skip to Main Content

The Turkish Creation Story

Compiled from several 19th century Turkish sources by Mustafa Sepetcioglu (1965)
Translated by Gülten Yener (M.A. Thesis, Emporia KS, 1965)
Adapted into poetry by Eugene Doty


This myth from pre-Islamic Turkey was written down in the 19th century by the Altaic people, but it derives from much earlier oral sources (Holmberg 316-8). Similar stories of God or the Devil depicted as a gander are found throughout central Asia (Britannica).

The Altaic family of languages is named for the Altai Mountains in central Asia. Its speakers were nomads of the plains who migrated west toward Europe and east toward the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Included in this group are Turkish, Mongolian, Siberian, Korean, Japanese as well as dialects of the former Soviet Republics.

“The myths were collected and written in a very late period, in the 19th century by a Turkish tribe living in the Altaic territory of the Russian Federation. Altaic Turks were not Muslims but believed in Shamanism. Russian missionaries attempted to convert them to Orthodox Christianity” (email from Isa Ozkan, professor of Turkish language and literature, Gazi University, Turkey).

A poetic version of this myth was first posted on the internet by Eugene Doty, long-time professor of English at the University of Missouri Rolla. Since his death in 2015, it seems that the original website has been removed, so in his honor I am posting this revised version of his poetry, which includes some additional material from the MA thesis by Gülten Yener. All rights belong to the original authors.

 A Lonely God Creates

When the earth was not
there was only water
endless water
clear to the four corners of nothing.
A full water
grand within a great silence –
yet a worthless water
without use and beauty
a fearful water.

all alone water.

If Snake drank this water
Death would fall from him.
If dead Scorpion drank it
he would be filled with drops of
light and life.

But there is yet
no Snake, no Scorpion.

Within this nothingness of water
there is only
God Kara-han
God the Gander flying lonely,
flying above the lonely water.
No sound nor breath
but the eternal flutter
of the Gander’s flight,
the sa-sa, sa-sa
of his beating wings.

A killing loneliness
and emptiness
became a mist,
a mist that entered
the Gander’s heart.
God’s wings drove him on
over songless

God, although God, was afraid,
afraid of the loneliness
above the water.

The godly Gander flew
without stop
without rest
without clinging
to any place.
Flying so,
flying without love,
without friend,
God Kara-han trembled
in his godly flight,
and his trembling churned the water:

“I am God,
I need not tremble.
I am God,
I shall not fear.”

Yet the great water did not calm;
it stirred within itself,
moved and parted,
the waters folded open
and from the depths of the deep
a voice, a breath, rose and sang:
God Kara-han,”
the voice spread to the ends
of the endless water:
“Oneness becomes you,
God Kara-han.
Oneness is godly,
O godly Gander.”

God Kara-han trembled,
his wings stretched down
to the voice from the waters:
“Who are you, speaking to God?
If I am God, I ask,
who are you?”

Ak-ana, “white mother,”
rose from the water’s quaking mouth.
God Kara-han’s mouth
opened and remained open.
Ak-ana’s beauty brightened
water and Time.

What beauty was this
that loneliness was comforted
and endlessness limited?
God Kara-han was helpless, confused.
“Who are you?
I who am God
do not know you.
Are you spirit? Are you person?
Who are you,
bright and shining?”

The most beautiful smile of all smiles –
at this moment there was only this smile,
this enchantment between
God Kara-han and Ak-ana.
“I am Ak-ana, water’s sister,
I am your creature whom you forgot.
In your boredom and loneliness
you forgot me.”

Had the endless water
been endless wine,
God Kara-han would not have been more drunk.
Ak-ana’s voice was the breeze
of summer evenings,
her eyes were deeper than water,
deeper than Time:
“Before you flew, I was not.
Then I saw you were lonely.
Even for God, who knows not death,
loneliness is deadly.”

“Speak, bright woman!
In your voice, loneliness is mist
that melts in the sun;
as you talk, I feel my soul refreshed.
Bright woman, speak!”

Ak-ana’s response was
sweet yet bitter:
“You are God.
Oneness is godly,
but Oneness is lonely,
Singleness boring.”

“I am God, yes,
but where is one to call me God,
who knows I am God?
Above endless waters I fly;
below endless nothing I fly.
So what worth is it
that I am God?”

