The Kazakh people, an ethnic group native to the vast and varied landscapes of Central Asia, predominantly Kazakhstan, have a rich cultural heritage steeped in the traditions of nomadism, shamanism, and Tengrism. Their belief system, mythology, and rituals reflect a deep connection with the natural world, the spiritual realm, and the cosmos, offering insight into a culture that has evolved over centuries.

Tengrism: The Core of Kazakh Spiritual Beliefs

At the heart of Kazakh spiritual life is Tengrism, an ancient belief system that centers on the sky god Tengri, who embodies the sky itself and serves as the supreme deity. Tengrism emphasizes the importance of harmony between the sky, earth, and living beings, with Tengri playing a pivotal role in the maintenance of this balance. The sky god is not only a creator and sustainer but also a figure of justice, guiding the fate of individuals and nations.

Shamanism: Intermediaries Between Worlds

Shamanism plays a crucial role in Kazakh spirituality, with shamans acting as intermediaries between the human and spiritual worlds. These individuals, known as 'baksy' or 'kam', possess the ability to communicate with spirits, deities, and ancestors, often entering trances to seek guidance, healing, or assistance in various matters. Rituals conducted by shamans are integral to Kazakh culture, encompassing ceremonies for birth, death, marriage, and other significant life events.

Mythological Beings and Creatures

Kazakh mythology is populated with a host of deities, heroes, and mythological creatures, each embodying aspects of the natural world or human experience. Among these are:

Samruk, a mythical bird that represents the tree of life, connecting the heavens, earth, and underworld. It is said to lay its eggs in the World Tree, symbolizing the cycle of life and the connection between all living things.

Aydar, a heroic figure who embodies the virtues of bravery, strength, and wisdom. Legends of Aydar often involve quests to defeat monsters or solve great problems, reflecting the nomadic Kazakhs' values of courage and resourcefulness.

Karakurt, a legendary spider, often represents the dangers lurking in the natural world. Tales of the Karakurt serve as cautionary stories, teaching children and adults alike respect for the natural world's power and mystery.

Albasti is a malevolent spirit or demon often associated with childbirth and children. She is believed to be a figure that causes harm to infants and pregnant women, embodying the fears surrounding childbirth and infant mortality. The Kazakhs performed rituals and amulets were used to protect against her maleficence.

Kishi is a demon with two faces that embodies the dual nature of good and evil. It is said to deceive humans with its human face, while its other face, hidden behind its head, is that of a monster. The Kishi represents the idea that appearances can be deceiving and the complexity of human nature.

Shurale is a forest spirit known for its ability to shape-shift and its long, ticklish fingers. It is said to lead travelers astray, making them lost in the forest. However, it has a weakness: it is very ticklish. Legends tell of individuals escaping the Shurale by making it laugh with tickling.

Aqkorqyq is a mythical bird, often associated with omens and prophecy. Unlike the benevolent Samruk, the Aqkorqyq is sometimes considered a harbinger of ill fortune or an indicator of the unseen dangers that lurk in the world.

Bekter is a type of ancestral spirit revered in Kazakh culture. These spirits of the ancestors are considered protectors of their descendants, offering guidance and assistance. The cult of ancestors is significant in Kazakh mythology, with Bekter playing a crucial role in linking the living with the spiritual heritage of their forebears.

Tulpar refers to the mythical winged horses that serve as mounts for heroes and spirits. These majestic creatures symbolize speed, freedom, and the connection between the earthly and spiritual realms. The Tulpar is often depicted as a loyal companion to those undertaking heroic quests or journeys.

Zher Ana is the personification of the earth in Kazakh mythology, revered as a nurturing and life-giving force. She represents fertility, abundance, and the care of the natural world, embodying the deep respect Kazakhs have for the land that sustains them.

Unique Beliefs and Practices

One of the unique aspects of Kazakh belief is the practice of Tusau kesu, a ritual cutting of the ties that bind a child's legs before they take their first steps. This ceremony is meant to ensure a child's independence and strength, symbolizing their journey into the wider world.

Another significant practice is the memorial feast, or asad, which is held in honor of deceased ancestors. This event serves as a way to maintain connections with the past, honoring the spirits of ancestors and seeking their blessings for the living.

The Cult of Ancestors

Ancestor worship plays a central role in Kazakh spirituality, with a strong emphasis on the veneration of forebears. This is reflected in the practice of zhyrau, epic singers who recount the deeds of ancestral heroes, preserving the memory of their virtues and valor. These narratives not only serve as a form of historical record but also instill a sense of pride and identity among the Kazakh people.


The Kazakh people's beliefs, mythology, and rituals offer a window into a culture that has navigated the challenges of the natural and spiritual worlds for centuries. Through their veneration of deities like Tengri, their respect for the power of shamans, and their celebration of heroes and mythical creatures, the Kazakhs continue to maintain a rich connection to their ancestral roots. This spiritual heritage, with its emphasis on harmony, respect for the natural world, and the importance of community and ancestry, remains a vital part of Kazakhstan's national identity.