Solomon Tabutsadze                                                                                                                                                                # 9

 How a Legend is Born

In the seventies of the last century, in Racha, in the village of Mravaldzali, it happened so that I recorded a legend. The narrator, Sergo Iobashvili, told me with a great excitement about Shah-Abbas’s intrusion to Georgia, namely to Mravaldzali, his crossing of Cholevi cliff and a story how an enemy army perished.

Later, being a University student I came upon the variant of this legend. In 1894, there was published an article in the newspaper Iveria signed by “Kartveli Osebshi” (a Georgian missioner to the Ossetian villages – the pen-name of the known religious figure Nestor Bakuradze). This variant of the legend appeared to be more complete. “One day after Queen Tamar’s reign, when the Ottoman conquerors intruded into Georgia and set their unrighteous foot on the Mravaldzali mountain; they crossed the rock planning to reach the village of Mravaldzali and devastate it. When the Ottoman troops were two miles away from Mravaldzali, suddenly everything went dark, the surrounding area was covered in fog and the solders’ eyes were misted. They lost their way and started to move in disorder. Finally they found themselves at a huge Cholevi cliff at the foothills of which there was a lake... several solders had already fallen down from the cliff and lots of other solders totally obscured followed them. Eventually, they found out that many solders went and fell down somewhere. They stopped moving further and started to inspect the path more carefully. ..They did not know which way to choose and started to think that this could be Providence. The soldiers knew that St.Giorgi’s church must have been  nearby. Thinking this the Ottoman troops started praying with all their soul: “St.Giorgi, be gracious towards us and deliver from this terrible ordeal. We do promise that until the sounds of your bell reach none of us des any harm even to a bird”. Suddenly, after this praying the fog lifted up and the day light illuminated the surrounding area. The solders looked at each other in confusion and in a distance they saw a church. They climbed to the place where the church was. The solders spent one day and night in the fence of the church. This is how they prayed: “St.Giorgi, all mighty, as you have delivered us from this ordeal and can do miracles, do miracle and bring a cow and an ox from our seaside to prove your mightiness once more”. It turned out that a cow and an ox were wild terrible and huge, and although they were looked after nobody dared to slaughter them. With this they wanted to test the icon’s magical force. Indeed, on the second day a cow and an ox came and stood at the fence of the fortress. This cow and ox easily subdued the solders to be slaughtered. The right horns of cow and ox were sacrificed to the Mravaldzali’s church. The horns for the wine are red as blood … They are naturally red. As they say, the Ottoman solders sacrificed solder’s huge helmet and sword which is called Khvarasnian sword; as well as spear, etc. “

The reference on various military armaments can be also found in other sources, namely in Platon Ioseliani’s “Life of Great Commander Giorgi Saakadze”. “While negotiating about the fate of King Luarsab, Shah Abbas noticed that the ambassadors of the Imereti Kingdom took a vow to Giorgi Saakadze in the name of St.Giorgi and its miracle icon in Imereti lowland Mravalzali…As soon as Shah Abbas noticed this, he gave the Imereti noblemen his sword preciously decorated as a present and asked them to deliver this gift to the church to hang on the church wall.”

This fact is also mentioned by a Georgian geographer Vakhushti. V.Pottie also confirms this circumstance in his book published at the end of the 19th century “Georgia and its Historical Past”.

One more fact can be recalled from Platon Ioseliani’s book “On Interesting Episodes” which concerns the Ertatsminda church. The Shah who had learned from Giorgi Saakadze about the meaning of Ertatsminda church for Georgians ordered to destroy it. “The solders run up the church dome and started to dismantle it. Shah Abbas being filled with hatred to Christian church suddenly felt loss of sight. Shah became anxious and could not understand what had happened with his good eyesight. When he fell asleep he felt some invisible force which predicted misfortune. Having awakened from bad dream Shah could not explain the meaning of the dream. Shah said that he had seen the giant armed with spear, who threatened to pierce his chest.

 Even the dream teller of the Persian royal court failed to explain the Shah’s dream. Then the resident of Ertatsminda, who was in Giorgi Saakadze’s suit, was introduced before Shah. The old man with white mustaches kneeled before Shah and dared to say that his weak eyesight would be improved if he ordered to stop the destruction of the miraculous church. That giant whom the Shah had seen symbolized St.Estate. The Shah ordered to stop the destruction of the church. The old man immediately took Shah to the church and showed him St.Estate’s fresco painted on the wall.  The Shah was taken aback because this was the same image that he had seen in his dream. “Your prophet is great, - said the Shah. Right there he gave his eastern sword decorated with pearls to one of the noblemen and told to put off his armor and sacrificed it to the church. The eyesight returned to the Shah immediately and he gave lavish gifts to the old Georgian astrologer”.

