THE TRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS RELIEFS AND PRACTICES OF ANCIENT TURKS
Faith in God had a central place in all the historical Turkish societies from eastern borders of Asia to Central Europe. Even though the word “Tanri” (God) took such forms as “tangara” with the Yakuts, “teri” with the Kazan Turks, “ter" with the Soyons and “tenggeri” with the Mongols, it retained to present day its fundamental form in every religious system accepted by Turkic peoples.
Though the Turks attained the concept of a sublime and abstract God, in the beginning they would think of it as being in the sky, which covers the world and governs everything and hence as a Sky-God, the Creator and the Absolute Power. The political power and sovereignty has its origin in God. There were no temples, pictures or statues for the Sky-God, who is ancient and eternal and it has no human characteristics. It gives luck and power to the Khans, on whom the organization of society, and the destiny of people depend.
Ancient Turks also considered Earth-Waters (Yer-Su) sacred. The belief in “Yer-Su” related to the mountains, forests, rivers etc. and this later transformed into a “Cult of Homeland”. Through history, the Turks also respected fire and saw within it a cleansing and sacred power. The cult of fire among the Turks is closely related to “the cult of family hearth” which in turn is related to “the cult of the ancestor”. The term “Yer-Su” (Earth-Water) implies that in addition to trees, fire, water, mountains, the earth, rocks and stones have a sacred meaning and importance. In the Orhun inscriptions, “the blue sky” and “the black earth” form the two main cosmic fields and complement each other.
The tradition of honoring and presenting sacrifices to ancestors is one of the most important elements of the traditional Turkish religion. It is the sense of gratitude felt for the ancestors, which makes up the foundation of the cult of the ancestors. Not all ancestral spirits or graves become the subject of the cult but only the most respected reach that level. Because of this, it becomes necessary to differentiate “the cult of the dead” from “the cult of the ancestors”.
Even though there is no systematic individual worship in the traditional Turkish religion, prayer was carried out individually. The cloth pieces tied to the trees were a kind of worship, each representing a bloodless sacrifice. This tradition has survived to present day. Animal sacrifices for Sky-God and other sacred things were also part of the tradition.
A type of religious, mystical and magical authority called “kam” or “shaman” by the Turkic people also had an important place in the traditional Turkish religion. Shaman, who could be a man or women, is a master of trance, who feels his sprit rising to the sky, going underground and wandering around in an ecstasy by means of his and her personal methods. It was believed that they had the ability to be mediators between God, people and the sprits. However they did not rule over the social and even religious life of the community. Hence it is not possible to call Shamanism a religion but a summation of ecstatic and therapeutic methods from the archaic ages on.
Reference: Prof. Dr. Harun Gungor, “The Religion of Ancient Turks,” The Turks, Vol.1, Istanbul: Yeni Turkiye Yayınları, 2002, p. 777.