Moonshine razor rivet screams choke on copper smoke
Hide, for an instant this man-beast-bird
Gibbet, that hangs, cradles
Low plucked fruit, out of season child
Pulsed his way to this idol world of chqondari. Of men who will never
Feel the tug of lips on breast, or smell the sweet scent of hair like the white daisies out- side our
Did they notice his bow-mouth tremble?
Did the singe-blonde flop of his baby curls scorch their souls
As they lit the fire beneath?
Acrid tears tear my eyes as I will my
Salt slit womb to poison the life
A Mother’s Sacrifice
They came on Saturday. The priests of the idol. With their robes and their chanting. And they waited, like hovering eagles. And they held out their clawed hands, for my token.
My white pebble covered in ochre dots, one for each member of my family, spiralled into the centre, where the last dot, golden like the sun, flashed as it went, into a basket woven from reeds by the river.
My river .
The river where I sang to my son every day, where I had sung to the moon each night and watched my belly grow until he came to me, my boy.
‘How many?’ his father asked, eyes cast down. Early spring daisies littered our front garden and as my baby sat on one hip, I felt the child within me stir. My heart tightened with their reply.
‘It will be an honour if we are chosen,’ this man murmured and scuffed with his foot, at a stick and snapped the head from one of the flowers.
Watching the priests leave, I felt the heat of my son’s cheek against my shoulder. He had been unwell. A spring fever. The feverfew and lavender had only soothed, not cured. His skin burned and I saw tiny red flowers start to appear. His tongue was swollen and the colour of raspberries. I hurried inside. The spirits needed to be welcomed. Once in, I covered the walls with red cloth and sang to him as he lay restless and hot in his cot.
Violets opened Roses’ petals lullaby,
I’ll meet batonebi’s aunt with pleasure, lullaby,
I’ll see her in as a godsend guest, lullaby,
With a carpet on the floor, lullaby’
As he drifted in and out I took, from my special place, the dagger. I tied the 5 red stones I had taken from the river, to the handle, and hung it on the wall opposite his bed. I remember I was singing all the time. ‘Lullaby, Lullaby’
Later that day, my husband came back. Shaking his head, he placed my token on the red cloth I had covered in flowers and sweet wine. My boy had been chosen.
Guests started to arrive before I was ready for them. Some bought eggs, some, flour, some dried fruit, but they all bought wine and they all looked at me with pity in their eyes. Hushed whispers accompanied quiet toasts and gifts were left by the fire place. Dolls made from sticks, beads, shells. I remember the men starting to sing, long low baleful sounds that cut through the night air and drifted up to the sacred space where the Oak Tree and the priests were waiting.
My boy’s fever broke in the early hours as the cock crowed. The red Sunday dawn bought with it the box with wheels. He had to go swaddled, in that, through the village, up to that place. I don’t remember who made the box. I think it was the boy’s father and I felt he had done so with a heavy heart. Watching my son sleeping peacefully in the early morning light I knew I had to stop this from happening. I had to save him.
I had heard of a man, a man far away, who had cut down the old Oak, with an axe that had glinted so brightly in the sunlight, that the people had been blinded by it. I begged and begged my husband to help me, to save our boy, begged him to find this saviour, to tell people about this man, but he beat me and I fell on the hard stone floor. Curling around my belly as he kicked me again and again I knew it was over.
I don’t remember much else, only the bitter taste of the tincture I had shared with my son. He, before he was put, seemingly asleep on the cart, opened his eyes and kissed my nose. ‘Deda’ he whispered, as I swaddled him tight.
I followed the cart to the sacred place. As the moon broke from behind the midnight clouds, I watched the priest put him in the cage.
The oak groaned.
I smelt the burning of his flesh. The oak sighed.
I heard him scream. The oak swayed.
The eagles circled.
This story is based on factual information about the ceremonies held by the Druids before Christianity arrived in the Megrelian region where the Martvili Church stands. Research suggests that St. Andrew, one of Christ’s apostles travelled here in the 1st century and stopped the practice of sacrificing a one year old child every year to appease the Druid gods. The child was chosen by a lottery system. The Oak Tree that housed the copper gibbet (depends on who you read – could be in the shape of a man or an eagle) was cut down by St. Andrew who then used the wood to build the first church on the site. He sent out word that the barbaric practice of sacrificing children was no longer to take place but this met with some resistance as oak trees continued to grow and this was used as evidence that the gods needed appeasing. In response he commanded that all the oak trees be pulled up and placed upside down against the walls of churches. Acorns were planted to show that natural trees are not evil. The practice of up- rooting oak trees continued, along with other ceremonies, songs and rituals, as part of the Chvenieroba festival up until the 1920’s when it was banned by the Communists.