Music of the Gods: Amisch and His Magic Flute

Beneficent Amisch blowing his horn.

By Amjad Jaimoukha

Amisch (Амыщ; also Амыш, Емыш [Amish, Yemish]), the god of fauna in the Circassian Pantheon, belongs to a class of deities dedicated to serving human beings – the League of Beneficent Gods, so to speak. He is come across often in the Circassian Nart tales. He occupied his time with catching all kinds of forest animals, which he presented to the Narts to raise and multiply. Later he shared this profession with Axin (Ахын), but eventually each specialized in a specific species of animals, Amisch becoming the god of sheep, Axin that of cattle.

Amisch is portrayed as having “leg hairs as shaggy as those of a bear” [«Амыщу мыщэ лъэбыцэ»; “Amischu mische lhebitse”]*. His pastimes included bending ram horns (тIыбжьэ; t’ibzche) and playing his horn (бжьамий) while singing ancient arias. To him was devoted a set of pastoral ceremonies, often accompanied by musical compositions played on a reed or horn.

Amisch tended great flocks of sheep in his vast pasture-lands. Barren ewes were brought to Amisch pastured in these enchanted grazing-grounds to engender lambs. Amisch played his magic tune to bless the crossover from barrenness to fertility.

[* The reference is found on p. 157 in “How Satanay and Lhepsch fell out with one another”, tale no. 26, first cycle, in Asker Hedeghel’e (compiler), The Narts: Circassian Epos, vol. I, Maikop: The Circassian Research and Science Institute, 1968, pp. 156-8.] 

Amisch’s Music
Amisch, the first shepherd, patron of shepherds and protector of sheep, used to play his magic flute and horn and sing ancient songs. He composed melodies to help him control his vast herds. The wide-ranging repertoire included pastoral melodies played while the flock was at pasturage to impart a sense of peace and tranquillity unto the sheep, and lullabies were tuned to soothe the flocks and enchant them to sleep.

Wouldn’t it be fascinating if we could go back in time to that fairy-tale world of exquisite creatures and magic flutes to enjoy Amisch’s ancient enchanting music? But wait a minute... We still have a goodly part of Amisch’s magic melodies with us today! We are very lucky to still be able to hear the music of the gods as it was played æons ago – the echoes of these holy tunes still reverberate in our world today. This is the magic of Circassian civilisation: despite the passage of millennia and the vicissitudes of time, significant parts of the ancient culture and folklore have come down to us whole and hale. You can listen here and now to Amisch’s melodies, and thank the unbroken chain of Circassian minstrels for this incredible feat and privilege. The still extant ancient Circassian pastoral melodies and lullabies are all the legacy of Holy Amisch.

"The Shepherd's Melody" («Мэлыхъуэ макъамэ»; "Melix'we Maqame") was played on the Circassian reed (къамыл; qamil), or bzchamiy, while the flock (of sheep) was at pasturage to impart a sense of peace and tranquillity unto the sheep. The sheet music is available in V. H. Bereghwn and Z. P’. Qardenghwsch’, 1980, p. 54. 

The sweet Kabardian pastorale “Lulling Sheep to Sleep” («Мэлгъэжей»; “Melghezhey”) was played on the zurna (bzchamiy) by shepherds, in the manner of Amisch, to soothe their flocks of sheep and bring them to sleep while they were out spending the night. The sheet music is available in V. H. Bereghwn and Z. P’. Qardenghwsch’, 1980, p. 55. 

Both pieces are performed by Mediyn St'ashw on the Circassian reed [къамыл; qamil], The Zchiw Song Ensemble, 2006. 

[Къамылапщэр: СтIашъу Мэдин, ОрэдыIо купэу «Жъыу»] 

"Starting up a Flock"

[It is hoped that a musician, inspired by this account, could record the next pastoral piece and then bestow upon us the joy of listening to his/her labour of love.] 

The musical composition “Melyeghazche” («Мэлегъажьэ»; “Starting up a Flock”) was connected to Amisch and the stock-breeding cycle. Narrators of folk tales assert that it only needed for the folk-tune to start to be played, and there and then, the first of its sounds would move the flock of sheep, without the need for any peremptory shouts or any other action. Like the Pied Piper, the shepherd playing his magic flute would lead the enchanted sheep to the meadow. The sheet music of the “magical” tune is available in V. H. Bereghwn and Z. P’. Qardenghwsch’, 1980, p54.

