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Protectress of the Ibex

Stories of the Caucasus Mountains and close resemblance to the Scottish tales of the Glastig

The themes of:
the goddess of the mountains who tends the deer
the hunter
and the hair used to tie the dog

From article "The Hair and the Dog".

The Tale of Two Brothers

Among the many versions of the tale of the Two Brothers, the following combination of features occurs again and again: one brother kills a dragon and marries a princess but leaves her soon after the marriage, either to go hunting or to seek the source of a light which can be seen on a mountain or in a wood. He encounters an old woman, either by a fire in a forest or in a house of some kind, who complains of cold and hunger. She is afraid of the animals accompanying him (including one or more dogs) and asks him to tie them up with one of her hairs. When he does this, she utters words of power and the hair becomes an unbreakable iron chain; she then strikes the hero with a wand or reed, so that he is turned to stone or falls lifeless. His brother, however, comes in search of him and cleverly evades the woman's trickery. He forces her to restore his brother to life and to set the animals free, after which the woman is usually killed by the brothers or the animals."

It is significant that the episode of the hair and the dogs is found in the earliest Italian version of the tale of the Two Brothers, where the woman's command and the hero's response countermanding it are given, 'Hair, bind this man!' 'Dog, devour this woman!' This can be compared with the words used in one of the Scottish tales, where the hero has bound his dogs with his garter instead of the woman's hair, and when she commands, 'Tighten, hair!' he responds with, 'Slacken, garter!'

A short summary of the Digoron Nart legend will reveal that it is very close in detail to many other European versions of the Two Brothers tale, especially in the episode of the encounter with the witch, which is of chief concern to us here.

The story runs as follows: the twin Narts, 'Skhsarz and Wkhszrteg, are called upon to guard a precious apple tree. One of the brothers shoots a bird which is damaging the tree and sets out to follow the trail of blood drops left by the wounded bird. The second brother remains behind to wait for his brother. The first brother reaches a girl who is lying ill with a fatal wound. By applying a few drops of the bird's blood, which he had collected on the trail, the first brother cures the girl and consequently wins her hand in marriage. Immediately after his marriage he sets out to hunt and goes to a gorge, which his wife and her family have warned him is dangerous. In that gorge herds of deer are grazing and the young hunter shoots a white hind in the middle of the herd. He makes a fire in a cave and is preparing to cook the animal when a woman appears suddenly and demands to know why he is killing her herds. The hunter replies that they are not her herds but he invites her to come and eat with him nevertheless. The woman declares that she is afraid of his hunting dogs and his gun; she asks him to tie a strand of her long hair around the necks of the dogs and to place her spindle whorl at the end of the barrel of his gun. No sooner has he done so than the woman seizes the spit full of kebabs, pours the meat down her throat and then pounces on the hunter, overcoming him completely.

The hunter calls to his dogs and gun for assistance but the hair becomes like an iron chain around the necks of the dogs and the spindle whorl like a piece of iron at the end of the gun. The woman strikes the hunter with a felt whip and turns him to stone. Meanwhile the second brother guesses (or sees by the life-token of the crossbow bolt) that the first is in danger. He sets out after his twin. He meets the wife of his brother, who mistakes him for her husband because the twins are so alike, he goes hunting in the same gorge, shoots the same white hind and encounters the same woman. The second brother is cleverer than the first, however, and he only pretends to bind his dogs and immobilize his rifle. When the woman attacks him, he calls upon dogs and weapon for aid and is able to overcome the woman. He forces her to restore his brother to life and then the two brothers fall upon her and cut her to pieces. The legend ends with the episode of the jealous quarrel of the two brothers, occasioned by the wife's confusion of their identity.

From Elene Virsaladze's work it becomes apparent that the figure of the hunting goddess, the mistress of the beasts, was one of the oldest and most powerful types of hunting deity in the Caucasus. During the course of the centuries, however, the functions of the goddess were often modified, even restricted, by the introduction of a male consort into the cult and tradition and in many cases, particularly with the establishment of Christianity, the old goddess became vilified and she declined into a mere witch or malevolent spirit, haunting the forests to cause harm to huntsmen and other traveller.

