Snow Leopards: Legends & Myths : The snow leopard is literally elusive – it is almost impossible to see it in the wild, this wild cat lives in forests and highlands, and its beautiful fur is an excellent disguise. But these are not the main reasons. Currently, there are about 7,000 adult snow leopards in the world, which means that the species is threatened with extinction. International Snow Leopard Day is celebrated on 23 October.
Admiring the beauty and strength of this animal, people have told and passed on from generation to generation many myths and legends about this animal.
Legend of the Snow Leopard
This was in the eleventh century. The holy monk Milarepa wandered through the mountains of Tibet, staying overnight in small caves. One day the monk went to a remote village in the mountains, where he stayed for some time, talking with its inhabitants and reciting his poems to them. However, the monk avoided staying among people for a long time, preferring loneliness so as not to succumb to worldly attractions.
Milarepa left the village and retired to a cave in the mountains called the “Cave of the Conquest of Demons”, despite the persuasion of local residents to stay – it was winter, and it was incredibly difficult to live in the cave due to the cold and lack of food. Immediately after his departure, heavy snow began to fall, which did not stop for eighteen days and nights, filling up all the surroundings, and cutting off the path to all kinds of movement in the mountains until spring. Milarepa’s disciples who remained in the village were convinced that their teacher was dead; they performed all the necessary rituals, and when spring came, they went in search of his body.
Having come a long way, after a long search in the mountains, they sat down to rest and noticed a snow leopard that came out of a cave nearby and climbed up the cliff. After this meeting, the students were sure that the predator had killed their teacher. When they reached the cave, they noticed that the tracks of the snow leopard were mixed with human tracks. Approaching, the disciples heard the monk’s singing coming from the cave, and began to wonder – perhaps some hunters came here and shared food with Milarepa. After the meeting, the monk asked the disciples – why did it take so long to get to the cave, after settling down to rest. The disciples were confused – after all, during their journey through the mountains, they did not meet a single living creature, except for a snow leopard. “I was that snow leopard,” replied the monk. When the students asked how Milarepa managed to survive without food and water for such a long period, the teacher replied that some time ago, while in a state of meditation, he met villagers who gave him a large amount of food.
The disciples were amazed – comparing the dates, they realized that the monk’s vision coincided with the rituals that they performed in the village, being sure of the death of the teacher.
Mountain Altai Legend
This happened in ancient times. The wonder-beast of Manna, like a hundred-year-old cedar, gave birth to seven sons-spirits: a cat, a wolverine, a badger, a lynx, a leopard, a tiger, and a lion. At that time, a girl of amazing beauty lived in Altai, the daughter of the leader of a Scythian tribe. People called her the Altai princess. Once she was collecting medicinal herbs in the forest. Suddenly a young man stepped out into the clearing, his hair as white as snow, and his eyes as clear as rock crystal. White skin was thrown over the youth’s shoulders. A long fluffy tail dragged along the ground … Several months passed. The princess saw the young man almost every day. They walked together in the mountains.
The Altai princess fell in love with the young man at first sight. He told the beauty about the habits of animals, showed unknown herbs and hidden paths. It seemed to the girl that someone was accompanying them, trying to remain unnoticed. Once she asked her companion about this. The young man darkened and said that no one should see this creature, which Mann’s mother attributed to him. But the girl asked a lot, and the young man decided to confide in her.
He turned to the thicket and meowed like a cat. Dense branches moved, and a huge snow-white cat with wings on its back came out into the clearing. It was she who guarded her master and his companion, then hiding behind the rocks, then taking off to the mountain peaks.
Every day young people understood more and more clearly that they could no longer live without each other. They took an oath of love and fidelity to each other. Meanwhile, the princess’s father found her a groom, a noble warrior from a neighboring tribe. But the princess said that she already had a lover. The Scythian leader became angry. He decided to hunt down and kill his daughter’s groom. The girl was locked up, and the hunt began for her lover. However, they failed to find the young man, only two leopards were accidentally killed, and their skins were brought to the village. The girl recognized her lover’s robe with horror. In desperation, the princess fled to the mountains. They searched for her for a long time, and when they found her, it turned out that the girl had gone crazy. It took a long time before the princess regained consciousness. She said she was engaged and would never marry again. She wrapped herself in white leather and left. No one knows where she was or whom she met along the way. They say she studied for a long time from some hermit shaman in his strange art.
Years have passed. A strange creature appeared in the mountains – a large white cat. People named her Irbis. They said that this is the very young man, the son of the beast Manna. The perfume helped the princess to enchant the source. She dipped the skin of her beloved into him, and he came to life. But since then he could no longer take on a human form. And he remained a leopard forever. And the princess lived in these places for many years. People recognized her as their main shamaness and, before settling on another nomad, they asked to come to an agreement with the spirits of the mountains, with the spirits of cats that guarded the passes. The nomads did not want leopards to attack their horses. The princess helped people. She could not become a cat herself in order to go to her betrothed. She was only human.
