From the ancient times Pshav-Khevsureti had been free, independent region, less affected by governance of kings. That is why it has still kept old mythological and religious perceptions and holidays, fulfilled and celebrated in shrines. The shrines have been specially built in sacred places, called Khati (icon) by Pshavians and Djvari (cross) by Khevsurs. The people consider themselves serfs of the icon/cross.
Pshavians and Khevsurs do not perceive their shrines as churches. They do not go to shrine for blessing of their souls, but for protection and help in any kind of undertaking. They believe that faithful and hardworking person would be helped by the shrine in any kind of trouble, as well as in household work, travel, fighting enemies, hunting and so on.
Before travelling for any kind of business Khevsur or Pshavian would promise the shrine cattle for slaughter (sacrifice). If the trip brought no result, he would make the offering anyway.
Going hunting, Khevsur of Pshavian would promise the shrine ibex antlers if it helped him. That is why sacred towers are decorated by ibex or deer antlers.
Each village has two or more shrines, where the people gather during religious festivals.
The festivals are held by cross/icon priests, whose chieftain is called Khucesi, or Khevisberi. He is followed by Kadagi (preacher), Dasturi or Medroshe (flag bearer). They are responsible for preparation – brewing beer, arranging ritual cakes, offerings, candles, table and for conducting the festival itself.
Pshavians and Khevsurs have their separate shrines as well as joint ones, Khtishvili (Children of God), which are of various shapes (deer, hawk, snake, pigeon, bull) and functions. They are responsible for agriculture, cattle-breeding, fertility, war, hunting, protection from natural calamities and evil spirits, healing etc.
The main shrine is called Morige and is followed by Kviria, which is a mediator between Khtishvili, people and Morige.
According to a legend god of Morige sent Khtishvili gods down from heaven in the shape of pillar of light (silver chain), and where the beams fell, people built towers and made shrines. Some of the Khtishvili gods at the beginning were real people; Morige gave them divine powers, granted them clothes, swords and they have become Khtishvili. They are called human Khtishvili gods (Kopala, Iakhsari, Pirkushi…).
The legends tell that the largest part of Pshavian and Khevsuretian lands were occupied by Devs (demons), who oppressed the population. Devs Avtandil, Begela, Muza, Sumbata, Gakhveura and so on were creatures of different faith, secret-keepers of blacksmithery. They did not follow agriculture and cattle-breeding, but sustained themselves by hunting and blacksmithery. They made weapons and household tools but did not know how to use them.
People asked Morige to help them and have been sent Khtishvili gods, who banished the Devs, took their places, got the people land to live on and turned themselves into shrines.
Khtishvili gods have various functions:
Pshavian Lashari cross and Khevsuretian Gudani cross (Baaduri Monk) are warrior gods. They protect soldiers in wars against enemies.
Kopala and Iakhsari protect people from devs, idols and devilish souls.
Khakhmati cross / George Narvarmshvenieri / is a shrine for fertility, agriculture and cattle-breeding.
Tsroli Trinity and Anatori Cross are shrines of hunters and pirates.
Damasturi and Sachali Cross manage weather.
Pirkushi shrine is protector of blacksmithery.
Festivals in shrines of Pshavians and Khevsurs coincide with ones of Christian calendar, sometimes under different name (Christmas is called Christ, Easter – Resurrection, Pentecost – Khalarjveba (commemoration of the dead)…). They also have their own special festivals – Atengenoba (Feast of Athenogenos), Lasharoba, Datioba…
People go to shrines and near them only during festivals. In other days they are prohibited from going there, especially strangers, children and women, because these places are considered sacred and forbidden. Territory of a shrine is a kind of reserve, where no economic activities are allowed, such as farming, mowing, felling trees, building. Otherwise the shrine will punish trespassers through its priestesses – bringing to them illness or peril or some other damage (priestesses are evil souls helping god of the shrine).
Shrine itself as architectural construction may be of several various types. It is built by dry masonry and decorated by ibex or deer antlers. The names of the types are Darbazi (hall), Begheli (barn), Saqvabe, Sazare, Kvrivi, Dobilni (priestesses), also small closed towers. There are centennial ash-trees, oak-trees, beech-trees and so on growing around the shrines and in every village existence of such separately located, protected trees shows us location of the shrines. Each shrine has its own property – land and oxen, sacrificed to them by population. Priests of cross/icon take care of them. The harvest from the land is used to hold religious festivals, while oxen are offered as a sacrifice at some large festival and the meat is divided equally between the people of the village.
Often village cemetery is also located near the shrine.
Shrines of Pshavi
Every village of Pshavi has its own shrine – icon. Apart from that, population of Pshavi is divided into twelve communities according to their family origins and each one of them also has its own community icon.
The main shrine of Pshavians, Lashari cross, is located in the gorge of upper Pshavi. It unites all twelve communities of Pshavi. Here large festival – Lasharoba – is held, ministered by the Head Khevisberi. After celebrating in their shrine, each community of Pshavi, leaded by their “icon flag”, goes to Lashari, where they have their own altar and area for congregation.
