Four years ago I began a journey that would change my life, drastically. I set out to make my own yurt. Here I will share that story with you along with its history, craft, habitation and cosmology.
In brief, the Yurt is a robust and comfortable tent-like dwelling developed by nomad tribes of inner Asia over millennia. It is primarily associated with the Mongols – who refer to their dwellings as “Ger” – and has been used Turkmen, Kazaks, Hunns and many other horse riding, animal keeping cultures.
Crafting a yurt is relatively straight forward and most of the labour requires no special skills beyond handling a knife. Anyone with sufficient endurance and determination can, with the help of some friends and maybe a teacher, craft their own yurt and place their own, light impact home on the Earth.
I began the construction of my own yurt four years ago. Today I inhabit it full time, and it is the most exciting, soothing and inspired place I have ever called home. After living in my yurt through winter, spring and, now, summer, I consider it a superior dwelling to all but the most soul-imbued and lovingly crafted house and I would not trade it – my innermost habitat – for anything in the world!
The yurt is, in itself, a place imbued with soul. It feels alive and awakens the senses, while allowing them to rest deeply. This is because the yurt is, in itself, a harmonious form; round like the nests of birds, the horizon that surrounds us, and the drops of water that falls from the heavens. It is a microcosm – a small earthen ship and a perfect habitat for humans to dwell.
At least, such is my relation to it and the relation of many other s who have come to love and respect this wonderful nomad dwelling for its practical and simple grace, its moveability and ecological soundness – factors which are as relevant today, as every before..
Origins of the Yurt – An enduring gift to our future
Nomadism – our original way of life
Throughout most of our species’ age, we have lived as nomads, or semi-nomadic peoples. This is true on all continents, save Antarctica, and all times – up until the agricultural revolution – or travesty – that took root some 8 000 years ago.
There is much sense in a nomadic life style. Being wholly dependent on the ecospheres we inhabit, and human beings being such a resource-heavy creature, it makes sense to move about in order to find new food resources, allowing our habitats to rejuvenate in our absence.
In historical time, nomadic cultures have inhabited regions unfit for agriculture. The vast grasslands of inner Asia is one such ecosphere; its remote location – so far from any ocean – make for a dry climate that is hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. Trees and forests are scarce and the soil cannot be tilled. Grass grows in abundance, however, and thus the peoples of these regions stake out a living with their help, essentially using their ability to transform grass (sunshine) into milk, meat, wool and a number of other uses, including transportation.
The evolution of the yurt
It is in this merge between a culture and its habitat, that the yurt slowly evolved. No doubt, it is based on more simple, conical tents that were slowly improved upon as each generation carried forth that which worked, all the while making small innovations here and there and sometimes making an innovative leap.
There are numerous varieties of tents in this world that have been employed by peoples in all type of regions inhabitable by our kin. From the scorched plains of the Sahara, to the frozen wastes of the arctic region, people have lived in tents, always. What makes the yurt so unique in this diverse and venerable assembly is that it can be insulated..!
Obviously, insulation changes everything. It is not the only way to live in tents in colder regions (for instance, the Sami “Kåta” and traditional Inuit tents are wholly uninsulated; one solution being to make tents within tents and simply snuggling up closely!), but it certainly makes tent dwelling more comfortable during winter!
This inner-Asiatic leap in tent technology makes perfect sense when two factors are taken into account: the cold and dry climate they inhabit, as well as a readily available source of wool and animals to carry bundles of sticks and the heavy felt blankets from one camp site to another.
The Power of the Circle
In the old days all our power came to us from the sacred hoop
of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken the people
flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop,
and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace
and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain and the north
with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This
knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion.
Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle.
The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball
and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.
Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.
The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon
does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great
circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were.
– Heháka Sápa (Black Elk)
The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is
in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the
nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop,
a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.
Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux 1863-1950