People in Khuvsgul most commonly practice shamanism and some of the most powerful shaman live in this area. The shamanism rituals is based on the view that besides the visible world the shaman interacts with many other worlds or universes, and that contacting the spirits is an imporant part of shamans’ work. Every day, month, and year shamans constantly do their work with poetic invocation, music, dance, and creative arts. Today northern Mongolian groups Darkhad, Tsaatan, Hotgoit, and Buryat ethnic group’s shamans still maintain the ancient shamanic traditions.
Mongolian shamanism, more broadly called the Mongolian folk religion, or occasionally Tengerism, refers to the animistic and shamanic ethnic religion that has been practiced in Mongolia and its surrounding areas (including Buryatia and Inner Mongolia) at least since the age of recorded history. The Mongolian endonym is Böö mörgöl (In Mongolian cyrillic: Бөө мөргөл). In the earliest known stages it was intricately tied to all other aspects of social life and to the tribal organization of Mongolian society. Along the way, it has become influenced by and mingled with Buddhism. During the socialist years of the twentieth century it was heavily repressed and has since made a comeback.
Yellow shamanism is the term used to designate the particular version of Mongolian shamanism which adopts the expressive style of Buddhism. “Yellow” indicates Buddhism in Mongolia, since most Buddhists there belong to what is called the Gelug or “Yellow sect” of Tibetan Buddhism, whose members wear yellow hats during services. The term also serves to distinguish it from a form of shamanism not influenced by Buddhism (according to its adherents), called black shamanism.
Mongolian shamanism is centered on the worship of the tngri (gods) and the highest Tenger (Heaven, God of Heaven, God) or Qormusta Tengri. In the Mongolian folk religion, Genghis Khan is considered one of the embodiments, if not the main embodiment, of the Tenger. The Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ordos City, in Inner Mongolia, is an important center of this worship tradition.
Mongolian shamanism is an all-encompassing system of belief that includes medicine, religion, a reverence of nature, and ancestor worship. Central to the system were the activities of male and female intercessors between the human world and the spirit world, shamans (böö) and shamanesses (udgan). They were not the only ones to communicate with the spirit world: nobles and clan leaders also performed spiritual functions, as did commoners, though the hierarchy of Mongolian clan-based society was reflected in the manner of worship as well.
Divinities and their class divisions
Klaus Hesse described the complex spiritual hierarchy in clan-based Mongolian society based on sources that go back to the 13th century. The highest group in the pantheon consisted of 99 tngri(55 of them benevolent or “white” and 44 terrifying or “black”), 77 natigai or “earth-mothers”, besides others. The tngri were called upon only by leaders and great shamans and were common to all the clans. After these, three groups of ancestral spirits dominated. The “Lord-Spirits” were the souls of clan leaders to whom any member of a clan could appeal for physical or spiritual help. The “Protector-Spirits” included the souls of great shamans (ĵigari) and shamanesses (abĵiya). The “Guardian-Spirits” were made up of the souls of smaller shamans (böö) and shamanesses (udugan) and were associated with a specific locality (including mountains, rivers, etc.) in the clan’s territory.
The difference between great, white and small, black (in shamans, tngri, etc.) was also formative in a class division of three further groups of spirits, made up of “spirits who were not introduced by shamanist rites into the communion of ancestral spirits” but who could nonetheless be called upon for help—they were called “‘the three accepting the supplications’ (jalbaril-un gurban)”. The whites were of the nobles of the clan, the blacks of the commoners, and a third category consisted of “the evil spirits of the slaves and non-human goblins”. White shamans could only venerate white spirits (and if they called upon black spirits they “lost their right in venerating and calling the white spirits”), black shamans only black spirits (and would be too terrified to call upon white spirits since the black spirits would punish them). Black or white was assigned to spirits according to social status, and to shamans “according to the capacity and assignment of their ancestral spirit or spirit of the shaman’s descent line.”
Reverence for Genghis Khan
Nationwide reverence of Genghis Khan had existed until the 1930s, centered on a shrine which preserved mystical relics of Genghis, that was located in the Ordos Loop of the region of Inner Mongolia, in China. The Japanese, during the occupation of China, tried to take possession of the relics in order to catalyse a pro-Japanese Mongol nationalism, but they failed.
Within the Mongolian People’s Republic (1924–92) the Mongolian native religion was suppressed, and Genghis’ shrines destroyed. In Inner Mongolia, otherwise, the worship of the cultural hero persisted; the hereditary custodians of the shrines survived there, preserving ancient manuscripts of ritual texts, written partially in an unintelligible language called the “language of the gods”.
With the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese rallied Mongol nationalism to the new state and constructed the Shrine of Genghis Khan (or Shrine of the Lord, as it is named in Mongolian) in Ordos City, where they gathered the old sanctuary tents, confirmed the guardians of the groups in office, and subsidised annual sacrifices.
The shrine in Ordos has since then become the focal point of a revival of Genghis Khan’s reverence throughout Inner Mongolia. The Han Chinese, the major ethnic group in Inner Mongolia, pay themselves homage to him as the spiritual foundation of the Yuan dynasty. Various other temples of Genghis Khan, or branches of the shrine in Ordos, have been established in Inner Mongolia and northern China.
Ovoos or aobaoes (Mongolian: овоо, Traditional Mongol: ᠥᠪᠥᠭᠭᠠ) are sacrificial altars of the shape of a mound that are traditionally used for worship in the indigenous religion of Mongols and related ethnic groups. Every ovoo is thought as the representation of a god. There are ovoos dedicated to heavenly gods, mountain gods, other gods of nature, and also to gods of human lineages and agglomerations.
In Inner Mongolia, the aobaoes for worship of ancestral gods can be private shrines of an extended family or kin (people sharing the same surname), otherwise they are common to villages (dedicated to the god of a village), banners or leagues. Sacrifices to the aobaoes are made offering slaughtered animals, joss sticks, and libations.