In contrast to the Chukchee and the Eskimo, who have whole classes of Supreme Beings (vairgit, Chukchee; kiyarnarak, Asiatic Eskimo), the Koryak, as Jochelson thinks, have a tendency to monotheism; although he considers it 'possible that all names now applied by them to one deity may have formerly been applied to various beings or phenomena of nature, and that, owing to their intercourse with the Russians, a monotheistic tendency of uniting all names of the various deities into one may have developed'. That the Koryak conception of one Supreme Being is not indigenous, or at least not very old, may be judged from the very vague account of his nature and qualities which was all that Jochelson was able to obtain from these people, and also from the fact that he takes no active part in shaping the affairs of men. He is, of course, a benevolent anthropomorphic being, an old man with a wife and children, dwelling in the sky. He can send famine or abundance, but seldom uses his power to do either good or evil to men.

Jochelson says that the abstract names given to him are hardly consistent with the conception-distinctly material, as far as it goes-which the Koryak seem to have of his nature. Some of these names are: 'Naininen (Universe, World, Outer one); Inahitelan or Ginagitelan (Supervisor); Yaqhicnin or Caqhicnin (Something-Existing), called by the Paren people Vahicnin, by those of Kamenskoye, Vahitnin, or by the Reindeer Koryak, Vahiynin (Existence, also Strength); Gicholan (The-One-on-High); Gicholetinvilan (The-Master-on-High) or simply Etin (Master); Thairgin (Dawn).
The Supreme Being is propitiated for purely material reasons, such as the procuring of a food-supply by hunting land and sea animals, the picking of berries and roots, and the tending of the reindeer herds. If the Supreme Being ceases to look upon the earth disorder at once begins; e.g. Big-Raven is unsuccessful in his hunting when Universe (Naininen) has gone to sleep. In like manner, failure, to offer sacrifices may bring some such misfortune on a mail. In one of the tales, when young Earth-Maker (Tanuta), the husband of Yineaneut, Big-Raven's daughter, fails to make the customary sacrifice to Inahitelan's (Supervisor's) son Cloud-Man (Yahalan) at his wedding, Supervisor forces Yineaneut, or rather her soul, to the edge of the hearth, where her soul is scorched by the fire, and she wastes away.

Though the Supreme Being does not interfere actively in the affairs of men, their souls (uyicit or uyirit) go to him after death and hang in his dwelling on posts or beams, until the time comes when they are to be re-born. The duration of the future life of each soul is marked on a thong fastened to it, a short thong indicating a short life. Supervisor dwells in the clouds or the sky or the heaven-village. His wife is known variously as Supervisor-Woman, Rain-Woman, or Sea-Woman. His son, Cloud-Man (Yahal, or Yahalan), is the patron of young couples, and if a lover, young man or woman, desires to conquer the heart of the one beloved, this is accomplished by beating the drum; and the propitiation of this patron is also the reason why the bridegroom sacrifices a reindeer to Cloud-Man after marriage.

Jochelson found only one tale relating directly to the Supreme Being, though there are references to him in some others. In this tale, which is full of coarse details, Universe sends heavy rain upon the earth from the vulva of his wife. Big-Raven and his son are obliged to change themselves into ravens, fly up to heaven, and put a stop to the incessant rain by a trick. This tale must not be told in fine weather, but only to put an end to rain or a snow-storm.

As stated above, the Supreme Being sends Big-Raven to order human affairs. The native name for Big-Raven is Quikinnaqu or Kutkinnaku, which are augmentative forms of the words for 'raven'. He is also known as Acicenaqu (Big-Grandfather), or Tenantomwan (Creator). The tales about Big-Raven form part of the Pacific Coast cycle of raven myths, for we find this figure in the mythology of the north-western Amerinds as well as in that of the Siberians of north-eastern Asia. But, among the Koryak, Big-Raven plays a part also in the ritual of their religious ceremonies. 'Creator' is really a misnomer, for this being did not exercise any truly creative function: he was sent by the Supreme Being to carry out certain reforms in the already organized universe, and was therefore, so to speak, a reorganizer and the first man. He is also a supernatural being and a powerful shaman; and his name is mentioned in almost every incantation in shamanistic performances. 'When the shamans of the Maritime Koryak commence their incantations they say, "There, Big-Raven is coming!" The Reindeer Koryak told me that during shamanistic ceremonies a raven or a sea-gull comes flying into the house, and that the host will then say, "Slaughter your reindeer, Big-Raven is coming!”

