KETEVAN SIKHARULIDZE                                                                                                                                                  # 17 



            Mythology is a verbal material of the world the specter and coloring of which expresses the level of development of the religious consciousness of society. Mythology and religion which are based on rituals used to develop along with the society. Thus they had always been in a close touch with each other. The myth-dictated ritual was performed by a human being and thus he became a cosmogenic act participator. Generally, a human being is the momentum which activates the religious system and enlivens it.

The being and religion were an integral reality of their living for the ancient people. So the action which we call a ritual was an integral part of their existence, initially, naturally revealed and later hidden behind symbols.

            All fields of economy were reflected in the cult customs and traditions which were accompanied by ritualistic food and various symbols though the particular role in the history of the humankind religious life was played by agrarian cults. Human consciousness and religious outlook were formed and developed by interaction with earth. Caucasus is among those regions where foundation for agriculture was laid and therefore hierarchy of earth deities made a significant part of Iberian-Caucasian system where the Earth, the all-creating and life-granting deity occupied a leading position. No myths on this goddess are found due to the ancientness but the elements of her worship have remained in various customs and traditions as it was a very important cult covering all spheres of being, among them children’s infectious diseases.

            The mythological notions of Caucasians include beliefs and rituals connected with diseases. They considered that everything, inclosing diseases had its governor deity and thus people applied treatment with magic means. From the ritualistic point of view, children’s infectious diseases were the most abundant. These questions have been researched by Georgian scientists. The most serious research was carried out by V. Bardavelidze who associated the cult of these infectious diseases with astral religion and the goddess Nana (or Kal-Babar). We will accentuate only several aspects and symbols in this article.

            Observation of Caucasian material shows us that the infectious diseases were governed by the Goddess of Fertility, i.e. Earth. Firstly, it is confirmed by the violet and rose, the flowers which decorated the Goddess waken in the spring, mentioned in the text of the motet “Iavnana” dedicated to these diseases. This is an appeal to the Goddess, her name (Iav Nana, Vardo Nana, “Ia” – violet, “Vardo”  - rose). Some infectious diseases are characterized by red rash which resembles a flower. This might have been perceived as a revelation of the fact as if the goddess (or her children) had moved into the ill child’s body and appeared on the skin in a form of a flower (for this reason, scarlet fever is also referred to as Vardkokha). That’s why the patient was amused and all his wishes were fulfilled. They thought that the goddess required this to be done. The bed and the room of the patient were sprinkled with the extract of violet and rose. Nine young boys and girls used to dance around the bed and throw violet-leafs and rose-leafs around. The earth harvest – vegetative food and baked cake were laid on the so-called “excuse low table”.

            In the rituals dedicated to the infectious diseases circular round dances, dance around the patient’s bed or simply, circular movement were included. Every kind of a circle necessarily implies the existence of a center. As soon as the participators of a ritual close a circle, a sacral circle with its center appears. In this case, the patient is the axis around which the round dancers move. It was predetermined by the belief that the goddess or her children were moved into the ill child’s body, i.e. a circle – which resembles the dance of pagan priests around the statue of the goddess.

            During infectious diseases, round dances were usually performed by women and necessarily the family members of the ill child. They were the ill child’s mother, grandmother or aunt (or all of them). Sometimes they used to dance naked which I consider to be the element remaining form the ancient ritual.

            If the epidemics was not cured women would go around the village, gather some flour and other products, pray and dine together. Sometimes they used to draw a circle around the inhabited area by the point of a sword. Among Noghaelians this was called Jasack. Circassians also had a similar custom but if some disaster (cholera or epidemics of any severe disease) fell onto a village, the whole public used to gather to hold a special ritual. Nobody went to work in the field. They would jointly buy a black cow and take it to the river. The tied up cow was laid by the river. After the common prayer they would slay the cow so that the blood was poured into a pit where insides and bones were buried later. The hide of the cow was taken by ears and moved around the village. The plough followed it. They used to leave a trace with the plough and thus the village was included in the circle. The whole village participated in removal of the first ploughed piece of earth in Caucasus which was called the wakening of earth. Maybe Jasack was also designed for wakening the patron goddess of Earth. As the goddess of diseases were the deity of agriculture (personified the Earth) the resemblance of agricultural and disease-dedicated rituals is not surprising.

            The special nature of infectious diseases (rituals, symbols and other cult elements) must have had some basis at which the name of these diseases may point to. Folk classification of diseases is observed in their names – seni, sneuleba, avadoba. The infectious diseases – “batonebi” is called “sakhadi” which must have a meaning of paying one’s dues. Maybe it was a kind of initiation through which a human being (mainly in childhood) familiarized himself with the deity, became one of its servants and was under its patronage. The one who was not down with “batonebi” was deemed defective. The folk used to say that the angels had not come to him, i.e. he was not liked. Falling ill with “batonebi” may have had the idea similar to the one saying that the disease of “khevisberi” – the elder of the valley in the religion of Eastern Georgian mountain-dwellers had. When the icon (the son of the Lord) selects a human being as His servant, He notifies him of His desire by a disease.

            One more symbolic act falls within the scope of our interest. If a disease was complicated the women of the family used to hold such a ritual: the mother or the grandmother would strip their breast, drag it on the ground and crawl around the patient’s bed saying: the Earth, forgive us for our negligence, make my child feel good. Here the earth worship is clearly observed and I suppose this is one of the most archaic elements in the “batonebi” ritual.

            When a child was born in the Western Georgia the obstetrician used to hold a ritual called earth saturation. If the childbirth was not complicated, the obstetrician would dig up a small pit in the earth with a stick and pour into it some broth, vine, cake and hen pieces as well as a wax candle mixed with each other. This was the earth saturation similar to the saturation of the earth with the blood of the cow slain during the Jasack or the blood of an ox slain at Taurobolium ritual and thus expression of gratitude to the earth.

            If the earth saturation is a ritual of gratitude for creating a new life, dragging of breast is asking for mercy and apology by symbolic nutrition of the earth. As it is seen, big breast as a distinguished sign of fertility and motherhood was one of essential signs of a goddess. The ancient figures, so-called Caucasian Veneras have a big breast. In mythological legends of Caucasians the ancient women-residents of the Earth, the representatives of the generation of giants are distinguished for the breast hung over their shoulders.                                                           

            The material presented by us (together with other data) proves that the leading role in the Iberian-Caucasian mythology was played by the Goddess of Fertility – The Earth.



Volume 1, issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature