The Gagauz people are a unique and culturally rich group residing primarily in the Gagauzia autonomous region of Moldova. They are known for their distinct language, Gagauz, which is a Turkic language belonging to the Oghuz branch. While their roots can be traced back to the Oghuz Turks, the Gagauz people have developed their own unique cultural beliefs, mythology, and rituals over the centuries.

Deities and Mythological Figures

The Gagauz people were historically nomadic and practiced a form of animism, worshipping various spirits and natural elements. However, their religious beliefs evolved over time as they interacted with different cultures and religious traditions. Today, the majority of the Gagauz people are Orthodox Christians, but they still maintain elements of their pre-Christian beliefs and folklore.

  • Tengri: Tengri is the supreme deity in the ancient Turkic pantheon, and the Gagauz people have carried this belief into their own religious traditions. Tengri is the sky god, embodying both the celestial realm and the natural elements. He is omnipotent and omnipresent, and his power can be felt in every aspect of life.

  • Umay: Umay is the goddess of fertility, childbirth, and protection. She is often depicted as a beautiful woman adorned in white and surrounded by a halo. Gagauz people believe that Umay provides protection for newborns and pregnant women, ensuring their well-being and the continuation of the community.

  • Erlik: Erlik is the god of the underworld and the dead, a malevolent figure responsible for bringing misfortune and disease. The Gagauz people believe that Erlik was once a wise and benevolent god, but his pride and greed led him to challenge Tengri, resulting in his banishment to the underworld.

Rituals and Customs

The Gagauz people have preserved various rituals and customs, many of which revolve around the life cycle and are believed to ensure the protection of the community and its members.

  • Birth and Naming: The birth of a child is a joyous occasion in Gagauz culture, and numerous rituals are performed to ensure the newborn's health and protection. One such ritual is the naming ceremony, where the baby is given a name chosen carefully to reflect the characteristics and qualities desired for the child's future. The name is then whispered into the baby's ear by a respected elder or family member, who also offers blessings and prayers for the child's well-being.

  • Wedding: Gagauz weddings are elaborate affairs that can last several days, involving numerous rituals and customs. These rituals often involve symbolic acts such as the bride and groom stepping on a piece of bread to signify their commitment to supporting each other in times of need. The wedding ceremony also includes traditional songs, dances, and feasting to celebrate the union of the couple and the merging of their families.

  • Funerals: Gagauz funeral customs aim to ensure the deceased's safe passage into the afterlife and to protect the living from any potential harm caused by the departed spirit. Funeral rites involve the washing and dressing of the body, followed by a procession to the burial site. Prayers and blessings are offered, and the grave is often adorned with objects believed to provide protection, such as stones or branches from a sacred tree.

Unique Beliefs

The Gagauz people possess a unique belief in the "Karakurt" – a mythological creature that is part spider and part human. The Karakurt is believed to be a malicious and dangerous being that preys on humans, particularly those who stray from the moral path. According to Gagauz folklore, the Karakurt has the ability to shape-shift, often taking on the appearance of a beautiful woman to lure its victims into its trap. It is said that the Karakurt can be warded off through the use of protective charms and by adhering to the teachings of the community's elders.

Another unique aspect of Gagauz beliefs is the reverence for sacred trees, which are believed to be inhabited by spirits and possess protective powers. These trees are often adorned with colorful ribbons and small offerings, and they serve as a gathering place for the community during times of celebration or crisis. Gagauz people believe that by paying respect to these trees and seeking their protection, they can ensure the well-being and harmony of the community.