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shrines and the social functions of holy sites in the Caucasus Kevin Tuite (AAA 2011 Caucasian Studies panel) Earlier this year, while starting to write a grant proposal, along with my colleague Florian Mhlfried, in the hope of obtaining funding for research on shrines and holy sites in the Caucasus, I felt it necessary to confront the question of just what we mean when we refer to the Caucasus. On the one hand it seems obvious Florian and I even teach in a tiny department at the University of Jena labeled Caucasus Studies but like so many concepts that appear self-evident, a closer look shows that it is anything but. Clearly, a serious reflection on how to define the Caucasus is due, and indeed overdue; and, as is often the case with discussions whose time has come, several people brought up the issue independently and more or less simultaneously. As Florian and I toiled away at our grant proposal, my friend Karina Vamling invited me to take part in a webcast seminar at her institution in Sweden on the theme "Defining the Caucasus as an area of study", which took place at the end of May. And just recently I came across the text of a talk published this August by Charles King of Georgetown University, entitled nothing less than Is the Caucasus a Place? 1. The Caucasus viewed from without and within. As I did in my talk in Sweden, Charles begins his inquiry by noting that foreign visitors to what we call the Caucasus felt no hesitation about defining it as a distinctive region. According to an etymology noted almost 2000 years ago by Pliny the Elder, and more recently given philological backing by Oleg Trubachev, the very toponym Caucasus derived from an Indo-Iranian expression meaning mountain brightness refers to the whiteness of the snow-capped mountains as seen by Bronze-Age Iranian tribes in the Caspian steppes. Nor should we overlook the extent to which views of the Caucasus were informed by the interests of the viewers. The Caucasus appears numerous times in classical Greek literature and geography most notably as the setting where Jason and the Argonauts met Medea, and where Prometheus met his fate but some Hellenists have argued that literary portrayals of what was at the time the outer limits of the known world were, to varying degrees, Greek self-representations reflected in an inverting mirror (Moreau 1988; Graf 1997). Like Indology and the ethnographic investigations of Africa, the Americas and Oceania, scientific Caucasology emerged in the context of imperial expansion, as the Russian frontiers moved southward and eastward during the reign of Catherine the Great. 2. The Caucasian isthmus: diversity and networks. In the talk mentioned earlier, Charles King celebrates the barefoot empiricism of outsiders, whose perspective allows them to see (or at least claim to see) a forest where the locals for the most part only see trees. I would prefer, however, to assess the adequacy of the Caucasus as place or area from the point of view of the inside, or shifting the spatial metaphor 90 degrees from the ground up.

Believer-nonbeliever shrines (Tuite) 11-12-17 page 2 Seen from above, the main chain of the Caucasus range is surrounded by four watershed systems the Kuban and the Terek systems in the North Caucasus, and the Kura-Araxes and Colchis (Rioni-Inguri) systems to the south. To a considerable extent, the hydrographic map corresponds to that of archaeological cultures since the Stone Age, as well as the location of the three indigenous Caucasian language families which have not been convincingly demonstrated to be related either among themselves, or to any known linguistic groups elsewhere. On the ground, however, the Caucasian isthmus has been traversed over the millennia by routes of trade, migration and cultural diffusion. Archaeologists have pointed to the exploitation of Caucasian sites for obsidian, copper and other metals, which were exported over long distances in prehistoric times, as well as the emergence of widespread cultural horizons, such as the early Bronze-Age Kura-Araxes culture, whose influence spread as far as Dagestan to the north, and the frontiers of Syria to the south. Network-building and network-maintenance practices cut across ethnic, linguistic and even confessional borders in the present-day Caucasus, and are likely to have fostered the mobility of people, goods and ideas since the remote past. One such practice is exogamy, adhered to strictly throughout the region (with the exception of Dagestan). Georgian friends have told me that they would not marry their children to a known relative, even a very distant one. It is not exogamy as such that generates wide social networks, so much as the general rule that new social links must not duplicate already-existing relations. Marriage is forbidden not only between blood relatives, but also between those bound by the spiritual affinity of having co-sponsored the baptism of a child. Godparenthood is one of several forms of fictive kinship commonly practiced among the peoples of the Caucasus, each of which creates bonds every bit as strong, and constraining, as blood relatedness. Fictive brother- and sisterhood a relationship between equals sealed by an oath and the sharing of blood or an alcoholic beverage is known from one end to the other of the Caucasus, as are the various types of relation of mutual hospitality and protection subsumed under the Turkish- Russian term kunachestvo. Fictive adoption (either through fosterage, or the simple act of touching ones lips to a womans breast) was also a common practice in pre-Soviet times. In sociological terms, the people of the Caucasus could be said to prefer a wide range of simplex relationships, rather than a few multiplex ones. 4. Sacred sites, folk religion and inter-communal relations. Alongside the study of socially-recognized categories of relationship, a grassroots Caucasiology should also take into consideration the principal venues where members of different communities come into contact. Sacred sites are particular interest in this regard. In the northeast Georgian province of Pshavi, migrants and refugees, including non-Georgians from the North Caucasus, were admitted into membership in the community through the presentation of an offering at the local shrine. The annual festivals held at certain cathedrals in the South Caucasus such as Alaverdi in eastern Georgia, and the church of St George in Ilori (Abkhazia) draw large numbers of people, including members of other ethnic communities. Participation in the late