Ak-ana whispered:

Water shivered, Time trembled.
Water and Time crushed loneliness between them,
loneliness fled at the word Create.
Eternity echoed in her voice,
becoming a burning fire
and singed the Gander’s wings:


The water wavered inward,
the water folded and Ak-ana sank again,
her brightness sinking in the depths,
yet she left behind the sigh
heard everywhere:


And God Kara-han created Er-kishi,
First Man.


Two Ganders Flying

Earth was not, sun was not,
moon was not, stars were not.
There was only water,
and above the water
two ganders flying,
one whiter than milk,
one darker than winter.
God Kara-han flying,
Er-kishi flying,
flying in the joy of companionship.

But God Kara-han felt a cloud
that formed in Er-kishi’s heart
as Er-kishi flew below him.
Filled with sadness, God Kara-han wondered:
“Was loneliness worse than dark Er-kishi?”

And Er-kishi was thinking an impossible thought:
“Why do I always fly below?
Why this endless domination?
There should be equality
when two fly together.
There is friendship only between equals.
Love is beautiful only when equal and free.
If God commands above,
the waters below are mine.”

Er-kishi bent his darkness
down to the water, seeming to drown,
and God Kara-han was sad;
but Er-kishi spun up at the surface,
his speed foaming the water, whirling it up,
splashing the water on the whiteness,
the spotless, pure whiteness
of God Kara-han.

Er-kishi was proud of his dive and splash:
“Hey, God, now you see that I am strong.
Without your leave, I chose to dive;
I dove and wet your feathers!”
But praising oneself is empty praise.

And Er-kishi thought, in his clouded heart:
“More will I do.
Instead of diving, I will rise,
rise above the white gander
and fly as a new God.”

But as Er-kishi thought to soar,
God took flight from his wings,
and he plummeted down
with frozen lead trapped in his feathers.
Endless water swallowed him.

Plummeting down, Er-kishi cried out,
“My God!”
but water wrapped his tongue
and smothered his cry.
“My God, Great God,
I did not know your strength.
Give me safety
and I will give you praise.”

God Kara-han spoke:
“Come out, rise!”
And to the water he commanded:
“Do not drown.”
With soaking wings, Er-kishi rose
but could not fly,
could not rise from the water’s grasp:
“Create me a place, O God!
Let me stand. The water is fearful;
its darkness will swallow me.
Create a place, just enough to stand.
I am afraid.”

God commanded once more:
“Let there be a strong rock.”
His words searched the deeps
and found Ak-ana’s ear.
A strong rock,
growing in Ak-ana’s hands,
divided the water and rose above it.

Er-kishi sat on the strong rock
and gazed at the silence
of a suffocating world;
there was only water and only God.
Being neither, Er-kishi feared
that God’s careless wing
would brush him off this tiny place,
brush him into the fearful deep.
Er-kishi thought the rock should stretch,
should stretch and cover the endless water
and hide the water’s terrible mouth.


Earth Diver

At that instant, God Kara-han
commanded Er-kishi to dive,
dive to the depths and bring up a handful of dirt.
Er-kishi dove, dove in fear;
where he dove he did not know.
When he reached the bottom, there was earth.
He took a handful and rose.

God Kara-han commanded him:
“Throw the earth on the water.”
Er-kishi sprinkled his handful of earth
on the water where, like seeds
sprinkled in a field, it grew.
It spread and grew to the end of sight.

In spreading joy, Er-kishi said:
“God, my God,
surely you are the God I worship.”

God said:
“If so, then dive, Er-kishi, dive again
and again bring up a handful of earth.”

Er-kishi grew drunk with new creation;
the cloud in his heart fled as he dove again
to the bottom of the deep.
Er-kishi was together with God
making the impossible possible.
The water shook with Er-kishi’s joy.

But drunk with sharing
a moment of creation,
the cloud knotted again,
made a dark fist in Er-kishi’s heart,
once more forgetting God.

At the bottom of the deep, he thought:
“So if God,
God himself,
cannot get this earth,
if God must send me,
if his strength lacks
my strength,
if my strength completes
the strength of God,
then I am more than he,
then his godliness is less than mine.
Something less than another
cannot be God.
He, therefore,
cannot be God.”

