MYSTERIES OF THE GOLDEN WOMAN OF UGRA
by Paul Stonehill
Siberia is a part of the Asian territory of the Russian Federation between
the Ural Mountains in the West and the mountains of the Russian Far East; and
between the Arctic Ocean in the North and the steppes of Kazakhstan and Mongolia
in the South. It is divided into Western Siberia (occupying predominantly
Western lowlands and Altai mountains) and Eastern Siberia (comprising elevation
occupying mostly the Mid Siberian plateau).
Western Siberia occupies the territory between the Ural Mountains in the East,
and the Yenisey River in the West.
Konda is a river in Western Siberia, a tributary of the mighty Ob. The
Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug, is located in the central part of the Ob-Irtysh
basin, by far the largest in Eurasia. Marshy forests surround Konda's shores.
Vast swamps, numerous rivers and lakes, richly forested, are the hallmarks of
this territory. Winters are very cold, and snow covers the land for many months.
Summers are humid, infamous for their floods and myriads of mosquitoes. Those
who have lived in the area would keep fires in their huts year round to save
themselves from swarms of ever-present insects.
This is the Ugra land, a place of some heretofore-unsolved ancient mysteries.
The land has populated by various tribes since ancient times, as far back as the
They left behind many tombs, settlements, artifacts and unsolved mysteries. One
of them is the legend of the Golden Woman (Zolotaya Baba in Russian;
baba is an archaic term for a woman; used today mostly as a slang word,
demeaning to women; it also means grandma).
Let us look at the people who had worshipped the Golden Woman, and whose
mythology may help us unlock her secrets.
Today the territory of the Ugra land is better known as the Khanty-Mansiysk
Autonomous Okrug (District). It is historical homeland of three small
nationalities. They are Khanty, Mansi and Forest Nentsy (Selkupy). They number
about 30000 people. We are primarily concerned with Khanty and Mansi in this
article. To understand their beliefs, we need to look at their origins and
During the Bronze and Early Iron Ages, forest-steppes of Western Siberia were
roamed and inhabited by horse-breeding nomads. These nomads are considered to be
the early Ugric tribes. The horse-breeders and hunter-fishermen from the North
interacted closely. Then the Samoyed tribes invaded the northwestern Siberia by
the end of the first millennium BCE. As a result of ethnic interactions, the
Ugric nomads incorporated elements of the Samoyed culture.
The Ugric nomads, except for the Hungarians, largely remained in the
forests-steppes or in the Arctic regions. The nomads left the northern areas
around 2000 BCE and became "mounted nomads" in the steppes, living in a Turkic
ethnic environment between the 4th and 9th centuries CE. Magyars left these
wooded steppes in the 9th century CE to migrate to Central Europe, to form the
Hungarian nation. Their Ugric brethren moved north. There they engaged in
hunting, fishing and rain-deer breeding. They lived in log huts but during their
hunting expeditions in the cold winters, tents made from animal skins were of
better use to these people. Reindeer-herding tribes lived in special tents
(chums) covered either with reindeer skin or birch bark in the winter.
The ancient Uralic Proto-language was in use between the Volga Bend in Eastern
Russia and the Ob River in Western Siberia. This was the language of Khanty and
Mansi ancestors. The language of Khanty and Mansi belongs to Finno-Ugric family
that includes also the languages of Hungarians, Estonians, Saames, Udmurts, and
The Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic languages form the Uralic language family. Nenets,
Enets, Nganasan, Selkup, Kamas are related to the Samoyedic languages. The
people speaking these languages live in the western Siberia, except most of the
Nenets who live in the European North. Along the banks of the River Ob the
Nenets settlements reach the dense forest area of the Siberian taiga.
Anthropologically, the Nenets are representatives of the Uralic race with
stronger than average Mongoloid characteristics.
Hungarian language is classified as a member of the Ugric branch of the Uralic
languages; and as such it is most closely related to the Ob-Ugric languages,
Khanty and Mansi. It is also related, though more distantly, to Finnish and
Estonian, each of which is (like Hungarian) a national language. Ancestors of
the following (and still living) populations also spoke the Uralic
Proto-language: Lapp, Karel, Veps, Izhora, Livonian; Mari, Mordva; Komi, Udmurt;
Khanty, Mansi, Selkup, Nenets, Enets and Nganasan.
As official names, the words "Khanty" and "Mansi" were accepted after 1917, but
in the old documents of the Russian Empire and scientific literature, Khanty
people were called as "Ostyaki" and the Mansi people were called as Voguly or
The term Ob-Ugric has been used in scientific writing to designate the Mansi and
the Khanty as one entity. Yugra and Yugoria were Russian terms in the annals of
the XI-XV centuries for the territory of the Arctic Urals, Western Siberia and
the tribes who lived there.
In Ukrainian, the word Ugorschina means Hungary.
As far as we know now, the Khanty and the Mansi originated from related and yet
different cultures. They shared neither a single ruler nor a sense of common
identity. Rather they belonged to many separate clans. Hereditary tribal chief
ruled such clans dispersed through the land.
Mansi settled closer to the Urals, upon its slopes, on left tributaries of the
Ob River, Konda and the North Sosva. Khanty settled in the valley of the Ob and
the Narym up to its mouth and near its tributaries.
The basis of the Ob-Ugric tribal groups was a patrilineal clan.