Believer-nonbeliever shrines (Tuite) 11-12-17 page 3 September festival at Alaverdi, which I attended in 1997, could be described in terms of three concentric spaces: (1) the interior of the church, where a Georgian Orthodox liturgy was held, and where offerings were blessed by a priest; (2) the churchyard, where people bearing offerings and leading sacrificial animals circled the church (three times, counterclockwise); (3) the area outside the church walls, where pilgrims camped out in tents and vendors set up a market. Chechen-speaking nominally Muslim Kistis from the Pankisi Valley were present in significant numbers, drawn by the reputedly powerful shrine as well as the opportunities for trade at the market. Inside the church walls are the ruins of what appears to have been a mosque, and according to a Kisti woman I interviewed Chechens visiting from the North Caucasus went there to pray rather than entering the cathedral. 5. Believer-unbeliever shrines of Xevsureti. Among the various types of venues of inter- ethnic encounter, undoubtedly those with the most attention-getting name are the two holy sites in the northeast Georgian province of Xevsureti designated as believer-unbeliever shrines (rjulian-urjulo salocavebi): the Xaxmatis-Jvari complex in central Xevsureti; and Anatoris-Jvari, an abandoned sanctuary at a site overlooking the Georgian-Chechen frontier. As described in ethnographic accounts from the the 19th and early 20th centuries (summarized in SRG 499-509), Xaxmatis-Jvari enjoyed great popularity among Kistis, Chechens, Tushetians, and Georgians from other provinces. Men invoked Xaxmati for the fertility and multiplication of horses (it was the only shrine in the area believed to perform this service), and the birth of sons. The principal deities believed to reside at Xaxmatis-Jvari are St George (Giorgi Naghvarmshvenieri) and Samdzimari, the bead-wearing one, who is one of a group of supernatural women brought back by George after the campaign of the Xevsur shrine deities in the underworld realm of the Kajes, one of the most celebrated themes of Xevsur folklore. Xevsur women are under the special protection of Xaxmatis-Jvari, and to the present day women go there for a blood-purification ritual, which takes place on the day after the mid-summer festival of Atengenoba (SRG 510). Anatoris-Jvari, at the site of a ruined medieval church and North Caucasian-style stone mausoleums, is situated a short distance from the border between Georgia and the Russian Federation. What is especially noteworthy about Anatoris-Jvari is not only the presence of both Chechens and Georgians at ceremonies, but the fact that shrine officials were drawn from both communities. An elderly woman from Shatili, the nearest inhabited village, recalled that in her childhood (probably in the 1920s), the shrine priest was a Chechen (Kisti) named Baxaga, whose holiness was such that the shrine deity appeared to him in the form of a dove. She remembered that his invocation to Anatoris-Jvari began with the phrase Bismilahi rahmani, anakorin ca ceim bara, which she rendered in Georgian as may the Cross of Anatori be merciful to you all. Aside from the two words of (garbled) Arabic, the phrase is recognizable as Chechen, although the shrine is named as the house of Anakor (sic!), rather than Anator(i) (Kiknadze Andrezebi 194-196).

