Siberian Lore

The Buriats of Siberia regarded the eagle as their ancestral father and the swan as their ancestral mother.


In a Tatar poem, the hero Kartaga struggled with a swan-woman. The contest went on for years, but Kartaga could not defeat her because her soul was not in her body. Instead, her soul inhabited the body of seven birds, which she kept in a golden casket, which was in a black chest, at the foot of a copper rock that is at the mouth of the nine seas that flow under the earth, where those seas flow together and become one sea. Two horses, one black and one piebald, knew where the swan-woman kept her soul. They traveled to the place and brought back the gold casket. Then, the piebald horse turned himself into a bald man. He opened the casket, cut off the heads of the seven birds, and so killed the swan-woman. (Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough ch. 66)

Katai Khan

Among the Minussinian Tatars swan maidens have lost their grace and beauty. They dwell in the 17th region of the earth in raven-black rocks, and are fierce, raging demons of the air. They scourge themselves into action with a sword, lap the blood of the slain, and fly gorged with blood for 40 years. In number they are 40, and yet they run together into one; so that at one time there is but a single swan-woman, at another the sky is dark with their numerous wings; a description which makes it easy to identify them with clouds. But there are not only evil swan-women, there are also good ones as well.

Katai Khan lived on the coast of the White Sea, at the foot of gloomy mountains. He had two daughters, Kara Kuruptju (black thimble) and Kesel Djibak (red silk) ; the elder evil disposed and in league with the powers of darkness, a friend of the raging swan-woman; the younger beautiful and good.

Kesel Djibak often riseth,
In a dress of snowy swan,
To the realm where reign the Kudai.
There the Kudai’s daughters seven
Fly on wings of snowy swan;
With them sporteth Kesel Djibhk,
Swimming on the golden lake

The seven Kudai, or gods of the Tatars, are the planets. Kara Kuruptju is the evening twilight, Kesel Djibak the morning dawn which ascends to the heavens, and there lingers among the floating feathery clouds. But Kara Kuruptju descends to the gloomy realm of the evil-hearted swan-women, where she marries their son Djidar Mds (bronzen), the thunder-cloud. These gnmly swanlike damsels of the Tatars irresistibly remind us of the Phorcydae. (Sabine Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (1866-1868))

A Samoyed Story

A Samoyed man went on a journey, another remained at home. The traveler reached an old woman chopping birch-trees. He cut down the trees for her, and drew them to her tent. This gratified the old woman, and she bade him hide, and see what would happen. He concealed himself; and shortly after saw seven maidens approach. They asked the old woman whether she had cut the wood herself, and then whether she was quite alone. To both questions she replied in the affirmative; then they went away. The old woman then drew the Samoyed from his hiding-place, and bade him follow the traces of the damsels, and steal the dress of one of them. He obeyed. Emerging from a wood of gloomy pines, he came upon a beautiful lake, in which swam the seven maidens. Then the man took away the dress that lay nearest to him. The seven swam to the shore and sought their clothes. Those of one were gone. She cried bitterly, and exclaimed, “I will be the wife of him who has stolen my dress, if he will restore it me.” He replied, “No, I will not give you back your feather dress, or you will spread your wings, and fly away from me.”

“Give me my clothes, I am freezing!”

“Not far from here are seven Samoyeds, who range the neighborhood by day, and at night hang their hearts on the tent-pegs. Procure for me these hearts, and I will give you the clothes.”

“In five days I will bring them to you.”

Then he gave her the clothes, and returned to his companion.

One day the maiden came to him out of the sky, and asked him to accompany her to the brothers, whose hearts he had set her to procure. They came to the tent, and the man secreted himself, but the damsel became invisible. At night the seven Samoyeds returned, ate their supper, and then hitched up their hearts to the tent-pegs. The swan-maiden stole them, and brought them to her lover. He dashed all but one upon the ground, and as they fell, the brothers expired. But the heart of the eldest he did not kill. Then the man without a heart awoke, and entreated to have it returned to him.

“Once upon a time you killed my mother,” said the Samoyed; “restore her to life, and you shall have your heart.”

Then the man without the heart said to his wife, “Go to the place where the dead lie, there you will find a purse, in that purse is her soul; shake the purse over the dead woman’s bones, and she will come to life.” The woman did as she was ordered, and the mother of the Samoyed revived. Then he dashed the heart to the ground, and the last of the seven brothers died.

But the swan-maiden took her own heart and that of her husband, and threw them into the air. The mother of the Samoyed saw that they were without hearts, so she went to the lake where swam the six maidens; she stole one dress, and would not restore it till the maiden had promised to recover the hearts which were in the air. This she succeeded in doing, and her dress was restored. (Sabine Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (1866-1868))

%d bloggers like this: