Published Dec 21, 2020

If you’re reading this article, there’s a high chance you just watched The Grand Tour episode set in Mongolia. In episode 13 of the third season of the series, you see Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May navigate their way out of the vast wilderness that is the Mongolian terrain. Throughout the episode, you get to witness stunning Mongolia in all its natural glory. Along the company’s journey, they come across this “Creepy Teepee.” But what actually were those shrines? What do they represent for Mongolian culture? Here’s the real deal about the Creepy Teepee.

What is the Creepy Teepee in Mongolia?

Found deep in the remnants of Mongolian culture are the creepy teepees, religious shrines where people prayed for all sorts of things, including happiness, help, and prosperity. These creepy teepees are more commonly known as ovoos in Mongolian culture, which literally translates to “magnificent shrines/bundles.” 

As seen in The Grand Tour, these shrines are strange mounds piled high with smooth stones and fashioned with colorful cloth or flags. They may also be made with various rocks, wood, debris, and plastic waste. In essence, ovoos are shrines or altars that are symbolic of deities or gods in Mongolian shamanism. Many of them are dedicated to heavenly gods, mountain gods, ancestral spirits, and many other supernatural deities you can fathom.

Teepee in Mongolia landscape shot

Different kinds of Creepy Teepees

Over the years, Mongolians have crafted different variations of the Creepy Teepee all over. 

  • The first notable kind features a bulk of stones as the shrine’s foundation, which supports a single rod with a “flag” at its end. This flag is typically made out of pieces of cloth, ribbons, or plastic of different colors. 
  • The second variation features a similar structure as the first, except for the flag. Instead of a flag, the rod is surrounded by colorful pieces of plastic and cloth, almost resembling a flashy Christmas tree. 
  • The last kind may have several stone platforms scattered around the main shrine.

What do people do with Creepy Teepees?

We’ve mentioned how Creepy Teepees or ovoos plays a key role in Mongolian shamanism, and this tradition has echoed to the present day. Mongolian shamanism is, by far, one of the oldest religions and beliefs in the world. This belief system dates back to 300-400 BC and has its roots in animism and totemism. The Huns and Mongol people worshipped the sun and the moon, all while making sacrificial offerings to the heavens, the earth, spirits, and their ancestors. 

One practice shamans followed with these ovoos include slaughtering animals and offering them up to their deity by pouring their blood on the shrines. Another practice is creating a fire near these ovoos in an effort to purify their souls from vices and the darkness. In more grand settings, people come from all over the country to worship major ovoos. This pilgrimage was recognized in 2017 by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage

However, people limit their offerings to dairy products in more casual settings, including milk, butter, and sweets. In recent times, some of the most popular practices are to add stones when you come across an ovoo and to go around the ovoo three times clockwise. This is said to ensure a good and safe journey.

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Author Terrence Tan Ting

About The Author

 is an industrial engineer by profession but a full time writer by passion. He loves to write about a wide range of topics from many different industries thanks to his undying curiosity.