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Vainakh Legends

The legend of the “Hordune-Din” (the “Sea Stallion”)

In the olden days, in the lands of the Nakhtsho [Chechens] where great dark forests grew and where the Nakhtsho lived in peace, there were three brothers: Baurz-Kant [“Brave Wolf”], Kuir-Kant [“Brave Falcon”], and Lom-Kant [“Brave Lion”].

The elder brother, Baurz-Kant, owned a herd of cows; the second, Kuir-Kant, owned a herd of goats, and Lom-Kant a herd of horses. […]

The elder brother had good cows: large and powerful, with strong horns. A dagger thrust into their milk remained upright, and did not fall over. The second brother owned fine goats: Their meat was as white as sugar, their milk soft as honey, their fleece was like a soft down on the cheeks of beautiful girls… But the horses of the youngest brother, Lom-Kant, were the best: Lion-horses! Falcon-horses!

People from distant lands came to find horses. The khans and the sultans promised gold and precious stones for these horses, but for nothing in the world would Lom-Kant part with any of his mares. He preserved this marvellous stock, and treasured the purity of their blood.

Every Spring, Lom-Kant secretly took his mares into the thickets of the forest which lies behind the Khankala Gorge. Lom-Kant rode a fiery steed and led the entire herd quickly, like an arrow. He led them through the lands of distant Itshkeria, to the blue Sea in the East, where a marvellous stallion with a golden mane emerged from the waters once a year.

One day, Lom-Kant faced a difficult choice: Either he must take his herd to the Sea in the East, or kidnap his belovèd K’khok’khu [“Dove”], whose father refused him her hand in marriage. Lom-Kant’s brothers agreed to help him by taking care of his herd, and bringing it to the shores of the Sea, but – jealous of their younger brother’s happiness – they decided to kill the sea-horse.

With bows aimed and ready, Lom-Kant’s brothers waited for the horse with the golden mane to emerge from the sea and come closer to the herd. When the horse, risen from the sea floor, lit up the darkness like a crescent moon rising over the sea, the brothers fired a shot of blue balls [sic] from their bows. The wounded horse reared up and threw itself into the sea which boiled with fury. The entire herd of Lom-Kant’s mares plunged into the sea, following the horse with the golden mane. Having heard of what had happened to his herd of horses, Lom-Kant decided not to part with them, and threw himself into the sea.

People say that at the very spot where the Hordune-Din was wounded stands a great rock of the same name; in Spring, one can hear the neighing of the horses and the cries of their master rise up from the bottom of the sea.

The Vainakh believed in the existence of a sea-horse, [not a hippocampus!, but a real horse, a stallion,] which emerged from the sea once a year to mate with ordinary mares, thus strengthening the breed of horses; the mares gave birth to horses “as strong as lions and as fast as falcons.”

This legend is related by Mariel Tsaroieva in her excellent Anciennes Croyances des Ingouches et des Tchétchènes ("Ancient Beliefs of the Ingush and the Chechens", published in 2005). Ms Tsaroieva cites V. Gattsuk's Morskoi Kon' (1907) as her source.

The Seven Sons of the Snow-storm

Tq’a, the harsh, unforgiving god of the universe, created the Narts – a race of strong and powerful giants – and placed them at the foot of his mountain, in a narrow valley through which an impetuous river surged. Tq’a also created a second race of one-eyed Narts, cyclops, larger still than the first, and gave them the higher slopes of this mountain – the giant, snow-covered Bashlam-Kort [Mt. Kazbek, now in northern Georgia], where he sat upon his throne.

In the beginning, a few Narts lived together in a small village, but many years later their numerous descendants – the Galgai [i.e. the ancestors of the Ingush] – were to be found throughout the valley and in the surrounding black mountains. These Narts were fabled for their strength, courage, and pride, and their entire lives were spent raiding and pillaging neighbouring tribes. They were particularly ruthless towards another group of Narts who had resorted to cannibalism, and waged a permanent war against them.

The Galgai Narts feared none save Tq’a, and daily they sacrificed a captive cannibal Nart to him on a blazing pyre. When they had no more prisoners, they drew lots, and immolated those unfortunate ones whom Fate had chosen from among their own ranks. They led a miserable existence, living in damp caves where they slept on the bare rocks, eating grasses and roots gathered in their valley. Many Narts refused to eat this meagre fare, and became cannibals, but the Galgai Narts from Bashlam-Kort realized that if they followed their neighbours’ example and also became cannibals, their race would die out.

