By Curtis Wiemann

Hardy survivalists and mystic shamans dwelling in the most hostile environments of Tarkir, the Temur Frontier reflect the spiritual beliefs and natural world that shaped Mongol culture in the imperial period. While the Mardu Horde might closely match the armies of the medieval Mongol Empire, the Temur draw heavily from historical traditions of shamanism and animism (worship and reverence of natural forces).

Long before (and after) Chinggis Khan united the Mongol tribes and carried them in conquest beyond the steppe, the Mongol peoples lived in close contact with the natural world. Nomadic life provided few barriers between the people of the steppe and their environment. As a result, their beliefs revolved around  powerful natural forces. Where the clans of Tarkir revered dragons for their savagery and might, the Mongol peoples had no such powerful apex predator to look up to – figuratively or literally. Instead, they found the same reverence for fierce tempests and the crack of lightning, raging rivers and rugged mountains, and the predators and prey with whom they shared the grasslands of central Asia.


The Mongols of Chinggis’ generation believed that the forces of nature were imbued with living spirits, and sought to honor them to ensure their survival within a harsh environment. Even without dragons, the steppe could be as harsh and temperamental as a living creature. For the Temur and Mongols alike, the tribal figure who served as a bridge between past and present, natural spirits and human life, was the shaman.

Shamans were considered specialists, emissaries to a world that lay over our own like a second skin. There was no official church or religious hierarchy amongst the Mongol peoples – any person who could truly hear the call of the spirits could be a shaman. Shamans of the Mongol steppe and Temur Frontier alike underwent incredible tests of personal endurance in the bitter cold or while exposed to raging tempests to demonstrate their ability to sway the forces of the natural world. Survivors who demonstrated this spiritual charisma would go on to have an honored place in the tribe serving as both a valuable adviser to the khan as well as an intermediary to the spirits of the natural world and practitioner of elemental magic.

Magic of the Spirit World

The shamans of Mongol tradition were believed to be every bit as literally, actually magical as their fictional Temur counterparts. They alone could command the winds and rain, call upon the steppe to provide a bountiful hunt, and predict the future of their tribe. Powerful shamans were credited with the ability to ignore physical injury, heal wounds, and even call down lightning – a powerful omen of doom and might for the denizens of Tarkir and medieval Mongolia alike. The Secret History of the Mongols relates that, in a pivotal battle, Chinggis Khan himself was attacked by two powerful enemy sorcerers who cast upon the Mongol forces a storm of darkness to blind and confuse them.[1] While they might not have too much to say about planeswalking and channeling mana, a Mongol shaman and their Temur counterpart were believed to be on equal footing in terms of raw magical power.

From the Secret History: “Buyirugh Khan and Khudukha, who were great shamans, began to conjure a storm of darkness. They began to raise winds and darkness in order to blind [the Mongols].” Seriously! Chinggis Khan fights an actual wizard battle!

Sacred Animals (but still no dragons)

While the Mongols had no dragons in the skies above, they still looked to the heavens and gazed upon the natural life of our world with wonder and awe. Like the clans of Tarkir, the peoples of the central Asian steppe derived many of their cultural values and beliefs from the wild animals with which they shared their environment. Horses and oxen, vital to the nomadic existence of the Mongol tribes, were revered as beneficial spirits and harbingers of divine favor, even as they literally supported the Mongols’ way of life. Packs of wolves were often treated with a mix of reverence and rivalry – their own lives echoed the Mongols’ nomadism, but they competed for the same animal prey upon the steppe. According to legend, the Mongol peoples and Chinggis’ own Golden Clan, the ruling lineage of the Empire, could trace their ancestry to the coupling of a spotted doe and a blue-grey wolf “whose destiny was Heaven’s will.”[2]  Surrak Dragonclaw, in-between punching bears and befriending them against the Sultai, could relate to these complex relationships with natural forces.

Spiritual Presence

Last but not least, the Temur share with the Mongols a shamanic tradition that revered the very forces of nature itself as living spirits. The Elementals (like Scion of Glaciers or Scaldkin) seen throughout the territory of the Temur are pretty reasonable representations of the spiritual forces the Mongols believed to be at the root of natural phenomena in the world. Respect for these spiritual entities was taken very, very seriously. Chinggis’ yasaq, the bedrock of imperial law, contained many rules about troop movements and military organization, but also included, for example, a strict prohibition upon drawing water from a rushing river, for fear of disturbing the spirits that dwelt within.[3]

Of all the clans of Tarkir, the Temur lead a life of shamanic worship and spiritual communion that the medieval Mongols would largely understand. Even the magical, fantastic elements of the Temur Frontier reflect beliefs about natural spirits and innate power that the Mongols themselves held as true in the era of Chinggis Khan. To their generation, our own world was every bit as harsh and unpredictable, as magical and fantastic, as Sarkhan’s home plane of Tarkir.

Curtis Wiemann has two degrees in History, plays only Enchantress in Legacy, and is exactly as fun as those facts would make him sound.

[1]    Paul Kahn, ed., The Secret History of the Mongols, 61.

[2]    Urunge Onon, ed., The Secret History of the Mongols.

[3]    Rashid al-Din, The Compendium of Chronicles.

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