Mythologem of a Mill and a Miller in Oral Speech and Fiction

A mill occupied a significant place in the economic life of a traditional society and not so long ago it represented one of the unchangeable elements of a cultural landscape. It was predictable that the process of “transformation” of cereals into the flour would be considered as a sacral act in the mythos of farming peoples. In contrast to this, besides a highly economic purpose, a mill and its environment were assumed as objects where at a certain time of a day demonic creatures demonstrated their severe nature. The whole system of stereotypic views on the topics of a mill and a miller were reflected in Georgian and European peoples’ oral speech. This system comprises very important elements for the study of socio-religious processes and folk mythological imaginations.



A mill  –  a threshold element of two spaces


    A time-spatial configuration of a mill – the darkness of night, a mysterious noise of water and stones, a geographical environment and a folk tradition of the perception of the universe  -  created favourable conditions for the formation of a mytholegem of a mill, an economic item associated with demonic forces. A mill was located on a borderline, near the water, in a suburb of a village or far away from a village, where “inner” (the arranged world) was replaced by “outer”, foreign, hostile and chaotic space, which became dangerous for a traveller or any passer-by.  A mill as an outstanding object of a bordering space acquired a status of a dangerous place in the perception of a traditional society. Demons were activated, witches and demonic creatures acquired a severe appearance and hurt people. An old mill acquired a mystic image and created an appropriate environment for nightly adventures.

    I think that the formation of the mythologem of a mill and demonic plots related to it was facilitated by its task – the transformation of one subject into another, the usage of natural forces (a wind and water) in its functioning and a strange noise continuously made by it. It is worth mentioning that the grains were ground not only throughout a day, but this process often lasted a whole night, until the dawn. This fact is wittily described by the following improvised verse:


              “The sickeners built a mill,

                Kadachali  is tickling,

                A pack is ground per night,

                A cart is rattling”.


       As a rule, peasants shared news to one another in a mill and according to some notes, they held secret gatherings there. Bernar Klevoreli (1090-1153) -  one of the most selfless ecclesiastic and political figures of Western Europe  - called a mill “a nest of lewdness”. He was so outraged by the abomination, which dominated in mills, that he demanded their wiping from the face of the earth for the sake of a soul [Iastrebitskaia, 1981:158]. The formation of the mythologem of a mill could be also effected by a religious ideology, which dominated in the Middle Ages. A mill acquired a doubtful reputation in the Western European tradition. St. Bernar called it a nest of lewdness and prostitutes’ shelter, while the legends considered an old and a deserted water-mill as the space of demonic creatures’ activities. A mill was closely related to the demonic world in  Georgian, Caucasian and European peoples’ traditions.

     According to some peoples’ conceptions, a miller could not build a mill without the consent of demonic forces. “He had to get a permission from a water-man, who settled under a wheel of a mill. Otherwise a demonic creature would flood a mill” [Vedernikova, 2014:15]. Building a house near a ruined mill was not permitted, because it was considered as a “jinxed” place.  According to people’s belief, the inhabitants of the house would not be happy. They would not survive rage and danger of demonic creatures.

    According to Chechen and Ghilgh versions of The Epos of Narts, the first mill was built by Seli Pira – a younger brother of Seskat Solsa. Although Seli Pira was not well-built and physically strong, he was very shred and clever. According to the legend: “Once Seli Pira went to the next world and came back with a water-mill. Before that, the Narts ground the grains only with a hand-mill. Seli Pira built a mill on the river and started grinding grains” [Dalgat, 1972:302]. According to the mythological legends, cultural heroes take from the next world the initials of civilization and subjects necessary for a religious-economic being. A mill was not an exception according to this viewpoint.

    A mill as an extremely necessary and important economic object is often presented in the proverbs: “A mouse can spend all life in a mill, but understand nothing about milling”; “When the back of a donkey needed scratching, it approached a door of a mill”; “Everyone may say anything, a mill must grind”; “If the stones of a mill do not help each other, one’s rotation will grind nothing”; “A mill does not grind with a brought water” (Laz); “If you have money, you will make a devil to  rotate a stone of a mill” (Chinese).

