The ancestors of the Kalmyks, several Oirat tribes, are known to have set out on a westward journey from the land of Dzungaria (today the northern half of China’s Xinjiang province, western Mongolia, and eastern Kazakhstan) at the beginning of the seventeenth century. By 1630 they had reached the territory of today’s Kalmykia to establish the Kalmyk Khanate (1630-1771). Although they adhered to both Buddhism and shamanism, the latter was officially banned among the Kalmyks following the historic 1640 meeting of Mongol and Oirat lords at which Buddhism was declared as the state religion. According to the new law, not only shamans but also those who sought their services were subject to severe punishment. Following the official ban, shamans, however, did not disappear overnight. In Kalmykia in the eighteenth century there existed several types of specialist who practiced various aspects of shamanism, including medlgch, bo, and udgn. But under pressure from the Buddhist establishment and later the Orthodox Christian Church, by the nineteenth century, as foreign travelers observed, bo and udgn had already been shamanising without traditional shamanic implements such as mirrors, drums and other ‘musical’ instruments. In this way, they looked less ‘shamanic’ and acted more like healers and bone-setters. Today shamanic elements have survived mainly in traditional medicine, especially in the healing rituals and practices of Kalmyk folk healers known as medlgch (lit. ‘those who know’).
The healing repertoire of a medlgch is wide-ranging, encompassing many aspects of the lives of Kalmyks. People struck by bad luck, suffering from all sorts of ailments, loss, addiction, phobias, infertility, sleepwalking, and those who are haunted by malevolent ancestral and other spirits, all visit medlgch. These folk healers purport to derive their healing powers from deities or spirits whom they accept as their guardian patrons during special initiation rituals. There are several kinds of deities that offer patronage and guardianship, the most popular being Tsagan Aav (White Old Man, a shamanic deity later included in the Buddhist pantheon) and Okn Tengr (Maiden Sky, is a female deity who has a dual nature. Sometimes she is regarded as a shamanic goddess of fire, especially during clan rituals involving fire sacrifices, and sometimes she is seen as the Buddhist deity Palden Lhamo). Other guardians are ‘traditional’ Buddhist deities that are responsible for health, longevity, wisdom, music, and fortune. In this sense, today old Kalmyk beliefs survive being heavily mixed with Buddhism.
Alexandr Tarancheev, About Evil Spirits
Alexandra recounts two ghost stories.
Once my uncle had to spend the night in the steppe and when he woke up at dawn, his horse was standing with its saddle and stirrups removed and put on the ground.
One day an uncle of mine died at the shepherd’s camp. Since my mother was at work and my father was blind, my sibling and I were sent to the camp on bicycle. Our uncle was buried in the evening. His corpse was put on the back of the lorry, while we sat in the cabin. When the lorry approached the bed of a dried up river, the lorry stopped all of a sudden. The driver spent about an hour examining the engine, and I decided to relieve myself. As soon as I returned, the lorry’s engine turned on by itself. I heard that my uncle was constantly harassed by evil spirits when he was alive. It must have been the same spirits that stopped the lorry’s engine.
Alexandra Sanzheeva, About Evil Spirits
Boris talks about evil spirits (shulmus) and his experience of encountering them.
Shulmus can take the form of naked girls and cause trouble to people. In such a form they appeared in a place called Darma Sala. Old people contended that they were shulmus and not what they looked like, because they did not have philtrum (a vertical indentation over the upper lip).
I also heard from elders that female shulmus appear with naked breasts.
Zodva lama told me that in the past, shulmus cause trouble to night travellers. They led them astray around the steppe or tied their horses’ legs. When I asked him, ‘Where are shulmus now?’, he replied that they have penetrated into people. I asked then, ‘How did they do it?’ Zodva said, ‘If a person drinks vodka, lies, smokes, then shulmus can penetrate into that person easily and make his/her body its home’. If you look around, today there are indeed many such people.
I also saw shulmus. They appeared to me with long faces, resembling the head of a horse, a sheep or a goat. Their hands and feet had cloven hooves, their knees were half-bent. I will tell you about this later.
