I just finished Henning Haslund’s marvelous book “Tents In Mongolia”. As mentioned in a previous post, he was a keen observer who was fascinated by everything about the Mongols and their culture. He also seemed to be able to put aside his cultural biases much better than many of his contemporaries and describe what he saw with no moralizing and a minimum of judgment and off-the-cuff interpretation. For example (his spelling of Mongol words was clearly his best guess and was not consistent, which is why the word for “raven” is spelled two different ways):
“A pair of screaming ravens sailed over our heads towards the valley in the south, and this had an encouraging effect on Batar (his Mongol traveling companion), since the black khiltai shobo , “talking birds”, as the Mongols call them, conducted themselves in a manner which satisfied him.
“The ravens play for the Mongols a like important role as they did in the ancient north of Odin. The black widely-traveled birds are equipped with keen intelligence and are able to understand human speech. It is vouchsafed to certain favoured human beings to understand the ravens’ language, for ravens have a language, and these favoured human beings can acquire unbelievable wisdom and learning by listening to the communications of the sagacious birds.”
There are also a few pages of interesting notes in the back of the book:
Kiltai shobo, “the talking bird”, as the Mongols call the raven, may bring the traveller good or ill omen. Some of the auguries attributed to the bird are:
If a raven crosses you in its flight from left to right, the omen is good; if from right to left, it is evil.
If a raven croaks behind you when you are on your way, the omen is good.
If it flaps its wings and croaks, you are approaching great danger.
If it pecks at its feathers with its beak and croaks, it signifies death.
If it pecks food and croaks at the same time, you will find food for yourself and your horse on the journey.
If many ravens gather at sunrise, it signifies difficulties on the journey.
If a raven croaks at sunrise it foretells a fortunate journey during the day and that you are about to reach your goal.