Religion of the Ob-Ugric people was totemistic (each clan possessed a sacred
totem), as well as animistic. Shamans (the tribal priests or "medicine men")
supervised religious rites in these sacred places. Horses, reindeer, and other
animals were sacrificed under a tree. Spirit effigies were smeared (in the area
of their mouths) with blood; that is how they were "fed". Human sacrifices were
performed in the ancient times as well. The shamans had used drums for their
ceremonies, and in the days gone by, each family used to have such a drum. It
was believed that guardian spirit of the Khanty family lived inside the drum.
During visits the shamans would use the family drum for their ceremonies.
The shamans actually did not have to wear any special clothes except for a cap.
As an ethnic group Mansi appeared as merging of local tribes of the Ural Neolith
culture and Ugric tribes. Mansi language belongs to the Ob-Ugric sub-group of
the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic languages. Back in the 1920's quite a large
number of Mansi spoke this language. But today only some elderly people are
still fluent in it.
Women had a much greater equality among the Mansi than among the Khanty.
The old name of the Khanty people was Ostyaki (that is, stranger in
Turkic) or Ushtyak, which was what the Siberian Tatars called the Khanty.
The first mention of the Khanty, under the name of Ostyaks, was in 1572. The
native names are Khanty, Khande and Kantek. We still do not know were the term
Khanty originated from. Most likely it was derived from the combination "Khondy-Kho"
(in the Khany language it means "man from the river Konda"). Another explanation
for Khanty is "Khan people" and connects them with the name of the Huns.
Although the Khanty became (or were forced to become) Russian Orthodox
Christians in the 17th and 18th centuries, they retained some of their beliefs
and customs. The most famous one is the so-called Bear Holiday, sacred to all
tribes and clans. The holiday included the telling of fairy-tales, myths;
singing of "bear songs", killing of the animal, and ritual dances with masked
Animal sacrifice to their deities and spirits are essential to the Khanty
beliefs. They seek good fortune in their main occupations: fishing and hunting,
and thus must have the goodwill of their gods. No regime that had controlled
Russia since the conquest of Western Siberia to 1991 has been able to obliterate
the sacred rituals of the Khanty.
The older Khanty people have retained numerous beliefs and cults throughout the
centuries, regardless of obvious difficulties.
The building of the Krasnoyarsk fortress in 1628 marked the collection of all
the Samoyedic peoples under Russian rule. To the alarm of the Russian conquerors
there were numerous uprisings, in which the Nenets also participated.
Myths about Ugra and its people
A well-known ancient Russian document, the Nestor chronicle suggests that
Ob-Ugrians belong to the offspring of Noah's son Yaphat (Afet).
The Tale of Bygone Years, also known as The Chronicle of Nestor
was believed to be the work of the Monk Nestor of Kiev, but now scientists
believe that it was actually a compilation of the work of many men.
Yaphat was said to possess all Northern regions, including Scythia (Skufia),
accoding to the authors.
"After the fall of the tower of Babel and the confusion of tongues, the sons
of Yaphat occupied the countries of the West and North"...
The "Ugras" have been mentioned amid his pagan (jazyci) offspring. A Tale of the
Times Past refers to the Samoyeds as neighbors and allies of the Ugrians. In the
chronicle they appear as samoyad.
Nestor correlated his description of the Ugrians to the accounts of Alexander
the Great, the fearless Macedonian conqueror of the world. The Greek's
descriptions were quite unflattering: " ...unkempt people of the Yaphat's
tribe. Filthy as they were, he saw them eat all kinds of disgusting things, such
as mosquitoes, flies, cats and snakes. Also, they did not bury dead bodies, but
cannibalized them, as with miscarriages and unkempt animals".
The Ob-Ugric people were regarded as cannibals by West Europeans who themselves
never came in contact with the Siberian tribes until late in the Middle Ages.
The descriptions that appeared in Europe were of unfamiliar tribes, inhabiting
the Eastern Ugra lands; they were mostly called the Samoyeds. They were
considered to be cannibals, and somewhat fantastic accounts followed.
However, one early European traveler, a Franciscan Friar named Giovanni del
Plano Carpine, who had traveled to the Central Asia and Mongolia in the years
1245-47, (as ? Pope Innocent IV's envoy to Mongolia and Tartary) provided
interesting stories about the mysterious aspects of the Ob-Ugric people (he
called them Samogeds).
Carpine left his monastery in 1245, and the next year he reached the Mongol
court in Syra Orda. There he met the new emperor (Great Khan) Kuyuk Khan, and
made useful observations about the Mongols, their habits, customs, country,
neighbors, the people they vanquished and history.
One of Carpine's accounts described a mysterious phenomenon that brings to mind
high-tech weapons of the future.
When local populace in an area (probably Ugra, but it is not certain), heard the
Tatar (as the Mongols were known in Europe) army approaching, they started to
destroy a mountain. The invaders were thwarted, and left for ten years or so.
When the Tatars returned, they found ruins. Then they tried to approach the
locals, with obvious goals in mind, but failed to do so. The Tatars encountered
a cloud-like formation between themselves and the locals, and they were not able
to penetrate it. Actually, the Tatars lost their eyesight upon approaching the
mountain. The local populace assumed the Tatars were frightened, and initiated
an attack. But when they reached the cloud, they, too, were not able to
penetrate it to get through.