There were innumerable herds of sheep, but Tq’a jealously kept these for himself. The ruthless god also kept the sun hidden away, warming himself next to it during the harsh winter months, enveloping it in clouds to prevent the sun’s warming rays from reaching the earth.

When the great Tq’a – seated high up on his clouds, and warming himself by the sun as one would by a stove – became amused by something, his peals of laughter would shake the mountains themselves, and avalanches of stones and snow would come crashing down upon the poor Narts in the valleys, killing many of them. When he sighed – following some unsuccessful business matter, perhaps – his sigh would descend to earth as an icy wind; the Narts knew not where to find shelter from this terrible wind, for their caves were open to the elements. When Tq’a cried, his tears would fall to earth as a torrential downpour. But the worst was when Tq’a began to quarrel with his wife, old Khimekhninen, the mother of water and winds [also known as Dardza-Nana, the goddess of snow-storms]… Then, he would whip up powerful storms, and terrible gusts of wind would rush down to earth. Rivers would boil and burst their banks, flooding the valleys; snow would fall, and avalanches would come crashing down upon the heads of the poor Narts. The Narts began to grumble…

Their relationship with Tq’a the Great was terrible, and beyond repair. The Narts knew of the old legend, which had the god living in a house of reeds, sleeping on plump, soft clouds, warming himself by the rays of the sun, and eating delicious sheep. But their grumbling changed nothing: the Narts continued to freeze and to starve to death. If ever they decided to deprive Tq’a of his daily sacrifice, terrible consequences would ensue: Tq’a would send them avalanches, and winds which swept away the grasses and tore out the roots. Tq’a would even send them the plague, which enfeebled the Galgai Narts so much that their cannibal brethren had no difficulty in overpowering them, and would devour entire families.

The Galgai Narts would sometimes meet in the cave of the old Nart Sozruko, where he lived with his son Kuruko. Sozruko would talk to them of Tq’a’s life, and of how great and powerful he was. They all listened closely, in respectful silence, their heads bowed.

Only one Nart listened to Sozruko’s stories with a mocking smile and a look of insolence and disbelief on his face: his own son, young Kuruko, who could not forgive Tq’a for having created and then abandoned them, depriving them of everything. Kuruko decided to prove himself more clever than the great Tq’a, and improve the lives of his people once and for all.

But when the last cannibal Nart had been sacrificed to the god, Fate designated Kuruko to be Tq’a’s next victim. Kuruko left, saying that he was going to gather dry roots for his own pyre, but in reality he hid himself in an isolated spot known only to him, and stayed there until late at night.

“So,” he grumbled, blind with fury, “you have chosen me to be your next victim! You want these imbeciles, these cowards who tremble with fear when faced with your power, to burn me to please you! I, who alone among them have dared to express my indignation at your cruel treatment of my people! And what do you mean by wishing my death? One thing only: You are afraid of me! You are scared! That is why you want me dead! But beware! I do not fear you, and I will fight you!” And having uttered these words, Kuruko decided to climb the Bashlam-Kort and steal some of the great Tq’a’s sheep and reeds for his people.

Kuruko reached the eternal snows where the giant Narts with one eye lived, cyclops whom Tq’a had mistakenly made too powerful, and of whom he was a little fearful. Kuruko asked these Narts to show him the path to the god’s home, but they did not know where he lived, and sent Kuruko higher up the mountain towards the glacier where lived Tq’a’s seven sons, snow-storms. Tq’a did not get along well with his sons, and Kuruko had no difficulty in persuading them to help him steal some of their father’s sheep and reeds. Tq’a’s sons agreed to help Kuruko, upon the condition that the Nart would give them young Nart girls in marriage.

Having overcome many difficulties on the way, they reached the kingdom of the terrible god. A wondrous sight appeared before Kuruko’s eyes: Upon the summit, which was clear of ice and snow, there was a throne wrapped in clouds. Above, herds of small white and grey sheep were peacefully grazing; so numerous were these that Kuruko could not count them. All around the throne grew entire forests of magnificent reeds. With the help of Tq’a’s seven sons, and with much difficulty, Kuruko was able to throw some sheep and reeds down to his people in the valley.

But suddenly, something terrible happened: Old Tq’a woke up. The clouds around his throne slowly dissipated, and the great god appeared. His face was so horrible that Kuruko prostrated himself and stopped breathing. He thought he was dead.

“I have been robbed!” cried Tq’a, and everything around him shook with fear. “Now the reeds will start to grow, and the sheep will multiply on earth! The Narts will become as strong as me, will become my equals, and will stop making sacrifices to me! They will forsake me! The impertinent thieves will be punished, horribly, incredibly! Listen to the great Tq’a’s decree!”