Seminal Nart Tale on Amisch

Amisch and Theghelej

(Translated from a Kabardian text in АДЫГЭ IУЭРЫУАТЭХЭР. Adige ’Weri’watexer [Circassian Tales], Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (compiler), The Kabardino-Balkarian Scientific Research Institute, Nalchik: Elbrus Book Printing House, 1963, p. 67)

In one of them far away times, there lived an old woman by the name of Werser. She had two sons: Amisch [god of fauna], and Theghelej [god of agriculture]. Amisch lived deep inside the forest, and he never ventured outside the woods. He occupied his time with catching all kinds of forest animals, and for the species which were too large to trap, he caught their young, and brought the whole lot and gave them to the people. To mention a few, he caught horses, bulls, goats, cows, etc., and presented them to people, who subsequently tended and multiplied them to herds, which people called “Amisch” in appreciation. Those were the achievements of Amisch.

In contrast, Theghelej found his calling in the search for crops, and [the story of how he stumbled upon corn, goes as follows] one day someone intercepted his way and started to attack him without any provocation. Theghelej [smote the aggressor and] slew him.** And [before he died] he asked him to keep vigil over his grave. Whilst he was watching the grave, he noticed that three corn plants had grown by the headstone. It was from those that the crops that are harvest originated. In honour of Theghelej, people called those crops after him.

** This mysterious murder may be the first association between crop growing and human sacrifice, which undoubtedly held a special position in ancient proto-religious rites. There is some evidence that the ancestors of the Circassians practised human sacrifice, albeit a very long time ago. Human and animal bones were found in ancient burial grounds.

Amisch’s Toasts
[АМЫЩ И ХЪУЭХЪУХЭР]

Toasts addressed to Amisch can be found on pages 57-64 in Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev) (compiler), АДЫГЭ ХЪУЭХЪУХЭР. Adige X’wex’wxer [Circassian Toasts], Nalchik: Elbrus Book Press, 1985; reprinted: 1994. [jaimoukha.synthasite.com/circassian-toasts.php; available for download in both Word and pdf formats).

These toasts are reproduced here. The first section (slightly edited) is translated to English.

Уафэр къащхъуэу,
ЩIылъэр щхъуантIэу,
Iэщ цIыкIур хъупIэм щихьэжкIэ —
Хъуныжьыр ягъэщIыщIэу,
ХъуныщIэри абы къыщIэту,
Езыхэр тIурытIылъхуу,
Къалъху мыкIуэду,
Миныр ущу,
Щийр джэгуу,
Апхуэдэ фIыгъуэ къыдэт!

Вагъуэм хуэдизыр
Ди мэлу,
Тхуэмыбжыжыр ди Iэщу,
Гуэлым хуэдизыр ди гъэшу,
Шэрхъым хуэдизыр ди кхъуейуэ,
Гъэ минкIэ дыгъэпсэу!

With blue Heaven,
And green Earth,
The young cattle return to the pasture-lands –
They rejuvenate the old meadow grass,
The fresh meadows lush and abundant at their feet,
The young lambs are engendered forth in couplets,
Living to healthful maturity,
A thousand young ones jog-trotting,
Eight-hundred playing and frolicking,
Bestow upon us such a blessing!

As numerous as the stars in Heaven
(Let) our sheep (become),
So that we are rendered unable to count our cattle,
Our milk filling a whole lake,
Our cheese as big as a wheel,
Will us [oh, Great Amisch] to live [in such clover] for a thousand years!

Notes:

Bereghwn (Baragunov), V. H. and Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev), Z. P’. (compilers), Adige Weredxemre Pshinalhexemre, Yape Txilh. Narodnie pesni i instrumentalnie naigrishi adigov, tom 1 [Circassian Songs and Instrumental Folk-Tunes, Vol. 1], Moscow: All-Union Book Publishing House “Soviet Composer”, 1980. [Edited by E. V. Gippius] [jaimoukha.synthasite.com/circassian-music-and-musicology.php]

[The English part of the article ends here!]

