Central Asian Mythology

Central Asian Creation and Devil-Tricksters

What is an example of a Buryat creation myth?

Living in the Lake Baikal region of Siberia, the Buryats are of the Mongolian race. Their creation myth is a classic Central Asian earth-diver story.

In the beginning the Sky God, sometimes named Sombov, looked down on the primordial waters and saw the water bird Anghir. He instructed the bird to dive down into the depths of the maternal waters to find some material for the making of earth. The bird did as he was instructed and emerged with some black earth and some red clay. Sombov made our earth out of the black soil and humans out of the red clay. These first humans were covered in wool and Sombov decided not to make them alive until he could find souls for them. He left a dog—still furless at this stage—to watch over his creation while he went to heaven to find the souls. Now the devil, Shiktur (sometimes Erlik) approached the shivering furless dog and promised him a coat if he would allow him to see Sombov’s creations. When the dog gave in, Shiktur undermined the new creations by spitting on them. When the creator returned, he saw what had happened and was furious. The dog, he proclaimed, would always shiver in spite of its new fur coat, and wherever the devil’s spit hit the new humans, their wool would be removed. This is why humans—especially women—have hair only in very particular places on their bodies.

This myth is not only a “how the leopard got its spots” type of story, it is an explanation of the imperfection at the basis of creation itself. As in all Central Asian creation myths, the devil figure is the trickster who cannot resist putting his own creative powers to work to undermine the perfection of the creator’s intention. He is the Central Asian version of the archetype also realized in figures in other cultures, such as the Satan/serpent of the Bible.

In another Buryat myth it is the devil—here called Shlomo—who offers to dive into the waters to find earth. The creator—here called Burkhan—used the bit of retrieved soil to make the earth, but agreed to give Shlomo some to use as a place to plant his staff. It was the hole made by the devil’s staff that allowed all of the evils of the world to emerge.

In an Altaic myth of the Caucasus, the creator sends the devil-trickster into the depths to find earth but the devil hides some in his mouth when he returns. But when the creator causes the mud to expand, the bit in the devil’s mouth expands too, forcing him to spit out what he had hidden. This mud becomes the world’s wetlands.


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