Laurel Scroll Text for Duke Ashir (and supporting research)

I was honored to be asked by His Grace to create the scroll text for his Laurel scroll. Because it is for his Laurel, I decided that the research needed to be even more on point than normal to make sure that it’s worthy of the occasion. Normally I include a few lines explaining the source of the text and any unusual language, but for His Grace I went full on research paper and wrote two pages of research notes.

The text is based on ‘The Epic of King Geser’, one of the most important Mongol literature. In adapting it, I essentially wrote a fragment of an epic poem about the lineage and deeds of Bataciqan-nu Ko’un Ashir. This fits for both the importance of a double peerage scroll, and leaves room for myself or a future author to continue it in case His Grace is ever made a triple peer.

Text:

Dongal Khagan, white boned son of Bai Ulgan,
Called to the Falcon Ordu with his brave red heart.
In reaching out his right arm he spoke beautiful words;
In reaching out his left arm he spoke the truth.
Called to him the beloved of Umay, Catalina Khatan,
Girt with steel, decorated with symbols of honor;
Who had ten kinds of magic in her palm,
Whose wisdom ensures not one lamb is lost.

A great feast they commanded,
Set with beautiful silver and covered in silk;
At the head of which, by their side, they would seat
The greatest of their white boned kin.
But knowing not, they asked the Ordu who it was,
Destined by the yellow book of fate,
To take such a place and bear such unmatched honor.

Anton Khan, the Viper of the East, raised his mighty voice.
“Call forth Ashir Taiji, Lord of the Blue Hand,
Brave as a falcon, with the power of the tornado.
He poisons the poisonous, and has revenge on evil.”
Yseult Khanum, with clear bright mind, spoke as well.
“Bring forth the Defender of the Bear, Ashir Taiji,
Not for his armor of beaten iron, or his powerful tendons.
But for his secret wisdom, and the power of his mind.
Let him add to his names Laurel, and its symbol be set among his.”

Dongal Khagan, proud and famous, agreed.
“I have seen him work with skins.
He made a spell over the laces against failing.
He made a spell over the soles for conquering.
And with them our Ordu is impervious to ice and gravel.”
Catalina, like a star of the heavens, agreed.
“He has given us decorated quivers, peerless Gers,
And sheaths for our hard steel swords.
Let the noble son, beloved of Tenger, have his seat.”

Then came Ashir, called by many glorious names:
The Heart of the Oak;
Noble son of Bataciqan;
Guide of the Ordu;
The Swift Sword;
Defender of the Bear;
Lord of the Blue Hand;
The Thrice Blooded Khan.
With Ashland Sechen beside him,
And his banners born by his two strong sons,
And fair-haired daughter.

Before all the Ordu it was declared that on the 14th day of the Fire Horse, in the year of the Earth Pig, the great Taiji Ashir was set at the high table and a laurel set on his brow.

Dongal                                                              Catalina
Khagan                                                              Khatan

Research:

The scroll text for Duke Ashir’s Laurel is based on the Mongol epic poem ‘The Epic of King Geser’, also known as the Abai Geser. This is one of the three foundational works of Mongol literature, along with the Epic of Jangar and the Secret History of the Mongols. The scroll is based specifically on the first section (branch) of the Buryat version of the poem[1]. The Buryats are “the northernmost of the major Mongol peoples”, primarily arrayed around Lake Baikal in Siberia[2].

Most of the descriptive or more unusual lines come directly or were adapted from the source. The text dedicates a great deal of time to listing the attributes of the gods and heroes it depicts, in great detail.[3]

The description of ‘white boned’ is a Mongol (and Turkic, and various other East Asian) method of describing both nobility and kinship. Nobles were ‘white bones’ and commoners ‘black bones’; it also describes levels of interrelation where no marriage was allowed (someone too related to you was white bone, and you couldn’t marry them)[4]. This survives even into the 21st and 20th Century, where Soviet propagandists talked about the triumph of “the blackboned proletariat over the whiteboned bourgeoisie.”[5] This kind of description of family can also be seen elsewhere in both Asia and the world; compare the Korean Bone Rank system[6], and the often non-academic discussion of the Red Hand of Ulster signifying the requirements of relation to select the new Tanist (with the fingernail and joints of the fingers signifying the four generation requirement to sit in the derbhfine).

The scroll text represents multiple levels of royalty and nobility needing to be presented within a Mongol context. Calontir currently has both a King and Queen and Prince and Princess, all of whom make sense to be represented in the context of an epic poem praising a legendary or mythological figure. In addition, SCA Royal Peers make sense in both the context of extended kinsman of the Crown and as subinfeudated leaders themselves.

