Devil and Lakes
Religious Fables, Folklore, Legends, and Stories
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Submitted by: Yuri Klitsenko

Photo: Evenk shaman’s grave with mammoth and waterfowl birds

rf-devilandIn the beginning of 20-th century Russian traveler K. M. Rychkov had seen Evenk children playing “devil and lakes” game. A child chosen to be Khargi (the devil) takes up position on the “dry land” between two “lakes”. Other children find refuge from “Khargi” at the “lakes”. “Khargi” tries to catch somebody while children run across the “dry land” from one “lake refuge” to another. “Khargi” throws caught child on the ground and pretends to eat child’s brain. A child whose brains have been damaged by “devil” becomes a servant of “Khargi” and helps to catch the others. Game proceeds until the last of players is caught. Thus every Evenk child knew that evil spirit and his helpers can’t act on the waters.

This is what a shaman was explaining to Innokenty Suslov – if shaman’s tent is filled up with the waters then Khargi can’t spoil shamanizing. (But if Khargi indeed fears the waters, why then was the army of birds, fishes and animals needed to protecting the waters in shaman’s tent from the machinations of evil spirits? Invocation of waters could be connected with some ritual for expelling demons. Was it Christian influence?

Or could it be something like re-enactment of creation? Transforming the waters, Mammoth and Snake made dry land, mountains, rivers and lakes. Mammoth and Snake pushed down the evil spirit into the underworld and then followed Khargi into the underworld to keep on restricting Khargi’s activities).

According to A. F. Anisimov, for the Evenk tribal rite of selecting a leader each phratry erected a special shamanistic structure on its side, called “onang” (in shaman’s tent “onang” is western gallery; all the attributes of shamans tent were regarded as being either on water or in water). Such structures were erected along the sides of the ground cleared for the ritual contest of the phratries. On one side was built the “onang lukuchen” (the onang of the elk), and on the other the “onang khatala” (the onang of the bear).

The participants in the ritual contest, selected in equal number from each phratry, stood at opposite ends of the ground, each team next to its onang. “Shamanistic onangs” were made for the fighters to “support their hearts”: “There were two onangs, one on each side; at the right was onang lukuchen (elk), on the left khatala (bear). These two animals supported the leaders, chosen by them. They support the leaders, their hearts”

Yuri Klitsenko is a Russian living in Moscow.  He works for the Russian Orthodox Church.

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