In many cultures, white is considered the color of death and evil. After visiting the far north, it’s easy to see why. The polar night steals the sun. The icy desert stretches in all directions in the false light of the moon and the aurora. The frost burns, the blizzard howls like a horde of ghosts. And there are no flowers other than white on the frozen ground covered with snow. Snow and white in the dark.
Demons of the Siberian taiga
The North stuns not with its beauty or splendor, but with its grandeur. Taiga and tundra are like the ocean. Tibet and the Norwegian fjords can be hidden here and no one will find it. But even in populous England, where in the Middle Ages there were twenty inhabitants per square kilometer, there was still room for the people of the hills and bizarre forest creatures. What then can be said about Yakutia, where the population density is even today a hundred times less?
People have never really owned this land. Handfuls of hunters and pastoralists fought for existence in a vast world owned by ghosts. In a country where snow lies seven months a year, and the temperature in winter drops below minus 60 degrees, the invisible rulers of the taiga did not forgive insults and could dictate conditions.
The bulk of the ghostly population of Yakutia are ichchi, the spirits of nature. Like Japanese kami, they can be both personifications of mountains, trees and lakes, and patrons of the area, the embodiment of ideas and phenomena. But if in Japan the old pine becomes the embodied idea of a tree, then in Yakutia spirits are not identified with objects. Ichchi just lives in a tree and, if his house is cut down, he will not die. But he will be very angry.
Fortunately for the lumberjacks, only some of the trunks are “occupied” with spirits. But the taiga, meadows, swamps, mountains, river floods and lake expanses are so tightly controlled by Ichchi, as if Yakutia is one big sacred grove for them. Until now, trees decorated with ribbons can be seen along the roads of the republic. Spirits collect a small tribute from people – it can be a souvenir, a coin or a sip of kumis. Tribute is not taken for the use of land, but simply for entering the territory.
The disembodied, invisible and unseen ichchi managed to survive even the Christianization of Yakutia without loss. Traditional means of exorcists do not work on them – the spirits of the taiga have developed full immunity to holy water, the cross and prayers. But luckily, the icchi are not evil. The most powerful of them, the ruler of the forests and prankster Baai Bayanai, even patronizes hunters. Even if not for everyone, but only for those who are worthy, who have passed the necessary tests and who observe customs. True, this god has a specific sense of humor, and even the worthy are not always protected from his jokes.
The real evil spirits of the Yakut expanses are ghosts-abases. They are also incorporeal, but unlike icchi, they can be shown to people in a varied, invariably frightening guise. Classic Abases prefer the appearance of the Irish Fomorians – one-legged, one-armed and one-eyed giants. In the last couple of centuries, they say, the shape of a three-meter, impenetrable dark, often headless silhouette has come into vogue. If the abases appear during the day (and they are not afraid of the light), then you can see huge black eyes on a deathly white face. Abasa, as a rule, do not have legs – ghosts simply glide over the ground or gallop along the roads on monstrous horses. And in any form, the Abases emit an intolerable smell of decomposition.
One can escape from the abas. His main weapon is fear, and if the ghost fails to frighten the victim and put him to flight, then he himself becomes confused.
Abases in the illustrations by Elleya Sivtseva
Ghosts of this type know how to manipulate gravity – make a weapon or a load incredibly heavy, or even press a person to the ground. The most dangerous thing is that the Abases are capable of drinking the soul. People who encounter evil spirits in a forest or in an abandoned house die without receiving any external damage. But the consequences for the victim can be even worse than death. Sometimes an evil spirit enters a devastated body, and a thief – a zombie appears.
The Siberian dead are so harsh that African zombies are no match for them. The scoundrel is not only bloodthirsty and incredibly strong – he is also fast as lightning. It is very difficult to stop him: the fighter has never heard of silver, garlic and holy water, and, as befits a zombie, he is philosophical about bullets and ax blows. To incapacitate a fighter, he must at least be beheaded. And so that the dead man does not become a fighter, he must be beheaded and buried with his stomach down, holding the severed head between his legs. Fortunately, the fighter is short-lived. The presence of the abasa accelerates the decay of the corpse so much that the zombie is literally rotting before our eyes.
Even more dangerous are the Yakut ghouls – yuyors. Buried without the necessary rituals, suicides and criminals return as a bizarre cross between a vampire and a werewolf. During the day, the yuyor lives under water, where he cannot be reached (Dracula would never have thought of that!). Going out on a night hunt, the ghoul takes on a human form and without much difficulty persuades the victims to let him spend the night. Well, at the moment of the attack, the yuyor turns into a monster covered with wool, which is almost impossible to kill. The wounds only force the yuyor to retreat.
Not all Siberian scum is indifferent to Christian relics. The Syulyukyuns, an analogue of Lovecraft’s Deep Ones, who live in the cold lakes of Yakutia, converted to Orthodoxy. And now on Christmastide, when all the water becomes holy, they have to evacuate to dry land. And since, together with religion, the syulukyuns borrowed water vices and a way of life from the Russians, fishmen spend their time on the shore playing cards. In the underwater mansions, they leave sacks of gold, which a clever diver can try to snatch away.
