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Copyright © 2001 by Sergei V. Rjabchikov. All Rights Reserved.

HE-GOATS NEAR THE SUN/WORLD TREE: THE SCYTHIAN AND SLAVONIC BELIEFS

by Sergei V. Rjabchikov

Let us consider pictures of two Scythian swords (Melyukova 1964: table 15 [6]; Raevsky 1985: 115, figure 10). In the first case he-goats are located on both sides of the double sign 'the sun'; in the second case they are located on both sides of a lamp. The goat (cf. Old Indian aja 'goat') may be an image of the Indo-Arian deity Aja Ekapad connected with the Indo-Arian deities Pusan, Indra and Varuna (1). According to the Indo-Aryan beliefs, the god Pusan may denote the ecliptic or certain celestial points (at the horizon, at the zenith); besides, this deity is a keeper of herds and a herdsman (2). Indeed, the two suns in the first picture denote the motion of the sun; the examined motif is depicted above the eight animals. It should be remembered that number eight is connected with the symbols of the World Tree in the Scythian beliefs (Bessonova 1983: 82-3). So the two he-goats may be the symbols of the motion of the sun and describe certain solar positions. Moreover, it is known that the goat is a symbol of fertility (Rybakov 1994: 156).

Now one can examine a Russian embroidered towel collected in the Kuban region, Russia; it is exhibited in the Krasnodar Historical-Archaeological Museum (Krasnodar, Krasnodar Territory, Russia). This towel was manufactured by a Russian woman who arrived from the Kursk province to the Kuban region. Each of five levels contains three similar plots. Since number three means the ideas "absolute perfection, superiority" in the Russian beliefs (3), apparently such a construction of the patterns is an indication of the use of this towel in some rates. Related triple constructions of the embroidered patterns are registered in the Kursk Territory (Listova 1979). Two levels of the Kuban embroidery have been investigated partly (Gangur 1999: 30-1, figure 17; 36-7, figure 20b). The unit of the second level is a peacock or a peahen (Russian pavlin, pava). G.S. Maslova (1978: 67-8) believes that this bird depicted on the Russian embroideries looks like the Russian fairytale Zhar-ptitsa bird; she has distinguished the sign 'rhomb' on its body. I think that the pavlin/pava bird of the embroideries is the fayritale Zhar-ptitsa bird (literally 'Heat-Bird'). N.A. Gangur (1999: 30) has distinguished two rhombi on the pava bird. So it is Zhar-ptitsa bird, too. It is well known that this bird is a symbol of the sun in the Russian folklore (Afanasiev 1996: 149-50, 152, 239; Ivanov and Toporov 1991).

Moreover, two Russian songs named Pavushka and collected in the Krasnodar Territory (Ter and Ter 2000: 95, 104) include the common fragment with slight variants:

A v pavlina, gospodina, zolotaya golova,
A v pavlina, gospodina, zolotaya golova,
A v pavushki-krasavushki pozolochennaya
.

Here a peacock and a peahen correlate with the gold. On the other hand, the gold is a symbol of the sun in the Russian beliefs (Afanasiev 1996: 239, 284). An Ukrainian song dedicated to the Orthodox Christmas (the pagan Kolyada feast in old time) tells of a finger-ring which shines as the fire (Markevich 1860: 23). A rhomb may be read 'solar' or even 'golden' in this context (cf. the Scythian/Sarmatian sign "rhomb" ay, it signifies 'egg; the World Tree; the sun; life, vitality; vigour; long life') (4).

A Russian love-charm registered in Krasnodar (an anonymous informant 2001: personal communication) contains in particular the following words: Vse stoyat kury, na vsekh plat'ya khudy, prishla ya, pavitsa, krasnaya devitsa, na mne plat'e belen'ko, lichiko milen'ko... Here a peahen (Russian pavitsa) personifies a girl (woman) who is reading this charm; her white clothes are pertinent to deities of light (5). From these facts it transpires that the peahen is an image of the fairytale Zhar-ptitsa bird.

