That is a shamanistic temple, Chilaajajav tells me. It is a temple for the Mother Stone. We’re in a place of unusual rock outcroppings. They jut out, punctuating the landscape with blessings or, in the case of one rather normal-looking rock, good health. People lay on that rock like they would any rock in the sun.
But the Mother Stone is surrounded by a roofless circle of wall. Mother Stone herself has been laden with blue prayer cloths, and vodka and candy and milk and cookies are heaped on the table before her. She has been draped with many many cloths, around the mound that would be her head so she has scarves, around the mounds that would be her shoulders/arms so she has shawls. There are necklaces also around her neck, and in every crevice and fold of fabric there are small money bills. The women form a queue to lean their foreheads on her left shoulder. Men on the right.
“It is to tell your dreams,” oruna says to me. “If you say your dream to the Mother your dream will be okay.” I think she means your dream will come true. The women’s line is much longer than the men’s. Everyone holds small bills but when I get my wallet out everyone stops to look at me.
Chilaajav takes a gold candle holder he bought at the booth. Out of cotton makeup pads he and Oyuna twist wicks. Then out of a plastic tub they take “cow oil”, “Mongolian butter” “made from milk,” a sunny yellow, and smear it round. Then they go to the table of broken jars placed upside down and shadowed with candle-use smudges.
Chilaajavs family has, like everyone else, brought milk and alcohol and sweets for the Mother. There is a booth inside the temple, where one can buy the blue cloths, which not only hang on the Mother but are tied together in a web, a blue network overhead, challenging the color of the sky.
There is a table/altar where vodka is left. Oyuna pours milk from the bag it comes in into a jar at the table of sweets. She gives me the milk to pour but I pour it away from the Mother Stone, towards the door, on accident, because I didn’t know.
Down the Mother’s back is a prayer cloth that’s had girls’ hair bands and scrunchies tied onto it, tens of them, maybe hundreds, to make a long tail. Now the mother stone has a long tail of hair. One of the scrunchies has a tiny stuffed monkey attached.
A place where a woman walking alone at any time of day in the city is liable to be robbed, where nomads lock their gers with a tiny padlock on the tiny door if they go out to move the herd—here in the circular roofless room teenage guys hold their cell phones in front of them, line up to leave candy, and no one, as far as I know, takes any of the hundreds of bills left in Mother Stone’s drapes.
As we leave the family takes sweets from the same overflowing bowl into which they had left some. “Now the Mother give you,” says Oyuna. I take a cookie and take a bite. “it is for to eat alone,” she says gently. “The Mother only give YOU.”
Outside of the temple Mongolians walk its circumference, praying and spooning milk out of jars to lob over the temple wall into the Mother’s house. Hence the milk rain that falls in spurts of sudden drops on those standing in the temple, waiting their turn to whisper to the Mother their dreams, light a candle, or pour vodka, or simply walking from one place to another in the temple. Milk rain drips underneath a net of blue knotted prayer cloths, which are underneath the endless roof of sky.