Thinking these thoughts
Er-kishi filled his mouth with earth for himself
and took for God half of a half a handful,
planning that God would create
half of a half a world
and he, Er-kishi, would create
a whole and secret world for himself.

God Kara-han looked at the dust,
the grains of dust in Er-kishi’s hand,
and said only: “Throw this too.”
When Er-kishi threw it,
God Kara-han made it grow,
made it spread wider than water and Time.
God’s earth spread endlessly.
Er-kishi found no place to spit out his earth,
no place beyond God and God’s place.

Er-kishi’s desire to rule a second world
hardened to stone.
In compassion, God spoke:
“Spit and be saved, you who are evil.
Had I not listened to Ak-ana’s sigh,
you would not be,
nor your anger,
nor your lust
to be my equal.
Since I made you,
I will save you.

Er-Kishi spit out the dirt
from his mouth,
and the spit made hills
like stumps of diseased teeth,
made marshes like pus,
made valleys shadowy as death.

God Kara-han wrinkled his face
and looked on with sadness:
“See, Er-kishi, I made a place for you,
a place of beauty and peace;
see what your pride has done
to this beautiful earth.”

Er-kishi answered with pride:
“I wanted to make my own world,
a world where I would be God.”

God was silent,
which Er-kishi took for weakness:
“I should have created you;
you should dive at my command.”

When he spoke, the hills were shamed;
the marshes and valleys felt sorry
for having been created:
“O God, keep us from Er-kishi.
We are not his, he is not ours.”

Their words stung Er-kishi
with lonely shame,
and fear spiked his heart.

“Why do you fear?”
God’s words fell white and soft,
like feathers from his flight:
“You created because I allowed it;
but you created evil
because you are evil.”

Er-kishi’s feathers ruffled and stiffened:
You made me,
made me what I am.
If I am evil,
you made me evil
when you could have made me good.
Answer godly, God.”

God said:
“We flew together,
but in your pride
you wanted to fly above,
and from this pride,
your pride,
your evil came,
not from me.
Is that godly enough?”

After these words, all was silent,
creation kept silent
as if there were no creation;
and God’s voice passed through silence:
“Under earth is water;
under water is earth; under all, darkness.
Into this darkness
you shall go,
beyond earth, beyond water,
beyond light.

In the silence after God’s voice,
Er-kishi fell,
fell to a land where darkness
filled his eyes, mind, and heart.
In that darkness
Er-kishi’s darkness darkened;
in that loneliness,
his loneliness grew lonelier yet.


The Tree of Humanity

A tree grew on the earth above,
branchless, budless, leafless,
a huge, strange tree,
but God did not like this tree:
“A tree should branch
a tree should bud
a tree should leaf.
Let this tree bud and branch
let it be green
from root to tip.”

Then the tree grew full and bright,
grew full with the fullness
of God’s eyes,
grew bright with the brightness
of God’s eyes.

Nine times the tree branched:
three branches stretched east
three branches stretched west
two branches stretched south
one single branch,
dry and hopeless, stretched north.

The tree made the face of the earth joyful.
It spread its branches
and its green leaves
over the marshes and the broken hills
born of Er-kishi’s spit,
hiding the ugliness of what
Er-kishi made.

The tree’s roots branched in earth;
the tree’s branches rooted in sky.
Through the tree peace passed,
peace between earth and sky;
in the tree earth and sky came together,
and in the tree was water’s fullness.

Then God said:
“Let there be birds,
a bird for every leaf on every branch;
and let every bird sing,
a song for every fruit of the tree;
let joy descend through the tree,
through the tree let loneliness end,
pain end with the songs of the birds.”

Then birds came and sang
on every leaf of every branch
but no birds sang on the north branch,
the songless, joyless
branch of the north.

The song completed joy,
finished the half-made.
As the birds sang,
day and night, earth and water,
all were full of song;
but something was lacking.

God Kara-han was still lonely;
God thought
and found what was lacking.

He called out in joy:
“Let people grow
from each of the nine roots.”

Suddenly, the tree’s roots swelled,
suddenly they burst through the earth;
a cry of sudden joy floated
harmonious among the hills,
the song of nine new persons
who sang the joy of the gift of being.

Three men sang from the eastern branches;
three women sang from the western branches;
One man sang from the southern branch,
and one man, thin and dry, weak and scared,
sang from the northern branch.
A beautiful woman sat in the crook
between south and north;
her smile looked south,
her hands reached north;
at last she turned
and joined the man of the south.