Two he-goats are represented on both sides of the World Tree at the third level on the Kuban towel. I suppose that this motif is a reflex of the Scythian ideas (see above). Perhaps these he-goats are associated with the Slavonic Kolyada feast of the winter solstice. A Russian song devoted to this pagan feast contains the following words (Rybakov 1987: 139):

Za rekoyu za bystroyu,
Lesa stoyat dremuchie,
Ogni goryat velikie,
Vokrug ogney skam'i stoyat,
Skam'i stoyat dubovye,
Na tekh skam'yakh dobry molodtsy,
Dobry molodtsy, krasny devitsy
Poyut pesni kolnodushki (kolyadnye).
V seredine ikh starik sidit,
On tochit svoy bulatny nozh.
Kotel kipit goryachy;
Vozle kotla kozel stoit -
Khotyat kozla zarezati...
.

The key words of this song are "the Kolyada (Kolnodushka) feast", "great fires" and "a he-goat" which is a sacrifice. It is conceivable that this he-goat was a sacrifice to the gods to save the Celestial He-goat.

The other three levels of the towel include flowers which may denote ideas "flowering, blossoming; life; resurrection; revival" and describe the transition from death (winter) to life (spring, summer).

NOTES

1. See Toporov 1991; 1992a; Shilov 1995: 208-15.

2. See Toporov 1992a.

3. See Toporov 1992b: 630.

4. Cf. a Russian fairy-tale about the hen Ryaba in which the golden egg (the sun) is mentioned.

5. Cf. Afanasiev 1996: 61, 141.

REFERENCES

Afanasiev, A.N., 1996. Proiskhozhdenie mifa. Stat'i po fol'kloru, etnografii i mifologii. Moscow: Indrik.

Bessonova, S.S., 1983. Religioznye predstavleniya skifov. Kiev: Naukova Dumka.

Gangur, N.A., 1999. Ornament narodnoy vyshivki slavyanskogo naseleniya Kubani XIX – nachala XX veka. Krasnodar: Sovetskaya Kuban'.

Ivanov, V.V. and V.N. Toporov, 1991. Zhar-ptitsa. In: S.A. Tokarev (ed.) Mify narodov mira. Vol. 1. Moscow: Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, p. 439.

Listova, T.A., 1979. Tkachestvo i vyshivka v nekotorykh rayonakh Kurskoy i Belgorodskoy oblastey. In: S.I. Vaynshtein (ed.) Polevye issledovaniya Instituta etnografii: 1977. Moscow: Nauka, pp. 19-27.

Markevich, N.A., 1860. Obychai, pover'ya, kukhnya i napitki malorossiyan. Kiev.

Maslova, G.S., 1978. Ornament russkoy narodnoy vyshivki kak istoriko-etnografichesky istochnik. Moscow: Nauka.

Melyukova, A.I., 1964. Vooruzhenie skifov. Arkheologiya SSSR. Svod arkheologicheskikh istochnikov. Vol. D1-4. Moscow: Nauka.

Raevsky, D.S., 1985. Model' mira skifskoy kul'tury. Problemy mirovozzreniya iranoyazychnykh naradov evraziyskikh stepey I tysyacheletiya do n.e. Moscow: Nauka.

Rybakov, B.A., 1987. Yazychestvo Drevney Rusi. Moscow: Nauka.

Rybakov, B.A., 1994. Yazychestvo drevnikh slavyan. Moscow: Nauka.

Shilov, Y.A., 1995. Prarodina ariev: Istoriya, obryady i mify. Kiev: SINTO.

Ter, V.V. and O.V. Ter (eds.), 2000. Pesni kazakov Priurup'ya. Otradnaya: Otradninsky gumanitarny institut.

Toporov, V.N., 1991. Adzha Ekapad. In: S.A. Tokarev (ed.) Mify narodov mira. Vol. 1. Moscow: Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, p. 44.

Toporov, V.N., 1992a. Pushan. In: S.A. Tokarev (ed.) Mify narodov mira. Vol. 2. Moscow: Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, p. 353.

Toporov, V.N., 1992b. Chisla. In: S.A. Tokarev (ed.) Mify narodov mira. Vol. 2. Moscow: Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, p. 629-31.


Copyright © 2001 by Sergei V. Rjabchikov. All Rights Reserved.

Published 24 December 2001.

Sergei V. Rjabchikov, Krasnodar, RUSSIA.


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