There are also evil spirits called dogam. In the olden days, there lived an old man, who practiced Buddhism. People asked him to drive evil spirits out of their homes. One day, he came to such a house, opened the door and began to read prayers loudly while shouting, ‘Get out, get out and go away!’ Then he grabbed a knife and began to wave with it. Cups and things were flying in the house. Suddenly, a huge, hairy and ugly evil spirit (dogam) jumped out of the house and disappeared into the night.
Once, when I lived in a village I had already been reading prayers and knew many Buddhist practices. I even helped the locals turn a former village council house into a prayer house. One day, I was called into a house where a small girl had constantly been crying, unable to sleep for a couple of weeks. Neither doctors, nor folk healers could help her. I came there, lit incenses and began to read prayers. When I was going around the rooms, I came across a creature resembling a bat, but with one eye on its forehead and a long beak. Only the girl and I could see it. As I started to drive this creature out, it was attacking me and squeaking. I got scared. Then I recalled a story about that old man, who used a knife to drive evil spirits out. So, I grabbed a knife and began to wave with it, muttering prayers. After a while, I noticed that the creature was beating itself against the window. The girl’s parents started to laugh at me, for they could not see it. I opened the window and let the spirit out. Afterwards, the girl calmed down. I said to her parents that she would sleep for two days in a go, because she was exhausted by that spirit. As I said, she slept for two days. Today that girl has grown up. She greets me whenever she sees me.
Boris Dochkaev, About Shulmus
In the steppe there are many places that are haunted by evil spirits. A place not far from our cattle station is such a place. People who travel there at night usually get lost and stray away. Once a year we invite a monk to read prayers and cleanse that place. In spite of being haunted, the place itself is very good in terms of vegetation. The water there is clean and the grass very juicy and high. No matter how difficult the year may be, livestock that grazes there stay fat and healthy.
I don’t know what shulmus spirits look like, but besides them there are other evil beings called erlg and chodkr. I often heard that these beings make people stray away at night. I also heard that they live near cemeteries. Whoever is near a cemetery after sunset runs a danger of having their soul seized by an erlg. After that soulless people die quickly.
Dmitriy Mandzhiev, About Evil Spirits
Dzhidzha has witnessed a substitute ritual that was performed by a woman who fell ill. A woman wiped her body with dough and sculpted a human figurine from the dough. She dressed the figurine with a piece of cloth and threw this little figurine far away.
Dzhidzha Araeva, About a Substitute Ritual
Dzhidzha relays stories about people encountering shulmus spirits. This is her story:
It is believed that shulmus (evil spirits) live in the steppe and make people go astray. My mother told me a story about my grandfather who one day was riding his cart, when shulmus spirits jumped on it and had a ride for some time. When my grandfather turned around, they jumped off and disappeared.
There is another story that happened to my father. One day my father was riding a horse when shulmus tied its legs. To untie, one has to take a knife and cut the invisible hobble on the horse’s legs.
According to another story, one man set out on a journey at night. In the steppe his saddle fell off, caused by shulmus. On a bare horse back, the man reached a pastureland and lit a fire only to see the shulmus spirits gather around it and sit down. They looked hairy like monkeys. The man picked up his belongings on his way home the next morning.
Dzhidzha Araeva, About Shulmus
Ekaterina says that she has a picture of Tsagan Aav depicted as a standing sage (as opposed to a sitting one). From her friend she heard that Tsagan Aav comes to the dreams of those people who work on land. Ekaterina shares her observation that today many Kalmyks have Tsagan Aav on their altar, although in the past this deity was not as popular. According to her, growing belief in Tsagan Aav is one possible explanation of why this deity is so popular today.
Ekaterina Boldyreva, About the Tsagan Aav
For the sake of all humans, it is said, the goddess Okn Tengri sacrificed herself to a monster. She became pregnant by the monster and bore him a baby boy. Then she killed the monster by opening an iron chest that housed his soul. When she opened the chest, a sparrow was inside. By killing the sparrow she killed the monster. On her way back home Okn Tengri met the goddess Green Tara who advised her to leave the boy on the bank of a river.
