Upcoming Year of Rabbit reminds Turks of ancient 12-animal calendar


A woman selects decorations at a market ahead of the Lunar New Year of the Rabbit in Handan, in China's northern Heibei province. Photo: AFP

The upcoming Year of the Rabbit according to the Chinese lunar calendar, which starts on Jan 22, reminds Turks of one of their ancient rituals that have sunk into oblivion with modernisation.

The 12-animal Turkish Calendar, a derivation of the Chinese lunar calendar, also included the Year of the Rabbit during the ancient times when Turkish tribes widely practiced Shamanism, a religious practice.

Sergen Cirkin, a Turkish archaeologist, said that some archaeological findings indicate that the 12-animal calendar was used about 3,200 years ago among Turkish tribes, such as the Scythians.

Turks, under Shamanism, perceived rabbits as spiritual animals acting as messengers and attributed rabbits a distinct value in stopping wars, struggling against evils, hunting and even giving birth to a child, he said.

"Furthermore, we find that the rabbit was a potent divine symbol for Turkish Shamanism, especially when giving birth. We see that an object made of rabbit fur was hanging in a tent where the birth takes place," Cirkin added.

He also noted that the rabbit symbolises compassion and timidity.

"Another use of the rabbit's symbol is on the Shaman drum itself. The rabbit figure on the drum represents the rabbit's guardian spirit on Shaman's sacred objects," Cirkin continued, explaining several other areas where the rabbit figure can be found in Shamanic symbolism.

Cirkin pointed out that Turks' Shamanic beliefs and rituals started to be transformed after they had accepted Islam and established Muslim states from 868 AD to 940 AD.

"Islam had transformed all the Shamanic beliefs and rituals but did not neglect them," he underlined, saying "these beliefs are not forgotten after the Islamic era, and items that correspond to the 12-animal calendar were used in the following years in Ottoman culture."

The calendar and the spiritual meaning of rabbits had been forgotten long after the acceptance of Islam during modernisation, he added.

Pervin Ergun, an expert on Turkish folklore, stated in an article that throughout history, the rabbit motif had been seen in the wands of Ottoman Sultans and the decorations of some mosques, albeit very rare.

The 12-animal calendar indicated how Chinese and Turkish cultures have intertwined since before Christ, said Ahmet Tasagil, head of the History Department at the Istanbul-based Yeditepe University.

"Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of a unified China reigned during 221 BC-210 BC, had a close relationship with the Northern tribes, who we call the Turkish tribes," explained Tasagil.

"As a result of such close ties, Turks adopted the version of the lunar calendar and called it the 12-animal Turkish calendar," he said.

Tasagil said he admires China for preserving its culture over the lunar calendar," noting that "it is precious to keep the 12-animal calendar alive and have related ceremonies in the modern 21st century."

The Chinese zodiac is represented by 12 zodiac animals. January 22, 2023 will mark the end of the Year of the Tiger and the start of the Year of the Rabbit. - Xinhua/Asia News Network

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