Russia's conquest and annexation of Western Siberia did not do much to improve
the image of the Mansi and Khanty people, who were described as living in the
land of darkness, idol worshippers who devour disgusting things and drink blood
of animals. If we discard the exaggerated descriptions of these people in the
medieval tales, we do see that they did make animal sacrifices, drank blood of
the freshly killed animals, and ate their raw meat. But certainly they were no
monsters, as described in the Alexander the Great accounts and tales of Arab and
some European explorers; they neither possessed dog heads on their bodies
(except as part of their traditional clothing) nor feet of an ox; nor were they
Medieval Arab and European explorers of Russia often possessed preconceived
notions about the country. Huge distances and harsh climate conditions of Russia
precluded detailed research and accurate assessment and insight.
But Ahmed Ibn Fadlan's description of a giant human being deserves a detailed
analysis outside of the topic of this article.
Before we proceed, I would like to offer the insight into the Ob-Ugric people by
those who truly knew them. Russian explorers, such as G. Dunkin-Gorchavin who
studied the Khanty in the beginning of the twentieth century, had this to say
about them: they were extremely honest, peaceful, of good heart; they never
fought among themselves, and created a system of shared welfare that eliminated
poverty from their ranks. Even those old tribal members who had no one to
support him or her and lost their ability to work would find provision at the
houses of the wealthier relatives, who would feed such members taking turns. The
Ostyaki were so peaceful that murder was virtually unheard of, and because they
respected private property, theft and deceitfulness were quite rare. Another
Russian explorer, I. G. Ostroumov basically echoed Dunkin-Gorchavin's words when
he described the Mansi people in 1904.
Origin of the Golden Woman
It was said that the Golden Woman was made from pure gold. No one had the right
to see her. No one had the right to enter her cave, full of treasures. The
exception was made for hereditary Guardians, who wore red clothing and collected
presents brought to the taiga idol by local tribes.
How did the Ob-Ugrians come to possess their sacred Golden Woman? Early rumors
had it that she was made in Rome, and was brought to their land by the Ob-Ugric
warriors who had participated in a military campaign of Alarich, the king of the
Visigoths captured and sacked Rome in 410, and he died the same year. The
warriors brought the idol with them to the far-away Arctic Ocean. However, such
hollow statutes were not manufactured in Rome. It did not look Roman, too,
judging by descriptions. It is quite possible that the statue's origins were in
ancient India or Sumer...or beyond.
India and the Ob-Ugric mythology
Is there an India connection?
Ancient ancestors of the Khanty and Mansi had contacts with the ancient
Indo-Europeans who inhabited the steppe and forest-steppe of Western Siberia.
The Indo-Europeans, ancestors of modern people of India's North; of the Persians
and of the Scythians, practiced horse breeding. A number of Indo-Aryan words
became used in the Proto-Finno-Ugric pre-language (that is, the Uralic language
after the Samoyedic separated from it). India exerted great influence upon
Central Asia and lands beyond in the 3rd millennium BCE. India's migrants and
traders mingled with the Proto-Uralic people, and exchanged beliefs, traditions,
Curiously, Finnish, called Suomi by its speakers, is a member of the
Finno-Ugric language family, and, like Dravidian, it is an agglutinative
Agglutinative languages rely on bound morphemes to express meaning.
When the ancestors of the Ob-Ugric people moved northward into the vast taiga
regions, they carried with them India's influence.
The Ob-Ugrian culture is diverse and abundant with its own native folklore and
also borrowed and assimilated traditions.
The Ob-Ugric mythology is very complicated, and has been researched by Estonian,
Russian, and Western researchers. The deities have many names, and different
characteristics, depending on the location in the Ugra the believers dwell in.
But we should briefly look at it so as to understand the beliefs of the Ob-Ugric
Kaltesh-Anki is Myg-imi, or Mother Earth. Some Khanty believe that she is
actually the wife of Numi-Turum, and was cast down from Heaven by her spouse.
The reason for this was her sexual liaison with another deity.
Numi-Turum (turum means god in the Khanty language), who created
the world and human beings, inhabits the seventh floor of the Upper World. He is
detached from mere mortals, and to contact him, humans must do so through a
lesser deity. The Mansi believe that Numi-Turum created the first human being
from clay, and that Kaltesh-Anki gave the soul to this human. Luminous and
bright is how some of the Ob-Ugrians called their God of heavens.
The deity closest to the humans is the World Surveyor Man (or The man who looks
on the World), Mir-susne-Xum to the Mansi, and Sorni-iki to the Khanty, the
seventh son of Numi-Turum. He is the heavenly horseman, and his steed can move
around the sky at the speed of light. The steed has eight wings. This is
according to excellent research published by Estonian scientist Anzori Barkalaja
in Estonian magazine Pro-Ethnologia (Arctic Studies 3), Issue 8, and
other research papers of Russian and Estonian scientists.
This deity helps humans contact his father, Numi-Turum; he is the chief mediator
or intermediary. But he serves the same role between the humans and Kaltesh-Anki,
who keeps accounts of people's lives and determines how long they will live.
Mir-susne-Xum, thus, is similar to the deity of the Scandinavians, god Odin. In
Indian mythology, Indra, the god of Thunder, and Dyaus, the sky god, existed
separately, just as Numi-Turum and his seventh son in the Ob-Ugric myths. Dayus
or Dyaus was the Hindu creator and sky god and father of Surya the sun god and
Agni the god of fire.
Furthermore, some Mansi believed that Numi-Turum's appearances were accompanied
by rumbling sound in the heaven.
Did the creators and the Guardians of the Zolotaya Baba speak Sumerian?
The Sumerians were the first civilization in the world, located in the
southernmost part of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.
