Enchanting divinity: Shamanism at the time of Genghis Khan
This costume belonged to a shaman. The gown is covered with ribbons which represent feathers, indicating that the shaman could transform into a bird. Bronze mirrors were attached to scare away bad spirits. This costume would have been presented in its entirety when the shaman was conducting a ceremony, creating an imposing spectacle.
Shamans used a selection of tools, accessories and items of costume to prepare them for their spiritual work. They chanted and beat drums to assist in their communication with the spirits. Shamans held elite positions in Mongol society. In his rise to power, Genghis Khan gained the support of prominent shamans. This was an important sign to his followers that he was favoured by Heaven.
Early Mongol belief and religion
The traditional religion of the Mongols shaped their view of the world. They believed in multiple spirits, gods and religious figures. The supreme god of the Mongols was Eternal Blue Heaven, known as Tenggeri. He was an all-powerful, personal god who watched over all that happened on Earth. Genghis Khan and his followers came to believe that he had been given the ‘right to rule over the world’ by Eternal Blue Heaven. His actions were viewed as determined by the will of Heaven.
Below Eternal Blue Heaven was the world of spirits thought to inhabit the natural world - in water, rivers, fire, the elements, trees, animals and mountains. The Mongols worshipped, prayed and made offerings to these natural wonders.
Highly-respected religious figures known as shamans allowed the everyday world to communicate with the supernatural realm of spirits and the gods. Shamans were thought to journey to the skies, turn into animals, fall into trances, predict the future and confront evil spirits. Their main role was to protect the Mongols and their herds.
THIS SPIRITUAL SHAMAN COSTUME WILL BE ON DISPLAY IN OUR MAJOR EXHIBITION GENGHIS: RISE OF THE MONGOL KHANS PREMIERING FOR THE FIRST TIME AT THE NATIONAL MILITARY MUSEUM IN THE NETHERLANDS ON 18 FEBRUARY 2017.
Twitter: Dressed for the heavens? The secrets of shamanism revealed in our #OOTM: (link) shown in #GenghisKhansExhibit @NMMSoesterberg