Signs and Omens
Omens are signs of an immediate future occurrences or of things to come. Divided into bad (mu yor) and good (syan yor), omens reflect the Kalmyk nomadic lifestyle, traditions, beliefs, and the history of the people. Many omens and signs are based on observations of the behaviour of various animals and natural phenomena, such as the wind, the snow, etc. When animals behave in unusual or annoying ways – for example, when a dog barks and whines at the same time – usually it is interpreted as a bad omen. It is also regarded as a bad sign when it is windy in early spring or raining at the beginning of winter. Social occasions and rituals are also often imbued with prophetic significance for those who witness or encounter them. For example, seeing a wedding party is believed to bring good luck to the beholder. Apart from mobile signs (a dog barking, the wind blowing, a wedding party proceeding), static objects and patterns are also imbued with symbolic significance. If someone has a mole close to their mouth, it is interpreted that that person will be prosperous.
On this page you can watch videos about signs, omens, dreams, numbers, characteristics of people and things etc. that many traditional Kalmyks see as a valid and important form of knowledge.
Bulgun Mankirova, About Good Signs and Omens
Refrain from leaning against the door of someone’s house, for doing so is no different to sitting on the neck of the head of that household. Both acts are disrespectful. It is forbidden to fold your arms, for you may lose your mother. Also, if you hold your arms behind your back or lean your jaw on your hand, you may lose your father. If a magpie sits at your door it is a bad sign. If a crow cries near your house, you will hear bad news soon. It is also a bad sign if a ferret comes into your house. One should abstain from giving away milk after it gets dark. If someone asks for salt at night, add a pinch of ash to the salt before giving it. In the past, fox skin was reserved only for the wealthy. It is not good to wear what you are not supposed to.
Maria Erdnieva, About Bad and Good Signs
A traditional greeting among the Kalmyks includes the phrase “Chi kenya kun?” which means “Which clan do you belong to? Who are your parents and ancestors?” In Kalmyk society people were supposed to think about the honor of their respective clans first and only then to think about themselves. If someone committed a crime – stole or cheated - that person’s clan was avoided by others. People from other clans would not marry them. In such situations, members of the disgraced clan intermarried with each other.
The Kalmyks are not merchants and do not have a calculating mentality. They also do not betray others. Sometimes Russians used this for their advantage. They would steal cattle and wrongly accuse Kalmyks, knowing that the Kalmyks would never give them away.
Many accuse Kalmyks for being lazy and loving to drink too much. But whenever Kalmyks put their minds to doing something, they do it until the end and often succeed in what they do.
Oleg’s generation has been taught to be modest. Kalmyks from his generation still unwittingly perceive people in uniforms as their enemies, because of their exile experience.
Oleg Mandzhiev, About Kalmyk Character
Oleg believes that numbers possess power. The idea that things could be explained by means of numbers has been known from the times of Euclid and Plato. In Russia, the historian Lev Gumilev wrote poems about numbers. The Russian poet Sergei Yesenin equated numbers with various ideas. According to him, 1 is God, 2 is the day and night, life and death, 3 is Trinity, 4 is the four corners of the world, 9 is wealth and richness.
Having said this, people cannot be explained entirely by means of numbers, because such factors as historical events, the place of birth, close people etc. influence everyone.
Oleg Mandzhiev, About Numerology
One day a man was having a walk in the steppe. All of a sudden, something fell on his head from the sky. It was a bird's dropping. When the man came home and told his family what had happened to him in the steppe, his wife asked him to visit 49 households and beg without saying a single word. On seeing someone doing so, it was customary for people to take their children inside and close the doors. That is what people did when they saw the man begging. He did not enter the yurts but pushed his right hand through the wall, which was latticework, to ask for food.
If people on such a mission did not manage to visit the necessary number of yurts, they could not sleep at home but had to spend the night out in the countryside. The next they would carry on their begging mission. The collected food was supposed to be donated to the closest Buddhist temple with accompanying prayers that had to be read 7 times. If there were no temples nearby, the beggars were supposed to find a place where three roads crisscrossed, put the collected food on the side of the west-facing road and pray 49 times by saying 'Let no one endure what I have to endure, and let my relatives and family be safe and sound'.
Polina Fedorova, Kalmyk Traditions, Signs and Omens
Seeing a hare is a good sign, because your plans will materialize. It is a bad sign to see a fox or a corsac on the road.
It is also a bad sign when children snort.
It is forbidden for pregnant women to eat long intestines or mildly cooked meat with blood. Only one person can eat a cooked sheep's head. If two people eat the same head, they will quarrel. A sheep's head that people present to each other at weddings should be burnt on a fire. If someone brings meat, show it to all who are present.
Food offerings (made to gods) can be eaten by children only.
Sanal Lidzhiev, Signs and Omens
The meaning of dreams could be interpreted either by Buddhist monks or by meddg kun (those who know how to do so). Dreams are a means by which the deceased ancestors and deities communicate with the living. If you see black dogs in your dreams, it is a bad omen. If you dream of blood, this means something will happen to your relatives. If you have a religious dream, you need to perform rituals. If you dream of water, you need to perform a ritual to appease the spiritual masters of land and water. If deceased people give you something, it is a good sign. If they ask for something, it is a bad omen. For example, if you did not fulfill your duty towards them, the deceased may demand in your dreams that you do so.
Sangadzhi Kononov, About Dreams
7 is a sacred number among the Kalmyks. Prayers are read 7 times. In the epos Jangar the time to get to the kingdom of the dead takes 49 days (i.e. 7 x 7).
It is forbidden to marry a person who is senior or junior to you by 3 years or if that person’s age can be divided by 3.
12 is also an important number. Every 12 years Kalmyks perform a ritual to prolong their lives.
108 is an auspicious number in Buddhism.
Ubush Darzhinov, About Numerology
Ubush says that his grandmother always closed the door in the evening in order to prevent evil spirits from entering. When the sky thundered, she also closed all the windows and the door. Ubush personally thinks that if signs and omens are not useful in life, they may not be followed. For example, in Kalmyk tradition it is forbidden to throw one’s hat in the air, because it is believed that if one does so they will have a headache. Ubush threw his hat many times, but does not recall having headaches.
According to Ubush, signs and omens that are valid are as follows. If a fox runs past you, your relative will die. If a white dog comes to your house, do not chase it away. If sheep gather together, it is a sign that the weather will be hot.
Ubush Darzhinov, About Signs, Omens and Taboos
The Torghuts are impulsive. The Derbet are calm and hardworking. The Buzava are good politicians and they have adopted the Russian mentality. In general, Kalmyks can endure for a long time, but once they rebel, they can be very impulsive. However, they do not hold a grudge. Kalmyks rarely get depressed or sad. They love dancing and are patriots who are capable of taking great risks and even sacrifice themselves.
Ubush Darzhinov, Stereotypes about Kalmyk Groups and the Mentality of the Kalmyks
It is said that any man stands up as many times as he falls. That is, whenever he falls, a real man should stand up and carry on. A real man should be persistent, able to control himself and lead a correct lifestyle. He also should not reveal his plans and keep them to himself.
Viktoria Mukobenova, Characteristics of a Man
According to a custom, if a bird's droppings land on a child’s head, their parents should visit 7 of their neighbors and ask for food.
If a woman in your family is having a difficult labor, quickly put tea on a fire and say, 'Let's see what happens first, the child is born or the tea gets brewed?' A newborn has to be wrapped in the cloth of an old person so that it lives as long as the owner of the cloth.
Viktoria Mukobenova, Signs and Omens
Yuriy talks about curses, their signs and how to neutralize curses. He says that all Mongolian groups have curses that can be sent to animals, people and objects alike. People with black, jealous and poisonous spirits curse others. Food or objects used for this purpose are water, sand, vodka, ash and milk. In order to determine whether someone has been cursed, one needs to look at the date of birth of that person and look for special signs.
For example, people born in the years of the Tiger or the Rabbit according to the Oriental calendar, would have sour eyes or salivate. The remedy to neutralize a curse is as follows. Read the mantra ‘om-ma-ma-adv-sadv-en-suukhaa’. On Tuesday or Sunday at 2 am take 3 matches and draw a line on the ground from left to right three times. Do this until the symptoms disappear.
People born in the years of the Horse or the Snake, would sweat more than usual and bite their tongues. These signs indicate that these people have been cursed.
Those born in the years of the Cow, the Dragon, the Sheep or the Dog, tend to have excessive salivation and cold sores on their lips. The remedy is as follows. Scatter metal shavings three times in the eastward direction at 4 am while chanting ‘om-ma-ma-lama-lan-en-suukha’.
Those who are born in the years of the Monkey and the Chicken have pain in their joints, have insomnia and feel suffocation. Scatter ash in the northward direction three times at night.
People born in the years of the Swine or the Mouse have pain in their ears and develop problems with urination. Scatter sawdust between your legs three times.
Yuriy Nurdaev, How to Neutralize a Curse
Zinaida says that before the deportation of the Kalmyks in 1943, Kalmyk children used to utter the following saying during games - ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow we will travel through the forest with other people and the cows’. Indeed, later all the Kalmyks were exiled to Siberia. According to Zinaida, by uttering inauspicious words the people brought this upon themselves.
Since words have power, one has always to think and talk positively, even if this contradicts the reality. For example, in the past during tax inspections the Kalmyks were asked whether they had livestock to which they usually replied in the positive, although some did not have livestock.
There is a belief in Kalmykia that sewing after sunset shortens one’s life. Zinaida, who loves sewing, says that she did not follow this traditional wisdom and as a result became a widow when she was only 45.