Adyghe / Circassian Habze

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A wheel, representing the articulation of the universe from the center, Tha.

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The Adyghe “hammer cross” representing god Tha.

The Tau Cross gets is name from the Greek letter that it resembles.  It is an early Christian symbol that also refers to the sign marked on the foreheads of those who are saved in Ezekiel 9:4.  It is a popular cross among Franciscans, as St. Francis used it in his personal coat of arms.

The Circassians

Dharma Wheel:

The Circissians are an ethnic group of North Caucasian stock inhabiting areas of Caucasia: the republic of Adygea, and the bordering republics of Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria (the Kabard subgroup), all three within the domains of Russia. The Adyghe Native Religion was influenced by Hellenic religion and philosophy at the time of Greek colonisation in the Caucasus.

Adyghe society prior to the Russian invasion was highly stratified. While a few tribes in the mountainous regions of Adygeya were fairly egalitarian, most were broken into strict castes. The highest was the caste of the “princes”, followed by a caste of lesser nobility, and then commoners, serfs, and slaves. In the decades before Russian rule, two tribes overthrew their traditional rulers and set up democratic processes, but this social experiment was cut short by the end of Adyghe independence.

During the time of the settlement of Greek cities / colonies on the coast of the Black Sea there was an intermingling of cultures. Circassian mythology has noticeable aspects from Greek mythology. In return, there is evidence that Greek mythology also borrowed from Circassian legends.

In the 6th century, under Byzantine influence, many Adyghes became Christian, but under the growing influence of the Ottomans, many of them became Muslims. Throughout Circassian history the ethnic religion of Circassians has interacted with Christianity and Islam.

Although historically Islamised, the period of the Soviet Union contributed to a severe weakening of Islam in the area, and especially among the Adyghe-Circassians. With the fall of the Soviet regime, the revival of Habzism was supported by Adyghe intellectuals as part of a rise in nationalism and cultural identity in the 1990s, and more recently as a thwarting force against Wahhabism and Islamic fundamentalism.

The movement has developed a following especially in Karachay-Cherkessia (12%) and Kabardino-Balkaria (3%), according to 2012 statistics. On the 29th of December 2010 a prominent Kabard-Circassian ethnographer and Habze advocate, Arsen Tsipinov, was killed by radical Muslims, who warned him months earlier to stop publicizing the rituals of the original Circassian faith.

Habze, or Habza, also spelled “Khabze” or “Khabza”, also called Habzism, defines the Pagan ethnic religion, philosophy and worldview of the Adyghe or Circassians. It is the epitome of Circassian culture and tradition having deeply shaped the ethical values of the Adyghe. It is their code of honour and is based on mutual respect and above all requires responsibility, discipline and self-control.

The belief system takes its name from the Circassian epic Adyghe Habze, originally orally transmitted, which has heavily contributed to the shaping of Adyghe values over the centuries. Habze is an Abkhazian compound made up from “khy”, meaning “vast”, “universe” or “order”, plus “bze”, meaning “speech”, “word”, “language”. Thus its meaning is roughly “Language of the Universe” or “Word of the Cosmos”, comparable to the concept of Dharma.

Habze is a philosophical and religious system of personal values and the relationship between an individual to others, to the world around him, and to the Higher Mind. In essence, it represents monotheism with a much-defined system of worshipping One God – the Mighty Tha, Thashkhue or Thashkho, who begets the universe.

First of all, Tha expresses himself generating the Word or cosmic Law (Khy), the primordial pattern from which all the beings form naturally, developing by internal laws. Enlightenment for men corresponds to an understanding of Tha’s Law. Tha is omnipresent in his creation (coagulation); according to Adyghe cosmological texts, “his spirit is scattered throughout space”.

In Adyghe hymns Tha (Thashxue) is referred to as “the One everyone asks, but who doesn’t ask back”, “the multiplier of the non-existent”, “on whom everyone places their hope, but who doesn’t place hope on anyone”, “from whom the gifts come”, “His amazing work”, “the One who permits heaven and earth to move”.

Everything is One (Psora Zysch, Psora Hysch), and is one with the Tha. The material-manifested world is in perpetual change, but at the same time there is a foundation that always remains unshaken. That is the originating principle of the world and its Law. The always-changing world and its basis is compared to a rotating wheel: although the wheel is constantly rotating (changing), it has its central hub around which it revolves, which remains still.