This pandemonium is ruled by Ulu Toyon, the god of death and evil, who lives high in the icy mountains. In the guise of impenetrable fog, he sometimes descends into the valleys to destroy forests in fierce storms and send pestilence to herds. Ulu Toyon devours the hearts of the captives and turns the souls of people into his tools, instilling them into the bodies of predators. This is how possessed bears appear, ready to attack a person. Or Bigfoot.
Legends about the “Bigfoot” usually describe two types of this creature: Bigfoot and Yeti. But in the mountains of Yakutia and further south to Sikhote-Alin, there are legends about the third, unique species – chuchunu. Chuchunu is distinguished from other “relict hominids” by its long, flowing hair. Slender, of average height and athletic build, among other “snowmen” he stands out for his civilization. Chuchuna is covered with wool and is afraid of fire, but wears coarse clothes made of skins and hunts using weapons – stones, bone knives, and sometimes bows. And if Bigfoots and Yeti are always silent loners, then chuchuns usually appear together or three, talking with the help of a piercing whistle.
The horrors of Chukotka
The Norwegian sagas mention the Utburds – the undead, which are transformed into babies abandoned in the forest during the years of famine. In Chukotka, such demons are called angyaks. But compared to the Arctic, Norway can be considered a resort. Even an adult exile cannot survive in the icy desert. Therefore, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, there are also wreckens that have no analogues in warm Scandinavia.
Rakkens are people expelled from the camps for greed, anger or cowardice. Upon death, the perpetrator transforms into a gnome with an extra mouth on his stomach. The details of the description depend on the area: black-headed dwarfs hide under the hills, gray-headed dwarfs in the rocks, blue-headed dwarfs in the sea. Sometimes crab pincers are mentioned among the signs of rakken.
Of course, wreckens hate people. And they invent much more sophisticated forms of revenge than those of the Angyaks and Utburds. On tiny sledges pulled by invisible dogs the size of an ermine, they carry diseases and other misfortunes to camps. And there is nothing worse than a disease for the warlike Chukchi. After all, only the one who died in battle can get into the Arctic Valhalla – “Cloud Country”. Men who die in bed go to the frozen Netherworld.
Bestiary of Canadian Eskimos
The Inuit Eskimos, whose settlements are scattered from the Chukchi Peninsula to Greenland, are the most numerous people in the Arctic. They came closest to the Pole, surviving in conditions that the Nenets, Evenks and Chukchi would find too harsh. But the Tuniites were even braver. This legendary tribe, according to the legend of the Eskimos, in ancient times lived on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, and with the advent of “real people” (Inuit) retreated into completely lifeless icy deserts. It was two thousand years ago. Nevertheless, it happens that even today northern hunters meet tall, incredibly muscular aliens, using rough tools of the Paleolithic era and dressed in unstitched skins. The primitive language of the Tunisians is like baby talk. Tunisians fall into rage easily, but are generally peaceful.
Much more dangerous is the meeting with the giantess inupasukugyuk. They are so powerful that they kill a bear with a throw of a stone, and at the same time are so simple-minded that they take people for living talking dolls and try to play with them. The giantesses value their toys, so the hapless hunter cannot escape from captivity for many days. It is difficult to say how dangerous a meeting with a male inupasukugyuk is, because until now no one survived after it and talked about their adventures.
But there are also benefits from giants. Great luck if you can tame their dog – then you won’t need a kayak. A huge dog can swim in the sea with a hunter on the back of his neck and carry killed narwhals ashore, like a spaniel dragging ducks from a lake. True, the happy owner of the mighty beast will have to lead a secluded life, the giant dog will certainly eat its neighbors.
In contrast to the giants, there are tiny ishigak – gnomes that do not reach a person’s knee. But they are difficult to find because dwarfs leave no footprints in the snow. Despite their small stature, ishigak are great bear hunters. They defeat the beast by cunning: first they turn the clubfoot into a lemming, then they kill, and only after that they turn it back.
The Eskimo monsters have one thing in common: they are all dangerous, but not evil. The monsters of the ice world do not wage war against people – they leave this concern to the harsh nature. They only pursue their own goals, not always clear. So, kvallupilluk (or aglulyk) – skinny, scaly aquatic, living in polynyas – often steal children who play by the cold sea. But they do not eat them, as one might think, but, on the contrary, they use witchcraft to protect them from the cold and feed them. Therefore, in times of famine, the Eskimos voluntarily give their babies to the inhabitants of the waters, and then occasionally see their children when they go ashore to play. Kvallupilluk are not indifferent to young animals, they fiercely protect young animals from hunters. But to people who hunt for an animal in the proper season, aquatic are inclined to help.
The Takrikasiuts are not evil – people-shadows living in a parallel world, similar to the wonderful country of the British fairies. But hearing their voices, let alone seeing a takrikasiut, is not good. This means that the border between the worlds has become thinner. One more step – and you can leave the familiar reality forever, there will be no turning back.