     In demonic legends related to a mill (some of which are built on apparitions) the action takes place in the real world. The feeling of reality is strengthened by witnesses’ narration and a familiar geographic environment. Folkloric narrations of this type present toponyms and characters known to the tellers. As a rule, this style of folk works reinforces a realistic background and makes an oral text trustworthy and more convincing.



A mill – a place of a miraculous birth


    Many mystic phenomena and retellings are connected to a mill in folk legends. According to the Tushian legend, a mythic space of a mill is a place of a miraculous  fecundation of a child: “One woman was in a mill, where she fell asleep and became pregnant” [Kiknadze, 2009:326]. Inan, who was turned out of her house for her pregnancy, came back to a mill. Suddenly, “a rock opened there. A man wearing a shepherd’s cloak came out, took a woman’s hand, took her into the rock and it closed”. This legend is based on demonic motives. Once a poor regretful mother saw turned-off Inan near a mill. She rocked two golden cradles and sang for two babies with a pleasant voice.  As soon as Inan saw her mother, she took the cradles. “The rock opened and Inan entered it. Afterwards, the rock restored itself” [Kiknadze, 2009:327]. As a rule, the plots similar to Inan’s Tushian legend begin old eposes, which retell about the fecundation of a traditional hero and his birth. A mill is a place of the fecundation of twins lying in a golden cradle. At the same time, it can be a place of the birth of a traditional hero similarly to a deceased’s burial vault, a crib and ruins of a fortress. In the fairy-tales of the peoples of the world we come across a plot, where a step-queen turned-off by a step-mother gives birth to a prince in a mill [Kurdovanidze, 2000:403].



  Witches near a mill


     Several elements have a universal function in a time-spatial structure of demonological legends related to a mill. They play an important role in Georgian and North Caucasian Peoples’ legends as well as in demonological tales of Western Europe.

     According to the legends, a mill and its environment are arenas for witches, because evil spirits acquire the appearance of a wolf or an unoffending old woman right there, in the space transient between the unfamiliar and home.

    Some demonological legends are based on a plot of a night meeting of a witch and a miller in a mill. Although a witch acquires an image of an attractive woman, the hidden comes to the light during the meeting  -  a witch reveals  a characteristic feature of a demonic creature (the so-called “ankle-perversity”) and a man repulses a dangerous enemy with a charred log. According to the Tushian legend, the witches were turned out a mill by famous Kumulaurtian hero Shete Gulukhaidze. Once at night Shete was sitting near the fire in the mill located close to Khoshani grove. A young woman opened the door, entered the mill and invited other person too: “Come, come, Shete has a good fire. Let’s warm a little bit”. Shete looked at the woman and saw her wrongly set legs. “Disappear an offspring of the Devil!” – Shete took a charred log and flicked it. The devil-woman rushed away and jumped into a milling machine [Kiknadze, 2009:335].

     The Ghighlian legend “How Batar paved Asi Ravine” tells about a story of giants, which used force against women near a mill [Dakhkilgov, 2012:183]. The tales connect unpleasant and fatal accidents to a mill and its surroundings  –  the so-called “jinxed space”.

     According to a narrator’s retelling recoded in village Jria of Sachkhere Municipality, “a whole village avoided passing a mill at night. Everyone said that it was a jinxed place. Demons usually gather near a mill and walking there at night is dangerous, - we were told during childhood. My grandfather’s brother was killed in a mill. A lot of bad events are connected to a mill” [TSUPA, N31142].

     It is strange, but according to the German folk song, a beauty lives in a mill of a ravine of a black forest: …”Und in dieser Mühle im Shwarzwälder Tal, da wohnet ein Mädel so schön...” [Weber, 2012: 103]. The song tells nothing about the destiny of the beauty.

     Many versions of the heroic song “Torgvai’s maiden Nana” was spread in the mountains of Eastern Georgia. According to this ballade, the Lekians abducted Tushian girl from a mill: “Torgvai’s maiden Nana cried in Chigo’s mill”. According one of the spread versions, Abesalom and Eteri met each other in a mill, but the Devil separated them:


             “God’s cornfield is in the heavens, bronze is shining,

               A mill is working via a wind, ether is surrounding a customer…

               … Curse the Devil, a separator of a good boy and a girl!” [Anthology, 2010:101-102].