Believer-nonbeliever shrines (Tuite) 11-12-17 page 4 In earlier times, it appears that some other sanctuaries in Xevsureti were labeled as believer-unbeliever shrines, including Arxotis-Jvari (along the Assa River, upriver from Ingusheti), and the Shubnuri shrine in the Likoki Valley (SRG 502; Och. 1967: 76), but the expression is most commonly applied to Xaxmati and Anatoris-Jvari. When compared to the other holy places of Xevsureti and the neighboring province of Pshavi, what stands out is not only the presence (or participation) of nominally Muslim unbelievers, but also the role of travel, and in particular, travel across borders, in the foundation myths (andrezi, in Georgian) associated with these shrines. The narratives concerning the foundation of the holy places of Pshavi, Xevsureti and adjacent regions of highland northeast Georgia make for fascinating reading, and I wish to express my gratitude to the folklorist Zurab Kiknadze for the 700-page collection of Andrezebi which he edited & published earlier this year. Before discussing the shrine-foundation narratives for Xevsureti, I will say a few words about those of the neighboring district of Pshavi. On the whole, these legends are focused on a single locality. The andrezebi of most of the eleven ancient communes of Pshavi describe how the territory where the local community is now situated was once inhabited by powerful, man-eating ogres (devebi). A human hero (St. George himself, or one of his doubles Kopala, Iaqsar or Pirkush) killed the ogres off, freeing the land for human habitation, and as recompense for his service, God granted him divine status and lordship over the commune. The divine overlords of the remaining communes came down from the sky as angels (i.e. they were created divine). What sets the Xevsur narratives apart from those of Pshavi is the element of movement. Whereas the founders of Pshavian shrines either already lived on the spot, or descended from heaven, those of nearly all of the Xevsur shrines came from somewhere else. The typical narrative describes how a deity resident at a holy site at lower altitude (usually to the south or southeast) takes flight because the members of the local community do not perform the rituals correctly, or bring impure animals (such as pigs) too close to the shrine. (In texts from the northeastern Georgians highlands, the supernatural overlords of shrines and their surrounding communities are referred to as icon [xati] or cross [jvari]; terms adopted from the lexicon of Georgian Orthodoxy which in this context can denote the cultic object, the divine being it represents, or even the shrine in which it is believe to dwell). The deity, in the form of a luminous bird-like flying object, flees toward higher ground, and eventually makes his way to the site of its present-day sanctuary. The deity does not travel alone: he is accompanied by a human, often of foreign origin from Armenia or Persia. Once he arrives at his chosen site, the travelling companion instructs the local residents to build a shrine on the spot, and the glowing deity disappears from sight. (Interestingly, similar narratives have been collected in Chechnia and Ingusheti, which appear to be secularized versions of the Xevsurian andrezebi: the bird is just a bird, and the man led upland to the spot chosen by the bird founds a clan or community, not a shrine; Nichols 2007).

Believer-nonbeliever shrines (Tuite) 11-12-17 page 5 The motif of travel, and the partnership between a supernatural being and a human companion capable of seeing and speaking with it, plays a especially prominent role in the narratives linked to the believer-unbeliever shrines. Associated with these sites, as well as a handful of others in Xevsureti, are legendary figures known as mkadre (one who dares, i.e. dares come in close proximity to a deity). The mkadres were said to have been able to see their patron deity (in the form of a dove), which would come perch on a piece of cloth (samkadreo) spread over their hands. More importantly, the mkadres are represented in the foundation narratives as the constant travelling companions of their shrine patron. The mkadres close proximity to a supernatural being requires him to maintain a constant state of exceptional purity (sicminde), attained through maximal avoidance of all that represents corporeality in the highland belief system: sexual relations, women (especially at times of bloodflow from menstruation or childbirth), the bodies of the dead, pigs and poultry. Only a half-dozen Xevsur shrines are associated with legendary mkadres. With the exception of Gudanis-Jvari, which is regarded as the central and politically most important sanctuary of Xevsureti, the travelling divinities and their human companions are located along the eastern frontiers of the main part of Xevsureti (Bude nest or Piraket this side Xevsureti), or in that part of Georgian territory which spills over into the North Caucasus. Paralleling the mythic voyages of the flying icon or cross and his long-suffering celibate mkadre are ethnohistorically-attested travels. Until Soviet authorities put an end to the practice, the shrine officials of Xaxmati, Gudani and Karate travelled annually to Tusheti, where numerous satellite shrines named after these three powerful divine patrons are found, to collect tribute (begara) in the form of offerings and sacrificial animals. Anatoris-Jvari and the Saneba shrine in Ukan-Qadu had satellite shrines located further downriver in the Arghun and Assa valleys respectively, across the border in what is now Russian territory.
SHRINE Xaxmatis-Jvari FOUNDATION Cult objects, cattle and women brought up from Kajaveti Cup and chain fell from sky TRAVELS (1) raid in underworld realm of Kajis (2) collecting tribute in Tusheti; visits to Targame (Ingusheti) (1) invisible serpent travelling between shrine in Pshavi to Likoki (2) collecting tribute in Tusheti (1) took part in raid in underworld realm of Kajis (2) collects tribute throughout Xevsureti, also in Tusheti Travels in Xevsureti, Tusheti, Chechnia (Jarego)

