Ancient Yakuts read fortune during the Twelve Days of Christmas, probably due to their adoption of Christianity. They believed that the period of Tankha from January 7 to January 19 is borderline time. The time when the old goes away and the new comes, sacraments are performed, and the souls of the dead can visit this world and help predict the future.
According to ancient beliefs, syulyukyuns (magical water inhabitants) come out of water on Christmas Eve. So-called laborers come out first, find abandoned balagans and yurts, stoke the stove and prepare to receive their fellow creatures. Every other day they are joined by the others: elders, women, and children. Syulyukyuns behave quite innocently and are hungry for money and fun. At the same time, they are the guides between people and the realm of the dead. So, during their days on earth, Sakha tried to shed light on their future by performing fortune telling rituals.
Ice hole divination
Only adults are allowed to perform this divination. Moreover, there must be an odd number of them. They prepare for it in advance. They do not wash, do not eat meat, some do not talk to anyone and sit behind the stove for three days. Also, they leave the house one by one silently at the appointed time. The person who is last to leave usually holds a birch-bark box filled with wheat grains in one hand and a poker in the other. The last person moves toward an ice hole backwards, sprinkling the road with grains and uttering mysterious words. People gather around the hole and cover themselves with a blanket. After an indefinite time, they hear someone’s footsteps. That someone begins to hit everyone on the back very hard. Whoever does not cry out in pain or fright will hear the prediction.
A man buries himself in the hayloft in advance. At night, two horses are tied to the stern near that place. They must either be brothers, or one of them must be the master’s, and the other one after a long trip. First, the horses put a curse on the one who overhears their conversation. Then, they begin to talk to each other in human language, predicting the fate of their master and his family. If the person hiding is somehow detected, his death is inevitable due to the curse of the horses.
People go to their neighbor’s house at night and drill a hole in the ice window through which cow feces are thrown out of the barn. Then they listen through this hole, and there are voices talking about the future of the house owners.
Riding a grave with a canopy
For this one, people straddle a grave with a canopy (чардааттаах киhи унуо5а) over a large lake. Many water spirits, called syulyukyuns get out of the water, settle in empty houses and canopies during Christmas, and lead prophetic conversations among themselves, which can be heard by a person above.
Branches near the road
In the evening, willow branches are set in a row on the snow near the road leading to the watering place. The number of branches is the same as the number of all the house residents, and each is assigned to one. The branch of a person who will soon fall ill inclines or bends in the morning, and the branch of a healthy person remains the same.
This is a whole mystical performance. Two days before the fortune telling, one of the participants begins the performance, portraying a very ill person. The owner of the house kindles a fire in the fireplace at the appointed time. The “ill person” lies down to the left of the front door with their head to the West, and a broom is placed at the head of the bed. Everyone stands outside the door and wait for “ill person’s” death. As soon as the fire goes out, the person “dies”, and the owner of the house sprinkles the coals with ash and lets people in. Everyone turns the millstone nine times in total darkness. Then the owner lights a fire and begins to ask the “ill person” what they heard in millstone sounds. It is hard to turn empty millstones; they have a whistling sound. Also, not every “ill person” can distinguish something in these sounds.
Table running divination
This divination is performed using a three-legged table made by Yakut masters. Firstly, the table is prepared: the top is smeared with oil, then held in front of the fireplace, thus allowing it to warm up. Then there is a special ritual – the words of algys (a blessing) are spoken. Only after that, the host asks participants what they want to know in half-whisper. If the table moves only to the right side, it is for the good and the well-being of the house owners, and it also means that their wishes will come true. If it moves to the left, it is for bad. And if the table is spinning, so much that its top falls off or its leg breaks off, it is a harbinger of trouble. It might mean that one of the owners may fall very ill or even die.
People throw a ladle on the floor. If it falls with the dip up, it is for the good, with the dip down – for the bad.
This divination is the most interesting one. In the evening, the snow around the hitching post is sifted through a sieve. In the morning, there are footprints on a thin layer of snow. The footprints of a bare foot mean that a child will be born. Cows or horse hoof prints are for wealth. If there is a picture of a grave cross, it means illness or the death of someone close to you. Sometimes, there are no traces, this also does not bode well.
For this divination, you need to have unty (fur boots). If you use other shoes, the accuracy of the prediction will be small. You need to free one wall from objects. Then, lead the boots along the wall from the beginning to the end while turning them with toe, then heel forward. It is a good sign if the boot reaches the opposite wall with the toe.
People throw a mitten over their left shoulder. The mitten must be old, long-worn by the owner, so that it keeps their spirit. They make a wish into the mitten and throw it without looking. If it falls thumb up, the wish will come true. To secure a positive result, you need to shout “Tosku!” You can throw it again if you want to.
“A girl or a boy?”
During Tankha, a young family can find out how many children they will have, as well as their gender. They pour water into a vessel, throw a ring there and put the vessel outside to freeze. Before going to bed, they must check it. There will be as many boys as there are pieces of ice frozen with sharp points. If the ice has dints, the same number of girls will be born.
There are many traditions that should be followed on Twelvetide. Syulyukyuns are still evil spirits, so Yakuts tried to protect themselves. They put homemade crosses made of kindling wood in their houses, on their windows, in their barnyards, and khotons. Or they painted the eyes of a horse on their windows. They did not hang their clothes outside: they were afraid that the evil spirit would take the soul of the owner. Anyone who finds money or once-lost money on Twelvetide will prosper all year. People who have committed a grave sin are not allowed to divination in any case. People who had their family member die recently also are ill-advised. If the fortune tellers get scared, they can use protection. To do this, men put a Yakut knife, and women put scissors under their pillows before going to bed.
Yakuts did not tell fortune only out of curiosity. For many, it was an opportunity to gain confidence in the future and belief that everything will turn out well. Therefore, every fortune teller believed only in the best, and if they were predicted trouble, they tried to avoid them.
By Aleksandra Aleksandrova