My group studied the Circassians, also known as the Adyghe. I studied their ancient religious practices and beliefs.
The Circassians, or Adyghe, are the oldest indigenous people of Northern Caucaus. They speak Adyghe, which is a Northern Caucasian language with many dialects. They were given the name Circassian, meaning Mountain Dweller, due to their residing in the Caucas Mountains. The Russian Conquest caused many of the Circassians to be displaced from their homeland of Circassia, and to flee throughout the lands of the Ottoman Empire into different autonomous regions. They are still displaced today.
Adyghe Habze (alternatively spelled Adige Xabze) is the ancient religion and belief system of the Circassians. They worshipped the god Tha, who begets all existence, and who asserts himself through Cosmis Law, or Natural Word. The Cosmic Law is permeates everything and explains how things came to be, from the planets’ formation to human life. This idea is often represented with a wheel; the wheel’s rotation shows how the universe is always changing, while the center axel holds everything together.
The Circassians had no system of writing, so the majority of their teachings and history was passed down orally until the 19th century, when Islam took a hold in the region.
The 19th Century was a uniquely fluid time in terms of religion for the Circassians. Due to frequent territorial disputes between Russia and Turkey, the Circassians would convert between Christianity and Islam at the convenience of whomever was in power.
The main tenet of the Habze is the immortality of the human soul. Upon death, the soul departed for the hedrixe, or the world beyond. The journey was considered dangerous, and thus the dead would need provisions and weapons to help them on their journey.
Another important part of being Circassian was respect for guests. Even enemies were to be ingratiated by the hosts. For a guest to do any sort of work or labor would be a disgrace upon the host and their family.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 1990s saw a resurgence in the old Habze belief system and practices, as part of a rise in Circassian nationalism and identity searching.
The Circassians had no buildings designated for worship, such as a church or mosque, but would mark certain areas with the T-shaped hammer cross for convening to pray.
In 2010, Arsen Tsipinov, a Circassian ethnographer and well-publicized advocate for the original Habze belief system, was murdered by radical Muslims. Tsipinov lived in the formerly-Circassian area of Russia, and had been warned by the radicals months prior to stop promoting and publicizing the original Habze rituals. The Russian regions of Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria are where the largest numbers of Circassians have resumed practicing Habzism.