Sumer was first settled between 4500 and 4000 BCE, and by 3500 BCE the Sumerians
acquired a religion and a society, which influenced both their neighbors and
Ancient Sumer came to mind when I first read the name of the Ob-Ugrian goddess
of fertility and childbirth. We have already introduced her: Kaltesh-Anki (also
Kaltash, and Anki-Pugos), the daughter of the sky deity, Numi-Turum; she keeps
the account of the length of human lives. But I was not the only one to see a
connection. Estonian scientist, Aado Lintrop, published a number of excellent
articles about the Ob-Ugric culture. One of them, The Great Oak and
Brother-Sister, was published in Volume 16 of Folklore (Electronic
Journal of Folklore), Tartu, Estonia, 2001. Linthrop does not claim a direct
connection to the mythology of Sumer, but stresses the principles and phenomena
that "very probably have been universal". Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love,
fertility and war, was the daughter of Ani, the sky god.
In the Hungarian mythology the goddess Boldog Asszony is the goddess of birth,
fertility and harvests. Hungarian scientists, Dr. Ida Bobula and Fred Hamori,
concur that it was not Inanna, but the old Sumerian goddess BAŚ as the ideal
counterpart of Boldog Asszony in both name and in function. The Sumerian deity
(also known as BABA, and GULA) was at one time the third in rank among the
ancient Sumerian gods. I do not believe that Sumerian word BABA and Russian
baba have the same meaning; it was probably a mere coincidence, but in the
future, as the Ob-Ugric mythology becomes the focus of a comprehensive
international research, scientists might discover an alternative explanation.
When we look at Kaltesh-Anki, we should remember that the Sumerian BAŚ was
believed to be the goddess of bounty, a healer, and a provider of harvest and
food, giver of birth and fertility, and the life giver (midwife) who helps bring
life into the world.
I wanted to elaborate on the BAU correlation, and expanded relevant research.
Dumuzi was a harvest god of ancient Mesopotamia, the Sumerian god of vegetation
and the underworld. Famous for his horned lunar crown, he was the son-husband of
the goddess Gula-BAU. Interestingly, he was depicted as sitting in front of the
serpent in a relief "Goddess of the Tree of Life" ca. 2500 B.CE. The Ob-Ugric
people had a concept of the World Tree, as reported by an Arabic traveler and
missionary Al-Garnati. Aado Linthrop has brilliantly analyzed this Tree and
parallel similar Trees of other cultures, in his article mentioned above, and I
will not do it here. Suffice it to say other ancient cultures had similar myths.
BABA or BAU was a Sumerian goddess of the city of Lagash, approximately 70
kilometers north of Ur, and patroness of the king. She is also a mother goddess
and a goddess of healing. Baba is the daughter of the sky god Ani, and consort
of the fertility god Ningirsu. She was often called mother Baba, and she
was identified with the goddess Gula. One of the sources of healthcare for the
Sumerians was the Temple of Gula. Gula was one of the more important gods of
healing. These temples were sites for the diagnosis of illness, as well as
libraries that held many practical medical texts. Gula was earlier known as BAU,
or Ninkarrak, in Mesopotamian religion, city goddess of Urukug in the Lagash
region and, under the name Nininsina, the Queen of Isin, (city goddess of Isin),
south of Nippur.
Back in 1990, archeologists working in Iraq discovered the remains of a gigantic
temple (around 1300 BCE), dedicated to the ancient goddess of medicine, Gula.
Where does it all lead?
Valentin Krapiva, a paranormal phenomena researcher in Ukraine, has researched
stories about the Golden Woman of Ugra, as well as the Ob-Ugric mythology and
asserts that she strongly resembles the goddess Kaltesh. He published his
Tayna Siyayuschey Zhenshini article in an Odessa magazine Zagadki Sfinksa
in 1992. Krapiva finds a number of similarities between Yumala and the deity
Kaltesh. Like N. S. Trubetskoy, a famous Russian ethnographer and founder of
structural linguistics, he believes that Yumala was originally from India.
Yumala was how the Norsemen called the Golden Woman.
Krapiva provides another account of the Ob-Ugric mythology.
Like Kaltesh, who keeps the account of the length of human lives, Yumala was
said to provide accurate predictions during the sacrificial ceremonies. Krapiva
is of the opinion that Yumala was not "golden", but actually luminous. The Mansi
word sorin means both "gold" and "sunshine". Hence, Yumala could actually
be Radiant (like Numi-Turum who was Luminous, I must add). The Europeans,
unfortunately, were only attracted to the term "golden". As such, she must be
compared to Kaltesh, who like her husband Numi-Turum, were quite extraordinary
deities. When they were exiled from Heaven, the pair lands on Earth, and send
their six (according to Krapiva, not seven-P.S.) sons to all corners of the
planet. To move around the sons use a winged cloud, and communicate only with
those human beings who possess exceptional abilities. Numi-Turum dwells alone,
in a bright house or dwelling on the "seventh heaven". It is from there that he
sends his messengers to Earth, but on occasions he does receive human messengers
who are worthy to associate with him (the Khanty, I must add, believed that even
the shamans could only get to the fifth heaven or floor of the upper world-P.S.).
The dwelling of Numi-Turum is fascinating. There are vessels containing "living"
and "dead" water. The master of this dwelling can teach worthy people different
useful trades and arts, as well as healing. Once his spouse Keltesh requested
that he strengthen the Earth with an iron belt. He obliged, and the belt became
the Ural Mountains. Hence, Numi-Turum knew about iron ores of the Urals in the
ancient times. He was able to perform all sorts of miracles. When the time came
for him to die, Numi-Turum immersed himself in the Deluge waters, and regained
Then Krapiva adds an episode about Nuri-Turum that reminded me of mythologies of
ancient China and Minoan Crete. Kaltesh needed to defend herself from hostile
entities, and Nuri-Turum obliged by creating the menkvi, gigantic
werewolves. Their bodies were invincible. But even if something destroys the
menkvi, there is a way to repair the damage. It is possible to create a new
menkvi from bodies of his fallen comrades. Just as it it's possible to
use parts of robots to build another robot.
