Reawakening spirits in post-socialist Mongolia: vernacular theories and practices
Tartu : University of Tartu Press, 2021
Dissertationes folkloristicae Universitatis Tartuensis ; 30
Paperback, in very good condition.
Theses (doctorate). Summary in Estonian.
Mongolia, the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky and Golden Earth”, is a special area of Inner Asia. It is also the name of a nation-state officially representing the distinctive culture of Mongols, descendants of those who in medieval times were famous as invincible nomadic conquerors, holders of the great Mongolian Empire founded by Genghis Khan and regarded as the largest contiguous state formation between Asia and Europe. Mongolian culture has ties to multiple cultural traditions including the ancient Iranian, Uyghur, Turkic, Tibetan and Central Asian cultures. Mongolia has not been as visible on the world stage over the last few centuries, and most people (at least, most western non-scholars) only began to rediscover it recently and in a new perspective: this time as a hidden land of freedom, wild nature, living traditions and flourishing spirituality. Indeed, nowadays Mongolia represents a peculiar culture, combining very different features and facing contemporary challenges. It is a culture that is sandwiched between Russia and China and must move in a complex web of geopolitical interests, maintaining a position between the eastern and western worlds, undergoing the processes of globalization and a rapid urbanization, while still attempting to preserve traditional values and lifestyle and remaining close to its pastoralist heritage. Between now and then, there has been a long road of great and dramatic events influencing Mongolian culture both gradually and harshly. The most significant and cruel of the recent ones was the experience of socialism which lasted for more than seventy years (1924–1991). Hence, nowadays Mongolia presents an example of handling, conceptualizing and overcoming this arduous experience, which has more general importance for understanding ‘Soviet-type societies’ in a number of such countries with a similar past. Significant roles in the ‘national revival’ and post-socialist Mongolian society were played by various categories of the supernatural and religious – the atheistic regime’s enemies and victims, suppressed and condemned for dozens of years to a hidden, ‘whispering’ form of existence. In the early 1990’s, the supernatural burst back into Mongolian culture, clearly demonstrating its superior vitality and taking its revenge on the ruined atheistic ideology. Traditional images and motifs of the supernatural occupied various realms and contexts, revealing their important social character: the spirit of Genghis Khan, the main patron of the nation, supernatural lords of the state worshiped mountains, local nature spirits, the lord of the fire, hearth, various demons, ghosts and restless souls, etc. They became symbols of the national revival and the new state ideology, expressions of collective memories and social relations, as well as of the sorrows of private life, the hopes and fears of post-socialist reconstruction and the present time, demanding (and receiving) the attention of an increasing number of specialists in ritual concerns. The Mongolian example of national and religious revivals has a number of peculiar features. One of these is that while the supernatural figures are the most active mouthpieces of independence and nationalism, the creators of post-socialist spiritual and public environment, they are not from ‘high’ pantheons or epic traditions as often would be the case when constructing national identities. On the contrary, Mongolian representatives of the supernatural belong to realm of vernacular beliefs very close to everyday life. This work tries to follow the clues and to reveal the grounds for vitality of some supernatural and religious concepts in contemporary Mongolia.