Volltext: Anthropos, 99.2004

Lightning, Sacrifice, and Possession in the Traditional Religions of the Caucasus 
^nthropos 99.2004 
in the Caucasus - that has fascinated ethnographers 
for over a century. The shrine officials, especially 
those with a lifetime vocation, were required to 
attain and maintain a level of “purity” - avoidance 
of the proximity of women at certain times of the 
year, abstention from certain foods, regular and 
costly purificatory sacrifices - that was beyond the 
reach of rank-and-file community members. The 
increasing systematization, regulation and special 
ization of the Pkhovian religious order, I hypoth 
esize, made the role of a lightning god with the 
properties of Slavic Perumu/Kupala, Abkhazian 
Afo or Ossetic Wacilla particularly problematic. 
Such a deity represented, in effect, those aspects 
of sacrifice and possession which the Pkhovian 
hierarchy sought to bring under its control. The 
Indo-European and western Caucasian storm gods 
struck whenever, wherever, and whomever they 
chose, seizing victims without waiting for the com 
munity to take the initiative of making a sac 
rifice. They also took the initiative in selecting 
their prophets, i. e., those lightning-strike victims 
who survived, and perhaps (as the Abkhazian data 
implies) individuals suffering from certain men 
tal disorders. To conceive a divine being in such 
terms would imply certain limits on the human 
community’s control over exchanges with the di 
vine world, both in the form of sacrifice and in 
the form of communication through authorized 
spokespeople. As a consequence of the Pkhovian 
reform, in a sense, the gods retain the appearance 
of omnipotence while in fact ceding some of their 
authority to specialist priests and oracles drawn 
from particular patrilineages in the community. 
The socioreligious order observed in 20th- 
century Pkhovi bears a certain resemblance to 
that of what R. Hamayon has labelled “pastoral 
shamanism” in a diachronic study of the religious 
institutions of the Buryat tribes of Siberia (Hama- 
Von 1996). By contrast with the earlier “hunting 
shamanism,” in which the shaman, through his 
status as the “son-in-law” of supernatural game 
giving spirits, played an integral role in assuring 
the success of hunters, in pastoralist Buryat so- 
c ieties the shamanic function has been subordi 
nated to a patrilineally organized ancestor-based 
re hgious order. The primary ritual specialists have 
c °me to be more like priests, responsible for mak- 
ln g offerings of domestic-animal meat and dairy 
Products, or have given way to the clergy of 
^arnaistic Buddhism. Of particular interest is the 
Poripheralization and feminization of shamanism 
among the Buryats: Most shamans are now fe 
male, their sphere of activity is limited to pri- 
v ate matters such as dealing with the troublesome 
wandering souls of people who died unnatural or 
premature deaths. In the case of the Caucasus, 
it should be noted that there is little evidence 
of an institution comparable to Buryat “hunting 
shamanism,” although one might discern similari 
ties between the Pkhovian ballads of the goddess 
Samdzimari sharing the bed of certain legendary 
oracles, and the Buryat belief that the shaman had 
a supernatural wife of animal origin (Charachidzé 
1968: 142-144; Hamayon 1996). What is com 
mon to both cases is the evident marginaliza 
tion of “horizontal” inspirational practices - those 
which are available, in principle, to any member 
of the society, and which are marked by trance 
and possession - in favor of the institution of 
“vertical” inspiration, based on esoteric knowledge 
controlled by priest-like specialists, a phenomenon 
which often accompanies increasing sociopolitical 
complexification and centralization (Hugh-Jones 
1996). Although Pkhovi remained a relatively 
egalitarian society in most respects, the authority 
and prestige held by the chief priests and their 
oracles led some Soviet-period ethnographers to 
employ such terms as “aristocracy” or “theocracy” 
(Bardavelidze 1957: 34-36). Some of this author 
ity, it appears, came at the expense of the periph- 
eralization and feminization of random (or self- 
selected) possession in favor of quasi-hereditary 
oracles, accompanied by the “domestication” of 
a redoubtable thunderbolt-slinging storm god as 
K’op’ala, ogre-slayer and liberator of lost souls. 
One wonders - and it is a question that goes far 
beyond the modest bounds of this article - whether 
the restructuration of Pkhovian society rendered 
it particularly capable of resisting the increasing 
hegemony of political formations to the north, 
south, and east, or whether, on the contrary, the 
restructuration was itself the fruit of that spirit of 
References Cited 
Abaev, Vasili I. 
1949 Osetinskij jazyk i fol’klor. Moscow: Izd. Akad. Nauka 
1958-1989 Istoriko-etimologiceskij slovar’ osetinskogo ja- 
zyka. Vols. 1-5. Moscow: Izd. Akad. Nauka SSSR. 
Abak’elia, Nino 
1991 Mif i ritual v Zapadnoj Gruzii. Tbilisi: Mecniereba. 
Akaba, Lili X. 
1967 O nekotoryx religioznyx perezitkax u abxazov. In; 
L. X. Akaba and S. D. Inal-Ipa (eds.), Sovremennoe 
abxazskoe selo. Etnograficeskie ocherki; pp. 27-51. 
Tbilisi. Mecniereba.


Sehr geehrte Benutzerin, sehr geehrter Benutzer,

aufgrund der aktuellen Entwicklungen in der Webtechnologie, die im Goobi viewer verwendet wird, unterstützt die Software den von Ihnen verwendeten Browser nicht mehr.

Bitte benutzen Sie einen der folgenden Browser, um diese Seite korrekt darstellen zu können.

Vielen Dank für Ihr Verständnis.