There remain, however, many traditions about the hunting goddess, which give some indication of her former status and the reverence with which she was once regarded, even worshipped. This goddess is known to the Svans as Dali and to the Mingrelians as Tkashi-mapa, 'Queen of the forest'. In other traditions within Georgia and elsewhere in the Caucasus, the hunting goddess is often referred to simply as the 'Mistress' or 'Shepherdess of the beasts' or the 'Angel' of the rock or forest. According to tradition, the goddess is an astonishingly beautiful woman, with a radiant white body, covered only by her luxuriant, ankle-length golden (or sometimes black) hair. She was able to assume various forms, animal or human, including that of any mortal girl loved by the hunter. She might also vary in size: in one area of eastern Georgia the female sovereign of the beasts is described as a tiny woman. On the other hand, she might also assume the form of an enormous mountain goat. The hunting goddess was considered to be the absolute mistress of all the wild beasts of the mountain and forest. She herded and protected the animals. Sometimes she is portrayed milking the deer of her herd. Only with the consent of the mistress of the beasts would a hunter be allowed to kill an animal. Her home was thought to be a house or a cave high up among the rocks, in which her herds of deer or mountain goats sought sanctuary. One of the favourite manifestations of Dali was a white hind and in this guise she would often lure a hapless hunter to his doom.

The Hair and the Dog by Hilda Ellis Davidson; Anna Chaudhri
Folklore, Vol. 104, 1993

other references:
- Kurt Ranke, 'Die Zwei Briider', in F. F. Communications, no. 114, Helsinki, 1934.
- Elene Virsaladze, Gruzinskii Okhotnichii Mif i Poeziia, Moscow, 1976.
(Note: Unfortunately these books have not been translated into English, although the authors of the articles used these two books to glean much of their information.)

The hunting mythology of the Caucasus

In traditional Caucasus hunting lore, the beasts were owned by a goddess (although she was later supplanted by a god, and still later by St George, as we shall see). She was prepared to allow a certain number of the animals that she owned to be killed by hunters, provided that their numbers were within the limits of population sustainability. However, the killing of her special (pet) animals was taboo. Her special animals were traditionally marked in some way:

a white colour, a white mark on the forehead, an unusually large size, golden horns or a shining horn, intertwined or twisted horns, a single horn, or a dappled or multi-coloured skin
(Virsaladze 1976, 33).
A very detailed analysis of hunting mythology in the Caucasus has been made by the eminent Georgian folklorist, Elena Virsaladze. The songs and traditions indicate that a matriarchal religion was gradually replaced by a patriarchal one, and the function of the goddess was slowly usurped by a male figure, sometimes her son, brother, father or husband.

The goddess was generally called "the lady of the beasts," "the mistress of the beasts," "the sovereign of the beasts," and so on. She had various names in different regions. For instance, in the high-mountain region of Svaneti (Western Georgia) where, because of its remoteness, the most primitive versions of the traditions remain, she was called "Dali" and often addressed as "Dali of the Crags." Here her favourite animal was usually the tur. In Samegrelo (Western Georgia) she was "Tkashi-Mapa" and "Queen of the forest." Here her animal was usually the deer. She owned the wild animals, both prey and predators, and looked after them. However, she allowed the hunters to kill them, provided that they observed the necessary taboos. A hunter could only kill an animal by her permission. Before going hunting, the hunter refrained from relations with a woman for a specified period, in order to avoid incurring the jealousy of the goddess. As food he would take with him specially baked small loaves of bread. He would start off early in the morning, because Dali was also personified in the Morning Star.

If a hunter observes all the required customs in the home, he must get going on his way before the pre-dawn star rises, in other words he must climb up to the hunting places before the animal (tur or chamois) goes out to graze. And here he must perform the following: kindle a fire, pour some hot coals on a small stone and, as soon as the pre-dawn star begins twinkling, to break a wax candle in pieces, throw them on the coals and say the prayer:

"Glory to you, star of the dawn!
Glory to Dali, glory to Afsaty.
Help me today, let me kill an animal.
Glory to you!".
He would say a prayer to her for a successful and safe hunt.
Glory to my gracious God! Whenever I appeal to you with a request, have pity on me, Dali of the crags, glory to you! Afsati of the crags, glory! You are in charge of a wild animal: when I come into your domains, bring me back home in peace; give me a share in the animal, do not begrudge a large one, do not be ashamed of a small one. In the autumn get me and my companions back home in peace. Whatever suits you, accept from me with my prayer, if there is nothing from me, then simply do not be offended at me for it. I am yours, you ought to pity and sympathise with me. Give me good success, adding favour to favour. Outside and at home, everywhere, hear my entreaties, do not deprive me of your mercy.

The association of the Lady and the Unicorn, and the hunting mythology of the Caucasus
Folkore April 2003, David Hunt

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