The personage known by this Dame turns into a bird only when he puts on a raven's coat. The ordinary raven also figures in the mythology as a droll and contemptible character, a scavenger of dogs' carcasses and of excrement. One of the tales , about the swallowing of the sun by Raven (not Big-Raven) and the rescue of the luminary by Big-Raven's daughter, recalls a tale of the setting free of the sun told by the Indians of the North Pacific coast. The Koryak do not count it a sin to kill a raven.

Various contradictory accounts are given of the origin of Big-Raven. Some say that he was created by the Supreme Being; others that they do not know whence he came, although 'the old people' knew it.

Most of the Koryak tales deal with the life, travels, and adventures of Big-Raven, his wife Miti, and their children, of whom the eldest, their son Ememqut, is the best known. In these tales, Big-Raven sometimes appears as a being of very low intelligence, who is often outmatched in cunning, not only by his wife, but even by mice. foxes, and other animals. Transformations, especially of the sexual organs of Big-Raven and his wife (allusions to which figure very largely throughout), supernatural deeds, and indecent adventures, form the subject of the greater part of the tales. 'The coarseness of the incidents does not prevent the Koryak from considering the heroes of these tales as their protectors.' Many of the tales serve no other purpose than the amusement of the people.

In spite of the frivolous character ascribed to Big-Raven in some of the tales, he is said to have been the first to teach the people how to catch sea and land animals, the use of the fire-drill, and how to protect themselves against evil spirits. He lived on earth in the manner of the Maritime Chukchee, but some of his sons were reindeer-breeders. It is not certain how he disappeared from among men. According to some, he and his family turned into stones; others say that he wandered away from the Koryak. Traces of his having lived among them are still pointed out by the Koryak: on a sea-cliff in the Taigonos Peninsula are some large stones which are said to have been his house and utensils. His foot-prints and the hoof-marks of his reindeer are to be seen, say the Koryak, in the village of Kamenskoye.

The Koryak, in common with other Siberian peoples, believe in another class of supernatural beings, known as owners or 'masters' (etin) of certain objects in which they are supposed to reside. Jochelson thinks that this conception among the Koryak is 'not vet differentiated from a lower animistic view of nature'. He finds the idea more highly developed in the inua of the Eskimo, the pogil of the Yukaghir; and especially so among the Neo-Siberians, e. g. in the Yakut icci and the Buryat ecen or isin. That the conception of a spirit-owner residing in 'every important natural object' is not so clear and well defined among the Koryak as among the other tribes mentioned, Jochelson considers to be proved by the vague and incoherent replies he received in answer to questions about the nature of these 'owners'.

The Koryak word for 'master of the sea' is anqakcn-etinvilan (anqa, sea). A Reindeer Korvak who had gone to the sea for summer fishing, and had offered a reindeer as a sacrifice to the sea, on being asked by Jochelson whether his offering was made to the sea or to the master of the sea, replied, 'I don't know. We say "sea" and "owner of the sea"; it's just the same.' Similarly Some of the Koryak say that the 'owner' of the sea is a woman, and others consider the sea itself as a woman. Certain hills, capes, and cliffs are called apupcl (apa, 'father' in Kamenskoye dialect, 'grandfatlier' in that of Paren). These are protectors of hunters and travellers, but it is doubtful whether the term is applied to the hill itself or to the spirit residing in it.'

The sky is considered as a land inhabited by a stellar people. The sun ('sometimes identified with The-Master-on-High'), the moon, and the stars are animated beings, and sacrificial offerings are made to the sun. 'Sun-Man (Teikemtilan) has a wife and children, and his own country, which is inhabited by Sun people.' Marriages are contracted between his children and those of Big-Raven.