King Dongal is referred to as Khagan to indicate he is the highest ranked royal or noble who will be mentioned, and that in the context of the Calontir Ordu there is no one higher. Khagan was the title of the Khan of Khans, to whom all subordinate Khans reported[7]. Khatan or Qatan are titles used both generally for the wife of a Khagan or Khan, and for a woman exercising royal authority in her own right[8]. Prince Anton is listed as Khan, in context indicating that he is of royal rank and authority but subordinate to Dongal. Princess Yseult is titled as Khanum, which is an alternate title for Khatan and used fairly interchangeably[9]; but in context functions like Prince Anton’s title, indicating royal rank but current subordination.[10] Ashir himself is referred to as Taiji, which is his preferred title in the style of the Yuan Dynasty (the Sino-Mongolian dynasty in China founded by Kublai Khan). Sechen is a title meaning ‘the wise’, which was used in Duchess Ashland’s Duchy scroll with permission by their successors.

Ashir’s list of glorious names is an adaptation of the lists of praise found in the source material[11]. They reference aspects of his previous reigns and life. The Heart of the Oak references the Shire of Oakheart. Noble son of Bataciqan is part of his name: Bataciqan-nu ko’un Ashir is a patronymic name indicating that he is Ashir, son of Bataciqan. Guide of the Ordu references his status as the moral compass of Calontir[12]. The Swift Sword was a common title given him in the pre-print scroll texts for his second and third reigns. Defender of the Bear references the provisions of his Duchy, where he is given land and holdings to guard for the children of his kinsman ‘the bear-blooded Taiji’ Ostwald. Lord of the Blue Hand references one of the most well-known stories about Duke Ashir, and also is referenced in the text and illumination of his Duchy scroll. Thrice Blooded Khan refers to his three reigns.

The references to magic are from the original. Han Hormasta, leader of the 55 Tenger of the Western Skies, lays a series of spells on his horse: “He made a spell over the flanks against failing, He made a spell over the shoulder for conquering.”[13]

Dongal, Catalina, and Ashir are all given divine lineages or blessing appropriate to an epic poem. Dongal is said to be descended from Bai Ulgan, the Mongol name for the God also known as Ulgen, a creator and protector of mankind[14]. Catalina is said to be the beloved of Umay, a Mongol/Turkish goddess of fertility and protector of children[15]. Ashir is called beloved of Tenger, also known as Tengri, is the supreme God of the native animist religion of Mongolia[16], which is known as Tengrism[17].


[1] Abai Geser, available at http://intersci.ss.uci.edu/wiki/eBooks/Asia/BOOKS/Abai%20Geser.pdf. Hereinafter ‘Geser’.

[2] Encyclopedia Britannica, Buryat, available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Buryat.

[3] Id. (“Without mistake he left, like a mare stepping after its offspring, he stepped smoothly over the silvery threshold without stumbling.”)

[4] Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Crown (March 16, 2004). Chapter 2.

[5] Languagehat.com, White and Black Bone, quoting Nicholas P. Vakar’s The Study of Meaning in Russian, 1949.

[6] Encyclopedia Britannica, Kolp’um, available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/kolpum.

[7] Encylopedia Iranica, Khagan, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/khagan.

[8] See, e.g., Guida M. Jackson, Women Rulers Through the Ages: An Illustrated Guide, ABC-CLIO (September 23, 1999). (Discussing figures such as Borte, wife of Genghis Khan, and Ebuskun, regent of Turkestan and granddaughter-in-law of Genghis Khan).

[9] The Illustrated Weekly of India, Times of India Press (1969), vol. 90 p. 4. (“In the original meaning “begum” and “khanum” are the feminine equivalents or counterparts of “beg” and “khan”—like the English “lord” and “lady”).

[10] They are also traditionally ranks that indicate marriage, but unfortunately there was not much that could be done in this context without either implying that Her Highness is a subordinate wife under Duchess Isabeau, or getting even further away from history or reality.

[11] Geser, supra at 1. (“From the age of two she would sing and dance, from the age of seven she could sing like a bird, from the age of eight she could dance gracefully…” and “With a round red face, a square white forehead, deep black eyes, hair three ells long…”)

[12] According to the song, at least.

[13] Geser, supra at 1.

[14] Encyclopedia.com, Ülgen, https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ulgen. (Quoting the Encyclopedia of Religion, 2005).

[15] See, e.g., Esther Jacobson, The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia: A Study in the Ecology of Belief, Brill (January 1, 1993).

[16] New World Encyclopedia, Tengri, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Tengri.

[17] New World Encyclopedia, Tengrism, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Tengriism.

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