During periods of peace Lashari cross is the icon of festivities, of joy and pleasure, where both men and women have a good time at festivals.
In ancient times there was old holy oak at the Lashari cross. Feudal lords of Aragvi tried to cut the tree in order to subdue Pshavi, but did not manage it.
Magharoskari village. Bziana shrine. The name of Bziana icon comes from the plant “Bza” (box-tree), which is considered a sacred tree. According to a legend, it was planted here by the Queen Tamar.
Above the Magharoskari, in Aragvi Gorge there is Kopala icon. This is the place where Kopala has annihilated devs and taken their place. There are some traces and toponyms left reflecting these legends – Kartana, Devs Bath, Devs Cemetery, Avtandil’s Pendulum, Kopala Stone, Kopala lash…
The main shrine of Kopala is in Udzilaurta village.
Kopala. According to a legend, Kopala was real person. Morige presented him with a supernatural power, clothes and arms.
Khornauli community, oppressed by devs, was the first to sacrifice lands and oxen to Kopala and to ask for help. This way began struggle of Kopala against devs. There are shrines of Kopala in several villages of Pshavi and Khevsureti.
Shuaphkho village. Iaghsari icon.
Iaghsari (Iakhsari) is physically the strongest one among Khtishvili gods. He fights devs together with Kopala. When Iakhsari destroyed devs in Pshavi, one of them fled to Khevsureti. Iakhsari overtook it at the Roshka village and threw whip to it. The dev hid behind a large boulder. The whip struck the boulder and split it in two. There still is the split rock in the village. The dev fled and hid in the Abudelauri lake. Iakhsari followed it into the lake and killed it. The blood of the dev curdled on the surface of the lake, bound arms of Iakhsari and did not let him up. Then his servants, following advice of Kadagi (preacher) sacrificed a sheep with four antlers and four ears and set Iakhsari free. He came out of the lake in the shape of pigeon and flew away. People built a shrine in the place, where he landed. Finally Iakhsari settled down in Shuapkho village, though there are also shrines built in his name in other villages of Pshav-Khevsureti.
Campaign of Iaksari serfs to Abudelauri Lake.
After liberation of Iakhsari from the lake, when Shuapkho population set a preacher to predict for them, the preacher summoned them to capture the lake. The people informed their relatives in Khevsureti, who would brew beer and bring a sheep with four antlers and four ears. Then Shuapkho people would rise the flag of the icon, on which they also hung the whip, with which Iakhsari killed the dev, and would go to Khevsureti by the road Iakhsari followed while fighting the devs. In the end they would go to Abudelauri lake, followed by armed Khevsurs. Near the lake they would set a preacher again, who would reach out to the lake with threats but the people would stop him. The Khevsurs would shoot at the lake and bang their swords on shields with battle cries.
Shrines of Pshavi communities:
Village Tsabaurta – Mtavarangelozi (Main Angel)
Village Gogolaurta – Mtavarmotsame (Main Martyr)
Village Muko -Mokharnade Khvtisshobeli (Mother of God)
Village Matura – Mtavarangelozi (Main Angel)
Village Khoshara – Dzeli Angel
Village Chicho – Queen Tamar
Village Akhadi – Pirkushi (God of blacksmiths)
Village Tsitelaurta – Kotia Saint George
Village Upper Pshavi – George Tskarostauli
Apart from the above mentioned icons there are also several other shrines in the villages.
Shrines of Khevsureti
Khevsurs call their shrines crosses. Each village has several shrines, which can be located near the village itself as well as on the top of a mountain some distance away. Almost each village has Mother of God Cross, which they call the Mother of the place.
The major shrine, uniting whole Khevsureti is located in Gudani village.
Gudani Cross – Divine Monk Baaduri is a warrior cross. Preparing for war, Khevsurs gathered here before the battle, brought out the campaign flag and set a preacher to predict a result of the approaching fight. During the battle the Gudani Cross on a white horse revealed itself to the army increasing strength of the warriors.
In peaceful times, celebrating Feast of Athenogenos, Khevsurs went from the Gudani Cross to the Sane mountain, where the whole Khevsureti gathered and the great feast was held, accompanied by sport competitions – riding, sword-play, wrestling, weight-lifting, shooting. Every New Year a preacher was set at the Gudani Cross to make predictions for the year to come.
At the Gudani Cross were also created statements of customary law – Rdjuli (faith), which then spreaded to the whole Khevsureti.
Gudani Cross and “Zhamni” (Plague gods)
When population of Anatori died during the epidemic of plague, “zhamni” moved to other villages of Khevsureti. In Southern Khevsureti they settled on Sane mountain, in order to shoot arrows at people from there. (According to legend, zhamni were small humans, who had arrows of three colours – black, red and white. Black arrow killed immediately, red – later, while those wounded by white got cured. Serfs of Gudani cross asked their shrine for help. The Cross covered its serfs by hem of its clothes, protected them from the arrows and saved from the plague.
Another large shrine of Khevsureti is located in Khakhmati village.
