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“Ashina”, Guiding the Spirit:
The Historic Marriage of Judaism
© 2015 Miriam Maron, PhD
In the ancient Siberian shamanic culture, Ashina was a mythic Grey She-Wolf who was Keeper of Fertility and of Earth Water (as opposed to water from rain or snow). The traditions she inspired were preserved down the ages through the Khazars, a Central-Asian tribe that converted en-masse to Judaism in the seventh century and reigned as a Jewish tribal empire for more than four hundred years! The Jewish connection with Siberian shamanic culture is thus founded not only upon actual historic events but, more recently, upon solid scientific evidence in the arena of DNA findings that link a significant portion of Ashkenazic Jewry to the clan of the Grey She-Wolf, or the Ashina. This long-lost and very rich dimension of our Euro-Asian Jewish heritage constitutes an essential component of the evolution of Ashkenazic community and culture. In these DNA studies, while the majority of Ashkenazic Jews trace their maternal lineage to ancient Israelites, up to 19-percent were traced paternally to Khazarian ancestry.
The Ashina Clan included also the Dragon Clan, and eventually became known as the Dragon/She-Wolf tribe. The mythology of this unusual combo-ancestry was based on that of a dragon who shape-shifted into a Grey She-Wolf.
The first Jewish chieftain of Khazaria was a 7th-century warrior known as Bulan. “Bulan” is Siberian for “Elk.” His Hebrew name was Sabri’el, and he belonged to both clans, that of Dragon and of Ashina. It was he who first explored Judaism among the other world religions known to him at the time, and decided it was most compatible to the ways of his people. And so, together with some 4,000 members of his clan, he converted to Judaism and Khazaria became a Judaic shamanic empire that ruled more than 25 tribal nations for close to five hundred years. Scholars Abba Eban, Raphael Pattai, Douglas Morton Dunlop, Robert M. Seltzer, Stephen Lowe, as well as Ibn Fadlan, Ibn Dastan and many other contemporary travelers and geographers, past and present, have long confirmed that the Khazar conversion to Judaism was actually limited to the tribal ruling clans of Ashina, clan of the Grey She Wolf.
In his studies of the Torah, specifically the Book of Genesis, Bulan recognized several names in the lineage of Noah as akin to those of his direct ancestors, which further reinforced for him his affinity toward Judaism:
“Know that we are descended from Yaphet (son of Noah, grandson of Lemech), through Yaphet’s son Togarmah (Genesis 10:3). I have found in the genealogical books of my ancestors that Togarmah had ten sons. These are their names: the eldest was Ujur, the second Tauris, the third Avar, the fourth Uauz, the fifth Bizal, the sixth Tarna, the seventh Khazar, the eighth Janur, the ninth Bulgar, the tenth Sawir. [These are the mythical founders of tribes that once lived in the neighborhood of the Black and Caspian Seas.] I am a descendant of Khazar, the seventh son” (From the writings of Bulan/Sabri’el, King of the Khazars, of the Clan of Ashina).
As a descendant of Noah’s son Yaphet, it doesn’t come as a surprise that he and his clan were drawn to the descendants of Yaphet’s brother Shem, namely the Hebrews. After all, Noah did bless Yaphet that he would one day “dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27).
The ancient mythology of the Khazars demonstrates an even deeper connection between this shamanic clan and the mysticism of the Jewish people. Abtin (800 B.C.E.), a northern Asian chieftain who was an ancestor of Bulan, traced his own lineage to that of the union between one of Noah’s daughters and one of the Nefilim, or Fallen Angels. Fallen Angels mating with mortal women is a basic Judaic mythology found in the Torah (Genesis 6:4). Abtin founded the Royal Dragon Shaman Clan and claimed descent from both Noah and Targitaus. Targitaus was the son of the union between Ziu Sundra, one of the Fallen Angels in Noah’s time, and one of Noah’s daughters. Abtin’s rich ancestry also included Borysthenes, daughter of the King of Lemnos and sister to Thoas, King of Scythia. As for the ancestor of the Ashina Shaman Clans, he was from the Suo Nation, north of Xiongnu, and his mother was a Seasons Goddess who manifested as a She-Wolf. And in one other version his father was a skilled archer named Shemo, and his mother was a Sea Goddess.
This rich blend of history and mythology is not alien to much of ancient and early medieval Jewish mystery wisdom, and it is no wonder that the conversion of the Khazars inspired the famous classical Jewish philosophy work K’tab al Kuzari, by the 12th-century Spanish Kabbalist, Rabbi Yehudah Ha’Ley’vee. Studied to this day by traditional Jews, and considered a sacred text by many Orthodox Jews, the book is comprised of a lengthy philosophical dialogue between Bulan and an un-named rabbi during Bulan’s quest for a spiritual path that he felt was the most “correct.” After exploring many of the world religions, he found Judaism to be the most sensible and most compatible with his mindset and that of his people, resulting in the conversion of his entire kingdom to Judaism.
Sadly, the Khazars and the Jewish Kingdom of Khazaria have virtually been written out of history in modern times. Yet, many of us “older folks” grew up with the knowledge that there once existed a powerful Jewish Empire in Euro-Asia known as the Khazars. Columbia University professor Simon Schama, a British-born historian, recalls that when he was a child, "the Khazars were known by every Jewish girl and boy in my neck of Golders Greenery and further flung parts of the Diaspora, and celebrated rather than evaded."
According to Professor Raymond Scheindlin of the Jewish Theological Seminary, “Though the Jews were everywhere a subject people, and in much of the world persecuted as well, Khazaria was the one place in the medieval world where the Jews actually were their own masters.... To the oppressed Jews of the world, the Khazars were a source of pride and hope, for their existence seemed to prove that God had not completely abandoned His people” (The Chronicles of the Jewish People [Smithmark, 1996]).
While the Jews of early-medieval Europe were being ghettoized and oppressed, Khazaria, a kingdom of and by Jews, flourished not too far off between the Caspian and Black seas, ruled by kings whose names ranged from Menachem and Benyamin to Yitzchak and Mosheh.
As we uncover more and more of the rich shamanic components of Judaism, acknowledged even by well-known “conventional” and mainstream scholars such as Professor Moshe Idel of Hebrew University, it behooves us to restore this rich episode of our people’s Diaspora history and the traditions that it birthed, so that we might further inspire our lives as we continue to journey across the thresholds of life’s ever-elusive mysteries.
Rabbi Miriam Ashina Maron, PhD