     According to the logic of this version of the text, it can be assumed that Abesalom and Eteri ended their lives tragically, because they had met in a mill  -  in a “jinxed” place.

     It was assumed that a mill would be led by a man. Therefore, a man was usually considered as a miller. However, in some traditions a female was also connected to a mill. According to the Ossetian mythology, the daughters of the ruler of waters (Donbetir) were obliged to rotate the wheels of a mill regularly. The Epos of Narts retells how ruler of waters Donbetir awarded Soslan with a mill: “You built a mill on my waters – said Donbetir – I will caution my daughters to rotate the wheels of a mill regularly” [Narts, 1988:106].

     Mythological legends and biblical texts present a mountain and its top as the place of herophany. The heavenly sanctity prefers high places. In case of a mill, we deal with an event, which is contrastive to herophany, because in folk texts it is considered as a space of gathering and activating of devil and witches. According to the Tushian legend, “a woman went to the mill. It was full of devils” [Kiknadze, 2009:332]. Another edition tells about a waterwheel of devils: “Late at night Aludaidze approached the mill and saw that devils had lit the fire, put the watermill in motion and went around dancing and playing. He was also invited: “Irodi, come, warm yourself, you must be cold” [Kiknadze, 2009:332]. It seems that devils wanted Irodi to join a round dance near a mill late at night in order to devilise and entice him to enter their perfidious circle.

     The devils do not hold only ritual orgies. The strength of devil-confided witches increased near a mill. They mostly bewitched there, because one kind of an object was turned into another kind (grains turned into flour). The witches acquired a terrifying appearance of a wolf in order to steal sheep from a flock and separate a lamb and a shepherd. 

     According to J. Shanaev, Koba and Batir left a flock of sheep without attention for a short time. The shepherds were surprised after finding their unharmed sheep in a while. However, all the entrusted sheep was bitten. They doubted that biting had a private reason. The shepherds saw a wolf running to the village. Batir ran after it. Near the village footprints of a wolf changed into  woman’s ones. Batir followed the footprints. They led to a mill, where women were sitting calmly. They were spinning a thread on a spindle. The shepherd was sure that entrusted sheep was bitten by a witch, which rushed into a flock with an image of a wolf. Afterwards, a witch turned into a harmless old woman and joined the women spinning a thread near a mill. According to the legend, the witches twin a thread on a spindle for concealing evil intents. Twinning a thread considers  turning one subject (wool) into another (thread). According to J. Shanaev’s note, “As it is told, these witched turned into wolves near a mill and hurt those, whom they angered for” [Shanaev, 1870:24-25]. 

     A mill, a shepherd, a sheep, a witch and a wolf are the elements of demonological legends. It seems that surroundings of a mill create a convenient environment for bewitching. A witch strips itself there and rubs its back against the ground in order to take an image of a wolf. It seems that near a mill the ground acquires a magic force, which  can turn a human being into another creature. According to the Tushian legend, a shepherd saw how a woman left village Parsma late in the evening. She approached a mill, “stripped herself”, rolled on, stood up with an image of a wolf, rushed into the flock, stole a yearling sheep and disappeared in the ravine” [Kiknadze, 2009:333].

     The major characters of the legends connected to a mill are the members of a teller’s family. The tale recorded in village Savane, whose plot considers a depressed and a domesticated devil, begins in the following way: “Once at night the grandfather, who was accompanied by the oxen, came from Bakhioti mill. He brought a ground corn. A demon set on his cart”… [TSUPA, N31131]. “My grandfather said: once at night I came from the mill. The demons stood around the fire and clapped their hands” [TSUPA, N31141]. As all other demonic forces, demons became activated near a mill and revealed their demonic characteristic features there. The opposition of two different spaces, peculiarity of a landscape, twenty-four-hour rhythm of working, darkness, noise, transference of one type of production into another created a whole system of imaginations, which resulted in the formation of stereotypic viewpoints about a mill, facilitated demonization of a miller and his characterisation as a negative and a dangerous personality.   

