Deer Mythologeme and Myth-making in Vazha-Pshavela's Prose

DOI: 10.55804/jtsuSPEKALI-17-7


The deer is an important figure in mythology and folklore. In fairy tales and legends, it is both the bearer of supernatural talents and also an animal associated with the divine world. In the compositions of the Tree of Life, quite common in the Caucasus, the deer is sometimes replaced by a tur and a gazelle. In this semantic system, both perform the same function.  They are connected with the cycle of rebirth and renewal of nature. “The body of the animal was considered as land in relation to the horn and fur. Ancient people considered the growing tail and horn of an animal to be analogous to a plant. ... This is the main reason why the deer became the prototype of mother deities of reborn nature, in its zoomorphic appearance" [Surguladze, 2003: 29].

Zurab Kiknadze notes that among the vertebrates the deer is distinguished by the abundance of symbolism, motifs and mythologies. “The deer is especially close to the Caucasian mythical world. According to researchers, this animal participates in the cosmogonic process and is a constituent part of the cosmological structure. Its heraldic place within the Tree of Life (through replacing other animals) is especially noticeable due to its symbolic load in magic tales, where it is a living embodiment of the connection between heaven and earth due to its horns" [Kiknadze, 2016: 207].

The mythologeme of the deer determines the artistic specificity and content of Vazha-Pshavela's prose, as the author frequently employs it with different functions. Consequently, I identified nine motifs developed in the artistic form of the deer.

1. The embodiment of the forest/sign of life. In the texts where the writer spiritualized nature, the deer is presented as the most exalted figure, the dream image, the main beauty of the forest, the child of which nature is most proud. It is significant that Vazha Pshavela first made nature speak with "The Story of the Roebuck".

This text depicts the non-mythical, realistic aspect of the relationship between deer and nature, the doe, fleeing from predators and hunters, takes refuge in the forest. However, the text still agrees with the deer mythology — nature, the forest is the protector of the deer and takes care of it. Also, in the non-mythical work "High Mountains", the deer is presented as a special and important part of nature. Roe deer and deer are attributes of deciduous trees in "Dry Beech". In the story, "Look at the forest!", the resurrected, revived forest is connected with does and deer galloping free whereas the dried forest - by their dying out: "There was no longer heard the roar of the stag, lightening the heart in autumn, nor their rutting of the doe..." [Vazha- Pshavela 1961 III: 448]. Therefore, to return to life, "he waved his hand to the ox-deer running far away in the dry forest area, inviting him to join him by waving the tails of the Chokha, but in vain..." [Vazha-Pshavela, 1961 III: 449].

In the story "Summer Dreams", nature, asleep in winter, opens its eyes for a while for fear of death and looks at its beloved children, the deer and tur. In the discussed stories, in addition to the deer, elk and tur, as children of the forest and nature, its attributes, other animals and birds are also found, although the deer is still privileged. In the story "Woodpecker", the dense forest expresses the superiority of the deer in this way: "Even the last fly is raised by my heart, let alone the life of a deer with forked antlers" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1961 III: 363].

The deer is the main animal, the best image and the best manifestation of the beauty and perfection of nature: "The beauty of the forest was woven into the beauty of the deer. The beauty of the deer is proof of the beauty of the forest. ... In the deer, the forest looked like itself. ... The dense forest was owned by the deer as a complete property" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1961 IV: 61]. This is how the writer described the deer in the story - "The forest was crying".  In these texts, the deer is presented as the main animal under the protection of the forest, nature, because it is its highest embodiment and, at the same time, a sign of life.

2. Protector. The image of the deer as a child of the forest and its main beauty is deepened by the writer in the allegorical stories - "A Weak Donkey", and "A Sheep gone wild!" - in which the deer is personified and takes care of domestic animals sheltered in the forest. The weak donkey, thrown out by its owner, is taken by the buck deer to the depths of the forest, using its horns. Also, the deer befriends the sheep in the second story and tries to hide it from the wolves. Here, the deer is not only outwardly a representative of the beauty and power of nature, but also a noble spirit, caring and protective as its parent. The most important thing is that the sacredness of the deer is explicit in these texts. It is an animal under the protection of the owner of the game, to whom the deity gives the grass of renewal. In the same story, the owner of the game is crying because of the killed deer, just like the forest in the story - "The forest was crying".

