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A diagram of the Tengriist World view on a shaman's drum [1] [2]. The World-tree is growing in the centre and connecting the three Worlds: Underworld, Middleworld and Upperworld.

Tengriism (Turkish: Tengricilik), or Tengrianism, was the major belief of Xiongnu, Turkic peoples, Mongols, Hungarian and Bulgar peoples in ancient times[citation needed]. It focuses around the sky deity Tengri (also Tangri, Tanrı, Tangra, etc.) and incorporates elements of shamanism, animism, totemism and ancestor worship.

"Khukh" and "Tengri" literally mean "blue" and "sky" in Mongolian language and modern Mongolians still pray to "Munkh Khukh Tengri" ("Eternal Blue Sky"). Therefore Mongolia is called the "Land of Eternal Blue Sky ("Munkh Khukh Tengriin Oron" in Mongolian). And also in modern Turkey Tengriism is sometimes called Gök Tanrı religion by some scholars. Note that the Turkish "Gök" and "Tanrı" mean the same as and sound very similar to the Mongolian "khukh" (blue) and "Tengri" (sky), respectively. Even though there is insufficient research, Tengriism is thought to heavily influence the Alevi belief system. Today, there are still a large number of Tengriist people living in inner Asia, such as the Khakas and Tuvans.

In Tengriism, the meaning of life is seen as living in harmony with the surrounding world. Tengriist believers view their existence as sustained by the Eternal Blue Sky, Tengri, the fertile Mother-Earth Spirit Eje, and a ruler who is regarded as the Holy Spirit of the Sky. Heaven, earth, the spirits of nature and the ancestors provide every need and protect all humans. By living an upright and respectful life, a human being will keep his world in balance and maximize his personal wind horse power. Shamans play an important role in restoring balance when it is thrown off by disaster or spirit interference.

It is likely that Tengriism was the religion of the Huns, Eurasian Avars, early Hungarians, and of the early Bulgars who brought it to Europe.[3]. It is still actively practised in Sakha, Buryatia, Tuva, Mongolia and in minorities of Turkey, in parallel with Tibetan Buddhism and Burkhanism.


Historical background

Ancient and Early Middle Ages writers report of a number of revolts caused by attempts to supplant or overthrow the traditional religion. One was reported in Scythia Minor in the Crimea, when the Scythian nobles learned about their king's inclination toward Greek culture. Another revolt in 682 CE, reported in Armenian sources, was caused by the elteber of the Dagestani Huns, Alp Ilitver, conversion to Christianity following a proselytizing mission by the Albanian bishop Israel. In that case, Alp Ilitver succeeded in demolishing sacred trees, destroying kurgan statuary, ruining sacral chapels, and suppressing a popular revolt. It was also reported that at the court of the Khazar Kagan, who was ethnically a Khazar, the power belonged to the Bulgar nobles, who maintained their traditional Tengriism and forcefully resisted any attempts to introduce Christianity, Judaism, or Islam as a state religion, to the point of secession.

Tengriism in Europe

Tengriism was brought to Eastern Europe by nomadic tribes migrating or invading from the central Asian steppes. The faith was very closely connected to the nomadic lifestyle, so that in most cases people changed their religion after turning sedentary.

The Danube Bulgars apparently called the sky god Tangra.[1] They named a large mountain in the Rila mountain range of Bulgaria after him, only in the 15th century it was renamed to Musala (Mountain of Allah) by the Ottomans.

There are few occurrences of the name in documents related to Bulgaria. One is in a late Turkish manuscript listing the names of the supreme god in different languages, which has "Tangra" for Bulgarian.[2] The other is in a severely damaged Greek language inscription from the times of Danube Bulgarian paganism. It is found on a column near Madara, Bulgaria, which is believed to have been used as an altar stone. The inscription has been interpreted as saying "(Kanasubig)i Omu(rtag), ruler (from God), was ... and sacri(ficed to go)d Tangra ...(some Bulgar titles follow)."[3] In addition, Bulgarian historian Veselin Beshevliev has conjectured that the frequent Danube Bulgar runic sign ıYı stands for "Tangra", as it seems to disappear after the conversion to Christianity. Apart from that, Greek language inscriptions from pagan Danube Bulgaria generally use the Greek word θεός ("god"). Tengriism apparently disappeared in the region after the adoption of Christianity in the Danubian Bulgaria by Tsar Boris I in 865 (and, presumably, with the adoption of Islam in Volga Bulgaria in the 10th century).

Another piece of evidence suggesting that the Bulgars were Tengriist is the fact that the name of the supreme deity of the traditional religion of the Chuvash, who are regarded as descendants of the Volga branch of the Bulgars, is Tură. This is generally considered to correspond to Turkic Tengri (and thus Tangra).[4] Nevertheless, the Chuvash religion today is markedly different from Tengriism and can be described as a local form of polytheism with some elements borrowed from Islam.

See also


  1. ^ Tangrist sanctuaries
  2. ^ (Bulgarian)
  3. ^ The "Tangra" inscription near Madara (Bulgarian)
  4. ^ Tokarev, A. et al. 1987-1988. Mify narodov mira.


  • Brent, Peter. The Mongol Empire: Genghis Khan: His Triumph and his Legacy. Book Club Associates, London. 1976.

External links



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