Presentation within the Mongolian Studies Open Conference, 3 November 2015

Seterlekh: an Anti-Sacrifice of Other Beings?

Natasha Fijn, The Australian National University

While living in a herding encampment in the Khangai Mountains of Mongolia, Natasha Fijn observed and filmed a seterlekh ceremony conducted by a visiting monk, whereby a yak cow was released to live a full life, rather than being killed for meat. There are accounts of such ceremonies across Inner Asia, including amongst reindeer herders in Tuva, throughout Mongolian herding communities and across the Tibetan plateau. What is the philosophy behind the ceremonial release of beings from their former roles? Is this act a kind of anti-sacrifice, where instead of killing an animal and offering the being to the spirit world, the being is offered to the Gods through being released from a relationship with humans? An analysis of herding perspectives and practices across different nomadic landscapes reveals interesting comparative insights with regard to the significance of this ceremony.