Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Pr. Akademika Lavrentieva 17, Novosibirsk, 630090, Russia
This study addresses, on the basis of ethnographic, folkloric, linguistic, and field data, the role of cattle in Buryat myths and rites, with reference to their economic significance. Buryat words relating to the exteriors of animals, sex differences, etc. are listed. The bull image features in traditional Buryat systems of time calculation and in the tradition of giving protective names homonymical to words denoting the bull are described. Mythological beliefs concerning the cattle are analyzed. The Bulagats, a major Buryat subgroup, practiced the tribal cult of Bukha-noyon, to whom the bull alluded. This practice was connected with the idea of shape-shifting, whereby the bull symbolized the male principle. In terms of cosmogony, the bull was part of habitation spheres such as sky, earth, and water, and their elements such as celestial bodies and mountains, and fire. The positive attitude to the bull and the cow was mirrored by views regarding supernatural properties of bull hair and urine, cow’s milk and placenta, and devices used for managing draft bulls (the yoke and the hair rope zele). At the same time, the cattle were associated with the Lower World and its inhabitants; they functioned as mediators and could symbolize death. A detailed description of the bull image in traditional Buryat ritualism is provided.
Keywords: Buryats, traditional worldview, shamanism, cattle, folklore, ritual