Dialogue on the Threshold

Диалог на пороге

Monday, 30 April 2012

Vogul psychology

The souls of man:

1) urtă - the soul that departs for the warm regions after or on the point of a man's death;

2) lash - soul in the form of a little bird that bodes death;

3) ulm uye - soul that takes the shape of a bird and watches over a man's sleep and health during life;

4) utshi - the soul that always remains in the body, even after a man's death. This is the soul to which commemorative offerings are made;

5) the fifth soul is apparently the soul of the first, but has no definite name.


Е. И. Ромбандеева, История народа манси (вогулов) и его духовная культура (по данным фольклора и обрядов), "Северный дом" Северо-Сибирское региональное издательство, г. Сургут, 1993

(trans. A. I. Blyth)


Sunday, 29 April 2012

Psychê tetrigyia (3)

I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit (ἐν τῷ ἐγγαστριμύθῳ), and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. (Reg. I 28.8)

The prophet who possesses or is possessed by a familiar, usually an ancestral ghost, is often to be met with in the lower culture. Among the Jews, besides the power of summoning spirits enjoyed, for example, by the Witch of Endor, diviners might possess a familiar ghost who speaks through their lips. The words ’ōb and yidde ‘oni, which mean in the first instance the spirit of a deceased person, came to mean him or her that divines by such a spirit. Now the Septuagint translates sho’ēl ’ōb, one who consults an ’ōb, by the word ἐγγαστρίμυθος. The ἐγγαστρίμυθοι were apparently very common in antiquity. Clement refers to them as one of the principal types of pagan diviner (Protrept, i. 11). (...) So far as the nature of their familiar spirit is defined, it seems probable that it was supposed to be the ghost of a deceased person, though one would not look for clear definition or consistence of theory in this lowly branch of the art of divination. (...) In the Byzantine period diviners of this character appear to have retained their popularity, and they are said by Psellus, that expert in the ranks and categories of devils, to be possessed by the subterranean kinds of devil (De op. daem. (Gaulminus), GIII, p. 55)."

W. R. Halliday, Greek Divination. A Study of its Methods and Principles, Macmillan, London, 1913.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Psychê tetrigyia (2)

Bogoros (1) believes that he can explain the "separate voices" of the Chukchee shamans by ventriloquism. But his phonograph recorded all the "voices" exactly as they were heard by the audience, that is, as coming from the doors or rising from the corners of the room, and not as emitted by the shaman. The recordings "show a very marked difference between the voice of the shaman himself, which sounds from afar, and the voices of the 'spirits', who seemed to be talking directly into the funnel." (2)

(1) Waldemar G. Bogoras (V. G. Bogoraz), The Chukchee, American Museum of Natural History (New York), Memoirs XI, Jesup North Pacific Expedition VII, 1904, pp. 435ff.
(2) Ibid., p. 436.

Mircea Eliade, Shamanism. Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. Willard R. Trask, Bollingen Series LXXVI, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 1972, 2nd ed. 2004, p. 255, n. 120.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Descensus ad inferos

[I]t seems that the [Altaic] shaman makes vertical descent down the seven successive "levels," or subterranean regions, called pudak, "obstacles." He is accompanied by his ancestors and his helping spirits. As each "obstacle" is passed, he sees a new subterannean epiphany; the word black recurs in almost every verse. At the second "obstacle" he apparently hears metallic sounds; at the fifth, waves and the wind whistling; finally, at the seventh, where the nine subterranean rivers have their mouths, he sees Erlik Khan's palace, built of stone and black clay and defended in every direction. The shaman utters a long prayer to Erlik (in which he also mentions Bai Ülgän, "him above"), then he returns to the yurt and tells the audience the results of his journey.

Mircea Eliade, Shamanism. Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. Willard R. Trask, Bollingen Series LXXVI, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 1972, 2nd ed. 2004, pp. 200-201.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

A sodaine dampe

This distemper [Melancholie] would sometimes cast a cloud, and some halfe damps upon her naturall cheerfulnesse, and socialblenesse, and sometimes induce darke and sad apprehensions.

Howling is the noyse of hell, Sadnesse the damp of Hell.

Who hath imprinted terrors in thee? A damp in thine own heart? Who imprinted it? Swear to me now that thou believest not in God, and before midnight, thou wilt tell God, that thou dost; miserable distemper! not to see God in this light, and see him in the dark: not to see him at noon, and see him fearfully at midnight: not to see, where we all see him, in the congregation, and to see him with terror, in the suburbs of despair, in the solitary chamber.