An owl sat on the northern branch,
the single branch of the north,
and even today sits and whistles there;
and even today the north people
whistle and moan from primal sorrow.

God Kara-han, having created people,
having completed creation,
called Er-kishi up from darkness,
called him up to see the fullness of the light.
God Kara-han, his first friend,
forgave Er-Kishi and called him back.
For God Kara-han loved all that he had created.

Er-kishi sped to God’s call
but the sudden greenness dazzled his eyes;
the tree, the changing, shining tree
confused Er-kishi;
the people, changing and beautiful,
confused Er-kishi
with the luster of their new being.
What sort of thing was this?

“Hey, Er-kishi,
how is it,
how do you like the world?”

At last Er-kishi’s ears awoke,
he said:
“Who are they?
What is this?
What are these that sing?”

God Kara-han laughed:
These are my creatures,
all my beautiful creatures—
bird, tree, leaf,
wind, cloud, man—
all that Is is my world.”

Then Er-kishi begged a mad request:
“Give me half, O God!
Give so that your greatness
is shown in your giving.
After all,
I was your first friend,
your first companion.”

God Kara-han replied
with a knife for a voice:
I cannot give you this world;
I cannot give you
what isn’t mine.”

“Not yours?
Not yours?
Did you not make it all?
Did you not, just now,
say it was yours?
Lying is not godly!”

“Yes, I created, created all
you see and all you do not see.
I said Be and they were.
But what I created
I created not for myself,
but for these people
for their happiness and peace.”

Er-kishi’s eyes lusted like a thief:
“Then give me half of the people.
Share with your younger brother.”

God Kara-han smiled:
“I have no brother,
no equal.
I give you nothing,
none of the people will I give you.
But if you can get any,
if you can deceive any,
they shall be yours,
they shall be your people
if they choose.”

The confidence of God froze Er-kishi,
bound him where he was
as God kara-han flew away,
as the people laughed and strolled beneath the tree.


Temptation and Fall

When day left, all slept,
wolf slept, bird slept,
even the northern owl slept.
While all were asleep
a song hummed from the tree’s core,
a song of beauty from the world’s core
lullabied the people.

Only God Kara-han and sly Er-kishi
remained awake.
While the people slept,
God Kara-han created the dog
and created the snake
to keep the people from Er-kishi’s evil.
The snake had legs and great beauty,
the dog was handsome and noble.

Er-kishi, knowing nothing
of the dog and snake,
thought it his duty
to deceive, to steal the people,
to fill their hearts with envy
that would turn them from God.

The song, the lullaby
from the tree’s heartwood,
stopped and birds began to sing.
Daylight, cool with dreams,
spread throughout the tree
and stroked the faces of the people.

The people woke in the cool of dawn,
saw the dog and the snake,
God’s guardians over them.
“Praised be God,” they said and ate,
eating only of the fruit of the east,
not eating or touching the rest of the fruit.

Er-kishi was filled with evil glee:
“Hey, hey people,
people let me share your joy,
come to me.”

Only the woman from the south
looked at Er-kishi with interest,
looked and saw his handsomeness,
heard his warm words,
felt the killing light in his eyes.
The dog and the snake fenced out Er-kishi
with their contempt.

Er-kishi said:
“Hey, hey people,
why do you eat those dried up fruits,
when these juicy and red ones
hang easy to pick
on this side of the tree?”
The people answered:
“God forbade it.
We are happy with what we eat.”

“Try them once,”
said Er-kishi’s soft voice.
“To obey and not know why
you obey is foolish.
Maybe God is lying.”

All the people, all but one,
answered: “God would not lie;
he who saves us,
he who forgives us,
would not lie.
Hey, stranger! You lie.”

But the attractive woman of the south,
who had not answered with the others,
are those fruits really sweet?
why would God forbid us them?
Tell me; I would know.”

Er-kishi hid his evil-winged joy,
his joy in causing evil,
even in a woman,
and he spoke deceit
with passion and conviction:
“Hey woman
beautiful woman!
Your beauty is more than other women’s;
so the sweetness of these fruits
surpasses the sweetness of other fruits.
Your God,
your greedy God,
forbid you to eat them
so he could have them
all to himself.”

