A Journey in Southern Siberia, by Jeremiah Curtin, , at sacred-texts.com
THE Tailgan, or Horse Sacrifice, takes place on a hill called Uhér, about seven miles from Usturdi. On this hill fifteen large stone altars have been built. The sacrifice is made by the first and second division of the clan Ashekhabat. In the mythological past the founder of this clan lived at Baganteng, perhaps two miles distant from Uhér. This first man, or clan founder, had seven sons. He and those sons sacrificed on the hill Uhér to the Burkans (masters or gods) of the hill, and to those of the mountain opposite, of whom the chief is Malan Noyon.
Of the seven sons five went beyond the Baikal, and there their descendants make sacrifice to this day, but they make it to Baganteng, where their clan originated,—where the tomta 1 of the founder is. Long ago they forgot Uhér and its divinities.
The order of the Tailgan, or Horse Sacrifice, is as follows: About seven o'clock on the morning of the ceremony the various families of the clan send a sufficient number of men to Uhér with vessels, tarasun, milk, tea, twigs, trees, and bushes—in fact, with everything needed at the sacrifice.
The two liquids drunk are tarasun and that which is called "the white." Generally this is milk, sweet or sour as the case may be, but milk with tea in it is given also, since some persons prefer it.
The men sent in advance with supplies and utensils stop about halfway on the road to Uhér and sprinkle milk and tarasun to the Burkans of the hill and the mountain, and to all the Burkans that there may be in existence, asking that they give first of all a good Tailgan, and then success and prosperity to those who make the sacrifice. The reality, the essence, of the milk and the tarasun,
goes to the Burkans, immensely increased and incomparably better in quality. Thus a single drop may become a whole barrelful when it reaches the home of the deities, when it goes to the mountain and the hill, in both of which there are beautiful dwellings, invisible to man.
On arriving at the Hill of Sacrifice the men sent in advance prepare places for the kettles, hang them on tripods over wood ready to be ignited, and dispose the vessels and other things used in the ceremony.
Each family has its place on the hill and not far from some one of the fifteen stone altars. Small birch branches are thrust into the earth at these places. Later, near these branches libations are made; that is, a few drops of milk are cast into the air to the Burkans, and when tarasun is passed around some of that is also cast into the air.
When the crowd assembles fires are lighted. First the horse is purified by being led between the fires (there must be either three, nine, or twenty-seven fires), then it is led up toward the officiating persons, who sprinkle milk on its face, and on the hair halter, and cast some in the air to the gods. After that there is a libation of tarasun, then a prayer or petition is made to all the Burkans. The horse, I should state here, has been led to the right side of a small birch tree which has been brought from a near-by forest; the lower part of the trunk of the tree is on the ground, the upper part and branches rest on a crosspiece. The tree is called "The foot of the place of sacrifice."
The officiating men then turn, as they say, "with knee bending," first to the ninety western Burkans, then to the four eastern Tuget—Tuget means "complete." These are deities who have come down from the sky and are in the east, but their place is not known exactly. They turn next to the Undir Sagan Tengerin (the lofty clear heaven); sprinkling to each deity or group of deities as they name them. Then they implore Uligin Sagan Deda (the revered pure earth). Next in order is Buga Noyon Babai (bull prince father), then comes Budung Yihé Ibi (blessed mother mist), and Zayahung Yihé Zayasha (the creating great one, who has created). This is at present the hedgehog, and in Buriat religion he is the wisest of all the deities, though greatly
supplanted by other gods. Next in order is Zayang Sagan Tengeri (creator, pure heaven). Then Esege Malan Babai (Grand-father Bald Head); next Ehé Ureng Ibi, and then Adaha Zayang (creator of cattle); and Uha Soldong (the golden Sorrel), which means the light of the sun, the dawn of the morning. The dawn of the morning is creator of horses. Then Hotogov Mailgan (Crooked Back), the goddess of the night heavens and creator of people.
All these divinities are addressed by name and in turn, addressed very much as saints are in a Christian litany. Those who are officiating appeal to the divinities, and the people follow them, either aloud or mentally. Each man prays usually for what he likes best, or most desires. When this prayer was ended long ropes were tied securely around the fetlocks of the horse, each rope was held by four men, then the eight men in front pulled the forelegs forward and somewhat apart, while the other eight pulled the hindlegs back and apart. The horse fell on its side, and then turned on its back. The sixteen men held the ropes firmly and the beast was utterly helpless. A man, his right arm bare to the shoulder, now came with a long sharp knife and with one blow made a deep incision just behind the breast bone. He thrust his hand into the opening, seized the heart of the horse, and wrenched it free from its connections. The poor beast tried to struggle, but could not, and died very quickly. With the other horse it was somewhat different. The man must have done his work unskilfully, or his hand was weaker, for after he had withdrawn his arm and finished, as he thought, the beast regained its position to the extent of being able to bite the ground in agony. The sight was distressing. Its teeth were bared in a ghastly grin; the eyes became green and blue, much like the color of certain beetles. A more striking expression of piercing and helpless agony I have never seen. It groaned once with a sound of unspeakable anguish, kept its mouth for a moment in the earth and then dropped over lifeless.
When the horses were dead men hurried to skin the bodies, quarter them, and remove the flesh from the bones. The bones were then placed on the fifteen stone altars where fires were not merely burning, but roaring. The flesh was put
Click to enlarge
PEOPLE ASSEMBLED FOR THE HORSE SACRIFICE
into the iron kettles under which fires at that time were blazing briskly.
There was much animation on all sides; men were sitting in groups along the entire hillslope, beginning at the highest altar and extending down to the fifteenth, near the foot of the eminence.
Meanwhile a good number of groups were seated near vessels of tarasun from which they drank freely. As the flesh was cut into small pieces the cooking did not require a long time. The flesh of the horses killed first was cooked before that of the last two was placed in the kettles.
Small bits of the cooked meat were thrown on to the blazing fire of the altars, where the bones were burning; soup from the kettles was also thrown from small cups on to the fire of the altars.
When all the meat was cooked and the flesh of the nine horses was ready the whole company of people stood in groups before the fifteen altars. At times they moved toward the altars, at times they receded, throwing small quantities of soup and little bits of meat on the fires, as they uttered the following invocation to the deities already mentioned:
"We pray that we may receive from you a blessing. From among fat cattle we have chosen out meat for you. We have made strong tarasun for you. Let our ulus (villages) be one verst longer. Create cattle in our enclosures; under our blankets create a son; send down rain from high heaven to us; cause much grass to grow; create so much grain that sickle cannot raise it, and so much grass that scythe cannot cut it. Let no wolves out unless wolves that are toothless; and no stones unless stones without sharp corners or edges. Hover above our foreheads. Hover behind our heads. Look on us without anger. Help those of us who forget what we know. Rouse those of us who are sleeping (in spirit). In a harsh year (a year of trouble) be Compassion. In a difficult year (a year of want) be Kindness (in sense of help). Black spirits lead farther away from us; bright spirits lead hither, nearer; gray spirits lead farther away from us. Burkans lead hither to us. Green grass give in the mouths (of cattle). Let me walk over the first snow. If I am timid, be my courage. If I am ashamed, be a proper face to me. Above be as a coverlid, below be as a felt bed to me."
When the people stood before the fifteen stone altars and uttered their petitions the ceremony seemed very solemn and had a real character of worship. The invocation which I have given is repeated by all, then each adds what seems good to him. The prayer over, the company seated themselves by families, ate of the horse flesh, and drank tarasun till the end came.
During the throwing of the meat on to the altars vultures, of which there were many, flew back and forth over the hill and at times swooped down very near to us. During one of these times I took a piece of meat from Vassya and threw it toward a vulture. The bird caught it with the utmost dexterity, and darted away.
Vassya then threw a piece to another vulture which seized it in like manner. They hit a boy's cup, and caught the meat from it. I asked Vassya afterward if the people did not look on these birds as perhaps divine. He said not in the full sense, but that vultures were represented in some narratives as rushing in front of the Burkans when they were passing from one place to another, and in that way they might be supposed to indicate that the masters of the opposite mountain were present, or on the hill where we were standing.
When the people had finished eating and drinking, boys pulled up and threw on the fire the twigs, or little branches which had been planted by the designated place of each family. This indicated that the sacrifice was ended. Any soup or meat left is taken home. If not all used it is carefully burned, for none of it must be eaten by cats or dogs; that would be desecration and misfortune would follow in its wake.
The Horse Sacrifice is a ceremony of immense interest, a remarkable relic of religious and social antiquity, the value of which we can hardly overestimate. A number of things become clear after one has looked on this sacrifice carefully. The first of these beyond doubt is this: that there is and must be a correspondence between a society and the faith professed by it—a sufficient harmony between the religion and the people.
As I walked up and down among those Buriats, talking with some and observing others, I saw that they enjoyed that sacrifice heartily. For men in their position there was reason for enjoyment;
Click to enlarge
STONE ALTARS ON THE HILL OF SACRIFICE.
there was cause to be satisfied during that day in every case. They were seated on a pleasant hill possessed and inhabited by Burkans, or divinities, who had descended from the sky and occupied in the hill a magnificent dwelling. In fact they were sitting on the great roof of a divine house, and were feasting delightfully, in company with friends and relatives.
Out in front of them and near by were mountains in which lived other Burkans. Opposite dwelt, in homes of indescribable beauty and wealth, Burkans, who were kindly and liberal to persons who remembered them. They had power to give every good thing in abundance.
Feasting there on that roof the Buriats ate, drank, and made merry with profit. They sent a share of the flesh and soup from their horses to the gods, who received that flesh and broth multiplied enormously. Each drop of broth when it reached the gods' mansions sufficed a hundred persons, each bit of flesh was increased in like manner, and so with tarasun, a few drops of which would cheer thousands.
The gods ate and drank of these multiplied offerings, while they, the faithful worshipers, sent up requests and prayers to gain every profit and good for which their hearts hoped. The feasting worshipers then filled their stomachs with unmultiplied food, which they had in abundance.
There were pleasure, sociability, eating and drinking with gods, those world forces who are able to grant prayers and listen to the petitions of all men who please them.
The social part is very instructive, showing clearly in this Buriat survival a strong and prominent trait of primitive religion: the intimate relation of gods and men, the nearness of the gods and their friendliness. Most interesting of all is that strange philosophy, at least strange for us, by which gods are pleased and profited by a small material outlay on the part of mankind.
While a society and its religion correspond the society is greatly attached to the religion, and if a society is simple and well-nigh stationary, as pastoral societies are, if environment will permit it, the society and its religion may live on in harmony for ages. Religion once it is established changes little comparatively, and not in its essence. Its forms and ceremonies are sacred. Its
statements are myths taken literally. To modify, change, or abolish forms, ceremonies, or statements of a religion is to destroy that religion; for the spirit of religion is not what men have in view generally, but forms, its outward seeming, its mythology, its connections with popular life, with the customs and history of the people professing it. A pastoral life is almost immovable, especially in a country where grass is abundant and agriculture unknown, or if known little cared for. Were it not for the influence of Russia and China the Buriats might live on for ages without changing their religion or customs.