We traced the examples of such “obedience” of an enemy and invader in relation to the Christian churches and such stories with various forms and motifs have been found in numerous sayings. In folklore, proceeding from the principle of widely spread substitution, there is no matter whether it is “Shah Abbas” the country’s enemy or, generally, “Ottoman”. One thing is certain, that the foundation of historical sayings and legends is laid on true events and the heroes or personifications of ideas are real and historically known characters. Numerous facts and events happened in the life of traditional society have not become the objects of legends or fables. This is quite natural because people’s memory keeps in mind only especially important facts from the past life. The primary base of this selection must be considered to be the epoch making events marked with significant signs.

Actually, the name of Shah Abbas is so fatal to Georgian consciousness that it turned to be the synonym of bitterest enemy. As Teimuraz mentions, “the name of this powerful and merciless king, Christians’ torture, bloodthirsty of ordinary people” completely shocked people’s consciousness and conscience. That is why his image was expressed realistically or legendary. In reality, if we mean factography in “reality” then we will miss the main subject. Here first of all we imply an adequate reflection of transient world shift in people’ consciousness about which Mircha Eliade writes: - the action is as much real and true as it imitates archetype.  

It is just this viewpoint from which we consider the events when we say that the consciousness of the traditional society reflects objectively the historical events. During such perception an emotional flow is completely absent and that is why people do not try to represent humiliated image of the enemy. At the same time such generalization of enemy’s invincibility happens that for future generations one’s blood shed during conflict with the enemy becomes more significant. Such things happen generally in sayings but the legends mentioned by us do not reflect either struggle or significant battles. Here the confrontation with the enemy happens in different dimension.

It is evident, but let us define it more exactly that we deal with two variants of one legend. In one legend there is a dream, in another –“fog-mist sheet”, which are poetically significant units denoting the boundary of the invisible worlds. In Ertatsminda variant of the legend the boundary situation is considered in the bottom of man’s soul and in Mravadlzali it seems even nature roars the strengthening of enemies and stops the invaders. The enemy’s march is thought in cosmic scales, the solders lost in the whiteness of the fog are actually in the darkness and in this way blinded. It is the state of shortsightedness when a blind cannot see the sun but the sun warms him. The solders are in this state unless they listen to the word of God. The aggressor is instinctively aware what is wrong. Thanks to the inner mobilization the enemy understands there is a danger and the escape from it is possible only by acknowledging the force that dominates in that reality. “Ottoman” and Shah Abbas implored to help. The result was that the troops withdrew and they saw daylight. It should be noted that it is not an ordinary daylight. It must denote both the light of Logos and God’s presence.

An escape from the whiteness of fog (i.e. from the darkness), “white day” (Galaktion) means to be born again; it is an ability of visualization. This ability saved the troops from being lost in the darkness.

In connection with Ertatmina, Sergi Makalatia writes: “The place where the church is located today was once covered with forest and the flock of deer was in free. One Ottoman went hunting into this forest. Armored with bow and arrow he took to aim at a deer but at that moment the image of light cross appeared on the deer’s horn. At the sight of this the Ottoman scared to death, immediately dropped the bow and pronounced: “I have faith in Christ”. It is the same vision after which the enemy and snake like force fall out of one’s own nest, elevate over own existence and from the position of oppressed society is not perceived as enemy anymore. This is the way how devil’s nature is suppressed and human nature revives.

The pulsation of initial archaic motifs is clearly felt in the fable context of the legend. From this viewpoint of essential significance is material world of sayings. Here all subjects, apart from their functional value, can contain additional meaning. Here I mean “a helmet and a sword which is called Khvarazmian sword”, other military ammunition, horns of a cow and an ox sacrificed to the church.

For archaic consciousness, material thing is not only something one can utilize but by its essence it goes beyond practical application. It is in the spirit of its owner. The hero’s charity or mercy is in his armament too. Thus, the armament in the broad sense of the word is represented as a text. This is the text which by its graphic design or functional elements excites the soul of the society and inspires it (suggestion). It is interesting to note that the labeled subjects gave origin to corresponding aspiration in archaic consciousness and thus the legend about conversion of unbeliever is born. A society tries “to explain” the reason of appearance of these subjects in the range of vision and its consciousness is pulsed with question which requires an answer. And the answer originates in the form of a legend which passes from generation to generation, joins socially voiced stream which in its turn guarantees the transition of the saying throughout generations. Ritual core in the saying is not seen but for the observer with “mind eye” the finding of cause from the reason happens and the archetype is manifested in personified legend. Therefore without analysis of subjective world of the legend it is impossible to explain its essence, i.e. we fail to demonstrate the mechanism of origination of artistic text.

The real facts of the appearance of the above mentioned subjects in the church, sacrifice or animal sacrifices remain beyond people’s memory. The society is not aware of the appearance of the strange armament in the church and therefore dissatisfied with such “information gap”, and a legend is born in man’s soul as to how the unrighteous oppressor has been subordinated and turned into friend respecting the oppressor’s belief.

The mechanism of the birth of legend becomes more vivid if we take into consideration historical data too. The origin of the armament is documentarily known. Thus we know the legend and the real facts. The reality is that neither Shah Abbas, nor Ottomans sacrifice anything to the church. Whether it is armament or other things they appear in churches and monasteries in different way; first of all they are trophies.



Volume 2, issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature