Cultural and semiotic codes of Burkhanist wedding rites of the Altai-Kizhi 

Tadina N.A.




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The Altai-Kizhi, as the central group of the Altaians, the titular ethnic group in the Republic of Altai, are the guardians of Burkhanism. Burkhanism refers to a belief system that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century as a “reformed” version of shamanism. In Soviet times, forbidden Burkhanism preserved in the intra-ethnic ritual culture, and in the post-Soviet period it began to revive. The purpose of the article is to identify Burkhanist concepts in the cultural and semiotic wedding codes. The material for the study was author’s own field accounts of 2020–2022, collected by the method of participant observation and interviewing informants, as well as archival records of A.V. Anokhin, an antiquarian of the early 20th century. When analyzing the source base, a comparative method of research was used. The bride’s transition into a category of married women occurs through the rite of changing the maiden hairstyle for two braids with a parting, and introducing her to the groom's ancestral hearth by ‘treating’ the fire with oil. In the ritual actions of the participants, the Burkhanist attitude towards ‘the positive’ and the observance of the custom of ‘bay’ are encoded. For the first time, on the basis of the collected material, an anthropomorphic code of the ritual practice of the wedding has been identified, associated with the key idea of Burkhanism - the veneration of Altai-deity, the upper heavenly world that provides earthly life. The temporal code of the ritual actions corresponds to the Burkhanist rule — the period of the new moon and morning is a ‘favorable’ time for proposal and marriage. The spatial code of the wedding ceremonies accounts for the contraposition of ‘east-west’, ‘right-left’, and ‘male-female’. The actional code consists in performing the ritual ‘posolon’ actions and an even number of times according to the Burkhanist symbolism. The object code involves sacred attributes — a whip, a gun, a sheath for opening bride's curtain, juniper, and dairy products for ‘feeding’ the hearth fire. The color code of the wedding is in observance of light symbols — bride's curtain, milk, and sacrificial ribbons. The verbal code is realized in the ritual texts of good wishes and songs. The character code is contained in the composition and role of the sex and age groups: elders as experts in the ritual; maternal uncles-taay and nephews of the bride and groom, whose participation means social recognition and approval of the marriage. The analysis of the wedding ritual actions reveals the ‘stringing’ of one code upon another, which enhances the significance of the ritual. One and the same ritual meaning can be expressed by means of different codes and by several of them simultaneously. Despite the fact that the ritual codes are universal, their manifestation and significance in the wedding rituals of the Altai-Kizhi are unique, which is in accordance with the ideas of Burkhanism and is explained by the historical and ethno-confessional factors of the adaptation of the Altaian tribal society.

Keywords: wedding rituals, Altai-Kizhi, Burkhanism, cultural and semiotic codes, field material, analysis.


Creative Commons License

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

Accepted: 05.12.2022

Article is published: 15.03.2023


Tadina N.A., Gorno-Altaisk State University, Lenkina st., 1, Gorno-Altaisk, 649000, Russian Federation, E-mail:,