Khakhmati Cross, Giorgi Nagvarmshvenieri. This shrine was worshipped not only by Khevsurs, but also by Pshavians, people of Gudamakari Gorge and Chechens. Khakhmati Cross is protector of agriculture, cattle-breeding and fertility. Childless women came to it to ask for a son and horsemen – to get their horses to bring good foals.
In ancient times Khakhmati Cross invaded the country of Kadji – demons, and took as a trophy so called “demonic treasure” – useful household things – which it divided among Pshav-Khevsureti Khtishvili gods. This treasure was anvil and hammer, sieve, bell, panduri, scales etc.
From the same country of demons the cross brought cattle and prisoner women – Samzimari, Mzeqali, Asheqali, Tamarqali – whom it converted and made priestesses.
Villages of Khevsureti are located in Southern and Northern gorges of Caucasus, and because of this they are called “this side” and “the other side” Khevsureti, in other words, Southern, and Northern Khevsureti.
Due to the climate there were periods during the year with no connection between the villages, nevertheless they have still kept close relationship with each other.
Southern (“this side”) Khevsureti is divided into communities according to gorges they inhabited.
Village Motsmao – Mtavarangelozi
Village Datvisi – Mother of God, Mother of the place
Village Gveleti – Mtavarangelozi
Village Barisakho – Mother of God, Mother of the place
Village Chirdili – Tsminda Giorgi, Mother of the place
Village Ukanakho – Pirimze, Angel of the house. Dwellers of Gudamakari Gorge also worship this shrine.
Village Buchukurta – Mtavarangelozi
Village Qobulo – Mother of God, Mother of the place
Village Akusho – Kopala Cross, Tsikhegori
Village Chalisopeli – Kopala, Karati Cross. Karati Cross fights evil souls. It also heals mentally ill people.
Shubnuri Cross. This shrine according to existing beliefs has the shape of a dragon and guards river and forested banks
Village Batsaligo – Pirkushi
Pirkushi protects and manages blacksmithery. He helped Kopala and Iakhsari in their fight against devs and made weapons for them. Pirkushi also made household tools and ritual silver goblets for shrines of Pshav-Khevsureti. At the same time Pirkushi from Batsaligo is a punishing god. If anyone passes its territory at the wrong time, or commits an unworthy deed, the cross will punish them – contaminate with incurable illness.
Village Atabe – Kviria
Kviria (Kvira) is mentioned next to Morige in the texts, praising the cross. His “tent” is placed on the right to Morige and he is a mediator between Morige and other crosses (Khtishvili gods).
Village Khadu – Tsroli Trinity
Tsroli Trinity is a cross, protecting hunters and pirates, at the same time it is the cross, giving a son (heir).
Village Zeistecho – Sakhmto
Zeistecho Cross – Sakhmto at first stood at Sane mountain, but it did not like local traditions of horse races and “stsorfroba” – love without marriage, so he became angry and moved to Zeistecho village.
Village Chormeshavi – Pitsruli (Wooden house) – Kheli Samdzimari
Kheli Samdzimari was brought by Khakhmati Cross from the land of demons, made a priestess and given the power equal to Khtishvili gods.
Village Khitale – Petre Motsiquli (Peter the Apostle)
Village Ghuli – Kopala
Village Qmosti – White George
Village Roshka – Didgori
Village Blo – George of Oak
Datvis Jvari (Bear Cross) Pass leads to villages of Mtasikita and Migmakhevi.
Village Kistani – Nakharela
Village Shatili – Mtavarangelozi. Mother of God
Anatori Cross is a protector god of hunters, also worshipped by the neighbour Chechens. Near the Anatori Cross, on an automobile road, Anatori Crypts are located – above-ground monument of tombs. Anatori is an ancient ruined village. It was stricken by plague. In order to prevent spreading of the illness, diseased people went into the crypts and awaited death there.
From Anatori we continue to villages of Migmakhevi Gorge
Village Mutso – Broliskali
Village Ardoti – Somkho Saint George
Village Khakhabo – Vake Cross (Valley Cross)
Village Khone – Mtavarangelozi
Passing Village Roshka via Arkhoti mountain pass we enter villages of Arkhoti Gorge.
Village Kviritsminda – Tskalshua Cross
Village Tchimra – Tchishveli Cross
Village Akhieli – Mtavarangelozi
Village Amra – Iakhsari, Rkena
Remains of Khogais Mindi house /Sabekuris Kari/
In the village Amga there are remains of the house of Khogais Mindi, the same Snake-Eater, national and mythological hero of Khevsureti. The remains are declared a sacred place. As a child Khogais Mindi was kidnapped by demons. Being miserable in captivity, he decided to eat a snake, which was food of the demons, in order to kill himself. But after eating the snake Mindi became wise, a prophet and a healer, who understood languages of animals, birds and plants and knew which herbs healed which diseases. Due to his wisdom, Mindi got away from the demons, returned to Khevsureti and became a wonder-working healer.
After the death of Khogais Mindi the people have declared his house a sacred place.