Eight Birds, Nine Girls: Light-girls , Impudent Cutups: Dark-girls

Once upon a time, a long time ago when there were not just seven heavens but seventeen­-in fact, thirty-three-Ülgen the God sat on a great, gold-embroidered throne of a mountain set upon the finial of the sky, for that was where he had withdrawn to after having created the universe. He had nine sons and nine daughters. From high above he governed the people of the earth with the help of his sons and other emissaries, through whom he enlightened the shamans. The clouds beneath him reflected his feelings and moods.

Many a world there was among the vaults of the heavens. Carefree the Cuckoo was chums with everyone. He’d play with the Light-girls and they’d all laugh and have fun. Ülgen the God’s nine daughters were called “Light” because of their heavenly purity and beauty. They were called Akkızlar, for in Altai Turkish, ak, the word for “light” or “shining”, also means “paradise” or “heaven”. For shamans, the Light-girls were like muses, the sources of their inspiration. Pictures of Light-girls were executed on shamans’ drums. Sometimes small figurines of them would be sewn onto a shaman’s cloak. Oddly enough, only two of the Light-girls’ names were known to human beings: Kiştey Ana and Erke Soldon.

Then there was the Underworld. That was ruled over by Erlik, who also governed evil spirits, dispatching his Witch-with-broom, his Giant-mother, and his Scarlet-wife into the world in his fiendish efforts to carry off human beings.

It was in the context of such beliefs as these that our ancestors struggled and strove to come to terms with and establish a balance between good and evil. The shamans for their part were seers who sought to make the work of establishing that balance easier. But whenever shamans passed through one of the doors that connect this world and the Underworld, there was always the danger of their being ensnared by the Dark-girls, who would deceive the shamans, distract them from their real business, and lure them away. It wasn’t that they were so fetching really: but they were exceedingly saucy and flirtatious and any poor shaman who became the victim of their wiles would be put to death by Erlik.

And you are midway between them: above you soar the sky and the vaults of Heaven; beneath you lurks the Underworld. And you are roaming through the universe of our ancestors in the world of Central Asian beliefs.