Ainu golden horse and horse shape-shifter tales

The folk tale below shows that the Ainu hold a belief similar to that of the Hunnic and Turkic-Mongol worldview — i.e., a belief in a world with three levels, and that one may travel from one world to the next via the golden horse.

The Man who lost his Wife.

A man had lost his wife, and was searching for her everywhere, over hill and dale, forest and sea-shore. At last he came to a wide plain, on which stood an oak-tree. Going up to it he found it to be not so much an oak-tree as a house, in which dwelt a kind-looking old man. Said the old man: “‘I am the god of the oak-tree. I know of your loss, and have seen your faithful search. Rest here awhile, and refresh yourself by eating and smoking. After that, if you hope to find your wife again, you must obey my orders, which are as follows: Take this golden horse, get on his back, fly up on him to the sky, and, when you get there, ride about the streets, constantly singing.”

So the man mounted the horse, which was of pure gold. The saddle and all the trappings were of gold also. As soon as he was in the saddle, the horse flew up to the sky. There the man found a world like ours, but more beautiful. There was an immense city in it; and up and down the streets of that city, day after day, he rode, singing all the while. Every one in the sky stared at him, and all the people put their hands to their noses, saying: “How that creature from the lower world stinks!” At last the stench became so intolerable to them that the chief god of the sky came and told him that he should be made to find his wife if only he would go away. Thereupon the man flew back to earth on his golden horse. Alighting at the foot of the oak-tree, he said to the oak-god: “Here am I. I did as you bade me. But I did not find my wife.” “Wait a moment,” said the oak-god; “you do not know what a tumult has been caused by your visit to the sky, neither have I yet told you that it was a demon who stole your wife. This demon, looking up from hell below, was so much astonished to see and hear you riding up and down the streets of heaven singing, that his gaze is still fixed in that direction. I will profit hereby to go round quietly, while his attention is absorbed, and let your wife out of the box in which he keeps her shut up.”

The oak-god did as he had promised. He brought back the woman, and handed over both her and the gold horse to the man, p. 22 saying: “Do not use this horse to make any more journeys to the sky. Stay on earth, and breed from it.” The couple obeyed his commands, and became very rich. The gold horse gave birth to two horses, and these two bred likewise, till at last horses filled all the land of the Ainos.—(Written down from memory. Told by Ishanashte, 21st July, 1886)

The First Appearance of the Horse in Aino-land.

A very beautiful woman had a husband. He was a very skilful fellow. Once he went to the mountains, and disappeared. But at night he returned, bearing a deer on his back. After feasting on the deer, they went to bed. But in the middle of the night, the woman wept and screamed, saying: “This man is not my husband. Though with shame, I will declare the fact as it is. His penis is so big, so big, so big, that it will not get into my vagina; and if it did get in, I should die.”

Alarmed by her cries, the neighbours ran out, and came into her house; and one strong fellow took a stick, and beat the husband, saying: “You must be some sort of devil,” whereupon the husband turned into a horse, and ran away neighing. Afterwards he was beaten to death.

The truth was that the husband had been killed and supplanted by the horse. That was the first the Ainos saw of horses. In ancient days every sort of creature could thus assume human shape. So it is said.—(Translated literally. Told by Penri, 12th July, 1886).

Source: Basil Hall Chamberlain’s “Aino Folk Tales

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