© 2019 Marina SODNOMPILOVA
2019 – # 2 (18)
Marina Mikhailovna Sodnompilova, Dr. Hist. Sc., is a Leading Research Fellow at the Institute of Mongolian Studies, Buddhology and Tibetology (RAS Siberian Dept., Ulan-Ude)
Keywords: Turko-Mongolian peoples, Inner Asia, skin diseases, fire of home hearth, wolf, dog, eagle, healing methods, healers
Abstract. The article analyzes the corpus of beliefs of Turko-Mongolian peoples about skin covering diseases, as well as corresponding magical healing methods. These diseases included dermatological lesions (scabies, favus, tinea, erysipelas, allergic skin rashes) and other diseases accompanied by symptoms on the skin (chickenpox, smallpox, measles, syphilis). Origins of most skin diseases were associated with the fire in the home hearth. Another reason for such diseases in Turko-Mongolian beliefs was animals staying in mythological connection with fire: wolf/dog, eagle. The article represents a circle of people who know the art of healing skin diseases, and the healing methods practiced by them. An analysis of the materials allows us to conclude that, as understood by Turko-Mongols, the link between skin diseases and fire was based on visual similarity of burns and other skin lesions, as well as on beliefs about spirits punishing people for their misconducts.
A widespread type of disease among Turko-Mongolian people in Inner Asia was skin diseases. Those included skin lesions accompanied by itch, ulcers, or crust. Mainly, those were manifestations of scabies, ulcers, or crust. Those mostly were manifestations of the diseases like an itch, favus (a generic name for human mycoses), tinea, erysipelas, or allergic skin rashes (hives). Sometimes external manifestations of such grave diseases as smallpox, measles, or syphilis were associated with them, too.
In traditional worldview, the origin of many skin diseases was associated with the fire of the home hearth and revenge/anger of venerated birds and animals symbolizing fire (wolf, dog, eagle). According to the beliefs of Turko-Mongolian peoples, the fire of the home hearth punished for disrespect towards it, by sending skin diseases to people. The host spirit of fire covered people with ulcers if they spat onto a fire, cut corners with sharp objects, put garbage into a fire, did not clean the hearth, did not worship it by sacrificing food and drinks. Traditional beliefs of Turko-Mongolian peoples show that animals and birds that symbolize fire can punish people, too, by afflicting them with skin diseases. The person fell ill if he stepped onto the spot where a wolf or dog angrily scratched the earth or treated a bird without respect. It is obvious that the image of a wolf as a reason of skin diseases is more archaic than that of a dog because only wolfish attributes are used in magical healing practices.
As understood by Turko-Mongols, the link between skin and fire apparently explained by the similarity of features and symptoms of burns, and skin lesions caused by certain diseases. The healing practice was primarily based on the idea that “like cures like”. This principle substantiates healing of skin diseases with fire, red-hot or burning objects, and wolfish attributes such as skin, teeth, bones, internal organs (universal for Turko-Mongolian world), or ash of eagle feather (among Yakuts).
Skin diseases could be cured by shamans, while among Buryats and Yakuts the talent of healing various skin lesions was attributed to people belonging to a certain kin/tribe (khori), that had its origins connected to fire via the image of ancestor bird. The fire was also used in self-healing practices – something evidenced by Yakut ethnographic materials. Obviously, the mythological rationale for the right to treat skin diseases with fire was formed in the East-Siberian areal, while the similar images of the healer among Buryats and Yakuts complement the existing information pointing at a common ethnic nucleus which was an origin of these peoples.
Currently, the practices of healing skin diseases with fire, although widespread in the past among Turko-Mongolian peoples, are not reproduced. There are no reports of healing skin diseases with wolf body parts, despite this animal still venerated as a sacred one. Back in the XX century, the wolf was in high veneration among Kyrgyz, as a protector against diseases. Mongols still have a respectful attitude to the wolf head. After having killed this predator, hunters touch his head in a devotional posture, thus obtaining his blessing, adis. It is advantageous to have the skin of this predator at home because it scares off angry spirits causing diseases and adversities.
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