqa (Messiah or Christ). Regarding the other peoples, those who, forgetting the Eternal Tengri and disobeying him, are lying and stealing, are there not many of them? Now, you say that we have not received silam, you are offended and harbor thoughts of discontent. [But] if one prays to Eternal Tengri and carries righteous thoughts, it is as much as if he had received silam. We have written our letter in the year of the tiger, the fifth of the new moon of the first summer month (May 14th, 1290), when we were in Urumi.”
The Dragon: The dragon is seen as a symbol of might and power, and occasionally as a symbol of Eternal Tengri, though dragons themselves are never given any godlike qualities.
The Wolf: The wolf is seen as a symbol of great honor, and is also often seen as a mother figure. This is particularly evident in the Grey Wolf Legend.
The Grey Wolf Legend
A she-wolf found a young man who had survived a recent battle and nursed him back to health. After he recovers, and before he leaves, he impregnates the she-wolf and she is then forced to flee his enemies. She crosses the western sea to a cave near the Qocho Mountains where she gives birth to ten half-human, half-wolf boys. These boys form the Ashina clan, named for the brother that founded it, and become known as some of the greatest ironworkers of the land.
The Egeneken Legend
After a great defeat, the Gokturk peoples were led to an inaccessible valley by a wolf, a valley called Ergeneken.
After many generations, the Gokturk peoples had grown so numerous that they were trying to find a way back out of the valley.
The wolf appeared again and led the people to a vast mountain of iron that they smelted down, and in the process opened a way back out of the valley.
The Legend of Timur
A man named Timur found a strange stone that had fallen from the sky. The stone was a strange metal he had never seen before, so he melted it down and with it made the first iron sword.