Elza Badaeva, About Okn Tengri, Goddess of Fire
When in Kalmykia Gerel often went to see folk healers, bone-setters and diviners. On one occasion she was taken to a folk healer by her mother. The reason for this was as follows. One evening when at home Gerel heard a knock on the window. When she looked at the window there was a tiny person standing there. Gerel suffered from insomnia, headaches and had seizures. Worried about her daughter’s health, Gerel’s mother took her to see an old woman, a folk healer herself who cured ill people. In fact, the mother and daughter went to see not only one but several folk healers who smeared Gerel with butter, massaged her head and ears, and used various other folk methods.
Once Gerel developed a pain in her back, because she had had a nightmare involving a female spirit who had sat on Gerel and strangled her. The next day Gerel went to see a male bone-setter who advised that she goes and asks a Buddhist monk for a special ritual before sunset. Gerel and her mother went to a temple but the monks refused to perform the ritual. After hearing about their unsuccessful trip to a temple, the bone-setter gave Gerel herb pills and incenses and asked her to spread the pills around her bed. On the second night the evil spirit came back as a child to haunt Gerel. In the morning Gerel and her mother again went to the bone-setter who said that Gerel had been stressed and because of this she had a hole in her aura. On the third night Gerel saw in her dreams two men whom she begged not to touch her. The next morning the mother and daughter went to see the bone-setter again who asked them to make a dog’s head out of dough, confide everything to that head and bury it in a clean place. After that ritual Gerel recovered.
Gerel Shakeeva, About Medlegchi
Tsagan Aav is the protector of all Kalmyks, irrespective of their clan affiliation. Usually he is depicted in a white robe holding a stick. There is a sutra about how the Buddha Shakyamuni met Tsagan Aav. According to the sutra, the former asked ‘Who are you?’ to which the latter replied, ‘I bring happiness to people’.
When the Kalmyks migrated westwards from Dzungaria, they brought with them nomadic Buddhist temples. Since in the new place there were no stones to build traditional ovoo (i.e. piles made of stone that serve as a place where to perform rituals), Kalmyks regard small hills as the equivalent of ovoo.
Keemia Orlova, About Tsagan Aav
In the old days, in the place called Shandib, there were a lot of shulmus (evil spirits, demons). For example, a man was riding a cart and suddenly the wheel came off and rolled off. This was thought to be caused by demons, domam. Another story was that a man tied up his horse and left, on his return he found that horse’s mane was braided. Although I do not believe in such stories, I do remember that once myself and three other women worked in a cattle barn in Shandib. We had a little time and left our horse harnessed. After finishing work, we cleaned our clothes, climbed into the cart, pulled the reins, but the horse remained standing. I hopped off the cart and saw that the reins were relinked and the breeching was cut. Who could do this? The horse couldn’t do it, it could only tear the reins. We were surprised, we tied the horse bridles with wire and went to see the shepherd, who lived nearby. We asked him, ‘Did anyone approach our horse?’. He answered ‘No’. Then we got scared.
There was little water in the steppe, we took water from a pit (such pits were dug in places where there was water under the ground). Sometimes I had to go out to collect water from a pit at twilight. When I came back home, two grey dogs always followed me.
Grandmother Pyurveeva told me that early one morning she went to the warehouse and queued. She was standing when suddenly someone said to her, ‘Anya, is that you?’ and slapped her on her shoulder. She looked and saw a hand all covered in hair. This really happened.
Ksenia Kardonova, About Shulmus
Maria’s father did divination with sticks. He cut sticks into a trihedral in shape and made cuts on them. On his sticks he predicted that Maria’s uncle, who was a soldier in the Red Army, would return home from World War II, which turned out to be true.
Maria Lidzhigoryaeva, How My Father Told Fortunes
Mergen says that although shamanism ceased to exist in Kalmykia, some elements of paganism, including rituals of appeasing the spiritual masters of land, are preserved in Kalmyk culture in the form of rituals. The Kalmyks implemented the anti-shaman laws of 1640 more stringently than other Mongolian groups, which resulted in the eradication of this belief.
