Accepted Paper:

Central Eurasian and North Asian Indigenous Ontologies: The Totemic Marriage Between the Hunter and the Chased Doe  


Attila Mateffy (University of Bonn)

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on the ontological link between the earliest layer of the Central Eurasian (chiefly Hungarian, Ossetian, Mongolic, Tibetan and Turkic) heroic epic tradition, namely the deer chasing motive sequence (AaTh/ATU 401: The Enchanted Princess), and a current field research data of a year-end fertility ritual (rite of passage) in a Moldavian Csango (a bilingual - Hungarian and Rumanian - Roman Catholic ethnographic group) village, Arini, Bacău County, Romania.

According to the original sujet of this especially archaic oral narrative type and ritual, the doe ("wonderful deer"; Hummel [1973] 1998; Mátéffy 2017) leads the male hero (hunter/shaman) to the otherworld, where it transforms into a human shape (princess), they get married (totemic marriage) and return home (from the shamanic journey). The figure of the doe was an ancestress symbol (Mother or Master of the animals; Jacobson 1983, 1987; Jacobson-Tepfer 2015; Vitebsky 1995: 32) in the indigenous ontologies of the North and Central Eurasian hunter-gatherer and later nomadic communities for a long time. This Neolithic (Okladnikov 1972, Martynov 1991), Bronze and Iron Age (e.g. Rudenko 1970) shamanic and totemic belief has survived and spread of the world religions (Buddhism, Islam and Christianity) and it was adopted as a communal ritual, in which, as maintained by the Moldavian Csango folk traditions, one performer wears a deer costume and the other members lead it (actually: her) into a dance and sell it as a bride in the wedding. According to the data of ethnographic records (e.g. Diószegi/Forrai/K. Kovács 1951: NM FILM 086; Ethnographic Museum, Budapest, online film archive) and of field work interviews, the members of this ritual were until 1989 predominantly the village bachelors, but after that the age-group has partially changed.

In this paper, the author follows an ontological approach (e.g. Hallowell 1960, Pedersen 2001, 2007) and the paper is based on the topic related theories of cultural anthropology, on folklore texts and on field research conducted in 2015 and 2016. The presenter aims to argument the theory, that the deer has a female character universally in every North Asian and Central Eurasian indigenous ontologies (e.g. Willerslev 2007: 109; Endres 2015: 134), irrespective of the real biological sex of the hunted game, which ontological category has survived and has been transmitted to the 20th and 21th centuries new-year fertility rite of the Moldavian Csangos.

Panel ANT-07
Religion in Social Context