The Siberian Map of the Universe
as a Divination Template
by Craig Conley
The Egg-Shaped Cosmos
The Siberian shaman is the “symbolic ancestor of all people of mystery and wisdom,” suggests Amber Wolfe.1 The organic Siberian cosmogram, depicting the entire universe as an embryo, is a gift from the Nanai shamans of the Amur Basin. It depicts the soul’s journey across the “world egg” (the cosmos as a womb of creation) to the upper hemisphere. It suggests that human life follows the same pattern of growth as the universe. The Siberian cosmogram offers a highly useful template for divination spreads, particularly for identifying stumbling blocks, forecasting new ventures, choosing alternatives, and understanding environmental factors.
The Map at a Glance
The soul’s pathway across the world egg is indicated by the vertical dotted lines stretching from the bottom of the egg to the two trees at the top. The big tree is the “Tree of Life,” and the smaller one is the “Tree of the Weather.” Four dead-end paths are indicated at the bottom right of the egg. A crossroads at the center of the egg establishes two different routes through the upper world. (Note that this map follows the solar orientation of the Mongolians, thereby placing south at the top, north at the bottom, east on the left, and west on the right.)
The boundary of the upper world is indicated by horizontal stripes representing seven layers of clouds, each a different color. The soul must pass through these layers on its way up. In the upper world lives the Master of Weather, named “Ka mur.” He is depicted to the right of the smaller tree, blowing like the wind. In the lower world dwells the Master of the Earth, named “Duente.” He is depicted at the very bottom of the world egg, like an obelisk. On either end of the horizon is a lake. The lake of the east (left) represents the land of the living, while the lake of the west (right) is the realm of ancestors and reincarnation.2
As a point of interest, notice the remarkable, mirror-image similarity between the Siberian map of the universe and a modern one by physicist John A. Gowan.3 In Gowan’s diagram we see the sphere of a “closed universe” as it ages from a “Big Bang” origin (at the North Pole) to a “Big Crunch” finale (at the South Pole). His circle is bisected by a vertical line (mirroring the path between Duente and the Tree of Life). A line from the center point forms the hypotenuse of a right triangle along the same pathway that the Mongolians show leading to the Tree of Weather. Finally, Gowan marks the age of the universe with scale lines along the vertical bisector, mirroring the layers of clouds in the Siberian map.
Using the Map for Divination
There are several ways to use the Siberian cosmogram as a divination template. You may customize your spread according to your individual needs and intuition. One suggested approach follows. We begin by shuffling or randomizing our preferred oracular tools (whether they be cards, stones, sticks, or whatnot). One at a time, a tool is selected and placed according to the various elements on the map.
The Significator comes first, placed face-upward on the route to the upper world (along the dotted pathway at the center of the map, below the crossroads). The Significator is the person or issue at hand. The path may symbolize a goal to attain, steps toward self-realization, a psychological journey of transformation, the evolution of consciousness, or time and space. The remaining positions are dealt clockwise, face upward, with the spot labeled “Crossroads” completing the layout.
The grand Tree of Life of the upper world, labeled “Future,” suggests possibilities for the coming times. Stretching into the sky, its branches indicate the highest heights to be reached. One could interpret the dotted pathway as the roots of the Tree of Life. Any nurturing that one does along the way will ensure growth (the fruits of one’s labors) farther down the path.
The Master of Weather, labeled “Influences,” symbolizes external forces which can sway the outcome. Notice, however, that the wind is blowing toward the grand tree, so even a detour from the proper path may be temporary.
The lake of the west (on the right) is an optional spot symbolizing ancestors whose influence is still felt, even though they no longer directly enrich growth and evolution. The memories of loved ones certainly color the lives that carry on in their wake.
The “Dead Ends” near the bottom of the egg suggest alternate routes which will not lead to one’s goal. These are courses of action definitely to be avoided.
The Master of the Earth, labeled “Facilitator,” is the agent which has kicked off one’s life path. The Facilitator could be an influential mentor, a life-changing event, a parent, a guardian, or even a spirit of inspiration. The tool placed on this spot will illuminate the nature of one’s momentum.
The lake of the east, labeled “Environs,” signifies the people and current events that affect the status quo. This lake could symbolize natural beauty, tranquility, or a source of life energy to be tapped along the way.
Labeled “Obstacles,” the seven layers of clouds separating the upper and lower worlds are issues to be overcome through the course of one’s journey. They can indicate barriers to one’s goal. One might draw a parallel in these rainbow clouds to the seven chakras and the process taught in Kundalini yoga to rise through the body’s subtle energy centers toward the Divine.