And this bit of information about the menkvi leads us to the Orient.
Last year I published an article about China's Yellow Emperor in FATE Magazine.
Huang-ti, the Emperor, had fascinating assistants who had developed civilization
in the south of China. Their exact nature is hard to discern whether the
assistants were living organisms, independent mechanisms, or remotely controlled
robots. Ancient sources name them "Chi Yu and his brothers." The brethren were
Chi Yu had four eyes (at least, considered as such), six arms, or manipulators.
Chi Yu's head: it was made from copper and had a metallic forehead, and strange
tridents in place of ears. According to the local legends, the metallic head was
cut off the body (with all appropriate safeguards), and buried separately. Years
later this head continued to emit heat. On occasions a reddish steam-like cloud
would come from the burial site. Chi Yu was able to move in the rugged areas,
like an all terrain vehicle, and had ability to fly albeit for a short time
span. The creature ate "stones and sand" and through this diet it obtained
energy that was necessary for the creature's movements. Most likely they were
complex autonomous mechanisms, akin to robots.
We now must leave ancient China and travel to another fascinating, mysterious
and fabulous ancient civilization, the Minoan Crete.
In Greek mythology, Cronus was the son of Uranus and Gaia and the youngest of
the twelve Titans. Zeus was the youngest son of Cronus and Rhea. He became the
supreme ruler of Mount Olympus and of the Pantheon of deities who dwelt there.
Zeus led the rebellion against his father and the dynasty of the Titans,
defeated and then banished them. Talos was the giant bronze protector of Crete,
a creature made of bronze, given by Zeus to Europa and their little sons after
he defeated Cronus, to be their protector and guardian of Crete . . .
He was the last of a generation of men of bronze, sprung from the ash-trees.
Talos guarded Crete by running around the island three times every day. Upon
seeing the intruders appear, he pelted them with huge rocks (as he did against
the expedition of the Argonauts). A Soviet researcher of the antiquity, A. B.
Snisarenko, in his wonderful book Vlastiteli antichnikh morey (Moscow,
1986) writes that when Talos was unable to sink the invader' ships, he would
make his body red-hot by standing in a fire, then ambush the trespassers upon
their landing, and finish them off through his embrace.
Now we must return to the land of Ugra.
I was very much interested in another deity of the Ob-Ugric people. She was
Chooros nai anki (chooros means 'ocean', nai means 'female deity',
as well as 'fire' or 'flame'; anki means 'mother').
Although any information about this deity is very contradictory, two researchers
were able to find out interesting details from the Khanty mythology and just
comprehensive scholarship. It was published in Pro Ethnologia, Issue 11,
under the title of Yavun-iki, the Master of Yugan as the Cultural Symbol of
Yugan Khanties. The authors are Irina Karapetova and Karina Solovyova.
Based on their research, Chooros nai anki emerged as the mother of "the
celestial fire and everything living", and as "the most powerful god", said to
be living in the Eastern Ocean and is the goddess of the "Eastern fiery ocean",
or "the sea fire". Some sources state that she is mother of Torum. She is
considered to be a figure of "alien fire, "to be identified with the violent,
worldwide whirlwind or fiery deluge; she can be so powerful as to "be the
mistress of the destinies of other souls".
I believe that the Golden Woman of the Ob-Ugric people was Chooros nai anki.
Perhaps future research efforts will prove my contention.
Now let us see what else is known about the Golden Woman throughout the ages.
Thorir the Hound was in all possibility the first person to give an account of
the Golden Woman. This gentleman was a Viking and a brigand, who had led an
attack on the shores of the White Sea in 1023.
Thorir the Hound) was one also of the first and foremost Norwegian magnates with
whom Olav Haraldsson (later Saint Olav) came into serious conflict. In 1026
Thorir fled, first to Finmark (in the extreme north of Norway), and later to
join Knut the Mighty (king of Denmark) in England in 1027. Thorir the Hound
battled against Olav to control the trade on Bjarmaland (the old land on the
East shore of the White Sea where Russian city of Archangelsk is located today).
This trade was a resource that helped secure Thorir's position of power in
Northern Norway, a dominating position Olav wanted the Hound to lose.
Thorir the Hound discovered the ancient name of the Golden Woman, Yumala.
Apparently the seasoned brigand was unsettled by reports about the idol. Yumala,
he learned, was located in remote forest, placed on a mound, and the ground
around the idol .was full of treasures and riches. The ground of the mound
beneath Yumala was mixed with golden coins. This thread takes us to Finland.
Kalevala is the Finnish national epic, compiled from ancient oral poetry. It
consists of old Finnish ballads and lyrical songs depicting "the sons of
Kalevala. It is comparable to the Icelandic Edda and tells about the past
heroes like Homer did in Iliad and Odyssey. In Kalevala, the oldest epic Poem of
the Finns, one finds wonderful tales of the gods of Finland, the gods of air and
water, of fire and the forest, of Heaven and the Earth.
Yumala is the queen of the underworld in this epic. Stag is the favorite animal
of Yumala... Kaleva is the mythical kingdom where most of the epic takes place.