3. A sign of purity. Nature is sacred in mythical thinking as a renewing, mortal and regenerating force. The forest is a manifestation of the same nature. Vazha-Pshavela often depicts it in such a way that it evokes the association of the female deity of the rebirth of nature, which is represented as the mother of the place and the patroness of the game in Caucasian mythology. A deer doesn't just make a beautiful and harmless image.  He is the child and image of the forest, "in the deer, the forest looked like itself" [Vazha-Pshavela 1961 IV: 61], and he is protected by the deity of the game. Therefore, the purity of the deer is also expected.

The miniature "Raspberry" is thematically and ideologically united with works depicting nature. Also, in this text we hear a personified nature, although the deer is depicted here with a sacred detail: “I trampled the avalanche, the deer and the does with holy hooves...” [Vazha-Pshavela 1961 III: 326]. "Holy" is not just an artistic epithet. It is a sign of sacred reality. The purity of the deer is presented by Vazha-Pshavela in the allegorical story "The Snake". In the text, deer and roe deer, as animals of the highest rank in nature, are presented to show the dignity of the swamp and at the same time its purity. The deer is an animal associated with the divine world, and the writer also develops this sign of it in other works.

4. Hunting. Vazha-Pshavela depicted the sacredness of the deer and its connection with the divine world in more detail in the hunting stories. In the author's works, we often find the mentioned theme, and his main character is a deer, sometimes a roe deer and a tur. In these texts, the deer's image is found in two motifs:

1).  Hunting deer as a sign of successful hunting.

2).  Hunting deer as a spiritual-existential path.

4.1.1. The main game of the hunter is the prey. With the first motif, the image of a deer can be found in the following stories: "Memory", "Christmas Story", "The Night Before Christmas in the Forest", "New Year in Pshavi", "The Lying Teacher", "Owner of Game", "The Forest Cried" and "Pigeons". Here the deer is the main prey of a good hunter. It is a sign of successful hunting. In the texts listed above deer, roe deer and tur are the prey making a hunter proud; a marker of a professional hunter and a successful hunt. Therefore, the second motif is related to the first - the hunters will be tempted by the most desirable game. This motif can be found in the works discussed above. In these texts ("Pigeon", "Memories"), despite the existential theme, hunters perceive hunting as sacred.

4.1.2 The main prey of the hunter is the renewal of strength. In Caucasian folklore, a deer leads a hunter to a sacred place which inevitably results in a significant change in the life of the hunter or society [Sikharulidze, 2006: 36]. The new space that the hunter discovers may not be geographical, but existential. Let's recall the poem "Guest and Host". Jokola has hunted down an ibex, that's how the text begins. This is a sign of his future victory, climbing up to a new level of personal development.

Deer hunting in the stories "Night before Christmas in the Forest" and "New Year in Pshavi" is symbolic and sacred and brings about change. The writer first prepared the setting for a successful hunt in a dream in which there emerge sacred symbols: "Last night I had a dream that Ghaghola had the horns of a rock man coming out of his head, his mouth was feathered, and he was holding a sheep's leg in his hand" [Vazha-Pshavela 1961 III: 341].

Indeed, the dream does come true, and  Ghoghola, being mocked constantly, kills the deer. The hunt prepared by ritual preparations and a prophetic dream creates an elevated mood in the text.

Moreover, on the night before Christmas, when spiritual forces are renewed, the hunters bless each other in the following way: "May they give you the head of the enemy! May you will always be victorious!" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1961 III: 343]. One gets the impression that hunting down a deer was not the main success but a sign of another victory. This mood is strengthened by the fact that the writer did not depict the hunt and only showed us the return of the hero with the booty and a proud face.

Deer hunting as a sign of renewal of strength and other future success is found in the story "New Year in Pshavi". None of the nuances of the hunting process is described here. Bejan tells us that he used to be very poor.

Once, having returned home, he brought honey and venison from the forest to his family. The joyful disposition of his wife and children was made even happier by the fact that the cow had a calf that night. After that, Bezhan worked harder, and his life completely changed: "I am grateful for that new year" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1961 III: 456], he said.

The only detail in the story is that the hero hunted down a deer. He does not show the deer meat to the family members and does not tell them anything about deer hunting.

