Proto-Uralic religion

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Elements of a Proto-Uralic religion can be recovered from reconstructions of the Proto-Uralic language.

According to linguist Ante Aikio, although "evidence of immaterial culture is very limited" in the Proto-Uralic language, "a couple of lexical items can be seen as pointing to a shamanistic system of beliefs and practices." The concept of soul dualism, which is widely attested among Uralic-speaking peoples, probably dates back to the Proto-Uralic period: the word *wajŋi (‘breath-soul') designated the soul bound to the living body, which only left it at the moment of death, whereas *eśi (or *iśi, *ićći) referred to the 'shadow-soul', believed to be able to leave the body during lifetime, as when dreaming, in a state of unconsciousness or in a shaman's spirit journey.[1]

The Indo-Iranian loanword *pi̮ŋka designated a 'psychedelic mushroom', perhaps the one used by the shaman to enter altered states of consciousness. The verb *kixi- meant both 'to court [of birds]' and 'to sing a shamanistic song', suggesting that it referred to states of both sexual and spiritual excitement. If the etymology remains uncertain, the word 'shaman' itself may be rendered as *nojta, and the shamanic practice as *jada-, although semantic variations in the daughter languages make the reconstruction debatable (cf. Erzya Mordvin jɑdɑ- 'to conjure, do magic, bewitch', East Khanty jɔːl- 'to tell fortunes, shamanize', Ket Selkup tjɑːrә- 'to curse; quarrel').[1]

A common creation myth shared by many Finno-Ugric peoples is the earth-diver myth in which a diver, often a waterbird, dives into the sea to pick up earth from the bottom to form the lands. In the Mordvin variant, the diver is the Devil (sometimes in the form of a goose), in the Yenisey Khanty variant a red-throated loon,[2] and in at least one Finnish version a black-throated loon[3]

Several Finno-Ugric languages have a theonym that can be derived from the Proto-Finno-Ugric word *ilma meaning sky or weather. These include Udmurt Inmar, Komi-Zyrjan Jen, Khanty Num-Ilәm and Finnish Ilmarinen. These theonyms suggest an early central Proto-Finno-Ugric sky-god.[4]

See also[edit]




  • Aikio, Ante (2021). "Proto-Uralic". The Oxford Guide to the Uralic Languages. Oxford University Press.
  • Frog (2012). Evolution, Revolution and Ethnocultural Substrata: From Finno-Ugric Sky-God to the North Finnic God-Smith Ilmarinen. International Symposium on Finno-Ugric Languages in Groningen.
  • Frog; Siikala, Anna-Leena; Stepanova, Eila (2012). Mythic Discourses: Studies in Uralic Traditions. Finnish Literature Society. ISBN 978-952-222-376-0.
  • Konakov; Kulemzin; Gemuev; Tuchkova, eds. (2003–2009). "Komi Mythology, Khanty Mythology, Mansi Mythology, Selkup Mythology". Encyclopaedia of Uralic Mythologies. Akadémiai Kiadó.
  • Pentikäinen, Juha (1989). Uralic Mythology and Folklore. Ethnographic Inst. of the HAS. ISBN 978-963-7762-64-2.
  • Suomen Kansan Vanhat Runot VII Part 1: 11. Finnish Literature Society SKS. 1929–1933.
  • Honko, Lauri, ed. (2017). "Finno-Ugric Religion". Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.

Further reading[edit]