Mongolian Mountain Passes and Ancient Beliefs

Updated: Feb 25, 2019

Mongolian Mountain Passes and Ancient Beliefs

When travelling throughout Mongolia, drivers often stop at shrines like these ones located at high passes. Mongolian shamans have purposely selected them as auspicious sites. Pieces of cloth, usually blue, are tied to posts; Mongolians methodically make three rounds in a clockwise direction around a central post(s), and throw milk (milk is almost as important in the Mongolian diet as meat, almost...), vodka (obviously a Soviet influence), and specific food offerings. Usual items to be found cast aside are crutches and broken ceramics.

Although shamanism is the old religion of Mongolia, elements of it still persist – the cult of the eternal blue sky, prayers to hills and mountains. No wonder, if you lived in a world of big sky, pastoral lands and high, soft mountains, you might take up landscape worship too.

After 1300 AD, the Mongols converted from shamanism to Buddhism (closely tied to Tibetan practise) and spread all the way into Siberia. The resident shamanism (loosely organized, lacking in holy places, organized documentation) beliefs naturally blended with the import Buddhism to form a unique, highly contagious religion. Before Soviet style communism seeped in, religion was a cornerstone of Mongolian life. Political purges nearly wiped out Buddhism in the 1930’s; hundreds of monasteries were ravaged leaving only a few, tens of thousands of monks were killed. It has been revived with ferver since the 1990’s when Mongolia, along with most other communist adherents, shunned the culturally claustrophobic politics. Now, religious restrictions have been lifted and, with the popular religious renaissance, Mongolians are returning to Buddhism and, to a lesser extent, shamanism. What goes around, comes around.

For more on Mongolia, see also:

Mongolia Prayer Circle

Surviving Buddhist Monastery, near Ulan Batar, Mongolia

Mongolia Buddhist Shrine and Cow

Cow on Buddhist Shrine

Buddhist Monastery, Mongolia


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