Gaxua Megrelauri (bound to celibacy; relationship with Samdzimari) (1) Founder: shepherd- girl Minani (celibate, buried in shrine) (2) crippled male mkadres Totia Gaidauri (double of Gaxua Megrelauri)

Karates-Jvari (Likoki)


Flew from the Bethlehem sanctuary in Gergeti (regarded as a sort of spiritual nursery)

Anatoris-Jvari Saneba (Ukan- Qadu)

Flew up from Likoki; later moved on to Qone (Ardoti Valley) flew up from lowlands, when Travels in Ingusheti (Assa people no longer maintained Valley): Xamxi, Netxa purity norms (Nelx?)

Saghira (old, crippled; tried to nail icon down with golden spike) Bachua (saw deity until he felt sexual attraction to Kisti woman)

Believer-nonbeliever shrines (Tuite) 11-12-17 page 6 6. St George, his male protg, and his supernatural female counterpart. The motif of the voyaging deity and his mkadre companion is a specifically Xevsur development of a figure prominently represented in folk-religious systems across the Caucasus at least in those areas where Orthodox Christianity left a significant imprint on local beliefs and practices: Saint George, the divine patron of menfolk, whose principal function is to mettre les espaces naturels la disposition des hommes (Charachidz 1986: 183). Among the duties attributed by members of various Caucasian communities to their local avatars of St George is the protection of men working far from their homes (shepherds, woodcutters), and the safety and success of those who seek to derive profit from exterior, undomesticated or foreign spaces (not only hunters, but also men hoping to steal livestock from the villagers over the mountain ridge). Introduced from Anatolia in the early medieval period (possibly by separate routes in western and eastern Transcaucasia), the St George cult found fertile soil in the Caucasus. Georgian folk ballads refer to three hundred three score and three St Georges that is, one church dedicated to the saint for each day of the year but the number is clearly an underestimate. I recently did an informal count of churches in Georgia, and found no fewer than 568 named after St George, far more than any other saint. Only Mary the Mother of God has totals anywhere close to those for George. The St Georges of Svaneti (Jgyrg) and Abkhazia (Aerg) appear in folklore as the rivals of divine patronesses of game animals of the high mountains (especially the ibex). The Svan deity Dl is among the most impressive and captivating figures of Caucasian oral literature: golden-haired and bewitchingly beautiful, she can bestow her affections as well as hunting success on the men she favors, but should the hunter have sexual contact with a human woman, or slaughter too many animals, she will bring about his ruin or even death. The Svanetian triad of Jgyrg, Dl, and the legendary hunters protected by the former and seduced by the latter (Betgil, Chorla, Mepsay) finds a remarkable echo in the Xevsurian triad of St George, his sworn sister (dobili, mode) Samdzimari, and the legendary mkadres. Accompanied by his mkadre Gaxua Megrelauri, St George led a divine army against the Kajes, a race of demonic blacksmiths with magical powers, and brought back as war booty a herd of cattle, a collection of cups and metal-working tools, and the lovely Samdzimari and her companions Mzekala (Sun-woman) and Ashekala. George baptizes them, and grants them residence at the sanctuary complex (a tower to Samdzimari is still to be seen there). Worshipped alongside George at the believer-unbeliver shrine of Xaxmatis-Jvari, Samdzimari is invoked as the helper of women, especially during childbirth, and the health and productivity of dairy cattle. But in addition to her tasks as the Xevsur equivalent of the female-gendered divinities known throughout Georgia and adjoining regions under the names of Mary, Mother of God, or the Place Mother (Adgilis-deda), Samdzimari appears in Xevsur ballads as the supernatural lover (in a sense) of a series of mkadres. Aside from

