The Feast of Saint Barbara with Pagan Traditions

The round-shape cheese cake was a symbol of the sun. Photo by Nino Alavidze, Dec 18, 2013, Tbilisi, Georgia

Sometimes it is quite difficult to determine where the lines might be between the pagan and Christian rituals in many cultures, including Georgian. Many traditions in Georgia are miscellaneous with lot superstitious and pagan rituals, although it is one of the oldest Christian counties in the world.

The Great Martyr Barbara from the 3rd century, who was tortured by her own father after she has converted to Christianity, became a prototype of Georgian pre-Christian Goddess of Light Barbale, who was also a patron of the kids, like the Saint Barbara. During the centuries, after Christianity was adopted in the whole Georgia, the Martyr Barbara became much more respectful and important personality for Georgians, than the Goddess, who became a part of the legends.

Baking Pies for Barbara or Barbale

Nana Iashvili awoke early morning on December 17. This is one of the special days for her. She has to prepare for Great Martyr Barbaras Holiday and bake bean pies for her family. She said that when she was been a kid, her grandmother has always used to bake bean pies for Saint Barbara and putting the cross on the pies with her right hand to have a fertile next year.

"In my childhood I lived in a small village of Racha, where the Great Martyr Barbaras Day was one of the special holidays and bean pie was always a traditional food for this region. We also called 17 of December The Day of Destiny. On this day my grandmother used to tell me and my sister to be good girls and dont quarrel with each other, because it was a destiny day and how we would behave that day, the next year should have been the same. said Nana Iashvili.

When the Divine Liturgy is holding in the Orthodox churches for the Great Martyr Barbara, the people are baking bean pies at the same time in every region of Georgia. Some of them claim that this food is for those who are fasting and avoid meat and dairy products before Christmas Eve. Indeed, the baking tradition is a legacy by the ancient Georgian mythological archetype Barbale, the Goddess of light and fertility. There was also an old belief that the new marriage couples could get a baby with the Goddesses help.

Mythological archetype as the ancestor of the Saint

Every year on Winter solstice, 21 of December, when the day light begins increasing, the ancient Georgians were celebrating the Great Feast for the Goddess Barbale and making the special food for her. Later the Goddess Barbale and the Saint Barbara have been combined into one person by the people during the centuries, according to the Georgian fantasy writer and folklorist Nato Davitashvili.

"Barbale was a patron of day light and her symbol was the Sun. In that time, people used to make milk porridge and bake Khachapuri (round-shape cheese cake) for the Goddess Barbale as a sign of respect. The round-shape cheese cake (Khachapuri) was also a symbol of the sun disc round and light yellow. Later, Khachapury was substituted with bean pies. Nevertheless, this pie is not directly connected with the Goddess Barbale said Nato Davitashvili.

During the ritual, the worshipers had been performing the Chant for the Light Goddess. The Sun was brought on the horns of a deer, thats your Sun, Goddess! We are sacrificing our gift for you, our Goddess! was said in the old Chant.

Some of the scientists claim that the Georgian mythological archetype Barbale derives from the Mesopotamian mythology, but this fact is not confirmed. Anyway, how did the Goddess of light become part of 17-year-old Phoenician Saint Barbara? It might be a resemblance of the name and that both, Barbale and Barbara were the patrons of the kids.

The Feast of Saint Barbara is not the only Christian holiday, which has the pagan roots. They are a lot in Georgia, especially in the mountainous regions of Georgia, where sometimes the pagan rituals dominate the Christians.

Photos by Nino Alavidze