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00:15 | Jan 10 | 2013

For whom the millstone sings

Ancient Yakuts used to put on quite a show during divination.

Time for fortune telling coincided with the Christmas yuletide for the ancient Yakuts. Apparently, it correlates to the adoption of Christianity. The Yakuts believe that from 7 to 19 January there comes a borderline time when the old leaves and the new comes, and it is at this point sacraments are administered; the souls of the dead can visit the earth and help predict the future. Here are some methods of divination, which were popular among the ancient Yakuts.

Divination by an ice-hole
This divination is for adults only. There should be an odd number of them. The preparation starts in advance. Three days they can’t wash or eat meat. Then, at the appointed time, they silently go out one by one. The last participant usually holds a wide box with wheat grains in one hand and a poker in the other. He moves toward the ice-hole back to front, scattering the road with grains and saying some mysterious words. Having gathered around the hole, people cover themselves with a blanket. In a while they hear footsteps. A person who comes up begins to hit each one on the back hard. Those who did not cry out in pain or fear would hear a prophecy.

Horse talk
A person hides in a hayloft in advance. At night two horses that need to be either siblings, or one host’s and the other after a long journey are hitched up to the baiter near this place. Horses first curse those who have overheard their conversation. Then, they begin to talk to each other in human language, predicting the fate of their masters and their families. If the person who has been hiding reveals his presence anyhow, his death is inevitable due to the curse of the horses.

Drilling a window
At night one needs to go to a neighborhood house and using a cork-screw tool drill a hole in the ice window through which cow feces is discarded out of the crib daily. Then one needs to listen to the hole and voices tell about the future life of the house owners.

Riding a tombstone
One needs to sit astride a tombstone standing by some large lake. A lot of water sprites who during the Christmas holidays lodge in empty houses and tombstones get out of the water and tell prophecies to each other, which can be overheard by a man sitting above.

Twigs by a road
In the evening a number of willow twigs equal to the number of people living in a house specially marked by every resident are set in the snow by the road leading to the watering site. In the morning all twigs belonging to people who will soon become ill will be either tilted or bent and twigs of healthy people will stay unchanged.

Divination by millstones
This is an entire mystical show. Two days before divination one participant begins the play by portraying a seriously ill patient. In due time the owner of the house lights a fire in the hearth. “The patient” lies down to the left of the front door with his head to the west; a broom is placed at the head of the bed. All participants of the divination stand by the door and wait for the “death of the patient”. As the fire in the hearth extinguishes, the person “dies”, the owner of the house sprinkles coals with ash and invites people to the house. Each of them turns the millstones nine times in the dark. Then the host lights the fire and asks the “patient” what he heard in the sound of the millstones. It is hard to turn empty millstones, whistling sounds are produced. And not every “patient” may be able to hear something in these sounds.

Divination “A Running table”
This divination is conducted using three-legged tables that are made by Yakut artisans. At the beginning of divination the table is prepared: the countertop is smeared with oil and then is held by the fireside to warm it up. Then a special ceremony is carried out - algys words are told. Only after this the master of the ceremonies in a half whisper tells what the participants of the divination want to learn, asks questions. If at the time of the divination the table moves only by the right side, it's for the better, for the welfare of the house owners where the divination takes place and also means that the wishes would come true. If, however, it moves to the left side, failures can be expected. And if the table spins so that the countertop falls down or a leg is broken, it is believed that it got into a drive. In this case, it is an omen of trouble and it is possible that some of the hosts may be seriously ill or even die.

Divination by a ladle
A ladle is thrown on the floor. If it fell with its bowl up it is for the better, with a bowl down – for the worse.

Sifting the snow
This is the most interesting divination. In the evening snow is sifted through a sieve around the hitching post. In the morning footprints can be seen on the thin layer of snow. Footprints of a little bare foot mean that a baby is to be expected in the house. Cow’s or horse’s hooves trail are for wealth. And if there appears a picture of a tomb cross it means illness or death of a loved one. Sometimes, no trails are found in the morning, it also bode no good.

Walking of the footwear
For this divination one needs to have mukluks in the house. If you use any other footwear the accuracy of the prophecy would not be precise in this case. One wall should be freed from foreign objects. The mukluk should be paced along it from the beginning to the end, and they should be turned toe cap and heel alternatively. It is a good sign if the footwear makes it to the opposite wall with its toe cap foremost.

Divination by a mitten
A mitten is thrown over the left shoulder. The mitten must be old, long worn by the owner, so it kept his life breath. A wish is spoken into the mitten, and it is thrown without looking. If it falls down with its thumb up, the wish will come true. To fix a positive result one must scream out the word “Tosku”. Optionally it is possible to re-throw the mitten.

“A girl or a boy?”
A young family can learn how many children they are going to have and what sex they would be. For this a bowl is filled with water and a ring is placed there and put outside to freeze. The result is checked before bedtime. There will be as many boys as there are pieces of ice frozen with sharp ends up. And if the water is frozen in potholes, the same number of girls will be born.

Beliefs

Hung out Clothes - Lost the Soul
In ancient times, the Yakuts believed that on Christmas Eve magic water dwellers, syulyukyuns, came out from the water. They were conduits between people and the kingdom of the dead. And in the days of their stay on-shore Yakuts tried to shed light on the future by performing the rites of divination.
There are many traditions to be followed in the Christmas holidays time. Syulyukyuns are evil spirits that is why Yakuts tried to protect against them. Improvised splinter crosses were put on windows and in barnyards. Or horse's eyes were painted on windows. Clothes were not hung out outdoors – they feared that the devil would take the soul of the owner of clothing. Anyone who found money or once lost amount during Christmas holidays will prosper the whole year. No person who committed a grave sin was allowed to participate in Christmas divinations. Participation of people whose close relatives recently died was also undesirable.

Alexandra Alexandrova