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106. Brass-Mirrors

I shall not repeat now what has been written as a statement of facts and mostly as a guess, for this may carry our discussion too far. From the facts expounded in connexion with the description of costumes we can see that the brass-mirrors, formerly widely used in China and still preserved in the Buddhistic complex, evidently have their own principal centre of diffusion and two rather interesting centres of a seemingly secondary growth. We have seen that brass mirrors are called among all ethnical groups here discussed by the same term of the steam tVl (vide supra). Among the Reindeer Tungus it is believed to have a mysterious origin from the earth, and it is so rare that not all shamans can afford to have one. It should be noted that among the Yakuts and their western and northern neighbours, it is lacking. When we move southwards and eastwards it becomes more frequent. In the Manchu costume it is a piece of great importance, but there are already several brass-mirrors which still have a certain significance. However, in imitation of the Manchus, the Tungus of Manchuria have come to use the mirrors not only as objects with a certain meaning, but also as mere rattles and ornaments. Besides, as there is no possibility of getting so many genuine mirrors, the Tungus use modern imitations. In the Birarchen complex all iron parts may be replaced by the brass-mirrors, and thus to manifest a secondary growth of the phenomenon. It would not be very hazardous to suppose that the Manchus are responsible for this abuse of brass mirrors, while the original idea of using them is not a Manchu one. In fact, in other ethnical groups, such as the Chinese, Mongols, and Tibetans, these mirrors were known much earlier.

The «meaning» of the mirror is not the same among the ethnical groups here discussed. For instance, the Transbaikalian Tungus usually regard it as a means to see the world, i.e. it is used for the concentration of the mind and bringing one's self into a state of a light extasy, as will be shown later. The Birarchen consider it as an important placing for the principal spirits of the shaman, and use it in this function. The Goldi consider it as a mirror in which human deeds are reflected; but they also use it for self-protection against the spirits arrows (cf. I. A. Lopatin op. cit. p. 281 also P. Simkevich, Material, etc.). The last function is also that of the Manchu mirror. It was also said to function, among some western Tungus groups, as the «sun» [589], which theoretically is also possible.

The enumeration of various functions of the brass mirrors shows that a brass-mirror is one thing and its interpretation another thing. Moreover, the variable use of brass mirrors shows another aspect as an element of cultural complex it may perform various «functions» and have a different «weight» in the complex, which partly depends on the possibility of getting brass-mirrors and partly on their «meaning». Naturally, their complete lack may produce one of the following three different effects, namely: (1) the loss of its use; (2) the substitution of some other material for the old symbol; (3) the manufacture of false mirrors. All three cases have been observed. However, I must point out that the substitution is sometimes difficult to be detected. For instance «round pieces» of iron symbolizing in some case the «sun», e.g. in the Yakut costume, may have a quite independent «origin». Thus the «sun» exists in the Birarchen complex of malu, without being connected with the brass-mirror; in another case an iron disk may temporarily symbolize the brass-mirror, which is rarely observed among the Tungus; however, it will not symbolize the «sun» [590].

589. The identification of the mirror with the «sun» is as doubtful as the identification of all round pieces with the «sun» or «moon». Such was the case with the wooden and metallic face-like placings bada, interpreted, according to the European complex, as a «symbol» of the sun, whence a theory, of «sun-worship» and other scaffoldings originated. The sun may be one of the elements, and actually it is found very commonly; but it is very far from the «solar mythology» of Europeans. Cf. J. C. Georgi's Bemerkungen, interpreted by C. Hikisch Die Tungusen, Dorpat, 1882 and maintained by other authors. J. G. Georgi could not enter into details, and G. Hikisch had a very confused idea about the Tungus, such as they are. However, since the mirrors have cyclic animals, the Tungus may know that this is a representation of one of the solar cycles, in short — the Sun.

590. I also want to point out that it is very undesirable to classify elements of the shamanistic complex in general according to their importance, as does U. Holmberg (The Shaman-Costume, 12) who, when speaking of «secondary objects», mentions «a kind of metal mirror». Indeed, as has been shown, brass mirrors are in some Tungus complexes a central element of the paraphernalia complex and they may be a sufficient substitute for the whole costume. So they are of «primary importance» (vide infra). There is another instance: the «horses» in the Tungus complex are of a secondary importance and may be made at the spot and thrown away, while in the Buriat costume, now used, they are the only a preserved element and thus function as an element of primary importance. In fact, anything in a complex may become of «primary importance», while an element formerly of «primary importance» may become one of «secondary importance» and even get lost altogether. However, it does not give us the right to speak of «degeneration» - a common opinion in works of the old school — as does the same author, for there may be cases of substitution, and, besides, this point of view presumes that formerly there was a costume composed of a great number of elements, which was not always the case, but may be on occurrence of a secondary character. The change of this complex does not mean «degeneration» of the complex of shamanism, but only its re-arrangement in the ethnical complex as a whole.

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