This is a sacred symbol of the renewal of his strength, and again at the sacred time - the New Year. In mythic thought, the institution of hunting implies the tabooing of many details. In the story of this existential topic, the hero leaves the sacral sign, deer hunting, as a taboo. In the two texts under consideration, deer hunting is a sign of recovery and renewal of spiritual powers. In mythical thinking, the deer is connected with the fertility powers of wild nature (Surguladze, 2003: 22). These texts show this motif from different perspectives - its acquisition and the change achieved after the acquisition.

4.2.1. The spiritual path of the hunter is mercy. In the second part of the works, deer hunting is a path to temptation, sin and mercy. "The Merciful Hunter and the Wisdom of the Deer," tells us that once, while rutting, Gamikhardi, saddened by the futile wait rushed home. He saw how the wolf was chasing a female deer. Gamikhardi’s heart couldn't wait any longer, he aimed the gun at the wolf and killed it. The hunter was happy and went home happy "to have shown mercy, to have been patient and did not shoot the deer" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1961 III: 399].

When he told me this story, Gamikhardi would add: "I wish God would forgive me the sin hanging around my neck, and not make me pay for all the animals that I have killed in my life" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1961 III: 399].The same motif can be found in the essay "The Liar Teacher". This time, the deer himself asks the hunter: "Tsikhelo, have you not got a gun? Kill me, my carrion is better to be eaten by you than by a wolf..." [Vazha-Pshavela, 1961 III: 422]. Tsikheli killed the wolf, and let the grateful deer go. "I was also grateful, I saved the deer from the wolf's mouth ... whatever I sin is also my sin, may God forgive me" [Vazha-Pshavela 1961 III: 422], adds the hunter.

As can be seen from the above episodes, hunting involves committing a sin. Hunters are worried about the sin of the killed game. And the deer in a dangerous situation appears to them as a test - they will either save it and this act of mercy will be atonement for their old sins, or greed and the spirit of the genuine hunter will overcome and they will kill the deer. In both stories, this motif has the same development - the hunter "took mercy".

4.2.2 The spiritual path of the hunter is sin. The hunter could not overcome the temptation in the allegorical work "Beloved". This time the ordeal is in the form of a tur. "The tur was killed by the hunter when she was being suckled by a little fawn. The hunter staggered; he didn't want to shoot, but in the end, he couldn't wait any longer, and the bullet pierced the mothertur's heart and she fell when her nipple was in the mouth of her little fawn" [Vazha-Pshavela 1961 IV: 157]. The hunter feels that he should not shoot the animal, but he cannot help himself.

A one-type tradition of deer sacrifice is confirmed in different parts of Georgia.  St. George, who often acts as the protector of wild game, sends a deer to the village as a sacrifice. The deer willingly goes to the church and sacrifices itself. Once a deer came late and was killed without being allowed to feed its fawn. Zurab Kiknadze notes that feeding the fawn is an exclusive sign of the period. A man's sin in this story was expressed by interrupting the biological cycle of the deer. After that, the deer never came to them [Kiknadze, 2016]. In the story under discussion, the hunter also violated the sacred process of nature - he killed the game while performing the maternal function and stopped the fawn from eating. The biological cycle is a process of renewal of the forces of nature; its neglect is a great sin in mythical thinking.

"Beloved" shows the metamorphosis of the hunter. This is a common motif in fairy tales. "In most cases, this metamorphosis is carried out as a result of stepping on a killed deer" [Gogiashvili, 2011: 191]. In the story, the hunter didn't just kill the mother deer, he went on to look for a fawn, only to undergo a fatal ordeal in the form of a woman. The hero suffered for a considerable period and finally returned to the bosom of nature, transformed into a tree. However, the process did not finish, and the hunter is waiting to meet his beloved.

The works discussed above, in which deer hunting is a way of personal, spiritual testing, are based on people's belief in the owner of the game. The hunter is tested by him during the hunt. The deer is the attribute of the owner of the game and its zoomorphic appearance. In this case, this face is based on fairy tales, legends about the owner of the game and the symbolism of the deer in the composition of the Tree of Life. In "The Master of the Game", Zurab warns Elizbar: Let my enemy be punished as severely as a man if the master of the game wants so." [Vazha-Pshavela, 1961 III: 443]

Father will also tell Elizbar a story of Gamakhare, who has killed five deer in one place. That night, the hunter had his eye damaged and then regretted that he had sinned against so many killed animals. A cuckoo-like bird would hover over his head when he was shooting the deer. "He should have recognized the poor thing, but he didn't. The owner of the game appears to the hunter in a thousand ways. A fool, he couldn't know  what the cuckoo wanted in the forest in January and why it was  playing with the deer!..." [Vazha-Pshavela, 1961 III: 443].

