Is Tengriism monotheistic?

Quick background check: I'm a librarian/historian with a particular interest in Altaic/Turkic history. It's a bit on the outskirts of what usually transpires in Ars Magica, but there you have it.

Anyway, my question is as it says on the box - would historical Tengriism (essentially a Mongol descendant of pre-Buddhist Buryat shamanism) be sufficiently monotheistic to actually fit in the Divine realm? Historical Tengriists certainly considered themselves as such, I believe, but their cosmology is strongly flavoured in a way that does not sit easily with virtually any of the Faiths of the Book. Note, that Tengriists venerate principles, and although they believe in Creator entity (etc), as well as a judgement by the same in the hereafter, they do not actually personify such. There are heavenly spirits but there is no history of messianic figures before the Islamic conversions.

My own tentative conclusion would be that Tengriism is not, in fact, cosmologically suitable for the Divine realm, but it's a tough call and I'd like input if anyone has given it thought before.

The link below, off Wikipedia (since it's easily accessible to us all, and it avoids some serious language barriers), gives a somewhat simplistic but essentially accurate breakdown of Tengric principles at the bottom of the article. Just ignore the claim that it is in any way related to Nestorianism - that's propaganda generated by the Byzantine church wars.

I read the Wikipedia page. Also read a number of pages in Russian (Tengriism seems to be undergoing a huge revival in what used to be the Central Asian republics -- Kazakhstan, etc.)

Tengri is the main deity, yes, but there's also the worship of Yer-su and Umai. (I'm approximating the transliteration here.) A couple of places make a point of Tengriism's similarity to Islam, equating Tengri with Allah. However, I have to wonder how much of that is cultural cross-pollination that occurred later. So my take on it would be "no, it doesn't belong to the Divine realm."

I've always assumed that, yes, they are monotheists, because it makes the Mongol invasion scarier, and it explains things like the Crown of Hungary (which is a living Divine being, like an angel, that defends its interests, The crown of England, for example, does not do this.)

In some places I've seen them designed as Magical, though.

How it was in the real world might be interesting to know, but that doesn't tell us how it is in Mythic Europe. Since saints and angels are treated like minor gods, the difference is even less.

The real question is:

  • Which answer would make the better story for your saga?
  • What has to be changed to reality to get there?

To me sounds all this just like one Sol Invictus to Oriental Characters, between Pagan and Divine religion; but probably there were no Divine Versions of this Mistical Practioners; i saw the three versions on no Book people on Ancient Magi and the Canarian original denizens the same idea.

Of course Genghis Cohen is a monotheist...

I disagree. I've given this a lot of thought.

IIRC we've touched on this before - most of the real world religions can be fit into monotheism (of a sort applicable for Ars) except perhaps some forms of Buddhism such as Mahayana which are better suited to Faerie. This is problematic as in ArM5, the Divine trumps Faerie mechanically which leads into a whole "my religion is better than yours" scenario which the line tries to avoid.

I do think Tengrism could be compatible with the Ars Magica Divine Realm. It's a stretch but if you step back and move beyond Judeo-Christian concepts of monotheism it's possible. As noted above, by casting the various "lesser" gods in the roles of angels and saints the heirarchy can be maintained. Much of the focus of Tengrism is the belief in the over-god concept which fits about as well with the Divine as Zoroastrianism or dualist Christianity etc. Sure there's some stretching and bending but then again our concept of Tengrism comes to us through a distorted lens and is likely partly incorrect. This is also a game where bending things to fit the paradigm is acceptable.

Before I wrote the Silk Road chapter in The Cradle and the Crescent, I'd worked up some ideas for Divine shamans in the Crimea for a planned "Euxine Saga" set around the Black Sea. It actually works better than you'd think both from a mechanical aspect but also from a thematic perspective. If you assume shamans are Divine Nightwalkers with a suite of hedge magics aligned to the Divine rather than Magic Realm, you don't even need to invoke Holy Powers & Methods to make them fit. Mystery initiations work well for this approach where the shaman must Quest through the dream realms or Magic Realm to gain insight and supernatural power.

IMO there's a lot of story potential in Divine Mongols - both thematically and also because a Divine horde presents a significant challenge to Hermetic magi / the Order as opposed to an Infernal / Faerie / Magic or mundane one. If every Mongol shaman has a Divine aligned Fetch or "guardian angel" they can have universal Magic Resistance of a level comparable to Hermetic Magi, which neutralises the defensive aspect of the Parma Magica and prevents them being blown away in the first volley of multicast PoF/BoAFs. If they are Mythic Companions rather than Gifted Companions, the social effects of the Gift are negated. It's quite a scary thought...

To be honest, the Divine horde idea (see tCatC p179-184 for the Mythic Steppe) was my favourite as author. Given the book was already stretching boundaries considerably and Ancient Magic had already defined some of the mundane Mongol stats however, I went with Magic as the default. This means Great Tengri became a Kosmocreator level Magic Daimon. It would work equally well as a super-powerful Faerie lord but I felt Magic fit better as I was trying to emphasize the whole "vast wilderness = untamed Magic auras" aspect and propose the steppe as a vast ocean of Magic similar to the lost Hercynian Forest. Personally I'd avoid Infernal Mongols as too much of a modern cultural trope of "savage bestial easterners" but I did quite like Yair's take on the Infernal Mongol Matriarchy he wrote up for a recent issue of Sub Rosa.

I'd like to have had more word count for Mongol ideas but they were at the periphery of the brief - they needed to be mentioned, but this was not primarily a book about the Mongols. We were already stretching the paradigm to support the concept of an alternative non-Hermetic Saga based on the Order of Suleiman so I didn't feel I had room to propose a whole Mongol Saga. It's something I may expand upon as I post to my blog if I can find the original concepts from my Euxine Saga notes.




Thank you very much for your extensive input; it's much appreciated.

As for myself, I never actually considered using Faerie for Mongol shamans, thinking that hedge Magic would work better. Faith is often a paradigm that colours a pre-existing power source, neh? Your considerate view regarding the Divine realm for them, though, is both flavourful and has worthwhile mechanical consequences. For instance, the Russian states had only very limited success opposing the Golden Horde with their own Divine-backed forces. One could well say that the Russians were hardly inspired in the face of such opposition.

Another point you tipped upon, using Faerie for some flavours of Buddhism, is excellent. It gives a whole new impetus to the conflict between Yellow and Black Buddhism and the Buryat conversions in the 1600s.

I think that stemmed from a discussion between Timothy (writer of the Mythic Cathy series of articles in the later issues of Hermes Portal - IIRC #10 & #11) and David Chart (who lives in Japan), both of whom are better placed to comment on this than I am. If you search the forums you may be able to find the thread. Then again, it might have been on the B(erz)erk List...