     A mill is connected to demonic forces  even in the legends spread in Western Europe. The Luzhian (the Luzhians live in Saxony) tale about Krabat is constructed on the mythologem of a mill. According to the legend, young Krabat saw an old mill on the bench of Black River, near Schwarzkollm and Koselbruch. A magic master and his pupils lived there. Krabat stayed in the mill. Later he heard that the mill was bewitched and the master was a follower of a black magic. The plot of the legend comprises the opposition between Krabat and the master. In 1971 German writer Otfried Preussler wrote the novel “Krabat” on the basis of the Luzhian tale, which became very popular. It has been translated into 31 languages of the world [Preussler, 1980].



     A mill in “The life of Serapion of Zarzma”


    The mytholegem of a mill turned out to be attractive for the writers of different countries of the world. Some famous literary works were created on the topics of a mill and a miller. Among them are Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani’s fable “Kad known as a donkey” and Alfons Dode’s story “The secret of miller Korneli”. Frantz Shubert created the vocal cycle “A fair miller-maid” („Die schöne Müllerin“) on the basis of the poem of Romanticist poet Wilhelm Muller. An ancient confirmation of negative, demonic images of a mill and a miller are met in the Georgian hagiographic writing, particularly, in Basili Zarzmeli’s “The life of Serapion Zarzmeli”, which was written in the beginning of the 10th century. The composition tells about the work of saint monks and building of monasteries in Samtskhe. According to “The life of Serapion Zarzmeli”, great sovereign of Samtskhe Giorgi Chorchaneli promised Father Serapion to grant to the monastery those lands, which would be walked by Serapion and his companions from the dawn till the sunset. Serapion’s and his spiritual brothers’ travelling for the “marking” of monastic lands passed with obstacles. According to the composition, the mill built on the confluence of two rivers was a gathering-place of demonic forces. Wicked and wild people lived in a mill. They appeared as demonic creatures and blocked saint fathers’ way. Basili Zarzmeli characterises them with extremely negative features: “But there was a mill, a house on the confluence of rivers, which was called a brethren and there were wicked men, similar to beasts, as in a deserted and a foreign place [Basili Zarzmeli, 1987:652]. A mill and its surroundings were presented as a dangerous place. Saint Fathers tried to pass quickly “these rowdy men”. The people, who left the mill, “ran near the confluence of rivers like demonic creatures”. They were aggressive towards Saint Fathers and detested them” [Basili Zarzmeli, 1987:658-659].  According to the composition, the millers attacked the monks: “As they saw us near a mill, they began attacking and ran furiously in front of us” [Basili Zarzmeli, 1987:652]. Serapion predicted that the mill would soon wipe from the face of the earth. The author of the composition presented the epithets (“demonic”, “beast-like”, “wicked”, “rabid”) for characterising the men coming from the mill, which were similar to the features of demonic creatures gathered near a mill in a folk text. Finally, the evil was punished and God’s rage fell on the mill  -  a meeting place of evil forces and a part of a chaotic space. On the second day, the earthquake split the rock located in the west of the lake. The water of the lake flooded the mill. According to the composition, “the place of a mill-house disappeared after flooding” [Basili Zarzmeli, 1987:659].



   G. Tabidze’s “An old mill”


    G. Tabidze’s poem “An old mill” depicts a poetic apparition  -  a house-race of devils near a mill located close to the mouth of two rivers: Mtkvari and Aragvi. Z. Kiknadze researched thoroughly a chronotope, a structure and an essence of this poem [Kiknadze, 2015:211-222]. It occurred that the poem was initially published in 1919 and its title was “Saint George”. However, later, in the conditions of the soviet censorship the author renamed the poem and entitled it as “An old mill”. In the text Saint George was replaced by “the flame of the light”. G. Tabidze relied on the folk tradition and presented the mill as a meeting-place of demonic creatures, particularly, women-demons with beautiful faces. The author’s  poetic mastery reached the highest top, when he depicted a twilight landscape on the background of an old mill:


  “The moss covers a ruffled mill like a blue fairy-tale,

   The water crakes as crystal circles

   And in the light beautiful women-devils with

   Ankle-long hair will mix in the fountain –

   They are crying, worrying, dancing, laughing,

   One hundred thousand and many thousands of women-devils”.


                                                                                      [Tabidze, 2005:57].