Er-kishi’s words stirred the loose woman’s heart:
“Reach out,
reach out your hand,
let the beautiful earth
see these two beauties meet.

The woman shivered:
“Oh, no;
I am afraid;
God forbids.”

Again Er-kishi spoke:
“Forget God.
He forgot you long ago.”

All but the woman shouted:
“Get out!
God does not forget.
You do not belong here.
Get out!”

The vengeful snake, the angry dog,
walked toward Er-kishi;
even as he backed away fearfully,
he added:
“Beautiful woman, clever woman,
I would know your name.
Can you tell me?”

“Ece,” she answered, “I am Ece,”
which means lovely.
She pointed to the man beside her:
“He is Doganay,”
meaning crescent moon.
“I will wait for you, stranger.
What is your name?”

But Er-kishi could not answer;
the snake and the dog drove him north;
surely the miserable north
was the place for this evil one.
But Er-kishi did not think himself miserable.
Chaos like the north he knew.
What he feared, what made him miserable,
was order and truth, beauty and love.

He waited for night,
for darkness to match his dark heart.
Over dark waters the owl screamed sharply,
dark clouds covered moon and stars.

But every side of the tree flowed with light.
Er-kishi stared unblinking
at the streaming light of the tree.
He stared at the snake guarding forbidden fruit;
he stared at the dog sleeping at the tree’s foot.
He stared at Ece, beautiful and captivating,
Ece speaking to Doganay:

“Doganay, bring me some of the forbidden fruit.
The stranger said they were sweet.
All the people sleep now,
so who will know if we eat?”

Doganay answered:
He sees us.”

But the woman was hungry;
an endless hunger shook her bones:
“Listen, Doganay, do you not love me?
You said you loved me next to God;
did you lie?”

He sighed:
“It is not,
it is not a lie.
But do not ask this of me.”

“Why?” asked Ece
in her womanly way.
“Why do you fear
one little fruit?
Are not my eyes worth
one little fruit?”

Doganay was helpless,
and trembling spoke:
“You do not know, Ece,
what you are worth.
This fruit is not worth
even your little finger;
but do not ask this of me!
Believe me,
the sweetness of your walk,
of each step toward me,
the joy of your closeness,
these are worth the world.
You have more brightness
than the sky;
but do not use your brightness
to make me sin;
do not make me sin
because of that liar
who knows no God.
Such sin would only
bring us shame;
do not ask that fruit of me,
Ece, do not ask it.”

Ece wept,
the forbidden fruit
burning within her.
Tonight – she must taste
the sweet fruit tonight!
Then came Er-kishi,
soundlessly, near her.
In great joy, she jumped:
“O! Stranger, Stranger.”

Er-kishi’s voice, like the fruit,
tickled and burned:
“Do you really want
to eat of these fruits?”

All Ece’s thirst, all her hunger,
all her dry desire, spoke:
“O! So much,
I want them so much,
you cannot know how much.”

“Then look, look there,
then reach, reach out;
they await you
sweet and delicious.
Come, reach out.”

“But the snake is there,
he guards them so I cannot reach.”

“Do not fear.
I will enter the snake.”
And Er-kishi went up,
up like smoke,
into the tree,
into the snake.

Ece looked around;
God seemed elsewhere.
Er-kishi, in the tree, in the snake,
bent the branch down to Ece;
the forbidden fruits shook with light
that sang in the darkness:
“Come, come;
reach, reach.”

Did God not see?
Did God not care?
God Kara-han,
who could see an ant’s eyelashes,
thin and black, at midnight,
chose not to see Er-kishi
bending the shining fruit to Ece—
he had to show his people good and evil,
left them to choose.
He would not treat them like children,
leading each one by the hand.

Doganay saw God
would not come, would not interfere;
he saw Ece plucking the fruit:
“Leave it!
Do not destroy this beauty
for a moment’s joy,
Ece! Do not.”

But she had eaten.

Ece picked the large fruit
and bit it quickly.
Its juice,
bitter yet sweet,
sweet yet unfulfilling,
burned through her mouth and throat,
burned a fire to her bones,
a fire of joy in daring to disobey.

Doganay’s eyes widened in fear,
fear of lightning and chaos
entangling the world;
Ece devoured the fruit
as Er-kishi devoured her with his eyes,
with pride he consumed his first creature,
a woman.