The “Crossroads” mark an important decision—something to be resolved, determined, or judged. A choice is still possible (the outcome not having been pre-determined), and it will have a profound consequence.
When reading the spread, no particular order is called for. In case of ambiguous meanings, a second oracular tool may be added to any spot to offer more insight into the matter.
When reading the spread, no particular order is called for. In case of ambiguous meanings, a second oracular tool may be added in any location to offer more insight into the matter.
Sample Reading for “H,” a Senator
This reading is on behalf of “H” and her political career. It uses Celtic Ogham sticks on the Siberian cosmos map. The Ogham is an ancient carved alphabet (one to five angled or perpendicular strokes, meeting or crossing a center line). The letters are associated with sacred trees.
We will examine the sticks separately in their respective places on the map as well as in relation to one another. The stick interpretations are naturally colored by Celtic lore.
(Note: Because Ogham sticks are held and then tossed to observe how they fall, for this reading I tossed the sticks onto the map and then associated each stick with its nearest spot on the map.)
The stick that fell on the Significator spot is “Blackthorn,” a winter tree whose flowers appear even before the leaves of spring and whose fruit ripens only after the first nip of frost. It sports a thorny bark and grows in thickets. This indicates that H possesses a tough shell to handle adversity and indeed thrive on it. She reveals early signs of potential (the blooms before the leaves) and ripens when touched by harsh conditions. This stick symbolizes events forcing one down an unavoidable path, and it counsels facing the challenges without anger or stubbornness. It speaks of radical life changes but promises a rebirth.
The stick that fell on the Dead End spot is “Eurze,” a moorland shrub that blooms throughout the year. Its honey-sweet flowers are visited by the first bees of the year, and its shoots are fed to horses. These shrubs are burned away in the spring to foster new growth. Since this tree is standing as a dead end or false start in H’s career, it would appear that she had learned not to give too much away. While sharing one’s abundance is generally a good thing, it is obviously undesirable to find oneself at the center of a feeding frenzy and then have all one’s development destroyed to make room for something new. After experiencing some sort of debilitating depletion of resources which amounted to a dead end in her career, H required a facilitator to set her on the right path.
The stick that fell on the Facilitator spot is “Spindle,” a small hardwood used for making pegs, bobbins, and spindles. This tree symbolizes the honor of the community. It suggests that H fulfill her obligations not for reward but because honor demands it. The tree also suggests that she has the right and indeed obligation to question authority. Whereas the consumable Eurze shrub proved to be a dead end, the more durable hardwood of the Spindle demonstrates the productivity inherent in fashioning a useful tool.
The stick that fell on the Environs spot is “Oak,” the slow-growing King of the Forest. This tree suggests there are acorns of wisdom in the community that H can gather.
The stick that fell on the Crossroads spot is “Apple,” a cultivated tree. The Apple is symbolic of choice, and it couldn’t grow at a more appropriate place than the crossroads! This stick counsels against procrastination, saying that it is better to be master of one path of learning than expert of none. The stick of course does not make the decision for H.
The stick that fell on the Obstacles spot is “Ash,” a tough wood used in weavers’ beams. This is interesting in relation to the facilitating Spindle. The message seems to be that H has the thread at hand on her spindle, but her challenge is to weave the right pattern. The Ash is symbolic of uniting the microcosm with the macrocosm, just as individual threads are woven into a grand design. The Ash reminds us that our actions echo in the universe like ripples in a pond, or in this case like threads leaving their trace in a tapestry. The Ash does offer some helpful advice: H’s problems are not hers alone, so she should look for a wider context and ask others for their opinions.
The stick that fell on the Influences spot is “Hazel,” a symbol of intuition. The Hazel reminds H to trust her intuition and suggests that even if she chooses a path that seems to veer from her ultimate goal, her intuition will lead her to the source. Hazel is also a tree of poetry, and it encourages H to foster her skill with words, to inspire others, and to teach by example.
The stick that fell on the Future spot is “Yew,” an evergreen whose outer shell decays as it grows from within and whose branches grow downwards to form new stems. Those branches are used to fashion weapons such as bows. The Yew suggests that H’s ultimate goal is to refashion herself into a self-renewing entity. The barbs and brambles around the Blackthorn bark (her current Significator) will no longer be necessary when her Yew branches become powerful bows. In other words, she will be able to generate her own arsenal of defenses.
1 Druid Power (1996)
2 Further reading: Tatyana Sem, “The Nanai National Mentality and World Model,” www.erm.ee/?node=191
3 “A Spacetime Map of the Universe: Implications for Cosmology,” people.cornell.edu/pages/jag8/spacetxt.html