Mention is also made in the tales of a Moon-Man (or woman), and a Star-Man.

The Koryak 'guardians' and 'charms' serve as protectors to individuals, families, or villages, whereas such greater supernatural beings as The-Master-on -High, Big-Raven, and the malevolent kalau are deities or spirits of the entire tribe-excepting those kalau that serve individual shamans. 'Guardians' form a class of objects that avert evil from men. Those about which Jochelson was able to obtain information include the sacred implements for fire-making, which comprise a fire-board (gicgic or gecgei), a bow (eyet), a wooden drill (maxem, 'arrow'), and a headpiece of stone or bone (ceneyine).
The fire-board is of dry aspen wood, which ignites easily, and has holes in it for receiving the drill. It is shaped roughly to resemble a human being. The consecration of a new fire-board to the office of protector of the hearth and herd is accompanied with the sacrificing of a reindeer to The-Master-on-High, the anointing of the fire-board with the sacrificial blood and fat, and the pronouncing of an incantation over it. It would thus appear, Jochelson thinks, that the power to direct some vaguely conceived vital principle residing in a crude inanimate object to an activity beneficial to man lies in the incantation pronounced over it. "The headpiece has a hollow socket, which is placed upon the thin upper end of the drill. 'The headpiece is held by one person, the board by another, while the bow is turned by a third person,' the drill rotating on its thick lower end in one of the holes of the fire-board. The charcoal dust produced by drilling is collected in a small leathern bag, for 'it is considered a sin to scatter' this dust.

Evil Spirits. Evil spirits are called kalau (sing. kala), corresponding to the Chukchee kelet. In the time of Big-Raven they were visible to men, but now they are usually invisible. In most of the myths which refer to them they are represented as living in communities like human beings. They are very numerous, and have the power of changing their size, so that sometimes they are very large and then again very small. Sometimes they seem to be ordinary cannibals and not supernatural beings at all. When the kalau are visible they appear sometimes in the form of animals, or as dogs with human heads, or as human beings with pointed beads. 'Their arrows are supplied with mouths, and they can be shot without the use of a bow, and fly wherever they are sent.' Some of the kalau live underground and enter the houses of men through the fire on the hearth; others dwell on the earth, in the west. Although invisible, they can make their approach felt. 'Thus, when Big-Raven's children begin to ail, he says: "The kalau must be close by."'

Kalau are divided into Maritime and Reindeer kalau. Some live in the forests, others in the tundra. Human beings are the spoils of their chase, as reindeer and seals are those of human hunters. The kalau of diseases form a special class, and the most prominent of these evil spirits have special names.

We do not find among the Koryak a class of spirits well disposed towards men, who will fight with the kalau. There is no generic name for good spirits. But the natural enemies of the kalau appear to be Big-Raven and his children. Some myths represent Big-Raven and his children as being destroyed by the Wait, or, again, the kalan are destroyed or made harmless by Big- Raven: 'He causes them to fall asleep; he takes out their cannibal stomachs during their sleep. and puts other ones in their places, usually those of some rodents. At still other times he devises some other means of protecting himself and his children against the invasion of the cannibals. In one story it is told that he heated stones in his house until they were red-hot, invited the kalau to sit on them, and thus burned them. At another time he got rid of them by making a steam bath for them, in which they were smothered. At times an incantation serves him as a means of rescue. In another story Big-Raven appealed to the Master-on-High for help against the mouthed arrows of the kalau with whom he had been at war; and the deity gave him an iron mouth, which caught all the arrows sent by the kalau.' It will be seen, however, from the above that Big-Raven defends himself and his family rather than men from the attacks of kalau; and, as Jochelson says in one place, 'Men seem to be left to their own resources in their struggle with evil spirits, diseases, and death'. For, as we have seen, even the Supreme Being plays no active part in the protection of men." On the contrary, he sends kalau to men 'that they may die, and that he may create other people'. An old man called Yulta, from the village of Kamenskoye, told Jochelson that the kalau formerly lived with The-Master-on-High, but he quarrelled with them and sent them down to our world. Another version has it that Big-Raven sent the kalau down to the people to give the latter a chance to test the power of the incantations he had taught them against the kalau. One of the tales relates that 'the dead ancestors send the kalau from the underground world into the village of their descendants to punish the young people for playing games at night and thus disturbing the rest of the old people'.