Mergen Ulanov, About Pre-Buddhist beliefs
Oleg relays a story about how he saw Tsagan Aav in his youth. It happened in the Soviet period. Oleg worked at an editorial office in Elista. One night he could not sleep well and woke up early in the morning. He went out to a ravine on the outskirts of the town. When he went downhill and looked up, there on the edge of the ravine an old man with a long white beard and in a beautiful light-blue robe was standing, leaning on his walking stick. He was staring at Oleg. Oleg understood that the old man was communicating with him telepathically, ‘(Oleg) what are you doing with yourself? You cannot live like this’. Oleg sweated and in shame lowered his head. Then he heard the sound of a motorcycle. When he looked up again the old man had gone. Several months later Oleg went to see his friend who worked at a research institute. In his office on the table was a big book with colorful pictures. Among the pictures Oleg saw the image of the old man he had seen before and asked, ‘Who is this old man?’ ‘He is Tsagan Aav, god of the locality’, was the answer.
Oleg Mandzhiev, About the Tsagan Aav
In this interview Purvya talks about spiritual masters of lands and ghosts.
Purvya: In our land we have a hill called Kerm Tolga where malevolent forces reside. Many years ago, it was a very rich hill, but was robbed later. Only a hole remained after the robbery. Later some scientists arrived to do digging. The head of the expedition was a man called Steklov. Upon his return to Moscow, he died. When we were children, grown-up people told us not to pass by that hill at midnight. It is said that a man riding a horse appears from that hill at midnight. He is believed to be the master of that place. In the past, there were many big snakes that were the masters of lands. Today, no one sees these big snakes any more. People build their houses wherever they like.
Q: If one sees a snake - the master of land - is it a good or bad sign?
Purvya: If one sees it, that person needs to offer butter and milk to the snake. Not every person can see these snakes.
Q: Does a snake show itself to a person who is supposed to see it?
Purvya: Yes. People used to say ‘If it is fate, even the best person will not see a snake but the worst person may’.
About ghosts. In our land lived a man called Dordzhi who attracted ghosts. In the past, education consisted of four classes. I was studying in Iki Bukhus. In 1941, on weekends Dordzhi used to come to Iki Bukhus and we three would walk home together. One day, Dordzhi said to us: ‘There is a big white man standing over there’. He stayed behind to wrestle with that man. Later he relayed a story to us about how during the war he was riding a camel up the hill only to come across an old woman who was blocking his way. He got off the camel and started to wrestle with her. It was thanks to the consecrated coins that he had sewn in the right shoulder of his shirt that Dordzhi managed to beat her (who was a powerful ghost).
Purvya Volod'kina, About Spiritual Masters of Places
Sanan says that enlightened beings exist that do not have bad thoughts in their minds or in their souls. There also exist gazryn ezn (spiritual masters of locality) who are not enlightened beings and as such are not regarded as objects of worship in Buddhism. Tsagan Aav is one of such unenlightened beings. On all altars the image of Tsagan Aav should always be put underneath or beside that of Buddha, because Buddhas are enlightened beings.
Sanan Matvenov, About the Tsagan Aav
The Kalmyk word for life or soul is amn’. Amnya dolig refers to two different rituals.
Ritual One. It is performed when one wants to grant life to a living being which is doomed to death. These include fish, birds (chicken or cocks) or sheep. For example, one can release seven fish into the water, or a chicken or a sheep into the steppe while saying ‘If it is to be that of gods let it be so; if it is to be that of a human being let it be so; if it is to be that of a wolf let it be so; I am granting life (to this living being)’. To mark that they are part of an amnya dolig ritual, the chicken or the sheep should have their neck bandaged with a white or yellow strip of cloth.
Ritual Two. It is performed when one falls ill, feels lifeless, or when a woman cannot get pregnant. A sheep is killed and its head is offered to the god of longevity, Ayush Gegyan. The person who performs this ritual buys his/her own life in exchange for that of a sheep. This ritual is very old and was done by the ancestors of the Kalmyks before they adopted Buddhism. In its modern form it has incorporated some Buddhist elements.
