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List of issues > «Geoarchaeology, Ethnology, and Anthropology Series». 2018. Vol. 25

Sutra the White Elder (Sagaan Үbgen): Mythological Bases of the Cult

E. A. Nemanova

White Elder (in Buryat – Sagaan Үbgen; in Mongolian – Čaγan ebűgen) is one of the most widespread folklore images among Mongolian peoples. There are a lot of texts concerning the White Elder – some are devoted to the ritual side of his cult, and others only mention his name. Texts dedicated to the White Elder, act as a universal symbolic complex, where all the basic elements and parameters of the cosmic order are reflected that somehow simulate the world: sky/earth, earth/water, mountain/tree, ancestors/living, animals/snakes, four sides of the world. The White Elder acts as an ancestor – the mediator between nature and human, space and society. A large number of manuscripts and woodcuts clearly demonstrate popularity of White Elder in Mongolia, Buryatia and Kalmykia for nowadays. To clarify the mythological basis of the cult of White Elder we considered two texts from handwritten fund of the St. Petersburg Branch of Institute of Oriental studies RAS: “Čaγan ebűgen-ű neretű sudur orusibai” and “Čaγan ebűgen-ű sudur”. These texts are the most widespread sutra about the White Elder. Sutra “The White Elder” (“Čaγan ebűgen-ű neretu sudur orusibai”), also known as a sutra “Capable to pacify and suppress the earth and water” (“Үajar usun-I nomuγadγan daruγulun cidaγki neret ű sudur”) is unique in its pseudo Buddhist form. For consideration of structures we used the comparative analysis of text versions in which the constant, standard, repeating elements, or invariant text units’ form are the basis for their description. Apparently from the text, the White Elder (Sagaan Үbgen) has various functions as the patron, defender and at the same time – as the malicious spirit. All this specifies ambivalence of this character, but in general it characterizes the traditional thinking – to allot spirits by various, sometimes polar functions. To consider the rite of sacrifice to the White Elder as a whole, it was clearly focused on achieving of well-being, by appeasing the White Elder, as well as asking for his patronage and help. The same purpose was served by the action plan of the ceremony (incense burn, sprinkling with milk, scattering food pieces), as well as the selection of sacrificial animals and supplying them with special marks – white ribbons.

About the Authors

Nemanova Eleonora Allekovna, Candidate of Sciences (History), Associate Professor, Department of Ethnology and Folk Art Culture, East-Siberian State Institute of Culture; 1, Tereshkova st., Ulan-Ude, 670031, Russian Federation, e-mail: elnem@inbox.ru

For citation

Nemanova E. A. Sutra the White Elder (Sagaan Үbgen): Mythological Bases of the Cult. Bulletin of the Irkutsk State University. Geoarchaeology, Ethnology, and Anthropology Series. 2018, Vol. 25, pp. 101–111. https://doi.org/10.26516/2227-2380.2018.25.101 (in Russ.)

cult of the White Elder, mythology, verbal component, semantics, rite

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