Selkup - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Lyia combines traits of the leader (kok), and the trickster, the son of the celestial spirit Nop, continually engaging in battle with the master of the underworld ( kyzy ) . The Milky Way is represented as the skitract or seine of Lyia, subjugator of the nocturnal sky. The Milky Way was also called the nocturnal rainbow, uniting the sky with the earth. From one end to the other of the diurnal rainbow (the shadow of Lyia's bow) stretched the whole expanse of life. The cosmos is divided into sky ( nop ), earth, (the master of which is llynta Kota, "Old Woman of Life"), and the underworld (Kyzy). All three domains are bounded by a river, along which the shaman descends to the lower world on the seven-oared rowing boat, rontyk, and by a tree, along the notches or branches of which the shaman ascends to the sky.

Religious Practitioners. There are two types of shamans ( tetypy ): sumpytyl' kup (those who shamanize in a light tent) and kamtyryl' kup (those who shamanize in a dark tent, that is, without fire). The main attributes of the "light" shaman were the holy tree ( kossyl'-po ), drum with rattle, staff, and clothes, consisting of breastplate, caftan, boots, headress (iron crown), and mittens. The ability (gift) to shamanize was inherited, reviving together with the soul of the shaman in one of his descendants (most often in the grandson). Shamans, without fail, possessed musical and poetic abilities; each spring at the festival of the Arrival of Birds the shaman performed a new song. Kinsmen collectively looked after the condition of the shaman's spirit; in the moment of the coming-into-being they prepared for him a first, small drum; then, according to the magnitude of the shaman's ability, the scale of his drum and the quantity of his attributes increased. The clearest function of the shaman was healing. A full (seven-sky) shaman was considered capable of driving out any illness and of resurrecting the dead. In contrast to simple people, the souls of the shamans did not depart to the Lower World. Therefore, sumpytyl' kup were buried in trees.

Death and Afterlife. The death of an ordinary person was treated as the separation of body and soul. After the soul, il'sat, wandered among kinsmen for three to seven years, it moved into a bear and dwelt in the dark (forest) world. The hunt of the bear was called ettylia kietçiemy ("the guesting"). It was thought that the animal was revealed only to his kinsmen. There existed the custom of a thrice-repeated tossing of the slain bear's paw to determine the name of the kinsmen, the soul of whom appeared in the shape of a bear to the hunter. Thus, living and dead relations were inhabitants of one neighborhood. In "the other" world life flowed in a backward direction: old men became infants; the idle, workers; the poor, rich. The moon was the luminary of the other world; setting and rising, upper and lower changed places. Death, a transfer into a shady side of life, was understood as a guarantee of the future rebirth of the soul in a new incarnation.


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