Sangadzhi Kononov, About Amnya Dolig (Substitute Rituals)
Sangadzhi says that the forces of evil and good are constantly fighting over human souls. All temptations, desires and the bad come from evil spirits called shulmus. That is why it is important to resist temptations, envy, greed, pride, attachment to material objects, etc. and follow Kalmyk tradition and religion that teach how to live a good life. Shulmus are beings that affect humans in negative ways. Polluted people usually have nightmares and can see shulmus spirits. There are various signs indicating whether a person is polluted or not. For example, seeing a black dog in dreams is regarded as a sign of pollution. Also, misfortunes are usually related to shulmus. Pollution can affect not only people but places as well. For example, not far from the village of Khanata there is one such place. The following story happened in the Soviet period. One night a farmer was doing his night shift. Although the field where he worked was in the middle of nowhere, as soon as he started his tractor loud music and laughter came from all sides. The more he tried to ignore it, the louder the music was becoming. At some point the man freaked out, stopped the tractor and spent the whole night trembling in fear. The music stopped only at dawn. It is also said that sometimes people who travel at night cannot reach the destination no matter how much they try. It is only at dawn that such travelers suddenly find themselves where they wanted to be. There are many stories like this.
Sangadzhi explains that some people are protected from evil by prayers and powerful protectors. Others are not protected or their protection is weak. Therefore, it is important that people make offerings to their ancestors in order to be protected from evil spirits. Some people have a gift to see or hear shulmus spirits. Such people perform secret rituals.
Sangadzhi Kononov, About Shulmus (Evil Spirits)
Sangadzhi says that folk healers (medlegchi) should be differentiated from shamans. In Kalmykia, what doesn’t belong to Buddhism is lumped together under the title of shamanism. According to Sangadzhi, shamans are those who establish contact with spirits (dukhi) and receive information from them. Shamans enter into a trance state with the help of chanting and bodily movements and in this way become a vessel for spirits. Shamans may ask spirits to send the rain, etc. In other words, shamanism deals with the spirits, or spiritual masters of localities (such as mountains, trees, water sources, etc.) Folk healers, by contrast, establish contact with Buddhist deities (that protect Kalmyk clans) by chanting mantras. It is these Buddhist gods that help Kalmyk folk healers.
Sangadzhi contends that all rituals require energy. For folk healers it is their Buddhist deities (clan protectors) that serve as a source of energy. For shamans it is spirits or spiritual masters of localities.
In order to ask Buddhist deities for help, folk healers first need to accept them as their protectors by performing a special ritual of acceptance. After such rituals, folk healers become conductors of the energy emanating from their deity-protectors which they use to cure ill people. Having said this, not all folk healers use help from deities. There are healers referred to as khar syakustya khun (lit. ‘a person who has a black deity- protector’). Such healers do not perform the ritual of accepting deities as their protectors. Despite this, they can still heal others by using their own energy. As a result, when their energy depletes or runs low, such healers fill the void with negative energy.
Before performing any ritual, folk healers ask their deity-protectors for permission. If they do not ask, their protectors may punish them.
Sangadzhi Kononov, About Shamanism
The spiritual masters of localities (i.e. hills, trees, water sources, etc.) can take any animal form, including that of snakes, birds and so on. They may either help or harm people. One day when Sangadzhi was performing the ritual of gal tyalgn he saw a dog running around. After the ritual the dog disappeared. Sangadzhi thinks that the dog was a local spirit. The Kalmyks worship Tsagan Aav, who is regarded as the protector of the Kalmyk land and the master of the Universe. This deity can also harm or help people. Buddhist monks acknowledge the existence of such local spirits. However, they advise people not to worship but to make offerings to such entities.
Sangadzhi says that images of Buddhist deities possess power which comes from the depicted deities themselves. Therefore, deities may demand that people who have their images in possession perform a special ritual whereby they accept these deities as protectors. It also happens that sometimes people may invite deities unwittingly by purchasing their images. Deities-protectors should be offered food and candles, and mantras should be read to them during fasting days.
In Kalmyk belief, deities choose people. Even nonreligious people can have the kind of problems that can be solved only with the help of religion and accepting deities as protectors. Sometimes deities may skip generations, but eventually they choose descendants and demand certain rituals.
Sangadzhi warns that people should be very careful when handling the images of deities. If one happens to have a newspaper with an image of a deity, that person should take that newspaper to a temple. Damaged religious objects, including beads, have to be washed in a running water, for it is believed that running water cleanses. If one has religious objects inherited from ancestors lying idle in the house, that person should consult a monk or a folk healer as to what to do with these objects. It is also important for Kalmyks to keep the picture of their clan deities at home. It is not advisable to buy images of various deities and put them on one’s domestic altar. It is also forbidden to throw away or to give away such images, because by doing so one may give away his/her own luck. If someone receives a picture of a deity as a present, it is a good sign for the receiver. The receiver has to compensate the giver with money.