It is similar to Kalama of the Sumerians. Inanna, let us recall, abandoned the
E-muc-kalama in Bad-tibira, and descended to the underworld.
This is yet another connection with the wondrous land of ancient Sumer and its
It is curious that the symbol of the cosmos and the mother of the sun were
represented as a stag in the Hungarian mythology. There are also links to both
the Finnish epic Kalevala and the Sumerian tablets containing the Sumerian
creation myth that can be traced to Hungarian legends.
Explorers, travelers and spies
Alessandro Guanini, the Italian who authored Description of European Sarmatia
(1578), described the worship of the Golden Woman. Besides the sacrificial
furs, the idol was also presented with animal sacrifices. The choicest deer were
slaughtered, and their blood used to smear the idol's mouth and eyes. Then, a
short time later, all of the blood mysteriously disappeared. Guanini wondered if
the dead idol drank it all. Yet, were the Golden Woman dead? Apparently, the
idol responded to inquiries with correct answers, and issued accurate
Another European world traveler, a German spy, was actually an eyewitness who
(according to at least one account) saw the Golden Woman talk and even shout.
Baron Siegmund von Herberstein (1486-1566) visited Russia in 1517; and then in
1526-27. He published the book Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii (Vienna,
1549). The author was a capable and keen observer of Russia. Herberstein
presented a great description of the tribes who dwelt in the lands to the east
of the Ural Mountains.
However, the Baron also wrote that the accounts of the Golden Woman were
translated from Russian descriptions brought to him. He tried to find those who
had actually saw the paranormal developments in the reports he received, but
could not find a single person who did. So he left the analyses to others. He
did comment that the Golden Woman statue must have had hollow areas inside it,
and that the wind would cause shout-like sounds while blowing through them.
Years went by, and another confirmation of the Golden Woman surfaced in London.
Anthony Jenkinson, English merchant and adventurer, traveled in Russia from 1557
to 1560 as an agent of the Company of Merchant Adventurers (a Muscovy company).
Jenkinson is believed to be the first European to cross Russia from north to
south. He was the first Englishman (at least, of the 16th century) to penetrate
deep into Central Asia beyond the Caucasus. He took regular and quite accurate
notes during his journeys. His map is based on first hand observation. Jenkinson
traveled from Archangelsk to Moscow (where he met with Czar Ivan the Terrible).
Later he journeyed the Volga River and Caspian Sea to Bukhara, one of the cities
on the ancient Oriental Silk Route. He returned to England in 1560 where he
compiled detailed accounts of his expeditions; and he prepared a large-scale map
on four sheets, which was first published by Nicholas Reynolds in London in
1562. A land called "Ugria" was shown to be located at the lower end of River
Ob. The accompanying illustration depicted Ugrans who knelt in front of a female
idol. A note, according to Aado Lintrop from the Institute of the Estonian
Language, located in Tallin, Estonia, clarified the image:
"Zlata Baba, that is the Golden Dame of the Obians, zealously worshipped by
the Yugrans. This idol is consulted by the priest as to what they must do or
where they must go; and she (the miraculous oracle) gives answers to some that
seek her counsel, and certain consequences follow."
In all fairness, I must present here Aado Lintrop's opinion about the Golden
Woman, from the same publication of the Institute:
In actual fact, no European has ever seen that idol and most probably it
never existed in the described form (as a full-length woman made of gold).
Grounds for that kind of rumors were provided by the Ob-Ugrian folklore, where
Kaltesh-ekva is usually described as golden.
While I do not agree with the Estonian scientist about the Golden Woman, I have
deepest respect and admiration for his research and fieldwork. Few people on
Earth have dedicated as much effort to study the Ob-Ugric culture and mythology
as he has.
While hunters and merchants from Russia already knew about the "Yugra" in the
11th century, this knowledge was not used to promote peaceful coexistence.
Already in 1032 CE, Russians regarded the Mansi as enemies, and the Novgorod
warriors unsuccessfully raided them. There had been other bloody conflicts
between the Russians and the Ob-Ugric people throughout the centuries. Tatars,
too, attacked the Ob-Ugric tribes and waged war against them.
Beginning with the XV century, the Great Novgorod Republic and later (in the XVI
century) the Moscovite state had already intruded upon the Ob-Ugric people and
founded distant trade-towns. Khanty together with Mansi numbered approximately
16,000 at a time when the population of Moscovite Russia was most likely about
The annexation of "Ugria"to the Russian state began after the Siberian Khan
Kuchum was defeated.
Siberia was adjoined to the Moscovite State after a legendary and bloody
campaign of Yermak Timofeyevich, the ataman (chieftain). The leader of a
vataga (band) of independent Russian Cossacks, he spent his early career
plundering the Czar's ships on the Volga. Later he entered the service of a
wealthy and legendary merchant family, the Stroganovs. Yermak's deeds and
praises are sung from one end of Russia to the other.