In the poem - "Hunter" - until the hero shoots the deer, there is no indication of its holiness. The sign appears only after the shot and the fall of the deer, when the hunter is already in sin: "What would I have to guess with that horn if they had been blessed by god" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964: 33]. Despite the heavy punishment, Torghva is still a hunter, and the spirit of deer hunting does not leave him.

A man sins against nature when he kills a fawn nurturing on his mother's breast ("Beloved") and when he kills a deer filled with the desire to reproduce, by the power of nature (poem "Hunter").

Therefore, both hunters are punished and how it is embodied, in the owner of the game or an icon and a cross, is already formal. As Tamar Sharabidze notes, "the demonstration of mythical thinking with the subtext derived from it, in which the Christian worldview is precisely placed, is a feature of Vazha's artistic style" [Sharabidze, 2019:07].

From the image of the goddess of the rebirth of nature, both the Lord of the Hunting and  Ali (the demon in the form of a beautiful woman) are born. The latter belongs to the demonic spirit but has a zoomorphic nature left over from the owner of the prey. He can also take the form of an animal, but his goal is not to test the hunter but to kill him. In the story “The Cracks”, the tur replaces a deer. Ali took an image of the tur while appearing in front of the hunters. When a happy hunter would hold the wounded tur by the horn, the demon would fall into his throat and suffocate him.

In the discussed story, the image of the tur is used by the demon to kill the hero. In "Beloved”, the tur is the beginning of the endeavour which ultimately leads to the hero's spiritual elevation. Therefore, the tur can both kill the hero and lead to his spiritual development.

In the story "The Master of the Game" and in the poem of the same title, as well as in the poem "The Hunter", the deer hunting brought harm to the hunters, but here the reason for the appearance of the deer is testing, not death, as in the case of the deer from the story  “The Cracks". In the composition of the Tree of Life, deer and tur have the same semantics, but the writer still chooses between deer or tur; "Unlike other mythological creatures, the symbolism of which is often ambivalent and contains positive and negative qualities (e.g., snake, eagle, bull, dragon...), the deer is an unequivocally positive creature, the embodiment of absolute, unadulterated goodness" [Kiknadze 2016: 207]. In the story by Akaki Tsereteli - "The Deer of Grigol Tsereteli", the image of deer is devoid of mythological content; it brings evil to people. The evil-spreading deer does not fit the mythologeme of the deer. In the works by Vazha-Pshavela, the mythological figure of the deer is never left beyond the writer's attention, and it is not presented as a bringer of evil.

5.1. Triumphant over evil - Christian. One of the main artistic and worldview issues in Vazha-Pshavela's work is the confrontation between good and evil. The writer elaborates on this topic with both mythical and Christian imagery. In both cases, the deer is presented as a sign of spiritual victory and an animal that overcomes evil.

The allegorical story "Snake" depicts the conflict between good and evil by employing Christian imagery. The grove, with its innocence, reminds the reader of paradise, especially since a snake appears here, committing a terrible sin. The snake wants to poison everything it sees. It even kills the pigeon's babies but cannot do anything against the deer: "The deer shook the branch and almost killed the snake. The scared snake slipped through the grass like a pebble on the ice and since then it didn't dare to touch the deer anymore" [Vazha-Pshavela 1961 III: 256]. In this text, the deer represents strength as well as goodness. He triumphs over evil.

5.2. Triumphant over evil - mythical. In the symbolic-allegorical story, "The Sword of Amiran," the evil is presented to us as the raven, in the artistic-symbolic form. The hero kills the raven with the grandpa's silver-coated flintlock gun, which the mother removes from the deer's antler, nailed to a pole. It is also significant that when the raven dies, the door opens, and the first footer enters to congratulate on the New Year.

Vazha-Pshavela mentions in his essay "People from Pshavi" that in the hall where the icon is exhibited, deer horns donated by hunters are stacked. From the oral tradition and works of fine art, it is clear that the horns of these animals possessed a cultic value. "The periodical change of animal hair and horns was understood by the ancient farming peoples as a process analogous to the growth and renewal of plants" [Surguladze, 2003: 32].