Kalau are, however, not always only harmful to men. 'Although', says Jochelson, 'on the whole the word kala denotes all powers harmful to man, and all that is evil in nature, there are numbers of objects and beings known under the name of kalak or kawak that do not belong to the class of evil spirits. Thus, the guardian spirits of the Koryak shamans, and some varieties of guardians of the village, of the family, or of individuals, are called by this name.'

In the Koryak cosmogony there are five worlds-two above and two below the earth. The uppermost is the seat of the Supreme Being, the next is inhabited by Cloud-People (Yahalanu); next comes our earth; of the two worlds below, that nearest ours is the dwelling of the kalau; and, lowest of all (Ennanenak or Nenenqal-'on the opposite side'), is the abode of the shades of the dead (Peninelau, 'ancient people').

At the present day only the shamans can pass from one world to another; but in the ancient days of Big-Raven (comparable to the Arunta age of Alcheringa) this was possible for ordinary people.

The luminaries, the wind, fog, and other phenomena of nature, as well as imaginary phenomena, are supposed to be endowed with anthropomorphic souls; hence, all the wooden images of spirits have human faces. In the time of Big-Raven men could transform themselves either into the form of animals, or into that of inanimate objects by donning an animal's skin or some covering of the shape of the object into which they desired to be transformed.

'In the time of Big-Raven there was no sharp distinction between men, animals, and other objects; but what used to be the ordinary, visible state in his time became invisible afterwards. The nature of things remained the same; but the transformation of objects from one state into another ceased to be visible to men, just as the kalau became invisible to them. Only shamans, that is, people inspired by spirits, are able to see the kalau, and to observe the transformation of objects. They are also able to transform themselves by order of the spirits, or in accordance with their own wishes. There is still a living, anthropomorphic essence concealed under the visible inanimate appearance of objects. Household utensils, implements, parts of the house, the chamber-vessel, and even excrement, have an existence of their own. All the household effects act as guardians of the family to which they belong. They may warn their masters of danger, and attack their enemies. Even such things as the voice of an animal, sounds of the drum, and human speech, have an existence independent of the objects that produce them."

The Koryak word for the soul is uyicit. They appear to have a conception also of 'some other vital principle or a secondary soul', whose name Jochelson was not able to learn, nor could he ascertain anything definite relating to it. 'Some vital principle', he thinks, 'is implied in the words wityivi ("breathing') and wuyilwuyil ("shadow").' They draw no very sharp line of demarcation between life and death. A corpse is not 'deprived of the ability to move. The deceased may arise, if he is not -watched'. How death occurs, according to their belief, is explained by Jochelson as follows: 'The soul (uyicit), or, to be more exact, the chief soul of the man, frightened by the attack of kalau upon it, deserts the body, and rises to the Supreme Being. According to some tales, the kala himself pulls the soul out of the body, and sets it free to go off to the sky, in order to possess himself of the body, or of the other souls of the deceased.'

The soul of a deceased person does not leave the earth at once, but hovers high above the corpse. It is like a flame. During illness it is outside the body, hovering low over it if the illness is slight, higher if it is severe. A powerful shaman is believed to be able to bring back the soul to the body of a person recently dead. When the soul of the deceased rises to the Supreme Being, the deceased himself and his other soul, or his shadow, descend underground to dwell with the Peninelau-'the ancient people, people of former times'..

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Comment by Astrid Johanna Ulv on March 4, 2010 at 9:23am
I have a book on Siberian reindeer herders. It says that they don't like wolves too much because of the way wolves eat their reindeer. While they don't appear to hate wolves like European Christians have, they still see the wolf as negative and when they have to will shoot wolves from airplanes and poison them. Since you know about Siberian shamans, can you tell me if they in ANY way see anything positive in the wolf, and do they at least know that the wolf is a keystone species in the Russian ecosystem and respect them for that?


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