        Z. Kiknadze, who dedicated a very interesting assay to this poetic work, assumes that “An old mill as well as Saint George is the main character of the poem…  a mill and the saint oppose each other as the representatives of different, contradictory, irreconcilable cultures                [Kiknadze 2015:212]. Similarly to folk legends, Galaktion’s poem does not determine the time and space of women-devils’ activation. They appear at twilight in the mill, which is built on the confluence of two rivers. According to people’s imaginations, the season of devils’ activation becomes known. It comprises October and November  -  a month of imps. Devils’ ravaging lasts until St. George’s feast. Afterwards, devils disappear, because they are afraid of St. George [TSUPA N31141]. In G. Tabidze’s poem a house-race of demonic creatures stops, when St. George appears near an old mill:


   “The voice of admiration-madness will not stop –

     Until St. George rides a horse!

     Dryness slows down, the sky pales and the sun rises,

     An old mill stands as a bent billow”.


                                                                                      [Tabidze, 2005:57].


    G. Tabidze presented poetically the pictures of the opposition of sacral and demonic forces via relying of mythological universalities and traditional folklore images. A tropic speech, a rhythm and a key of the poem make the reader feel noise, passion and Dionysian violence of demonic creatures.  



A miller


    Two types of attitudes have been formed in relation to a mill in a folk tradition. On the one hand, a mill was considered as a necessary object of an economic life, which enabled a miller to produce a product (flour) of vital importance from grains. On the other hand, a mill and its surroundings gained the reputation of a geographical space dangerous for human beings.

     In literature as well as in folklore demonological motives were not connected to an ordinary inhabitant of a village, who could use a mill as an industrial enterprise of a common possession. A person having a social status of a miller became a mythological figure with demonic features.  Traditionally, a miller possessed a mill and his major professional activity was grinding grains.

     Certain millers were accused in having relation with devils and evil forces in Western Europe of the Middle Ages. Some of them were faggoted. Worldly known contemporary Italian scientist Carlo Gindzburg dedicated a very significant work to this topic.  In one of his works (“Cheese and worms  -  the world of a miller, who lived in the 16th century)  he relies on the inquisitional protocols and tells about Friulian miller Domenico Scandali. Domenico Scandali, also called Menokio, spent all his life in small Italian village Montereal, where he lived an ordinary village life. He had a mill and worked on land. Menokio stood inquisition two times, in 1584 and in 1599. The second  trial ended fatally. He was accused and was faggoted in 1600 [Ginzburg, 2000:224]. C. Gindzburg deals with another analogous history about miller Pigino, who lived in a small village on Apennine Ridge. In 1570 Pigino stood Ferrari inquisition. The inquisitional protocols revealed that these two millers, who lived far away from each other and had never seen each other, spoke “the same language” at the trail. After the torture, both millers confessed in having relation with the devil and evil forces [Ginzburg, 2000:224]. According to C. Gindzburg’s viewpoint, a miller was easily doomed to a hellish torture, because a traditional rivalry-contradiction between the peasantry and a miller endowed him a reputation of a robber, a swindler and a shrewd person. As a result of his social status, a miller was isolated from the society of a village of the Middle Ages.

    The folklore has presented a miller as a character having an unordinary strange behaviour and moral principles. According to folk imaginations, only a man having a secret knowledge could supervise a mill (as well as a smithy) and resist water. A successful work of a mill depended on his professionalism. It was assumed that if a miller’s work was progressive and he successfully led affairs, he was assisted by demonic creatures, which lived in the water and rotated its paddles. Prohibitions spread in some peoples originate from these facts, for instance, it was prohibited to swim and catch fish in the water of a mill. Women and children avoided  entering a mill, because in a traditional society it was assumed as a manly space. After the death of a miller, his heir would lead a mill.  

    According to the folk conception, the magic assisted a miller in the relationship with demonic creatures. It was acquired in the area, where two spaces bordered each other  –  humanly and hostile to it. Among a man’s traditional professions  –  smithery, sheep-farming, carpentry, farrier’s work  –  milling was the closest to the magic, because it required the knowledge different from usual daily activities.  The transformation of grains into flour was regarded as a magic activity. This fact resulted in the spread of the viewpoint that a miller was a witch confided to demonic creatures.