Some people had monks among their ancestors. The spirits of monks may demand that their descendants accept them as protectors in the way Buddhist deities do.
Sangadzhi Kononov, About the Spiritual Masters of Localities and Deities-Protectors
Telo Tulku: Tsagan Aav is a worldly deity. It is not considered as an enlightened being, god or semi-god such as Amitayus, Green and White Taras and other deities. People believe that he is a protector of the land. These are deities who made a pledge to protect the land, but that does not mean he has achieved enlightenment. There is a difference. There is Tsagan Aav in Mongolia, in Buryatia, and he is never placed on the altar, he always on the lower side. In the seniority of Buddhas and Boddhisattvas he is the most junior of those deities.
Nomads love legends, therefore many legends were created and told about Tsagan Aav. Many of those are fiction.
Baasanjav: Is the Tsagan Aav included in the Buddhist pantheon?
TT: No, he is not. But there is a ritual. In Tibetan it is called Sangsol, which is essentially a good smell offering. This offering is made to all Buddhas, Dharma protectors, all nagas, all worldly deities. So he is included in this ritual, but he is not mentioned in Buddhist texts or rituals.
B: Some people in Kalmykia think that he is a shamanic deity. Is the Tsagan Aav a Buddhist or a shamanic deity, or something else?
TT: I do not think shamans have any deities at all. Shamans worship nature, sky, rivers, forests, trees, mountains. So Tsagan Aav is not a shamanistic deity or spirit.
B: In Kalmykia I saw that Kalmyks place the Tsagan Aav above Buddhas on their altars.
TT: That is wrong. This is where people make mistake. They do not understand the seniority of deities. Tsagan Aav is propagated as a Kalmyk deity of high respect. That is a very strong nationalistic approach rather than spiritual. For example, in Khurul (ed: Central khurul in Elista) he is placed outside, he is not even placed inside the temple. This is a sign that he is not a highly realised being.
B: There are two iconographic traditions of depicting the Tsagan Aav. In Kalmykia it is a standing one, in Mongolia and Buryatia Tsagan Aav is depicted as a sitting one. Could you talk about these two different traditions?
TT: Mongols and Buryats stayed where they were, but Kalmyks got up and left. That is why the Kalmyk one is standing. That is, of course, a joke. There is a standing and sitting Buddha, which symbolises his different deeds. I think in case of the Tsagan Aav, it is more artistic approach. In Kalmykia the standing Tsagan Aav is more popular, I do not know why. I do not have a clear answer to this.
B: In Kalmykia people refer to sitting Tsagan Aav as cosmic one, and to a standing one as Delkyan Tsagan Aav.
TT: I haven’t heard this. In Mongolian, Tibetan and Chinese tradition Tsagan Aav is a man who represents longevity, long life. I believe that he symbolizes longevity. But Kalmyks made up this folklore that he is the protector of Kalmyk land, of the Kalmyk nation. I do not think that is true. I agree with the Mongolian, Tibetan and Chinese tradition where he represents longevity. In Kalmykia Tsagan Aav was modified to fit the Kalmyk mentality.
B: In Mongolia Tsagan Aav is a protector of nature, animals as well as longevity.
TT: If you look at Mongolian, Tibetan and Chinese tradition, next to Tsagan Aav there is a deer. In Kalmykia it is a sheep next to Tsagan Aav. This is a clear sign he was modified. These are superficial beliefs. There is no historical or scientific fact.
B: Do Kalmyks in America worship or revere Tsagan Aav?
TT: No, he is not of much importance.
B: I heard contradicting stories from old people that before the Revolution Tsagan Aav was highly revered, but others say he was not revered in the past as he is today.