An important element is the belief in the soul (psa) of the ancestors, who have the ability to observe and evaluate the affairs of their offsprings. The souls of the ancestors require commemoration, whereby funeral feasts are arranged (hedeus); sacrifice or memorial meal preparations (zheryme) are practiced and distributed for the remembrance of the dead souls.

The concept of physical pain or pleasure in the Hereafter (Hedryhe) is absent — the soul is granted spiritual satisfaction or remorse for one’s chosen path in life in front of himself and his ancestors. Therefore, the goal of man’s earthly existence is the perfection of the soul, which corresponds to the maintenance of honour (nape), manifestation of compassion (guschlegu), gratuitous help (psape), which, along with valor, and bravery of a warrior, enables the human soul to join the soul of the ancestors with a clear conscience (nape huzhkle).

Etseg literally means “exact”, “true” in the Ossetian language. Din is a cognate of the Persian Daena and the Sanskrit Dharma, which represents “insight” and “revelation”, and from this “conscience” and “religion”, the Eternal Law or the order of the universe, equivalent to the Ṛta (“properly ordered”, “properly bound”) in all Indo-European religions.

The Etseg Din movement is active both in North and South Ossetia. Whilst there are no figures about religious demographics for South Ossetia, in North Ossetia–Alania about 29% of the population adheres to Paganism according to 2012 survey statistics.

There are attempts to turn local traditional gods into objects of national worship in North Ossetia–Alania. For example, in former times, a grove was devoted to the local communal god/saint Khetag-

After the clashes between Ossetians and Georgians in 1991-92, a glade near the wood was turned into a place for pan-Ossetian worship, including religious and political rituals, with activities supervised by the Great Council (Styr-nykhas), a non-governmental committee established in 1993.

The Khetag celebration was approved by the 1990s’ president of North Ossetia–Alania as a national holiday. A special foundation was established in order to raise funds for the reconstruction of the site, and since 1994 a big annual sacrifice is arranged at the Khetag shrine.

K. Sikhuralidze proposed the possibility that the peoples of the Caucasus region shared a single, regional culture in ancient times. Careful study of the Nakhian and Kartvelian mythologies reveals many similarities and supports this thesis.

There were also many similarities that Vainakh mythologies shared with those of the Circassians (as the Circassian historian Amjad Jaimoukha notes frequently), but also those of the Greeks, the Italic, the Celtic (see respective subsection) and the Germanic peoples. There are many shared myths that all these peoples have.

Adyghe Xabze functions as the Circassian unwritten law yet was highly regulated and adhered to in the past. The Code requires that all Circassians are taught courage, reliability and generosity. Greed, desire for possessions, wealth and ostentation are considered disgraceful (“Yemiku”) by the Xabze code.

In accordance with Xabze, hospitality was and is particularly pronounced among the Circassians. Circassians consider the host to be like a slave to the guest in that the host is expected to tend to the guest’s every need and want. A guest must never be permitted to labour in any way, this is considered a major disgrace on the host. A guest is not only a guest of the host family, but equally a guest of the whole village and clan. Even enemies are regarded as guests if they enter the home and being hospitable to them as one would with any other guest is a sacred duty.

Every Circassian arises when someone enters the room, providing a place for the person entering and allowing the newcomer to speak before everyone else during the conversation. In the presence of elders and women, respectful conversation and conduct are essential. Disputes are stopped in the presence of women and domestic disputes are never continued in the presence of guests. A woman can request disputing families to reconcile and they must comply with her request.

Worship to Tha, as well as requests to him, are expressed through rites and rituals called Thaleu (“request to Tha”), and can be in the form of hohu (hymn-prayers). The conduction of Thaleu traditionally doesn’t require the construction of man-made structures. Therefore, the ceremonies take place in special locations, often in sacred groves called Thalauple or Thaschag mez.

The location where Thaleu are celebrated is marked with a symbol in the form of a “hammer cross”, representative of the utmost divinity. The elders of the families, communities, and villages conduct the ceremonies. The priest officiating rituals or practices is called Thamada. This person is a key figure in Circassian culture who is often an elder but also the person who carries the responsibility for functions like weddings or circumcision parties. This person must always comply with all the rules of Xabze in all areas of his life.

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