If he neglect his calling now, tomorrow he may forget that he was called today, or remember it with such a terror as shall blow a damp, and a consternation upon his soul, and a lethargy worse than his former sleep. 

John Donne, loca varia

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The voices of the dust (1)

And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy voice shall be low out of the dust and thy voice shall be as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper (Heb. peep, or chirp) out of the dust.

Isaiah, 29:4

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

To kalyptesthai


La thème des personnages enfermés dans des bocaux sphériques « résulte - indique Baltrušaitis - de la dégénérescence du cosmos cristallin, mais en rejoignant aussi une fable de l'Enfer. On se souvient que le Bouddha avait emprisonné le plus jeune fils de Kouei-tseu Mou, mère de dix mille démons, dans un vase à aumônes. Ce vase était en verre et il avait la forme d'un globe... La légende des diables enfermés dans des fioles a été également tres répandue au moyen âge, mais la représentation la plus ancienne et la plus proche de ces visions se trouve sur un rouleau chinois du XIe siècle avec une horde préfigurant le Tartaros gothique». 

Robert L. Delevoy, Bosch, 1960

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Man Who Looks at the World (2)

Géza Róheim, Hungarian and Vogul Mythology, Monographs of the American Ethnological Society, ed. Esther S. Goldfrank, Vol. 23, J. J. Augustin Publisher, Locust Valley, New York, 1954,  p. 30:

Karjalainen contends that the spirit [sc. World-Surveyor-Man or Gander-Chief], who is sometimes simply called the "Spirit of Troitsa," is of Christian origin. Foreign names such as Master 'master' are applied to him, and he has recently been identified with Christ, St. Nicholas, and St. George, while solar elements, which are present, are derived from Russian lore concerned with these saints. (1) Harva goes even further: The seven sons of the Sky God can be linked, he believes, to Iran, since the Amesha Spentas are seven, as are the Adityas of the Rigveda. Names, such as "Interpreter" (of God) and "Writer" came to the Ugric people through the Tartars, and indeed, some traits may go back to the planet gods and Nabu, the scribe of the gods. (2) (...) Gander-Chief or World-Inspector-Man is the patron god of the Moś moiety. Other designations for him, besides Lunt-Ater 'Gander-Chief', are Sorni-Ater 'Gold-Chief', or simply Ater 'Chief'. (3) In 1712 the missionaries found a brass idol representing a goose with extended wings, which was considered the patron god of swans, geese, and all water-fowl. (4) (...) We are told that his cult is localized in the village of Troitsa. He resides in a sacred forest near the village, and every Vogul is expected to make a pilgrimage to this place three times a year, or at least send him presents. Appeals for his help are usually made during the night in a dark hut, because it is just at this time that he is supposed to be traveling from one place to another on a white horse. When such an invocation impels him to descend to the earth, his servants deposit four metal plates, each bearing the image of the sun. (5)

(1) K. F. Karjalainen, Die Religion der Jugra-Völker, Folklore Fellows Communications, nos. 41, 44, 63, Helsinki, 1921-27 (44), pp. 191-93.
(2) Uno Harva, Finno-Ugric, Siberian Mythology, Archaeological Institute of America, 1927, pp. 403-410.
(3) Munkácsi Bernát, Vogul Népköltési Gyűjtemény, vol. II, pt. 1, Budapest, 1910-1921, p. 53.
(4) Ibid., p. 66.
(5) Karjalainen, ibid. p. 190. In one Ostyak village the tin image of the sun with rays was put up for the winter and hung on a holy larch during the sun's absence (Lehtisalo, Entwurf einer Mythologie der Jurak Samojeden, Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne, no. 53, 1924, p. 17).

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The seven-tiered universe

In the Vogul conception, the vital space of the surrounding world consists of seven strata or tiers. According to our information, these are as follows: 1) Yoli torum “the nether realm” or “netherworld”, which is mainly inhabited by beings inimical to man or the spirits of “the upside-down world”, which as a rule cause people illnesses and misfortunes; 2) Yalping ma “the sacred earth” or the stratum that supports life and in which inheres future life and the life force (oln yor); 3) Ma unlup, unlup torum or posing torum “the earthly realm”, which is all that dwells on earth, all the things that exist, visible and invisible to the eyes of ordinary men. The last are concealed from human eyes in a thin layer of bark (sas khalyup sayt olnă makhum). The realm stretching from the Earth to the blue Heaven; 4) Torum “Heaven”, which is the blue space above the earth; 5) Numi Torum, which is the world above the celestial cupola, shining blue above us; this is the stratum wherein dwells the life of the spirits or folk of the overworld, including God and his children; 6) Opil, which is the uppermost stratum of the vital space, above Numi Torum (the term opil derives from opa "paternal grandfather"); 7) Kors > Kars, literally “High”. Herein dwell the all-powerful forces, the all-seeing forces, unconcerned with the life of the earthly space, although in time of great misfortune men can make appeal to them in prayers for succour. Their likenesses are not depicted; they are invisible, indescribable. The Voguls have no places in nature where they worship or pray to them.