TT: I do not believe that before the deportation Tsagan Aav was highly respected. If you look at all images, tangka paintings of old temples and monasteries in Kalmykia you would see images of Buddha, Okon Tengri, Maitreya Buddha. These are the main images you come across. You would not see images of the Tsagan Aav placed on the altar. His images are fairly new. It was adapted later and created into something like a fairytale when people started to believe it. If you ask a Kalmyk to tell the life story of Buddha, we have historical proof – writings of how Buddha lived, archaeological facts where he lived, etc. Not only Buddha but other Buddhist deities too: we have scientific explanations of their existence. There is no proof of Tsagan Aav’s existence. There is no such scientific proof. So it is shamanism, it is not a religion. It is a way of life, a tradition, a belief system. Today in Mongolia, in Siberia where shamanism is very popular, people would say it is a shamanistic way or a shamanistic belief. But shamanism has no doctrine like Buddhism, Christianity, Islam or Judaism. The teachings are based on what? It has to be based on some system, historical or scientific belief.
B: Can we say that it is based on folk knowledge transmitted from one generation to the next?
TT: I can say that, but it needs to be proven.
Telo Tulku Rinpoche, About the Tsagan Aav
This video features a ritual that was performed by monks during the opening ceremony of a statue of Tsagan Aav in Ketchenerovskiy rayon, Kalmykia, south-west Russia.
The Opening of a Statue of Tsagan Aav
Tsagan says that evil spirits come out in the evening and therefore it is not a good time for people to set off on a journey. If a person happens to get to the road when it is already dark, he/she should stop and wait until dawn.
She recounts a story that happened to her uncle. One evening her uncle set out on a journey. He was riding a cart pulled by an old horse, which he hoped would know its way. After several hours when he did not reach the destination, he began to get worried. It was only in the morning that he understood that he had been driving around in circles.
Old people say that evil spirits tend to multiply before wars or times of trouble. If evil spirits haunt someone on the road, in order to get away from them, that person needs to whip the air with a whip or to fire with a gun. A woman can swear loudly.
Tsagan Mukobenova, About Evil Spirits
Ubush heard this story from his uncle. One day his uncle was travelling in the steppe and got lost. He came across a well but no matter how hard he tried he could not get away from the well. Something was pulling him back. Ubush himself did not experience a similar occurrence, but admits that many remote, uninhabited places may be haunted. He also heard of one derelict building in Elista believed to be haunted by spirits.
Ubush’s grandmother had an ability to bring the rain. She used to go to the steppe with other women to pray. After prayers it usually rained.
In order to cleanse themselves Kalmyks wash their hands with water and milk. This ritual is performed especially after funerals.
Ubush Darzhinov, Ghost Stories, Shamanism and Cleansing Rituals
One day a rather strange thing happened in the village where Viktoria is originally from. A young Kalmyk man saw a horse gallop straight into his yard. Without a second thought, the man took the horse and tried to domesticate it. When he failed, the man killed the horse for meat. People who bought the meat fell ill and the man himself also died soon afterwards. The person who helped butcher the horse also developed a problem in his hands. Alarmed by this, the local people went to see a monk who said that the horse was the Master of the Year and it was wrong to kill it.
Viktoria Mukobenova, About the Master of the Year
Vladimir relays a story of how he encountered an evil spirit (shulmus) in his childhood and he says what he thinks of shulmus. This is his story.
When I was a boy in Siberia, one day I ploughed a field with an ox until late in the evening. I was a long way from home. On my way home I saw a girl standing near the road and laughing. As she came towards me, someone behind her was playing a musical instrument. I had heard before that evil spirits haunted that particular place and that none of them should be allowed to come to the road. I used my whip to keep the girl off the road. When I came home, an old woman called Phyokla, a cook herself, asked me, ‘What did you see there?’ As Phyokla was like a mother to us, the orphans, I told her what I had seen. She said to me that evil spirits fear people more than we fear them. But I was still very afraid of what I had seen and could not sleep that night. Since then I started to go home early.
I heard that evil spirits themselves do not send people diseases. People fall ill because of fear. However, people should always carry white coins on them, especially when they walk in the steppe.
It is believed that evil spirits gather together in holes at night. They play with horses’ mane, tie horses’ legs up and lead travellers astray. If someone encounters a spirit, that person should go to a lama and ask him to read special prayers.
Also, not all people can see spirits.