The Stroganovs sent Yermak on an expedition to protect their lands in Western
Siberia from attack by local tribes. But he became much more than a mere
security official; Yermak became a conqueror of huge territories. The Russian
Cossacks quickly penetrated eastward by land and on riverboats. They built a
chain of small fortresses and placed a levy on the native population (precious
After defeating the Kuchum-Khan and occupying Isker (the capital of the Siberian
khanstvo-khanate) in the autumn of 1582, Yermak sent a small group of the
Cossacks downward along the Irtysh (at the end of the winter of 1583). The group
under Bogdan Bryazga's command passed the lands of the Konda-(Pelymsk Voguls)
and approached the Samarovo town. The Ostyaki (actually, the Ob-Ugrians),
overtaken by a sudden attack of the Cossacks, were made to retreat. Samar, the
Prince of the Belogorodskoye principality, was killed. But Yermak's Cossacks
were unable to conquer the town of Khan Nimyan. A local Chuvash, a spy for the
Cossacks, was sent there on a reconnaissance mission. When he returned, he said
that he was able to observe how the Ostyaki worshipped the Golden Woman. The
idol was standing on a tray full of water. The warriors of the town drank this
water, and swore their allegiance to defend their holiest object, the Golden
The Cossacks understood that the statue was valuable, and tripled their efforts
to conquer the town. When they succeeded, the Golden Woman was gone. How did the
idol make it to the town in the first place, if it was kept in a remote forest?
Much could have happened in the five centuries after Thorir the Hound described
the idol. The Cossacks were practical people, and the natives were tortured to
reveal the secret of the Golden Woman's whereabouts. The response they were able
to obtain was that Yumala departed on a cloud. Then came the vengeance. The
legendary Yermak died; he was wounded, and drowned in the river, pulled down by
his heavy armor. The Cossacks whispered that a vengeful goddess killed their
ataman. So after his coat of mail was discovered, they sent it to Yumala's
treasure house. However, Russian troops retook the territory in 1586. I have not
been able to learn what happened to the treasure house of the Siberian idol.
To be sure, it is most likely that neither the European travelers, nor the
Russian empire-builders had ever seen the idol.
Certainly, there had been other references to the Golden Woman in the medieval
Russia and Eastern Europe, but none so dramatic. After all, Russian traders from
Novgorod crossed the Urals as early as the 13th century to trade in furs with
native tribes. Although there had been earlier military campaigns, under various
Russian Czars, it was Czar Ivan IV's capture of the Kazan khanate in 1552 that
opened the way for Russian expansion into Siberia.
After Western Siberia became a part of the Russian empire, the destruction of
idols ensued. Heathen beliefs were to be eradicated throughout the land. And so,
idols and spiritual had been burnt in the 18th century. Between the years of
1714 and1722, Mansi had been converted to Russian Orthodoxy. Peter the Great,
the renowned Russian Czar, directed that those who resist be killed. Such
important symbols of the Ob-Ugric religion as the Old Man of Ob idol's heathen
temple were burned. The idol, however, was destroyed back in the 16th century by
Cossack conquerors (according to Russian historian Olga Astafyeva, they used
cannons to shoot it to pieces in 1585). The Copper Goose idol of the Troitskoye
Village was crushed and thrown into the river. Other idols were burned, and
crosses were emplaced at the sites of the Ob-Ugric sacred sanctuaries. Russian
Orthodox churches were built throughout the land.
The Russians were no Spanish conquistadors who had wiped out Indian
civilizations in the New World. The United States military campaigns against the
Native Americans throughout the 19th century were often more cruel than the
Russian conquest of Asia, and resulted in similar disasters for the natives.
Canada, too, on occasions forced its Native American population to abandon their
beliefs. Nevertheless, the conquest of Siberia was quite bloody.
But despite Russian Imperial campaigns against native beliefs and idols, Yumala
or the Golden Woman had survived.
Savva the Elder
At the end of 1892, a famous Ural explorer Konstantin Nosilov traveled the Konda
River to learn traditions and study life of the Voguls. His relative, P.
Infantyev accompanied him. They sailed on in a tiny and rather tight boat, but
had a wonderful time visiting the locals in their huts, and learning about them.
The huts were full of ticks and fleas, but this fact did not diminish the
enthusiasm of Russian explorers. Infantyev was so taken with this ethnography
that later he traveled throughout Russia, and authored over 40 books about its
people and tribes. He had deep impressions about the land of the Voguls, and
published a story in 1892 in a Yekaterinburg newspaper, titled Shaman's
Then, in 1904, Nosilov, while traveling in the upper reaches of Konda, met an
old blind man named Savva. The old man was blinded years before during his
colorful youth. Savva did not go into specific details about his ordeals, yet
said enough for Nosilov to grasp that the old man saw something forbidden.
Finally Savva relented, and told the Russian traveler about the Golden Woman
(adding that being very old he would die soon anyway) the following:
There is nothing extraordinary about her. She is just a naked woman. She is
sitting down. And she is very beautiful, as a woman ought to be. She is holding
either a bowl or a plate in her hands, but the object is turned upside down. But
maybe it is not a plate...
Before the storm
No other witness came forward since that year to tell about the Golden Woman.
Storm clouds were gathering over Russia, and bloody rains were about to pour on
its cities, villages, and settlements. I do not know if the Golden Woman was
destroyed in the turbulent times that ensued, or if the statue was somehow
The Ob-Ugrians have been living in the exceptionally harsh climate of Siberia
and Far North for thousands of years. Theirs was an ecological traditional
culture most fit for these conditions. But neither this fragile culture nor
their legendary or mythological Golden Woman could resist the imperial expansion
and the accompanying technological civilization.
The 19th century brought the Ob-Ugric people exploitation by predatory Russian
merchants and Czarist officials. Liquor, diseases, debts, and loss of the
choicest land to the invaders of their territories had weakened the native
Then came the bloody Russian revolution and the Bolshevik take-over.
A katnos to the vorga
Valentin Krapiva believes that the sacred Golden Woman of Ugra is still hidden
away in somewhere in the area. He mentioned obscure expeditions to the land of
Ugra specifically to find the Golden Woman.
