Well Wishes, Praises and Incantations

Well-wishes, or yoryal, are considered to be one of the most popular genres in Kalmyk ritual folklore. Like traditional praises (magtal) and incantations (tarni), they have an ancient origin and are closely connected with a belief in the magical power of uttered words.

Yoryals are expressions of warm feelings nourished by the utterer. They are uttered during celebrations, rituals and other important events. It is believed that the age of the utterer correlates with the power of the yoryal – the older the utterer, the more powerful the yoryal is. The Kalmyks start every important deed with a yoryal, be it a tea drinking ceremony, or before setting out on a journey, or while receiving guests, during present-giving ceremonies, name-giving ceremonies, weddings, funerals, and national holidays.

Although they can be composed on the spot or through improvisation by anybody, yoryals have a fixed composition. Every yoryal begins with an address to a person, proceeds with poetically formulated wishes, and concludes with a prayer to the supernatural to protect and assist the addressee(s).

Praises, or magtal, also belong to a genre of ancient poetry connected with magical rituals. Magtals have been uttered or sung to mythical heroes, clan ancestors, famous people and geological morphologies, such as mountains and hills. Examples of the latter are the 'Praise to the Altai Mountains' (Altain magtal) and the 'Praise to the Bogd Mountain' (Bogd uulyn magtal).

In the past, major celebrations were often accompanied by sporting events called erin gurvn naadn, or the 'three games of men', which included archery, horse racing, and wrestling. Winners, both humans and horses, were honoured with magtal praises.

As with tarni incantations, they have always had a special place in Kalmyk culture, with the help of which the utterer seeks to obtain security and protection from harmful people and malign spirits. Tarni incantations are usually whispered. Some incantations consist of only spells, others have a performative side to them as well. In the latter case, the utterer of a tarni is supposed to perform both parts correctly for the incantation to have an effect.

Andrei Ochir-Goryaev, Well wishes