The mummy of the Altai princess was found by archaeologists. The princess’s body was well embalmed and preserved entirely in the permafrost.
Many peoples of Altai still believe that their ancestor was the snow leopard.
“Owner of the Mountains”
Since ancient times, Tuvans have revered and respected the “owner of the mountains” – the irbis, endowing him with supernatural abilities. The image of the snow leopard is found in the epics and legends of the Tuvan people, fairy tales and songs, images of the snow leopard in the form of ornaments were found in the famous ancient burial mounds. The images of the snow leopard were often accompanied by scenes of its hunting, which confirmed the status of the “king of animals” of the Tuvan highlands.
Until now, the people of Tuva believe that a meeting with an irbis is an omen of some important event that will play a special role in the life of a person or the life of his family. Irbisha’s attacks on livestock were also regarded by shepherds as punishment from above for violating the ancient laws of existence in harmony with nature. Inhabitants of the remote Sengelen highlands in the southeast of Tuva to this day identify the irbis with the spirit of the mountains and are afraid to kill this beast, which is capable of taking revenge on the murderer after its death, exterminating its livestock and family.
- In the north of Nepal, there are many local customs that reflect Buddhist traditions and rituals. One such ritual in Manang forbids mountain shepherds to fry meat, otherwise, the mountain god will send his “dog” (that is, a snow leopard), and the loss of livestock will be inevitable.
- In the Dolpo region of northern Nepal, it is said that great lamas often go to the mountains of Tibet, turning into snow leopards, to collect medicinal herbs. Locals believe that snow leopards take upon themselves the sins they committed in past lives, and harming these animals, and especially killing them, means taking these sins upon themselves. Currently, the number of these beautiful animals is catastrophically small. The snow leopard is on the verge of complete annihilation.
- In the Turkic-Mongolian “animal” calendar with a 12-year cycle, instead of the year of the Tiger, there was the year of Bars. According to popular beliefs, this year was considered especially successful. “The Year of the Leopard is wealth”, predicted folk signs.
- Leopard is a symbol of courage, honor, and nobility. Leopard in mythological representations was a defender of justice: “He, as the highest judge, looked at what was happening from a divine height.”
- Since ancient times, leopards have been totems not only among the Turkic but also among other peoples. Among the archaeological finds, various jewelry such as bracelets in the form of leopard figurines, bronze figurines of a man or woman riding a leopard, and a female figurine with a child in her arms, are not uncommon. Often, the leopard was depicted as winged and horned, which showed its connection not only with the earth, but also with the sky and, apparently, was considered a sign of being chosen and happy.
- There is a strong belief in Tibet that saints can transform into snow leopards.
- The Vakhs, an ethnic group living in the mountains of northern Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan, have a belief in the mountain spirits “Pari” – women who turn into snow leopards who, with due treatment and respect, help local residents.
- According to the ancient Kyrgyz epic “Manas”, the ancestral Kyrgyz nobility – Begi traced its ancestry from mythical ancestors – leopards: “I killed seven wolves. I did not kill leopards and fallow deer, ”the ancient Kyrgyz wrote in the burial epitaphs.
- In the ancient shamanic rituals of Mongolia, which later became part of Lamaism, the skin of the snow leopard allowed the shaman to communicate with higher spirits.
- An old Khakass legend says that once a man was born from a snake “in a shirt”, or with “wolf’s hair,” which was a good omen. He, when required, took the form of a wolf, turned into a leopard, bear, or any other animal. Hit the ground – and already another … Hence, the Altai clans had a patron spirit. Most often it was a leopard, a snake, a bird, or a wolf, which protected the genus.
- In the Pamirs, in the region of northern Pakistan, such a legend about the leopard is widespread. The shepherds believe that the pastures are a mystical, spirit-filled area. This area is called “mergich” and is governed by the so-called “mergich” – spirits who help shepherds find good pastures and hunting grounds. Mergich is helped only by those shepherds who observe the laws and traditions of the mergich. Spirits often come to the aid of shepherds in the guise of animals. The most powerful and revered animal of the mergich is the snow leopard. It is believed that without the help of a snow leopard, a hunter cannot succeed. Local residents consider the snow leopard to be an equal creature, worthy of all respect.
- Back in the 7th century, the ancestors of the Kazan Tatars – the Volga Bulgars – considered the winged leopard a symbol of wealth, fertility, nobility, and the patron saint of their state. The leopard was considered a sacred animal, so he was depicted with the sign of holiness – wings.