Of course nothing in the world is or may be immovable. An inner motive or an outward shock is sure in time to stir every object or being in existence. No planet in space, though immensely remote from all others, and moving by itself in a loneliness which is appalling, is secure from collision. No man or group of men, tribe, nation, republic, or empire has ever been or ever will be left to his, their, or its own will save for a comparatively short period. The groups of men under various designations, from small primitive societies to great republics or empires, have their will for a season. This is the time during which the character of a group is made manifest, and during which it conquers. This character is always special to each. A group comes in collision inevitably with other groups which also are special. The result is the destruction or absorption of some groups, the modification and enlargement of others. The whole course of history may be represented as an endless succession of these collisions.
With reference to preserving their religion the position of the western Buriats was specially favorable, and continues to be so. Their fellow tribemen, who live east of Lake Baikal, and touch on the great world of Buddhism, became Buddhists. The western Buriats are secluded considerably, and little troubled by neighbors. They prefer their own primitive religion thus far. The Russians have no objection to offer, and would rather that they retain Shamanism than become Buddhists. If they have no wish to become Christian they may remain Pagan.
For a people in primitive conditions to accept a new religion which condemns the chief part of their life and the main customs
Click to enlarge
I. HORSE SACRIFICE.
Click to enlarge
II. HORSE SACRIFICE.
of their country is a great step indeed. To introduce Christianity would involve a complete revolution among Buriats. For Mongols the transition from their Shamanism to Buddhism after the latter has passed through Thibet is less difficult. The western Buriats are satisfied with Shamanism. If there is any propaganda among them, Buddhistic or Christian, it is very slight, and touches only an odd individual.
After the sacrifice came wrestling at the southeastern or valley foot of the hill. This is a very popular amusement among the Buriats. There is always wrestling after the Horse Sacrifice and after the making of Shamans.
The whole company deserted the hill-top. Some went to the place of wrestling, others remained on the brow of the eminence, not far from where the horses were sacrificed.
In wrestling there are two parts: the first is the manœuvring for advantage in the hold; this requires time, perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes are occupied before the opponents grapple and close in the conflict. Very often the wrestling itself does not last as long as the preliminary manœuvring for advantage.
After the Tailgan I decided to make a trip northeastward and northward through the Buriat country. I wished above all to visit Olkhon, the "sacred" island of Lake Baikal. On this island live perhaps seven hundred people, who are more primitive than other Buriats. I was anxious to see these islanders and get their folk-tales, if possible.
I laid in all the provisions that I could find either in Usturdi or at the next post station, and made arrangements for Vassya and Lazareff, the Cross-eyed, to go with me and assist in every way. Andrei Mihailovitch gave them a light, convenient carriage, and I was to furnish provisions and pay their traveling expenses. One or the other was to translate for me from Mongol into Russian. I always preferred Vassya, for he was far more intelligent, and acted more willingly, as he was himself interested in the mythology of his people. He was an excellent translator as well, having an equal command of both Buriat and Russian.
I do not think that I have ever found a better case of what development means than that presented by those three Buriats,—Vassya, his father, and Lazareff. Vassya during six years at the
[paragraph continues] Irkutsk gymnasium had not only learned what is taught in the regular course there, but he had acquired a real love for good reading. He knew what science means, and found pleasure in mental development. Vassya's father was a man who believed that knowledge is power, but simply power to win wealth, to make money, acquire land, herds, and cattle—and importance. This was the power which he valued. Hence he was what is usually called practical.
Lazareff would esteem that knowledge which would make three blades of grass grow where two grew before, if they would come by magic, intrigue, or some other man's labor, given because he was outwitted.
Mutual benefit was looked for in the journey. I hoped that the two men would help me in many ways. They spoke Russian fluently, so I could talk with every Buriat. They were well known in most places, and with them the journey would be successful in some degree. They were glad to go, moreover, for I paid their expenses. The weather was fine, the country as a whole very interesting, and parts of it beautiful. They also, as I learned afterward, had errands to perform and business to transact for Vassya's father.
Click to enlarge
III. HORSE SACRIFICE.
Click to enlarge
IV. HORSE SACRIFICE.
44:1 See ceremonies after the birth of a child, page 96.