The werewolves of the Iyrat, who know how to take on the guise of a raven, polar fox, bear, caribou deer, or man, are not evil, but they always give themselves away with the glow of blood-red eyes. They often harm people, but not of their own free will: the iyrat fulfill the will of the spirits of the Inuit ancestors. The source – a gigantic, all-seeing flying eye – circles over the tundra, looking out for taboo violators. The ancestors send iyrat to those whom he complains about. First with a warning. Then with evidence that the warning was worth heeding.
Even the mad demon mahaha is angry in a special way, atypical. White-haired, blue-skinned, wiry and practically naked, armed with impressive claws, he pursues victims among the ice with laughter. And when he catches up, he tickles them with cold fingers until the unfortunate ones die with a smile on their face.
Only the Amarok, a giant wolf that devours hunters foolish enough to go hunting alone, seems to be your typical monster. But the descriptions of this beast are so detailed that many consider the amarok not a mythical creature, but a cryptid – unknown to science, but a real or recently extinct beast. It could be canis dirus – “dire wolf” – or an even more ancient predator, the common ancestor of canids and bears.
The Demon Bear in Terror is a Dan Simmons invention, but based on real Inuit folklore. The name of the monster, Tuunbak, means “evil spirit”, and its prototypes can be considered mythical giant bears – nanurluk and ten-legged kukueak. And an ordinary polar bear makes an impression on the Inuit – his name is nothing but “Nanuk”, which means “respected.”
The mythology of the tribes, whose camps are separated by hundreds of kilometers of tundra, are related only by the most common motives. Shamans too rarely meet each other to work out a uniform version of the adventures of their ancestors. As a rule, the legends of different tribes are united by cosmogony – fundamental ideas about the structure of the world, as well as the key characters of the legends – heroes and deities. They remain recognizable, despite the inconsistency in the descriptions of appearance, details of the biography and assessment of actions.
The cosmogony of the most ancient peoples usually states that souls complete a cycle of rebirth without leaving the material world. Later concepts were supplemented by parallel dimensions: the “upper world”, inhabited by the spirits of ancestors, and the “lower” – a dark abyss that gives rise to monsters. The views of the peoples of the Arctic belong to the second category and stand out in only one. Here in the underworld there is no change of seasons.
It is always summer in the upper world, horses and deer are always galloping through the flowering meadows. Only the astral counterparts of shamans have a way to a happy country. On the sacred sharp mountain in the Lena delta, where the waters of the great river flow into the icy ocean, there are the guards of the upper world – giants with bear heads, birds with human faces and brass people. They meet those who are worthy to enter the first of the nine layers of the heavenly kingdom, located beyond the ordinary visible sky. The Chukchi describe the afterlife in a similar way, placing the worthy dead in the “Cloud Country”.
The Yakut underworld is located underground and, because of the pitch darkness reigning there, has been extremely poorly studied. Much more interesting is the underworld of the Inuit – Adlivun. Winter reigns here, but the darkness of the polar night is softened by the radiance of the stars and the undying northern aurora. Not fiery furnaces, not sulfur smoke, but eternal cold and blizzard fill the hell of the northern tribes. The frozen desert is the purgatory through which the tupilac – the souls of the dead – must pass before they find peace in the silvery light of the moon.
The upper, middle and lower worlds of the Yakuts. Illustrations by Elya Sivtsev for the epic “Olonkho”
The nether world is ruled by Sedna, the “Lower Woman,” who is served by werewolf-adlets with a human face and body, but wolf legs and ears. From Adlivun she sends demons to the land – tuurnaite. Those called pumpkin are the personification of frost. Others, like the Chukchi rekken, bring disease and failure on the hunt until shamans drive them out.
In the view of the peoples of the Arctic, every living creature and every object is endowed with its own soul, which the Eskimos call anirniit. At the highest level, the ideas of creatures, objects and phenomena are combined into Silla – the world soul, which gives form and meaning to matter.
The Kola Peninsula is not only a deposit of apatites, but also Pohjola from Finnish mythology, a country ruled by powerful shamans, from where cold and disease come to the world. At the same time, however, Pohjola and the “thirtieth kingdom” – a world where magic is as common as the polar lights. Somewhere out there, in the midnight mountains, the World Tree connecting the upper and lower dimensions pierces the Earth. Climbing the branches of the tree, you can get to Saivo, the abundant “land of the eternal hunt”, inhabited by the spirits of virtuous ancestors. She can sometimes be seen reflected in the crystal surface of sacred lakes. From below, stunted wizards and blacksmiths, like the Nenets sikhirta, make their way into the world of the living. There are other guests, much more unpleasant: rabbis, Sami ghouls, spirits of evil shamans. As befits undead, the ravk is incredibly strong afraid of the light and always tormented by hunger. Unlike European vampires, the ravk is not limited to blood and devours his victim with bones.
Even the vicious tuurnaite is part of Sillu. The world is one, which means that it does not require management. The concepts of justice and goodness do not apply to him. Sedna, the strongest of evil spirits, the mistress of sea animals, and Tekkeitsertok, the patron saint of caribou deer, are hostile to people, since deer and walruses have no reason to love hunters. But at the same time they are revered as gods – givers of food. Life and death are parts of cosmic harmony. And so it was intended.
In the preparation of the article, information and wonderful illustrations from the site inuitmyths.com were used