Believer-nonbeliever shrines (Tuite) 11-12-17 page 7 Gaxua himself (LGM 46), Pshavela Peraulidze of Xaxmatis-Jvari (LGM 241) and three men of the Abuletauri clan of Kistani (LGM 68, 131, 264) are said to have cohabited with Samdzimari, who appeared to them in the form of a human woman, but without sexually consummating the relationship. The mkadres enjoy the close company of their shrine patron, whom they alone can see and converse with, but should they violate the celibacy this proximity entails, the deity will desert them and disappear from view. Bachuat Axala, for example, was abandoned by Sanebis Jvari after he felt attraction for a beautiful Chechen woman (Ochiauri 1954: 105-8).
St George: patron of men exploiting exterior spaces Jgyrg Female supernatural: (1) seductive, (2) grants access to resources (3) dangerous, jealous Dl, divine guardian of alpine game animals legendary human protg: (1) seduced, (2) obtains resources, (3) punished hunter (Betgil, Chorla): (1) seduced by Dl; (2) granted hunting success (3) punished for infractions or contact with human women mkadre: (1) cohabits with Samdzimari; (2) close contact with deity (3) lusts after woman, is deserted by deity men circulating in exterior for benefit of community ordinary hunters obtaining meat for their households



George of Xaxmati, Gudanis Jvari, other travelling shrine patrons (Anatori, Saneba, Karate)

Samdzimari: brought from Kajaveti, underworld source of metal objects, tools, cattle and women

shrine officials and others, travelling in Chechnia, Ingushetia, Tusheti

The juxtaposed dossiers from Svaneti and Xevsureti are similar enough that chance resemblance seems unlikely. It might possibly have been the case that the Xevsurian mkadre legends originated through the grafting of the shrine-foundation narratives mentioned earlier (unidirectional migration of man led by bird who choses spot for settlement) onto a local variant of the Dl myth (protg of St George, circulating between interior and exterior, attains access to resources through an infertile sexual relation with a female supernatural). What interpretations are we to draw from the parallel positions of the legendary hunters of the Svanetian ballads about Dl, and the legendary mkadres of Xevsurian shrine-foundation narratives, as shown in the table above? The fate of the doomed Svan hunters of folklore, such as Betgil and Chorla, paved the way for ordinary hunters to have access to the ibex and chamois guarded by Dl, as long as they do not violate her conditions regarding kill limits (Chorlas death was attributing to his shooting at a fourth animal after Dl allowed him to kill three; SvPoez 1939: 288-96), or purity (Svan men would only go up to the mountains to hunt after abstaining from sexual contact, and assuring that no women in their households were having their menstrual periods). Seen in this light, the legendary mkadres, through their privileged access to the travelling deities of Xaxmati, Gudani, Anatori, Karate and Saneba, paved the way in a more literal sense for the shrine priests who until recently travelled regularly to affiliated holy sites outside of Xevsureti, and for cross-border voyagers in general. The comparison of the Svanetian and Xevsurian materials would lead one to conclude, as well, that interethnic, believer-unbeliever connections were conceived as a

Believer-nonbeliever shrines (Tuite) 11-12-17 page 8 resource, just as ibex meat was for Svan hunters. From the standpoint of the shrines, crossborder traffic was a source of revenue (offerings and sacrifices brought from outside Xevsureti), and in return the Chechens, Ingush and Tushetians received the protection of powerful shrines and their patron deities. But the ethnographic data makes it clear that sanctuaries and priests were not the only ones to profit from the crossing of frontiers. To illustrate this latter point, I will summarize a striking anecdote from Kiknadzes newly- issued collection of andrezebi. It concerns Sanebis-Jvari at Ukan-Qadu, a village near the main ridge of the Caucasus range, the divine patron of which frequently travelled mkadre in tow to Ingush (Ghilgho) villages along the Assa River valley. According to the story, an Ingush man named Paresha from Netxa (= Nelx?), a village across the border which paid tribute to Sanebis-Jvari, came with a group of men to raid cattle from the Xevsur village of Bacaligo. They were seen by herdsmen, and fled to Ukan-Qadu, where they sought refuge in a sacred forest belonging to Sanebis-Jvari. Paresha made an offering of three rubles to the shrine, and in return received protection from the Georgians (two of whom died in the attempt to capture him and his companions). Each year afterward, Paresha offered a sacrificial animal in gratitude to Sanebis-Jvari. To return to the theme adduced at the beginning of this talk: rethinking the conception of the Caucasus as a region or as a place, but from the ground up rather than the top down. The investigation of networking practices and the elements from local belief systems which parallel and perhaps license them is an essential step toward replacing the cartographic Caucasus seen from above, defined by topography, political borders or language maps, with the model of an emergent Caucasus: dynamic, continually remaking itself, with shifting and indefinite frontiers, and quite possibility during certain periods at least best conceived as multiple rather than unified. That is one of the main questions my colleagues wish to address in the research project we hope to undertake next year.