He cried in this manner for a long time, and his sons became ever weaker and ever smaller, and Kuruko trembled and could not stop shaking with fear. At last, Tq’a shouted “Come here, Khimekhninen, my perfidious wife who gave me seven traitors for sons!” And as soon as he had uttered these words, something surged through the air, and Tq’a conjured up such a terrible storm that Kuruko thought that the world was coming to an end. The mother of snowstorms [Khimekhninen] bowed down, trembling, before the terrible ruler of the mountain.

“From now on,” Tq’a told her, “the impertinent Nart who dared steal my sheep and my reeds will be held in chains in a cave of the kingdom of the one-eyed Narts. He will be chained to the rocks as long as his people have sheep and reeds, and will be tormented in this cave for ever after. Every day, a mountain eagle will come to visit him and tear at his heart with its beak. You, you will keep the snows around him ablaze with an eternal fire. You will also have bread and a leg of mutton which will constantly renew themselves; after every meal, the bread and the mutton will still be there. You will draw a great circle around the cave which no mortal will be able to cross. Your breath will cast anyone brave enough to try to do so down into the abyss, and you will bury him in an avalanche of snow, mother of snow-storms! Here is your punishment, for you who gave me seven traitors for sons!”

The mother of snow-storms breathed, and a powerful wind carried Kuruko into the cave.

Tq’a then spoke to his sons, and prophesized that “You, sons, I will punish you severely. The impertinent Nart who stole my belongings was thinking of the earth, wanting to improve the lot of his people; so he will be chained to the earth forever, to the solid rock. The sky, where you were born, bores you; I will chain you to the sky forever! You will be ornaments in the dark sky, all seven of you, inseparably, so that you will not become bored. You will shine as stars, and will look down upon this miserable earth from unreachable heights! And people will call you Dardza-Kuangij [“Sons of the Snow-storm”].

And Tq’a commanded the goddess of snow-storms, old Khimekhninen, to prepare a great storm. His seven sons rose up into the air, and as they rose further and further away from the earth, they became smaller and smaller, and seemed to already be bright stars.

Many centuries passed from the time when the Nart Kuruko had stolen reeds and sheep from Tq’a and had been chained to the towering rocks. Winter followed Summer and Autumn followed Spring a great number of times. Many small sheep and reeds multiplied on earth. People began to lead easier lives, in freedom, and no longer went hungry. And everyone remembers hardy Kuruko with deep gratitude, and the story of his great deed and of his death is passed on from generation to generation.

But Kuruko is still chained to the dark rocks of Bashlam-Kort, and the mountain eagle still comes to him daily and torments his generous and courageous heart. Old Khimekhninen guards him, and eats the eternal bread and leg of mutton before his tired eyes. And he, who stole the sheep, has never tasted this good food. The old woman is angry with him because of the punishment she must endure, and because she has lost her sons; she feeds him with dried roots and makes him drink melted snow.

This legend is the Ingush version of the story of Prometheus, who improved the lot of his people by daring to steal from the gods, and was punished by being chained to Mt. Kazbeg (now in northern Georgia), to have his innards devoured daily by an eagle. The legend also exists in Georgian mythology, where the hero is known as Amirani. I found the legend in Mariel Tsaroieva’s amazing Anciennes Croyances des Ingouches et des Tchétchènes [“Ancient Beliefs of the Ingush and the Chechens”], published in Paris in 2005. The legend was first collected by V. Svetlov, who published it in St Petersburg in 1910.

The Star of the Winds

High up in the mountains, there stand the ruins of an aul [village], which went by the name of Magal. This aul is situated on the steep slopes of the Black Mountains, in the Shu’an Gorge. A very long time ago, when this village was capable of sheltering 60 horsemen, there lived in this aul a very wise man, called Magal. He had a wonderful sacred book, the source of his wisdom and knowledge; this book is still in the temple called Maga-erda­, which stands among the ruins of the aul.

Magal, the very wise sage after whom the village is named, had a very precious and wonderful “Star of the Winds”. The Star was kept at the very bottom of a strong-box [safe] which no tool could break open, and was placed beneath many other objects, whose importance and preciousness indicated the degree to which all other men venerated and coveted this treasure.

A wonderful white snake also dwelled in Magal’s house; it could speak, and for its intelligence and kindness the snake was considered as a member of the family.

One day, having prepared all the necessary belongings and having armed himself with his best weapons, wise Magal left for “the Georgian side” [i.e. South of the Greater Caucasus range], far away behind the snow-capped mountains.

During his journey, he went to spend the night in the aul of Zator. Following mountaineer custom, his host killed a sheep, and began to tend to his guest’s needs. But while he was eating, Magal noticed that the beard of a billy-goat lying close to the konak [guest house] began to move. This struck Magal as significant, because in those days winds did not exist in the mountains. Despite his great hunger, Magal stopped eating, and began to wonder what was causing this strange phenomenon.

Suddenly, he remembered his Star of the Winds, which he had left in his strong-box. Since he had left the key to his box with his wife, it struck him that perhaps some calamity had arisen in his home, involving his box. This idea took such a hold of Magal that he immediately began to ride home, without finishing his meal.

In the meantime, during his absence, a serious accident had befallen his family. One of Magal’s little sons liked to play with the white snake. In his father’s absence, while he was playing with the snake, the boy cut off the end of its tail. The serpent was frightfully angry, and threw itself onto the boy and bit him; the child died shortly afterwards. The unfortunate mother, having come running at the cry of her child and having seen his lifeless little body, completely lost her mind with grief, and began running around the room. At this moment, while she was desperately searching for bandages with which to tend to her son’s wound, Magal’s wife opened the strong-box, and began to rummage around inside.

As soon as she removed the precious objects which covered it, the Star of the Winds escaped, and flew away up into the sky.

Having reached his home, Magal was distraught by what had happened to his son, and even more so by the loss of the Star.

Knowing that the white snake was the guardian of many magical secrets, Magal began to call the serpent, begging it to come out of its hole, promising to replace the end of its tail with one made of gold and silver, and asking the snake to help him replace the Star of the Winds back into the strong-box where it belonged.

After having listened to many such pleas, the snake finally emerged from its hole, and moved closer to Magal. The serpent had been persuaded, and wanted to address Magal, but upon glimpsing the severed end of his tail, he changed his mind, and said to Magal:

“No, Magal! I will never forget my severed tail, even if it were replaced with one of gold, just as you will never forget your son, and – sooner or later – you will kill me. That is why there will no longer be peace or understanding between us!”

Having said this, the serpent went back into his hole; but it is said that when the snake had emerged to speak with Magal, the Star of the Winds dropped down from the sky and hovered above Magal’s house, where one could have caught it from the roof; but when the serpent returned to his hole, the Star of the Winds rose up into the sky once again, so high that one could almost no longer see it.

In those days of old, Mikha-nana the Goddess of the Winds was locked up in a cave with no opening, not even a tiny hole. It is said that when the Star of the Winds escaped from Magal’s strong-box, it opened up the cave and set Mikha-nana free. Since then, strong winds have blown in the mountains almost daily, damaging crops and otherwise making people’s lives difficult; but he who can catch the Star of the Winds will control Mikha-nana, and can imprison her once again…

An Ingush legend collected by Tchakh Akhriev and published in his Ingushi (ikh predaniia, verovaniia i poveriia) [“The Ingush: Their Traditions, Religious Beliefs, and Customs”] in volume VIII of Sbornik svedenii o Kavkazskikh gortsakh [“Collected Materials on the Caucasian Mountain Peoples”], Tiflis 1875; reproduced in Mariel Tsaroieva’s Anciennes Croyances des Ingouches et des Tchétchènes [“Ancient Beliefs of the Ingush and the Chechens”], Paris 2005.

Pharmat, “The Blacksmith of the Country” — How he stole Fire from Seli, the God of Lightning and Thunderstorms, and brought it to his People

For a long time, the Nart-Erstkhoi ate raw meat and milk [products]. In those days, they had no fire. Agriculture appeared later [i.e. they were hunter-gatherers]. Seli, the God of Lightning and Rain [i.e. the God of Thunderstorms], was ruler of the Sky. He possessed Fire. The Narts were cold, and could not cook their food, because the cruel and severe Seli refused to give them Fire. To show the Narts his strength and power, Seli had his fire-chariot harnessed and criss-crossed the Sky, making a terrible noise. With his bow he fired bolts of lightning down to earth. There was a great quantity of fire in Seli’s Djodjokhati [Hell]. During a long time, the Narts asked Seli to give them at least one burning log. But Seli was deaf to the people’s prayers, as indeed were other gods.

Between the Heavens and the Earth reigned eternal hostility! Between the God and the People reigned eternal hostility!

The Narts led miserable lives, and Seli was glad to see them so miserable. Seli had a wife, Sata, whose face was like the Sun he loved so much; Sata wanted to help the people obtain Fire, but she was afraid of Seli.

In those days, a great Nart lived in the mountains: Pharmat, favourite of all the other Narts. In exchange for kind words, he forged [cold, without heat; in French: “il forgeait a froid”] coats of mail, swords, and shields for them out of bronze. Pharmat always wished people well, and wanted to help them.

The Nart Pharmat knew that there was a lot of Fire in Djodjokhati, and he always dreamt of obtaining a flaming log for the people and with which he could illuminate the world. Pharmat had all the necessary qualities: strength, ability, courage, firmness of character, and slyness. His horse Turpal always roamed free, grazing among seven mountains, and drinking sea-water [sic.].

The Narts would tell Pharmat that “horses only harden under the rider’s saddle, and under Man – at work and in battle. Why is your horse Turpal always free?” Pharmat would answer: “The time will come when my horse will bring the people a burning piece of wood from Djodjokhati.” The Narts did not believe in Pharmat or his horse’s strength. […] One day, Pharmat called Turpal […] and went there, where none before had gone, where some had risked themselves at the peril of their life.

Having ridden seven days and seven nights and having passed seven hills, then sheer drops, he finally reached the highest mountain in the Caucasus – the Bash-lam – whose peak touches the sky, and where the terrible Seli reigns supreme.

Beautiful Sata, who had taken the form of a bird, alighted upon the summit. She spoke to the Nart Pharmat with a human voice: “O powerful Nart, you have not reached the summit of Bash-lam by chance. You have come to fetch Fire.” “The people are in need of heat, of light. I shall only return to Earth to bring back Fire!” answered Pharmat. Having seen how strong the Nart and his horse were, Sata promised to help him in his quest for Fire. She advised him how to go about obtaining some, and warned him of the possible danger and of Seli’s cruelty.

The Nart Pharmat galloped like the wind, leaped over Djodjokhati, seized a burning piece of wood, and landed back upon the summit of Bash-lam. The cruel god Seli was angered that a Nart had dared to act against his will. Being unable to reach the Nart, who galloped as fast as lightning, the god Seli untied a skein in which he kept the Night. The Nart and his horse quickly became lost in the darkness, but the beautiful bird Sata came to their help. The bird flew ahead, guiding them with its song.

Seeing that the darkness of Night had not prevented the Nart from pursuing his journey, Seli untied a second skein, in which he kept the Storm. Then, he untied the third skein, in which he kept a Cold so terrible that the rocks split and the mountains drew closer together. Thanks to the bird Sata, which flew ahead, the Nart Pharmat was able to overcome these obstacles.

They reached a great cave in which all the Narts awaited their return. “Here is Fire for you!” shouted Pharmat to the astonished Narts. “Multiply and become a great tribe. Warm yourselves; illuminate your homes, the caves, the towers; cook, prepare food from now on. Rejoice!”

But the terrible thunder did not stop ringing in the mountains. The Sky declared its enmity to the Earth! The people declared war on the god Seli!

The cruel and ruthless Seli sent his faithful one-eyed servant, Uja, to punish Pharmat. Uja the cyclops chained Pharmat to the eternally-frozen summit of Bash-lam with chains of bronze. Pharmat was cursed by Seli. […] Every morning, the falcon Ida comes to Pharmat. According to the will of Seli, he sits upon Pharmat’s knees and tears at his liver with his beak.

The god cursed the brave Nart Pharmat, but the Narts are grateful to Pharmat for his deed.

A Chechen legend tells how the demi-god Pharmat, “The Blacksmith of the Country” [“phar”, blacksmith; “-mat”, country, place; i.e. the God of Blacksmiths], loved his people and pitied them, for they had no fire. Fire was kept in the realm of Seli, the god of lightning and thunderstorms, and one day Pharmat decided to steal a burning log from Seli and bring it to his people, so that they could cook their food, light their homes, and warm themselves.

This legend was collected by Akhmed Souleimanov in 1937, from his father Souleiman Mourtazaliev. The story was published in S. Elmourzaev’s Obshtsheie i spetsifitsheskoie v tshetsheno-ingushskikh nart-ertskhoiskikh skazanii v kavkazskom epose narty, an article which appeared in tome V, volume 3, of Izvestiia nautshno-issledovatel’skogo instituta istorii, iazyka i literatury (Grozny 1968), and was reproduced in Mariel Tsaroieva’s Anciennes Croyances des Ingouches et des Tchétchènes (Paris 2005).