АМЫЩ И ХЪУЭХЪУХЭР

Уафэр къащхъуэу,
ЩIылъэр щхъуантIэу,
Iэщ цIыкIур хъупIэм щихьэжкIэ —
Хъуныжьыр ягъэщIыщIэу,
ХъуныщIэри абы къыщIэту,
Езыхэр тIурытIылъхуу,
Къалъху мыкIуэду,
Миныр ущу,
Щийр джэгуу,
НеджэгуэкI-къеджэгуэкIыу абы пыкIхэм
Нысашэ-гушыIэхэр хэтщIыкIыу
Апхуэдэ хъер къыдэт!

Вагъуэм хуэдизыр
Ди мэлу,
Тхуэмыбжыжыр ди Iэщу,
Гуэлым хуэдизыр ди гъэшу,
Шэрхъым хуэдизыр ди кхъуейуэ,
Гъэ минкIэ дыгъэпсэу!

***
Мэлыр къыдэт къащхъуэу,
ЩхъуантIэу,
КIагэу,
Гейуэ,
ТIурытIылъхурэ
Бзылъху защIэу,
Къалъхур япIрэ
Я щхьэр япIыжу,
Миныр ущмэ,
Щийр джэгуу,
Пшагъуэмрэ дыгъужьымрэ яхуэмыгъэмащIэу,
Абы къыпыджэгукI-ныпыджэгукIым
Iуэхутхьэбзэ хэтщIыкIми,
ХэмыкIуэдыкIыу къыдэт!

***
Гъэрэ щIырэ зэхэкIыу
Гъэлъхуэщым дихьэнщ щыжаIэкIэ,
Iэхъуэм «Уой-соу!» жиIэу,
Шыхъуэм «Ей-сий!» жиIэу,
Мэлыхъуэм «ХъуррейтI!» жиIэу,
Я Амыщ кIэ тIейуэ,
Я уэгуш бжьэ пэплъу,
Я гуэзнэчыр абы илъу,
Я хьэкхъуафэр абы кIэрыщIауэ.
Я хьэхэр я ужь иту,
ГъатхэфI тегъэхьэ!
ТIурытIылъхуу,
Бзылъху защIэу,
КIагэрэ гейуэ,
КIэрыхугъэ ямыIэу,
Iуэм мэлыр дэзу, ебзыр яутэу,
Берычэтыр хэлъу,
Мэлыр гъуэуэ, щынэр гъуэгыу,
Уафэр къащхъуэу,
ЩIылъэр щхъуантIэу,
Минхэр ущу, щийхэр джэгуу,
Губгъуэжьым тету,
КъыпыджэгукI-ныпыджэгукIым
Нысашэ-гушыIэ хащIыкIыу,
Гъэлъэхъу щыщIэу къыхэкIыр
Тыхь ящIу,
Вагъуэм хуэдэу яхуэмыбжу,
Ят пэтми яхуэмыухыу,
Къыдэхуэ-ныдэхуэри
Къэт-нэткIэ хурикъуу,
ХъеркIэ яшхыжыну,
Уэ ди тхьэ, яхуэгъэбагъуэ!

***
Уафэр къащхъуэу,
ЩIылъэр щхъуантIэу,
Iэщ цIыкIухэр хъупIэм щытехьэкIэ
Къандзэгубэ хуэдэр ди мэлу,
Чачэрэ гийуэ,
ТIурытIылъхурэ бзырылъху защIэу,
Къалъхур япIрэ я щхьэр япIыжу,
Хъуныжьыр ягъэщIыщIэу,
ХъуныщIэри абы къыщIэту,
Миныр ущрэ щийр джэгуу.
КъыпыджэгукI-ныпыджэгукIми
Мэлыхъуэжьхэм
Нысашэ-гушыIэ хащIыкIыу.
Вагъуэм хуэдизыр
Ди мэлу,
Тхуэмыбжыжыр ди Iэщу,
Гуэлым хуэдизыр ди кхъуейуэ,
Гъэ минкIэ дыгъэпсэу!