Night and day have followed each other for about 4.5 billion years. This was far more important to our technology-less ancestors, no doubt. Because human beings had arranged almost all of their daily workd according to the position of the Sun in the sky. In the remaining time, they tried to explain the natural phenomena that they could not understand. Over time, this led to the formation of many legends about natural events such as the formation of night and day.
Night and Day in Ancient Societies
One of the most important consequences of the Earth’s rotation around its axis is the formation of day and night. However, in ancient societies, this formation was interpreted according to the collective mentality of the period.
Ancient societies generally dealt with the formation of night and day in an allegorical way. People transferred the beliefs of the society to the next generations. And these beliefs have become a part of mythology over time.
Many ancient civilizations such as the Japanese, Aztec and Egyptian contributed to the derivation of myths about the formation of night and day. One of these interesting myths is in the Kyrgyz mythology.
Night and Day in Kyrgyz Tengrism
According to the ancient Kyrgyz Tengrism belief, there is a giant bird in the sky with one blue wing and the other black. The formation of night and day depends on the movement of this bird’s wings. When the bird moves its black wing, it becomes night. And when the bird moves its blue wing, it becomes day.
Some communities also depicted the bird in question as an eagle holding the Sun with its right talon and the Moon with its left talon.
Eagles have archaic, totemistic and animistic features in both Ural-Altaic myths and Kyrgyz tales.
It is thought that the legendary bird known as Bürküt or Merküt in Turkic and Altai mythologies and the sky bird in question are the same beings. The Yakuts know this bird mostly as Öksökö.1
Legendary Bird: Bürküt – Merküt
Some Turkic communities in Central Asia call the big eagles “bürküt”. However, in Turkic mythology, Bürküt or Merküt is also the proper name of a huge bird that covers the Sun with its right wing and the Moon with its left wing. The head of the bird faces north. The fact that the bird’s head is facing north is the result of the Sun symbolizing the day and the east, while the Moon symbolizing the night and the west. However, there are different opinions among Turcologists and folklorists.
In an Altai shaman prayer quoted by Wilhelm Radloff, who is considered the founder of Turkology, this bird is depicted as an eagle with copper claws.2
This legendary bird, which was deified as Bürküt Ata3 in some Altai-origin communities, has turned into a rain iye* in Turkmenistan and its surroundings.4
İye: A kind of protective spirit in Turkic mythology.
The Yakut equivalent of the legendary bird known as Bürküt or Merküt is Öksökö. The Yakuts depicted this bird as an eagle with a double head and copper claws. As İnan quotes, the end of winter depends on the flapping of this eagle’s wings.5
As you can see, even in the Yakut myths of Northeast Asia, the name of this eagle is mentioned as a supernatural power to explain a periodic phenomenon, similar to the formation of day and night. This shows that the legend of the sky bird spread over a wide geography in Turkic communities.
- “Türk Mitolojisi Cilt II”, Bahaeddin ÖGEL, ISBN: 9789751628572^
- “Aus Sibirien”, Wilhelm RADLOFF, ISBN: 9783846024003^
- “Türk Söylence Sözlüğü“, Deniz KARAKURT^
- “Türkmenistan’da Bir Yağmur İyesi: Burkut Ata“, Ahmet GÖKÇİMEN, Bilig, Sayı: 52, 2010^
- “Tarihte Ve Bugün Şamanizm”, Abdülkadir İNAN, Altınordu Yayınları, ISBN: 6057702357^