The Master Spirits are the essence of what makes the Central Asian world, like the Japanese, African, and Native American worlds, animistic. Among the Central Asians, any group’s territory—its water, its mountains, its animals, its particular places—is watched over by these spirits. The individual is attached to a particular spirit, as well, a spirit called Seveki by some. But when a person dies, he or she goes to live in the Underworld with the spirit associated with the cause of death. The spirits can take on animal or human shapes. In most Central Asian cultures the Master Spirit of Fire tends to be an old woman who presides over a cooking fire. Every home has a Mother Fire who must be fed and who, in return, protects the herds. The Master Spirit of Water tends to be an old man who lives in the water. The Tungus have territory Mother Spirits who watch over the Tungus world. Other groups have positive Master Spirits of the Underworld; these are the direct ancestors of the shamans, who can travel to that world. Such spirits can be associated with the idea of the soul of the dead person returning to earth as a new clan member. Among the Buryats there are spirits known as the tengri. Half of these live with the good god Eseg Malan in the west; the others live as bad spirits with the god of the dead, who, in the case of the Buryats, is sometimes Erlik.
A shaman performs a fire ceremony in Tuva, Russia, just north of Mongolia.