Е. И. Ромбандеева, История народа манси (вогулов) и его духовная культура (по данным фольклора и обрядов), "Северный дом" Северо-Сибирское региональное издательство, г. Сургут, 1993

(trans. A. I. Blyth)

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Man Who Looks at the World

The Voguls worshipped - and perhaps still worship - one especially among their gods who bears the name of "The Man Who Looks at the World." He is a god let down from heaven in two variations: with his mother and without her. With his mother he was "let down" in such a way that he was born as the son of a woman expelled from heaven. She fell upon the banks of the River Ob. "Under her right arm-pit two ribs broke out. A child with golden hands and feet was born."* This manner of birth, the emergence of the child from its mother's right side, betrays Buddhist influence. The Bodhisattva who later became Gautama Buddha entered his mother's womb from the right side and at the end of ten months left the right side of his mother again in full consciousness and immaculate; thus it was according to the Buddha legend of the northern sect - Mahanya Buddhism as it is called. "The Man Who Looks at the World" is an exact translation of "Avalokiteshvara," the name of the world-ruling Boddhisattva in the above religion, whose missionaries are dispersed throughout Northern Asia. Avalokiteshvara is just such a divinity compassionately observing the world as the god of the Voguls became.

* B. Munkácsi, Vogul Népköltési Gyűjtemény, Budapest, Vol. II, 1 (1910), p. 99


C. Kerényi, The Primordial Child in Primordial Times, in C. G. Jung and C. Kerényi, Science of Mythology. Essays on the Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis, trans. R.F.C. Hull, Routledge, London, 1985, 2002, p. 36

Torum and Koul


Torum is a divinity under whose symbol [the Vogouls] convey the idea of a universal god, the merciful sovereign of the world. They imagine divers inferior deities in subordination to him, of whom they form different conceptions, and characterise them under various appellatives. The sun, as they conceive, is the abode of their Torum; but that orb itself is with them an essential divinity, as well as the moon, the clouds, and the principal phaenomena of nature. The devil, whom they call Koul, is in their estimation of very little consequence; they look upon him as a very contemptible being, and scarcely think at all about him.

Russia, or a Compleat Historical Account of All the Nations which Compose that Empire. London. Printed for J. Nichols; T. Cadell in the Strand; H. Payne, Pall-Mall; and N. Conant, Fleet Street. 1780. 2 volumes in 8vo. 10 shillings.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Psychê tetrigyia

Géza Róheim, Hungarian and Vogul Mythology, Monographs of the American Ethnological Society, ed. Esther S. Goldfrank, Vol. 23, J. J. Augustin Publisher, Locust Valley, New York, 1954, p. 22:

In one of the Bear Songs published by Munkácsi we find the following passage:

The earth is inhabited by the people of the underworld,
The earth where they squeak like little geese,
Where they squeak like little ducks.

The "earth" as used here refers to the underworld. We may therefore conclude that the people who dwell there, that is the ghosts, are generally geese and ducks. The early Russian reports (1715) contain the observation that the [Vogul] shaman speaks to his gods in a strange squeaky voice.*

*B. Munkácsi, Vogul Népköltési Gyűjtemény, Budapest, Vol. 1 (1892-1902), p. cii.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Sur l'origine de la religion des Gètes

Il est bien plus probable que les Gètes avoient puisé dans la Tartarie, d'où ils étoient originaires, le culte du Dieu La, & l'avoient porté avec eux dans la Valachie & la Moldavie, où ils se fixèrent, de sorte que leur Pontife, résidant sur le mont Kagajon, n'étoit proprement qu'un vicaire ou un Kutuktus du grand Lama, qui a actuellement sous lui deux cents de ces Kutuktus, dont le principal a son siége & sa pagode chez les Calmouks, qui le nomment leur Catoucha.

Cornelius de Pauw, Sur le grand Lama, Recherches philosophiques sur les americains (1771)

Monday, 16 April 2012

De stultorum natura (1)

Il semble à chacun que la maîtresse forme de nature est en lui : touche et rapporte à celle-là toutes les autres formes. Les allures qui ne se règlent aux siennes sont feintes et artificielles. Quelle bestiale stupidité.

Essais de Michel de Montaigne, Liv. II, chap. XXXII