At a time when we are slowly starting to distance ourselves from our culture, it is important to recognize that it still has a huge impact on our daily lives. Living in a society where people adhere to so many different religious beliefs made us unaware of the fact that we are heavily influenced by our old way of life and in result, have more in common than we think. We believe and practice different religions but most of us have the same beliefs that have been passed down to us from our ancestors.
Do you pull your hair when there’s a black cat in sight? Have your elders ever warned you not to whistle late at night because you might summon evil entities? Or do you have evil eye beads all over your home to protect yourself from the negative energy you are exposed to on a daily basis? No matter where or how we live, superstitions have been shaping the way we see the world since the day we were born. Arising from the need to feel safe and protected, superstitions have impacted and continue to impact our perspective and cause us to develop beliefs even though we do not necessarily have any scientific evidence to prove them. Most of the widespread superstitions that play a minor role in our daily lives used to be taken as gospel and were a significant part of our ancient religion: shamanism. A shaman is defined as someone with psychic abilities and healing powers. Shamans served as messengers between gods, spirits, and humans. They wore special clothes, and their prayers were often in the form of poetry. Superstitions that are generally considered irrational and trivial today were formerly viewed as sacred practices by shamans.
The belief that the evil eye bead has protective properties is quite common among Anatolian people. It is believed that being exposed to envious glances brings bad luck. Evil eye beads are believed to prevent external negative influences and are usually given to people on special days such as childbirth and holidays. This belief is rooted in shamanism. Shamans believed that the evil eye bead could attract the attention of evil eyes and protect people or valued items.
Because the ancient Turks were nomads, before entering the forests they had not entered before, they would knock twice on the trees at the entrance of a forest and make loud noises in order to scare away evil spirits. By doing this, they also intended to notify nature spirits that an unfortunate event had occurred, and they would ask for their protection. Yet, knocking on wood is not an exclusively Turkish tradition, it is part of many European cultures. Today, people knock on wood to ask for help from a higher being, so that a bad situation does not arise.
There is a community that resides within the borders of Türkiye and still continues practicing shamanic traditions — the Woodworker Turkmen who live in Tahtakuslar. In the 1860s, after 600 years of nomadic life, they settled on the slopes of Mountain Ida. Despite the oppression they have faced over the years, they managed to preserve their shamanic beliefs and traditions. Today, they stand as the last community that actively practices shamanism. During the Hıdrellez festival, they celebrate the arrival of spring by wearing colorful clothes, decorating their homes, and sacrificing animals, cooking, and eating them together. The small community adheres to the religion of their ancestors, remaining true to their ancient beliefs, customs, and traditions. However due to struggling economically and the lack of employment in the area, many residents are now contemplating relocating. The idea of opening the village up to tourism, which has been put forward recently, has dragged the residents of the village into a dilemma.
Tahtakuslar Ethnography Museum and Art Gallery is Türkiye’s first private ethnography gallery, founded in 1991 by primary school teacher Alibey Kudar. It is currently run by his son Mustafa Selim. In the museum you can find cultural assets unique to the nomadic Turkish tribes who migrated from Central Asia to Türkiye such as clothing, tents, and traditional rugs. The museum already attracts a number of tourists every year, but Kudar believes opening the village up to tourism would bring more opportunities for the village’s economy to grow.
Not everyone is fond of this proposal, some residents consider it unethical to profit off their religion. They are also concerned about tourism agencies exploiting their religion and turning it into a tourist currency. Some also argue that the village's streets are too narrow which would make it hard for proper accommodation to be provided for the tourists.
Despite all the challenges, the community still participates in rituals and prayers led by shaman priests, and comes together in order to honor nature and their ancestors and, most importantly, they keep an important element of our culture alive by celebrating and documenting it.
Culture is the witness of the past. We often do not even realize how much it affects us. That is why seeing the importance of protecting our history and culture by researching little things we consider ordinary, like superstitions, brings us together and helps us build a stronger sense of community.
Kalafat, Sevde. “Turkish Traditions That Remained Unchanged from Shamanism - Türktoyu - Voyage To The Turkic World.” Türktoyu - Voyage To The Turkic World, 2018, en.turktoyu.com/turkish-traditions-that-remained-unchanged-from-shamanism. https://en.turktoyu.com/turkish-traditions-that-remained-unchanged-from-shamanism
Ekinci, Ekrem. “Shamanism: A Practice of Early Turkic Beliefs.” Daily Sabah, 26 May 2016, www.dailysabah.com/feature/2016/05/27/shamanism-a-practice-of-early-turkic-beliefs/amp.
Yıldız, Aslı. “Will Tourism Save One of Turkey’s Last Shamanic Villages? – Inside Turkey.” Inside Turkey, 7 Feb. 2021, insideturkey.news/2021/02/07/will-tourism-save-one-of-turkeys-last-shamanic-villages.