Philosopher of the North

ARKHANGELSK. How does the North effect people living here, their mindsets, world view, mental map, ethnical self consciousness? Is the North only a geographical and logical notion, or can it be understood in other, deeper connotations? Such questions have been occupying Nikolai Therebikhin’s mind for long times. Born in the beautiful little town of Veliky Ustjug, where rivers Sukhona and Yuga meet in the northern part of the Vologda Region, his scientific career started in the field of archeology. But he felt the need to change his direction.
–  I understood that without ethnological knowledge it is impossible to reconstruct the world view of those people who left archeological artefacts. And really, the most interesting sphere lied in the mental map of the man, Terebikhin tells when I meet him at the Narfu University [Northern Arctic Federal University] in Arkhangelsk.

terebikhin siochin

Portrait of Terebikhin by Arkhangelsk artist Ziochin

At the university he is today professor and director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Religion and Ethnosemiotics, plus the Center for Ethnocultural and Humanistic Geography of the Arctic. Many articles and books have been published over the years, and the cooperation with colleagues in the Nordic countries have resulted in different joint projects. Terebikhin´s methods differs from his Western colleagues.
– They are positivists, first of all. Scientists. And their studies are based on facts, and interpretations of facts. But for me it´s a mystic reception, intuition and then the imaginative reception of the world. The image and symbol are the main cathegory of my thinking, not the notion, category, methodology and so on. It´s not important to me. Only intuition and images, and signs and symbols.

Northern peoples like Sami and Nenets have certain pecularities in their world view.
– It is connected with the conception of Earth as a living one. Each element of this cosmos they percept as alive. The second one is the cathegory of moving. The domestic way of life is not their way of life. Their nomadic way of life corresponds with their shamanistic paradigm. The shaman is a traveller around the world and he is the leader of the social group. He knows the way and organisation of cosmos. (—)
During the Soviet period, the Bolsheviks tried to build kolkhoses, sovchoses and so on, and tried to turn Nenets and other nomadic peoples from a nomadic way of life to domestic and settling. This process of collectivisation destroyed the traditional culture, way of life and world view, because all of them were based on the idea of a moving world. The children were separated from their parents in schools, also an important factor for destroying Nenets way of life. It is very dangerous for Nenets to separate different generations.

To read Nikolai Terebikhin´s texts give a special impression. He sees himseLf not only as a scholar, but also as a poet. Here are a couple of samples:

”For Arctic peoples The North has never been purely a geographical category orientating a man on the physical Earth. The North is a metaphysical phenomenon on another level of existence, accessible to human perception only in a special ecstatic state of mind, being outside the self, achievable in a mystical enlightenment. The mysticism of the North is concealed beyond the boundaries, inaccessible, being beyond the influence of the law of gravity. As one advances to the North, all creatures and the whole visible and tangible world begin to lose their usual solid forms and fixed outlines. The structured cosmos diffuses, becomes fluid, unstable, illusory. The world leaves its limits, finiteness. The space gets thin and light, and disappears dissolving itself in the element of the clarity of a polar day. A similar transformation happens with time, beginning to slow its pace, and reaching the last limit, stops forever, and becomes eternity.”

”The mysticism of the North cannot be expressed through notions and reasoning, through lapidary statements of logical thinking. The element of the North is opened to man only in a certain synergetic state of mind, in an ecstatic aspiration, in mythical-poetical creative work. This is the reason why the North is a land of Shamans and Poets, creators and keepers of its innermost, hereditary secret. Irish druids and bards, Scandinavian skalds and northern Russian story-tellers ,  bayuns, Saami and Nenets shamans, Finnish, Karelian, Komi-zyran wizards – these are all priests and poets of the North let into the secrets of the universe and its grammar; in a language of holy letters they created eternal sagas and fairy-tales.”
From journal ”N66 – Culture in the Barents Region”, nr 17/18 2002.


Sacral Geography of the Russian North by Nikolai Terebikhin. Cover illustration by Ziochin



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