Ece, trembling with desire,
trembling with the fruit’s fire,
put half the flame
in Doganay’s mouth.
The first drop sparked
from his teeth to his tongue
and set his whole body afire,
his whole being burned
with one drop of that juice.

Half the fruit now remained—
Doganay gobbled at one edge,
Ece gobbled at the other—
half the last drop burnt Doganay’s tongue,
the other half of the last drop burnt Ece’s.

At this moment
the sleepers woke,
a secret fear woke in the night,
a thousand confusions
wandered in the dark.
Suddenly, they saw
their nakedness,
their naked souls,
and then they knew shame,
and the shame threw them apart.

God Kara-han came down,
shaking heaven and earth
with his anger;
in wrath and judgement
God came down:

“My people, where are you?
Are you hiding from me?
What have you done?”

As the first defendant
before the first court on earth
Doganay stood and confessed:

“Without knowledge –
or perhaps with knowledge –
I ate.”

Ece his wife
spoke boldly but with fear:

“You created these fruits.
Why did you forbid us to eat?
They taste like heaven’s food.
Either you should have not created
them so sweet, or me so weak.”

“Sin is attractive,” God answered,
“And tastes sweet.
But Man becomes holy
in resisting it.
I ordered this for your good.
Are you as happy now as you were?”

In her nakedness and shame
Ece said with regret:
“The taste of sin was sweet,
but now I am filled with
bitter emptiness.
I would not have desired
had not the Stranger told me to eat.”

The snake, who was to guard the people,
said: “That one must have entered me
when I was asleep. I trusted the dog
to keep watch.”

The dog said: “I was asleep too.”

Er-kishi, who was watching,
laughed shamelessly at the chaos
he had created.

God Kara-han turned his eyes slowly
on Er-kishi and thought a long while.
The smile on Er-kishi’s lips faded.
In mock respect
he bowed to God and said:
“I only did what you told me to do.”

The guilty had spoken, and God
pronounced the first judgement on earth.
The universe was silent
awaiting the judgement of God.

“Doganay, I expel you
and all the people
from the light of the tree.
I will create no more people.
From now on, Ece,
new people will come from you.
You will give birth in pain.
All of you will taste death.
Death will limit you.
When you die,
you will return to me.

“From this day forth
my name will be
Ulgen, Great One.”

God Ulgen turned to Er-kishi:
“And his name will be Erlik,
lord of death and evil.
He will be left to trouble you;
do not be deceived by him again.”

Erlik wanted the last word:
“I will have more people than you,
you will see.
I will not ask you to give them to me anymore.
They will come to me,
I will just wait.”

Then Erlik descended into darkness.
In man’s heart, many desires
had been created.
God Ulgen wanted men to live in harmony,
but they forgot God
and gave way to dark Erlik
whom God Ulgen threw into darkness
seven floors under the earth.

God Ulgen went up to his sky-floor,
leaving men alone.
God’s leaving whitened the sky
and blackened the earth.

One man under the east branches
was named Ay-atam
and his woman was Ay-va.
The other people went west,
took their children and went west,
but Ay-atam and Ay-va went east,
took their two daughters to the east.

Now to the east, now to the west,
now to all the four corners,
people walked bent with sorrow,
walked over the once-joyous earth,
spreading their sorrow with each step.


After months of wandering,
Ay-atam and his family
came to a mountain.
The girls shouted
the mountain’s name:
“Altay! Altay!”
Mountain echoes returned:
a deep, humming voice:

The girls were delighted
thinking the mountain answered them.
Then after the voice, came a man:
From a cave in the mountain came a man,
came a friend, not a stranger,
Ece, too, was in the cave,
old and wrinkled from her sin,
the first sin.
Her sons and daughters filled the cave.

Ay-atam said: “Doganay,
after we were expelled from our home,
when we wandered,
where did you go?”
Ece, hearing this, hid in a corner.
Doganay said:
“She is heavy,
heavy with shame,
thinking that through her
all men are wronged.
But if she had not,
someone – even I –
if she had not eaten the fruit,
someone would have.
Though he forbade us,
I believe
God really meant
that we should eat the fruit.”

Doganay and Ece
made a place for Ay-Atam and his family.

Back To Top