The Fires Between Heaven and Earth

Galina Wood

The Fires Between Heaven and Earth

(63rd Annual Meeting Ulaanbaatar, 2021)

From the South Siberian Altai Mountains, neighboring Mongolia, through Central Asian Kyrgyzstan to Azerbaijan in the Caucasus Mountains all the way to Iran there is a common thread of beliefs and rituals. Where the nomadic Saka or Scythians used to live we find even today thoughts and practices shared by Turkic, Iranian and Slavic peoples dating back to Zoroastrian and pre-Zoroastrian substrate. The last 25 years of living among the various peoples of this vast area has yielded experience through “observant participation,” an adjusted anthropological approach to closed traditional communities. As languages are the keys to unlocking the culture, language learning and coming alongside local linguists in language revitalization became a vital part of the journey. To grasp the connections between hidden issues the methodology engages interdisciplinary research. Archaeology, art, oral traditions, powerful words spoken to people today, way of life, traditional music and the search of current nations for their nomadic roots all are pieces completing the fascinating cultural mosaic.

Heroic Epic, containing archaic layers of culture, as well as ancient practices, are a valuable source of understanding the Eurasian steppe and mountain world-view. Through this presentation we will explore together themes like the attitude to the Heavenly Creator and its representations through the reverence for fire and water. We will discern the responsibility of caring for the land and plants that feed the people and bond to both wild and tamed animals highlighting the eagle, deer, horse, cattle, flocks and dog. Some of these have a special spiritual significance. Furthermore, we will examine relationships to people, in the middle realm, beginning with the closeness of family.

Starting from the Turkic cradle of Altai Mountain sanctuary moving westward we will trace some constants and some changes in the current attitudes. For example, the place of women in the society, influenced by relatively recent shifts in religious systems. And finally we will analyze the spiritual significance of light and darkness both in words and in action and the meaningful images that stand behind the words. We will end with customary native blessings.