Toby A. Cox
A Woman’s Spiritual Journey to Tengriism
Life is a journey made up of a series of events brought about by timing, our choices, and our environment. This journey often leads us down unfamiliar paths to unexpected destinations. However, it is often at these unexpected destinations where we begin to question our priorities, identify our values, and grow into our beliefs, changing as a result.
For Chinara the year was 1997, when she arrived at an unexpected destination which she says completely transformed her view of the world.
Chinara was born in 1955 in Issyk-Kul but grew up in Bishkek, the capital.
She would visit her grandparents in the village on holidays and said that it was there some of her most treasured childhood memories took place – when she was riding horses. She explained that although it is not appropriate for girls to ride horses in the village, her grandfather never forbade it.
She recalled a time when she was riding, galloping beyond the village boundaries to a cement factory near the mountain.
“On this day, the village boys decided to teach me a lesson,” Chinara said. “They were chasing after me up until the valley. And when I was slowly approaching on horseback they started to frighten me, whistling and screaming.”
She and the horse began to gallop, racing away from these boys.
“We were going very fast and I forgot about my fear,” she said. “When riding horses, you feel one with the horse. Feelings of freedom and power strengthened me from the inside. My inner confidence let me forget about all the whistling and yelling boys behind me.”
This moment in her childhood was a time she felt an “unforgettable feeling of victory.”
Her father was a scientist and taught her to value education, think logically, and learn through questioning.
“He taught me to be aware of the world from childhood.”
She explained that as a young girl, she asked a lot of questions and wanted logical explanations for traditions.
Now, she is very interested in learning more about Kyrgyz culture and the origin of Kyrgyz traditions but this was not always the case.
“My grandmother was always pestering me,” she recalled “Kyrgyz people have a lot of taboos.”
Some taboos her grandmother taught her included superstitions such as:
Sweeping crumbs off the table with your hand can cause you to lose your prosperity
Putting dishes on the table loudly or washing dishes loudly is impolite
“There are many taboos in tradition, and when my grandmother would say these things, I would terrorize her with questions ‘Why? Explain this to me!’ She did not have explanations for my questions and would say it was just the way things were – her grandmother told her the same things. This wasn’t a good enough explanation for me. All of these traditions strained me and until I was 40 years old, I was distant from them.”
Many years later, Chinara would learn that these superstitions regarding putting dishes on the table loudly and washing dishes loudly stem from ancient Tengriist beliefs.
In Tengriism, balance is achieved through harmony which can be disrupted by unharmonious sounds.
But what happened when Chinara was 42 years old that completely changed her perspective?
She was sent to prison.
During her early adulthood, Chinara was completely immersed in academia, however, when the Soviet Union dissolved and Kyrgyzstan became independent in 1991, all of her degrees, dissertations, and academic research became invalid and unrecognized in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan.
She decided then to start her own business which became a chain of businesses in Bishkek.
Her business franchise was successful and by 1997, she had a chain of 6 cafes and restaurants. However, 1997 was also the year she was sent to prison by her investors after being betrayed by her accountant.
“I was in jail for 40 days. My relatives dragged me out of prison. It was a lengthy process of investigation.
However, the transformation of my consciousness happened to me while I was in prison.”
This transformation started with a dream.
On November 1, 1997, while she was in prison, her opponents wrote an article for the newspaper that distorted the truth of what actually happened.
“They wrote that I was threatening Chinese investors and asking for underground services,” Chinara explained. “When I read that article, I was so offended. That first day, I cried; I am a very strong woman, and I did not even cry throughout the other processes but this article was hurtful. I cried for a half a day. After crying, I fell asleep.”
Her mother, who had passed away four years before, came to her in a dream.
Chinara recalled her saying “Do not cry … Do not worry. On the 6th of December, you will be out of the jail and will celebrate the New Year with your family and children at home.”
Chinara said that although she believes in prophetic dreams, she usually always forgets them. She woke up and shared the dream with her cellmates, laughing and then, promptly forgot the dream.
On December 6 at 4 PM, Chinara and her cellmates were drinking tea when one of the girls remembered her dream:
“I was waiting for you to be released today. Today is Saturday. Perhaps they didn’t get the documentation finished before closing.”
“Are you crazy believing in such things?” Chinara laughed.
“You might get released on Monday,” her cellmate responded.
Her cellmate, however, predicted correctly and on Monday, Chinara was released.
“Of course, I was shocked and the first question I asked my husband was ‘why today?’ I did not even say ‘hi’ to him.”
He explained that the papers for her release were signed on December 6, but they didn’t have time to process them.
“I was shocked that the documents that were signed on 6 of December, the day my mother said in my dream.”
Thus, began Chinara’s religious and spiritual journey.
Six months before she was sent to prison, Chinara met a female fortune teller.
“She told me everything about myself, my family, ancestors, and life. She said that I would have a conflict with the investors and that they would put me in jail, but for a short period of time. I laughed at these predictions.”
She said she forgot about this until she returned home from prison - almost a year after meeting with the fortune teller.
“It was only when I was at home, after going to jail, that I started deeply analyzing these events with the fortune teller and my dream.”
She started meeting with a fortune teller who told her she needed to pray for herself. Chinara, however, had never practiced Islam and didn’t know how to pray.
“The fortune teller explained the importance of prayer and how I needed a transformation of consciousness to clean my life’s path. But I didn’t like having to pray in Arabic.”
Chinara experimented with religion, first with Islam and then with Christianity, ultimately finding solace in neither of them.
One day, however, she overheard a conversation between a group of women at one of the churches. Chinara recalled them discussing the Kyrgyz people’s spirituality.
In 2007, Chinara then started to seek out information on spirituality, mysticism, Tengriism, shamanism, and the secrets hidden in traditional Kyrgyz ornaments and designs.
“I stopped going to church and began to focus on ornament studies,” Chinara said. “Mysticism is in all of our customs, rituals, and traditions. I was very interested in sewing during that time and making traditional ornaments and I remembered that my grandmother used to read [find deeper meanings in] all our ornaments. I began to learn about the connection between Tengriism, mystic knowledge, religion, and traditional Kyrgyz ornaments and designs.”
Chinara continues collecting knowledge on Kyrgyz traditions and their origins. Of course, she acknowledges that there’s no way to know for sure the truth behind Kyrgyz traditions and designs, since there are no historical records.
“I get inspired by the creation of new knowledge. This is spiritual knowledge and shouldn’t be only based on logic or science. People today need an explanation for everything, including spirituality … The easiest way to practically understand all knowledge is to go through traditional knowledge. Scientific materialism was yesterday’s path.”
As for the relationship between Islam and Tengriism, Chinara says that Tengriism advocates tolerance and was the main reason a form of Sufi Islam was adopted alongside Tengriist practices.
“Tengriism is open to any religion if that religion does not contradict the nature’s laws,” explained Chinara,
“You just have to keep the balance and you just have to follow the natural rules … There is no negative energy in nature, only people create this negative energy and cause harm.”
Currently, Chinara gives seminars around the world on Kyrgyz traditions and Tengriism. She says that in the future, she hopes to write a book about Tengriism so that more people have access to Tengriist philosophies. She herself identifies as Tengriist and believes in Tengriist philosophies.
“The Tengriist person does not limits himself or herself from anything; every individual has a place in this universe. You just have to follow the rules of a nature. I would not say that I have a certain religion, I would just say that I’m on right track.”