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Central Asian Mythology of the Origin of Death: A Comparative Analysis of Its Structure and History

Manabu Waida
Anthropos
Bd. 77, H. 5./6. (1982), pp. 663-702
Published by: Anthropos Institut
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40460525
Page Count: 40
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Central Asian Mythology of the Origin of Death: A Comparative Analysis of Its Structure and History
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Abstract

This paper intends, first, to articulate the structure of what may be called the "Central Asian type" of the mythology of the origin of death and, then, to pursue the question of its origin and diffusion. Its basic scenario may be summarized as follows: God makes the first man from a piece of earth but is unable to give him breath or soul to make him a living creature. In order to procure the life-giving soul for him, this God ascends to the celestial Supreme Being, or more generally, to the heavenly world, leaving a naked dog behind for the protection of his creature. While he is away, the Devil comes, tempts the dog with the promise of a pelt, and defiles the body of the first man by spitting on him, making him mortal. The mythic story characterized by this motif of religious dualism is widely disseminated in Central Asia and Siberia, but it is also documented among the Uralo-Ugrics, the Russians, and some of the eastern Europeans. While it has been customary among scholars to discuss these variants under the category of Menschenschöpfungsmythe, we would hold that they can be most properly considered in the context of the mythology of the origin of death. As to the historical origin of what we now call the Central Asian mythology of the origin of death, we would suggest that it may have taken shape outside Iran, probably in a particular area of Central Asia close to the Indo-Iranian border, and chronologically well before the end of the ninth century A. D.

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