The Altaic tribes in Mongolia

The Altaic tribes in Mongolia are influenced by their shamanistic past and their contact with major world religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. The creation myth of these peoples is particularly interesting in that it gives the devil a significant role in cosmogony by equating him with the first human. The myth is an earth-diver story.

When there was only the primordial waters, two black geese flew back and forth over them. One was really God. The other was the first human; he was also the devil, however, and he could not resist trying to fly higher than God. Naturally God made him fall into the waters. When Man-Devil begged for help, God made him bring up a rock and then earth, which God turned into the world. When God asked Man-Devil to bring him more earth, Man-Devil did so, but he hid some in his mouth, thinking he would create his own world in secret when God was not looking. Both the earth that he handed God and the earth in his mouth began immediately to grow. Pained by the enormous swelling of his mouth, Man-Devil begged once again for God’s help, and God chastized him before allowing him to spit out the material in his mouth, which became the earth’s wetlands.

Another Altaic creation story, this one of the creation from chaos variety from Siberia, identifies the creator god as Ulgen and the first man as Erlik, who soon turns to evil ways and becomes, in effect, the devil in the myths of the region. Like the serpent in the Hebrew creation he corrupts the first woman.

When Ulgen saw mud floating on the waters of pre-creation, he saw a human face in it and gave it life. Thus the first man, Erlik, was born. Soon Erlik forgot his place and boasted that he could create a man as well as Ulgen could. Ulgen reacted by flinging his first creation into the ends of the earth, where he reigns as the devil. Often Erlik returns to the upper world and brings evil with him.

After the fall of Erlik, God created the earth and placed eight trees and eight men on it. The eighth man, Maidere, and the eighth tree stood on a mountain of gold, and at Ulgen’s bidding Maidere created the first woman.

When he saw that he could not give the woman life, Maidere left her in the care of a furless dog and went to get help from Ulgen. While he was away, Erlik came and offered the dog a fur coat in exchange for a look at the woman. He not only looked, but he also played seven flute notes into her ear, and she came to life possessed of seven tempers and many bad moods.

When Maidere returned he was surprised to find the woman alive. When he learned of Erlik’s deception and the dog’s betrayal, he condemned the animal to a life of bad treatment.

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