    The proverb “a good miller’s soul is in the hell and where can be a bad miller’s soul” echoes  the stereotypic viewpoint formed about a miller. In some legends, meanness was added to a miller’s negative features. According to one Russian legend, a miller did not show a holy mercy, when Christ dressed in a poor man’s clothes entered a mill [Afanasiev, 1914:60-61]. During working a miller changed his appearance and turned into “other” creature, because the dust of the flour covered his face with white and only eyes were seen. A miller’s grotesque appearance made an impression of having a mask. According to Slavonic demonological legends, a devil could get a miller’s image [Vedernicova, 2014:17].

     Despite the fact that a miller’s work resulted in a daily relationship with a lot of people, in folk legends we see him in isolation. He is always a lonely old uncommunicative person. He does not have a family. The same features characterize a hunter, who gave his soul to Ochopintre. In return to the success in hunting, he was destined to die childless. According to the folk legends, a person confided to demonic creatures would not be happy in a private life. It seems that this status of a miller was stipulated by the character of his work and the relation to a dangerous bordering space.

     Sosia the miller is an episodic character in Otaraant Kvrivi (Otar’s widow) by Ilia Chavchavadze. He is presented as a man with traditional characteristic features. Like any other folklore miller, Sosia was “an old, reticent, secretive and reserved man”. No one knew where he had come from and when he had found his shelter at Archil’s mill. According to the author’s description, Sosia lived at Archil’s mill “to his old years as a miller, without a wife, children or relatives”. The worldview of this character differed from that of the society. Sosia the miller did not behave like other members of the society. He remained an ultimate stranger for the people around him and even for Otar’s widow, who was sincerely loved by the ill-fated miller. Such a strange, asocial and reticent stance and solitude of the miller could be the reason for the broken relations and an invisible opposition between Sosia and the society. According to M. Jaliashvili’s viewpoint, “Symbolically, Sosia the miller expresses a man’s marginality, his alienation from the  world, his loneliness and  homelessness” [Jaliashvili, 2016]. He is “a schematic, an artificial image of the story”. Ilia Chavchavdze presents Sosia the miller via using absolutely realistic elements. The tragedy of this character has deeper social roots. It is associated with the miller’s business as well as with his status in the society.

      According to the author’s words, Sosia is a man “treated badly by everyone” and a reader clearly witnesses this at the end of the story: people mock at the old man toppled down at the dead body of Otar’s widow “to make him fun of his friends”, compare him with an ownerless dog and vigorously hit him lying on the land with their legs. As Akaki Bakradze mentions: “Sosia is as lonely and ownerless as dead Otar’s widow. People’s attitude towards Sosia is rude, heartless      and sarcastic” [Bakradze, 2013:159]. Indeed, the oppressed miller, the only mourner of Otar’s widow, arouses strong condolence among the readers. Unlike his folklore doubles, Sosia is a positive character. Ilia Chavchavadze enriches an artistic image of a miller with Christian morale values.

      The demonic-mystic world of a mill became a source of inspiration of many writers. Different artistic images of a miller have been created in the Georgian literature. Among them are Tede the miller from Vazha-Pshavela’s story “A mill” or Bonia the miller from Chabuka Amirejibi’s novel “Data Tutashkhia”. A miller as a literary character plays either positive or negative roles in the works. Literature depicts mainly those features of a miller, which were acquired from his folklore ancestor. A dramatic image of a miller as well as social collisions and demonic-mythological elements of this image are familiar to the modern writing enriched with modernistic interpretations, because the writers of different epochs and literary directions use this character for the revival of a traditional folk life.


კალანდაძე გ.
გ. კალანდაძე, ქართული ხალხური ბალადა, თბილისი.
კიკნაძე ზ.
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კიკნაძე ზ.
ზ. კიკნაძე, ქართული ფოლკლორი, თსუ გამომცემლობა, თბილისი
მამისიმედიშვილი ხ.
ხ. მამისიმედიშვილი, ვაინახები და ქართველი მთიელები, გამომცემლობა „ლომისი“, თბილისი.
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ქს. სიხარულიძე, ქართული ხალხური საგმირო-საისტორიო ზეპირსიტყვიერება, თსუ გამომცემლობა, თბილისი.
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