Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Pr. Akademika Lavrentieva 17, Novosibirsk, 630090, Russia
This study, based on ethnographic, linguistic, and folk materials, describes and interprets Buryat ideas of birds. The analysis of lexical data reveals the principal groups of birds according to the Buryat folk classification. The bat’s status is indistinct, since bats are not subordinate to the kings of the animal world. Diagnostic criteria underlying the classification of birds are outlined. The main criterion was whether a bird was beneficial or harmful. Ornithomorphic images in Buryat mythology, folklore, and ritual are described. Cult birds and bird totems are listed, and relics of local bird cults (those relating to swan, goose, duck, pigeon, and eagle) are revealed. Birds with positive connotations are the swan, crane, swallow, pigeon, eagle, and eagle-owl. Those with negative connotation are the kite, raven, crow, quail, cuckoo, and hoopoe). The attitude toward ducks, hawks, magpies, and jackdaws is ambivalent. Certain birds (ducks and ravens) were related to cosmogonic ideas; others (swan, goose, eagle, etc.) were endowed with a werewolf capability. The raven, the cuckoo, and the hoopoe symbolized natural cycles, whereas the magpie and the quail were associated with the soul. The role of bird images in the mytho-ritual practices is discussed. The Buryat mythological ideas reflected not only specific ethnic views of certain birds, but also universal ones.