The stag's antler was a sacred symbol of renewal. There is another sign of renewal in the story. It is no coincidence that in the works of Vazha-Pshavela, a personal test and a confrontation with an evil force take place in the new year ("New Year's Dream", "Amiran's Sword", "New Year in Pshavi", "Night before Christmas in the forest" ...). "The exorcism of demons, diseases and sins almost everywhere coincides or coincided with a certain transitional period of time - the New Year celebration. ... the ongoing ritual battles between the two groups of figures ... clearly shows us that at the end of the year and waiting for the new year, we are dealing with the repetition of mythical episodes of the transition from chaos to cosmogony" [Eliade 2017: 79-80].

There is also a third sign of the renewal of forces, which can be classed as the main sign for this text: the words of Amiran fighting with the Devis that "good signs are appearing" certainly help us because my sword "cleansed its colour" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 VI: 50]. In the mentioned story, an ever-repeating mythological picture of the fight against evil and its defeat is portrayed, in which one of the signs of renewal and spiritual victory is the deer's horn.

* * *

Much has been written about the mythical world of Vazha-Pshavela and the creation of myths. My goal was to study one of the most insignificant mythological features in the prose of the writer. This mythologeme determines the artistic-ideological features of his creative work. During the comparative analysis of the works, various artistic functions of the deer mythologeme were revealed which represent the mythical worldview depicted by the writer. The image of the deer is fully defined by the mythologeme of this animal. It embodies the regenerating power of nature, its image and its symbol. By his divine nature, the deer is not only a holy animal, but also the conqueror of evil. Such systematic mythologizing is not typical for Georgian literature of this period.

In the texts discussed, myth is not just an image or a storyline. It is a thinking space in which a new myth is created. For example, the story "Beloved" is built on the structure of a magical fairy tale. After killing the tur, the hunter sees a woman and undergoes a transformation to reach her. Tales of this type have an eschatological ending, finishing with a wedding. This wedding is also mythical, "the day of this wedding has no tomorrow, like the eighth day that has no end" [Kiknadze, 1991: 18].

However, the story is over. In “Beloved”, this ending does not happen, it is non-eschatological; it does not have a  typical ending of a magical fairy tale. The hero turned into a tree and did not join the sweetheart trapped in the rock, but longs for and expects to merge with her. It is a mythical, eternal longing and process.

Vazha-Pshavela creates a mythic chronotope in these texts, in which there is a constant process of draining and then renewing life forces. This is a sacred time when chaos invades and banishes it to re-establish cosmic energy. The author depicts this eternal cycle both in the space of nature and in man. The death-resurrection process in the person, the temptation and the creation of grace are especially important in the writer's work. With this sign, the author stood out from the existing literary discourse, which was mainly defined by the description of the environment and its criticism. Vazha-Pshavela deepened the intellectual and artistic space of Georgian literature with an ever-renewing mythical perception of the world; Human, eternal issues were highly artistically reflected and cre-ated a transition paradigm from the classical to the modernist discourse of the 19th century.[1]


[1]Since Vazha-Pshavela's work is mythologized in the form of a deer, Vazha-Pshavela reflected the process of demythologizing/desacralization of consciousness in the modern era by using the face of a deer. We cannot attribute this kind of function in the story "Deer" to any of the presented motifs, however, their consideration will make valid the investigation of this different artistic-ideological loading of the deer.


გოგიაშვილი ელ.,
მითოსური და რელიგიური სიმბოლიკის დინამიკა ზღაპრის სტრუქტურაში, თბილისი.
ელიადე მ.,
მარადიული დაბრუნების მითი, თბილისი.
თხზულებათა სრული კრებული ხუთ ტომად, ტ. III
თხზულებათა სრული კრებული ხუთ ტომად, ტ. IV. თბილისი.
თხზულებათა სრული კრებული ათ ტომად, ტ. III. თბილისი.
თხზულებათა სრული კრებული ათ ტომად, ტ. VI. თბილისი.
კიკნაძე ზ.,
ქართული მითოლოგია, ფარნავაზის სიზმარი, თბილისი.
კიკნაძე ზ.,
ჯადოსნური ზღაპრის ესქატოლოგია, ჟურნალი „სკოლა და ცხოვრება“, N1
სიხარულიძე ქ.,
კავკასიური მითოლოგია, თბილისი.
სურგულაძე ირ.,
მითოსი, კულტი, რიტუალი საქართველოში, თბილისი.
შარაბიძე თ.,
მოზაიკური სინთეზი: წერილები ვაჟა-ფშაველაზე, თბილისი.