Deer and roe deer in traditional Buryat beliefs and rituals 

Badmaev A.A.


Vestnik arheologii, antropologii i etnografii, 2022, 1 (56)


              page 193201




The article is devoted to the identification of the Buryat complex of mythological ideas about deer and roe deer, and understanding of the role of these wild animals in the shamanic rites of the Buryats. The chronological framework of the study spans the end of the 19th middle of the 20th c., the time when the Buryats were exercising and broadcasting a complex of traditional ideas and rituals. The study is limited to the territory of South-Eastern Siberia, which embraces the ethnic Buryatia. The research is based on diverse sources, including folklore, linguistic, ethnographic and field materials. The technique of the study is the structural-semiotic method, which allows identification of the symbolism that conveys ideas about deer and roe deer. It has been determined that in the mythological judgments of the Buryats, the images of deer and roe deer are ambiguous. It was revealed that in the traditional worldview of the Buryats, deer had a positive connotation. This animal was carrying solar, celestial, and terrestrial symbols. We found that in the Buryat mythology and folklore there was a replacement of the image of deer with that of a horse. In folk beliefs, deer was associated with the motif of the intermediary between the worlds, the idea of the connection of the human soul with the deer. It has been emphasized that in the folklore of the Buryats there is a motif of a man turning into deer and roe deer. The Buryats likened these Reindeers to domestic animals: the deer to a horse, the roe deer to a goat. In contrast to deer, the roe deer in the popular views of the Buryats received a predominantly negative characteristic: It bore the sign of death, and was associated with eschatological ideas. This animal carries the symbolism of fire and correlates with natural rhythms, acting as a harbinger of winter. In the Buryat rites, there are relics of the cult of deer. In shamanic rites and related poetry, the motive of the shaman's shapeshifting into a deer has been revealed, which is manifested, in particular, in the shaman's attribute the iron crown. It has been proved that the high semiotic status of deer was reflected in shamanic rituals and poetry, where it was positioned as an animal that has a special role among other sacred animals. The roe deer was only a part of the circle of shaman's assistant spirits. The importance of deer and roe deer is evidenced by the use of their scapular bone in the shamanic mantle.

Keywords: buryats, deer, roe deer, mythological representations, ritual, late 19th mid 20th century.


Funding. The work was carried out within the framework of the research program project FWZG-2022-0001 Ethnocultural diversity and social processes of Siberia and the Far East of the XVIIXXI centuries. Research on the changing role of traditional cultures, social institutions and environmental paradigms.


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Accepted: 16.12.2021

Article is published: 21.03.2022


Badmaev A.A., Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of Siberian Branch RAS, prosp. Acad. Lavrentieva, 17, Novosibirsk, 630090, Russian Federation, E-mail:,