Chinggis Khan and the Supernatural


Like many of history’s conquerors, Chinggis Khan supplicated to the gods petitioning for favor in battle. His total authority was sanctified by direct order from heaven.

Mongol shaman attempted to harness the supernatural to protect Mongol armies, ensure victory in battle, and to destroy the enemy. The shaman prayed to an assembly of nature-based deities and to the supreme Tängri. Shaman also practiced jadaci as a mystical weapon to wield against the enemy in the field.

Tängri The Medieval Mongol Sky God

Tängri, the sky god, the Eternal Blue Heaven, was employed to consecrate by divine right the authority of Chinggis Khan. Announced before all in the great quriltai of 1206, Tängri appointed Chinggis as the great khan (qân, qaan) by order of eternal heaven. This was the culmination of a deeply seeded and life-long devotion Chinggis hosted for Tängri.

During his legendary escape from Merkit captivity, Chinggis and his family sought refuge in the glens of Mount Burqan Qaldun, the source of the Onon River. There, as a young man, he scaled the mountain in pilgrimage, attempting to reach up and touch the sky in communion with his beloved Tängri. He ascended to the peak, his belt thrown over his shoulder and his cap removed as a token of obeisance, removing any signs of earthly rank. From atop the mountain he made an oblation of kumis and bowed in prostration nine times.

On the eve of embarking on the first campaign against his mortal enemy, the Jin Empire of China, he repeated his pilgrimage to Mount Burqan Qaldun. Again, he climbed to its pinnacle, showing supplication with his belt over his shoulder and his bare pate exposed and cried out in prayer, “O Eternal Tängri, I am armed to avenge the blood of my ancestors, upon whom the Jin inflicted an ignominious death. If you approve of what I do, vouchsafe me the aid of your strength.”

Mongol Shaman and the Practice of Magic

The early Mongols cultivated a superstitious awe of the spiritual world, placing deeply rooted faith in the healing and magical powers of their shaman. To elicit the favor of the various spirits, the shaman practiced a ritual called jadaci.

They used magic rocks called rain stones to conjure sudden gales of rain, or incite snowstorms to confound the enemy, or bog them down, catching them unprepared for the onslaught of a powerful and untimely storm. Rashid al-Din, 13th century Persian historian, wrote, “This is a kind of sorcery carried out with various stones, the property of which is that when they are taken out, placed in water, and washed, cold, snow, rain and blizzards at once appear even though it’s the middle of summer.”

The Treachery of Kökchü the Shaman

Kökchü was feared throughout Chinggis’ kingdom. His reputed mystical powers and ability to freely commune with Tängri established his importance and potency as a shaman of the nation. Kökchü, it was said, routinely ascended to heaven on the back of a maculate gray steed and conducted open dialog with the spirits.

Power corrupted the shaman’s heart. He capitalized on his inviolate status and attempted to manipulate the decisions Chinggis faced. The nation’s shaman harbored deep tension and disdain for the Khan’s brother Qasar, and boldly conspired a plan to murder the influential prince. He interpreted a dream he had to the great khan, reporting it was revealed that Qasar’s reign would follow Chinggis’. Kökchü advised his khan to eliminate the threat of his brother’s possible usurpation.

Chinggis’ mother, Oelun-eke, upon receiving the news, raced to her son’s tent, bared her breasts and implored the great khan: “ These are the breasts that suckled you. What crime has Qasar committed that you should desire to destroy your own flesh? You, Temujin, sucked this one, and your brothers Qachi’un and Ochigin the other. Qasar alone has fed from both.”

Kökchü’s sinister plotting didn’t end there. Next he insulted the khan’s youngest brother, Temuge in public. Chinggis would not tolerate any more insubordination, eroding his and his progeny’s authority. He consented to a plan to kill the deleterious shaman.

Assembled in the great khan’s ger, Temuge seized Kökchü’s throat violently and was ordered to resolve the matter outside the tent. Once outside, three of Temuge’s guards

gripped the shaman. Kökchü was suddenly lifted above the head of a large guard and slammed down onto his bent knee, breaking Kökchü’s back. He died without spilling a drop of blood and spoiling the earth.

This was the first great conflict between church and state in the nascent Mongol Empire.