But I could not find any mention of such expeditions, which is not surprising,
for I doubt that the mission and goal of such expeditions would be to bring the
statue to a national museum. The Ukrainian researcher supposes that the Golden
Woman is actually helping the Ob-Ugric people to hide her presence form the
prying eyes. In 1962 an interesting piece of information about the statue
attracted attention of Krapiva. That year, an elderly Russian hunter Anton
Kadulin revealed a tale told to him by a Mansi, Danila Surguchev. The Mansi
claimed that no one would ever find the Zolotaya Baba. He added that there is a
tiny island among the taiga swamps. It is possible to reach it through the
marshes, but no one knows the way there. However, there is one vorga
(reindeer trail) to the island. One can find it by reading the katnos
(secret signs). The sign is this: an arrow crossed by two other arrows.
Is there such an island among the swamps of the dark coniferous taiga? Do the
menkvi guard the Chooros nai anki, the Golden Woman of Ugra, the one who is
holding a saucer-shaped object in her hands, and is able give correct answers
and predict the outcome of human affairs? Is there anyone who is able to service
the guardians and the statue, update their programs, change parts...or is it all
just a myth from a faraway land?
A century of sorrow, a struggle to survive...
The Communist Party had subjected the Khanty and Mansi people to Russification,
militant atheism, political propaganda and collectivization campaigns. Children
were forced into boarding schools, isolated from their "backward" parents.
Prosperous individuals and their families were eliminated, the shamans killed or
imprisoned, sacred groves of worship, as well as graves, desecrated.
The Khanty-Mansi Autonomous National District was formed in 1930.
There was resistance to the Communist regime, as elsewhere in Russia. The
reindeer-breeders rose up in armed struggle against collectivization, and
attacked the town of Vorkuta. The army used aircraft to subdue the Nenets
people. Also, the Red Army crushed the Kazyn revolt of 1933 and burned villages
while the Red Air Force bombed distant villages. The revolt was caused by
persecution of the shamans, the destruction of sacred groves and burial grounds,
and obliteration of the native culture. Those who had taken part in the
customary bear funeral rites were subject to ten years' imprisonment in the
GULAG concentration camps. Bear hunting was also outlawed and forbidden.
And yet, despite all the antireligious and terror measures employed by the
Communist Party, the shamans and shamanism survived in Siberia until the
present. But alcoholism and suicide plague the Khanty and Mansi: they lost their
national identity, traditional livelihood, are unable to really conform to the
industrial mode of life due to cultural differences, and often become social
In the 1950s and 60s vast gas and oil reserves were discovered in western
Siberia. The oil and gas exploration and storage in their lands together with
the forest exploitation introduced the Ob-Ugric people to catastrophic
environmental degradation, and resulted in even further decline of population.
Oil has polluted pastures and waters once full of fish, the gas and oil lines
have blocked the paths of the reindeer, and persistent wildfires have destroyed
As a defense measure, during the perestroika epoch, the indigenous inhabitants
pulled their resources together and formed the Associaciya korennyh
malochislennyh narodov Severa, Sibiri i Dal'nego Vostoka Rossijskoj Federacii
or the Association of Aboriginal Small Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far
East of the Russian Federation. The Ob-Ugric people are included, as well as the
Samoyeds, Chukchis, Evenks, and others.
They learned to stand for their rights, and have pressured the Russian
legislature to produce acts that give a special status to the" small Arctic
The Khanty and the Mansi are some of the few indigenous minorities of Siberia
with autonomy in the form of the autonomous okrug. The autonomy helps in
their struggle against the encroaching industrial exploitation of the taiga.
In the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District the Decree of Giving the Communal
Land to the Aborigines for Timeless Use was adopted in 1992, and The Law
of the Mineral Resources provides that a part of the profit from the
exploitation of natural resources must be spent by local administrations to
improve the social and economic conditions of the indigenous people.
Russia is a young democracy, walking its own path to freedom and prosperity. It
has had a colorful, oftentimes bloody history. Presently the country is going
through a painful process of change. Yet I believe that great future is in store
for the country and the various ethnicities that make up its population.
A very modern Golden Goddess
The land of Ugra has its own television, and this national television has a
festival to celebrate itself: the Golden Tambourine (Zolotoy Buben). The main
prize to win at the Festival is the figurine of the Golden Goddess of Ugra.
Dozens of television studios compete to win the prestigious prize. The third
Golden Tambourine TV Festival featured an interesting documentary titled
"Under the protection of Anki Pugos", a film about a Khanty woman who
teaches respect of the indigenous culture of Siberia's minorities.
In 1998 the Governor of the Okrug had created a special prize for the winners of
the Festival, a statuette to symbolize the Golden Goddess of Ugra, a young woman
of dreams. A Khanty man, Mikhail Shashurin, created the design and it was cast
in metal by a renowned Moscow sculptor Leontiy Ozernikov. Then as the Fourth
Festival was about to begin, a statue of the Golden Goddess was placed at the
entrance of the "Yugra" television company. The city of Khanty-Mansiysk is the
only city in Russia to have such a statue...
Perhaps the lot of the Ob-Ugrians is improving. Perchance one day they might
even discover their ancient Golden Woman, hidden away in some remote and
forgotten corner of the Siberian taiga. Such a discovery could lead us solve the
ancient riddles of Minoan Crete, Sumer, China, and beyond...
Paul Stonehill firstname.lastname@example.org
Author of The Soviet UFO Files (1998)
Copyright by Paul Stonehill.
All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission.