Circassian Paganism
A Zichian wheel, representing the articulation of the universe from the center, Tha
LanguageAdyghe, Kabardian
MembersEstimated 4,000 people following the Pagan rituals[1]

Circassian paganism, also called Khabzeism or Khabzism, is the ethnic religion of the Circassians. It is based on worshipping the supreme god Theshkhue (Тхьэшхуэ) and other minor deities under his rule, to each of whom is attributed an element, action or item of veneration and control. The religion also strongly focuses on the perfection of the soul, developing spiritual maturity and honour until a practitioner may enter the heavens, in union with their ancestors.

Concepts and values

The Circassian "hammer cross" used to represent the Khabzist faith. Today, it represents Adyghe Xabze, the moral code of the Circassians that has since been Islamified and separated from Circassian paganism.

The prominent concepts of Khabzeism include honour (nape), manifestation of compassion (guschlegu), gratuitous help (psape), which, along with valour, and the bravery of a warrior, enable the human soul to join the soul of the ancestors with a clear conscience (nape huzhkle). Thereby, the goal of man's earthly existence is the perfection of the soul; the souls of the ancestors also require commemoration, for they ability to observe and evaluate the affairs of their descendants:[2] funeral feasts are arranged (hedeus) and sacrifice or memorial meal preparations (zheryme) are practiced and distributed for the remembrance of the dead souls.[2]


Nape (honour) is one of the cornerstones of the Circassian faith. Circassia traditionally possessed no prisons and no corporal punishment; a system of fines, the death penalty or expulsion from society were utilised instead. However, the most terrible punishment amongst them was to “lose face” (napeteh), and therefore respect for and from society, a fate considered worse than death. Napeteh was cast often by military defeat or imprisonment at the hands of a foreign army, and it subsequently became a custom for Circassian warriors to commit honor suicide.[3]


Guschlegu (compassion) entails hospitality and care for others. It is considered highly important in Circassian society, where it often connects to the concept of honour, inasmuch as demonstrations of goodwill and beneficence are valued and considered, especially in more traditional communities, to be almost socially obligatory.[3]


Psape (gratuitous help) is much the same concept as guschlegu, but differs in that psape refers to actions of help without expectation of anything in return. Circassians, according to the Adyghe Xabze, are for example expected to welcome guests as their own family, and to make provisions for them; a good host should also never expect repayment for his actions, though the social code also obliges guests to act beneath the authority of their host for as long as their stay welcomes them.[3]

Offerings and rituals

It is quite probable that at one time the Circassians had a separate priestly caste that officiated religious services and rites. However, there are no indications that arcane sects nor a power wielding priestly class jealously guarding hidden mysteries inaccessible to the common folk, as was the case in various ancient societies, ever existed; the oldest partaker, who passed on the knowledge to his lay disciples, usually performs religious rites.

It is believed that performance of special rites of worship, in which supplicants encircle a venerated object (like a holy tree, or a spot stricken by lightning) invoke the resident spirits and unlock their latent powers. Some accounts tell of solemn processions round a tree with the supplicants carrying torches; these rituals formed a significant part of a complex system of prayers. The most sacred class of dances was called wij (x’wrey), which is performed by dancers, forming a circle round a venerated object.[4]

Religious rites are sometimes accompanied by chanting. Songs were intoned during feasts in honour of thunder, during sacrifices, and amongst other traditional festivals. When lightning struck a place or an object, a special kind of wij was performed round the stricken spot accompanied by the Song of Lightning (Schible Wered).

Another class of rites of supplication is concerned with prevention of disease; a primitive form of inoculation existed amongst the ancient Circassians in prevention of smallpox, and such an inoculation would be followed by placement in a swing, rocked to the accompaniment of a special chant, Your Lordship (Ziywis-hen), which invoked the mercy of the deity of the disease.

Alongside religious rites may be provided oaths and vows, wherein violation would lead to contempt and shame, and traditionally often retribution by the community.[4]

Beliefs and creation

The Khabzeist faith is monistic, with utmost prominence given to the supreme Theshkhue (colloquially shortened to The), who begets the universe.[2] Theshkhue expresses himself generating the Logos or cosmic Law (khy), the primordial pattern from which all the beings form naturally, developing by internal laws.[2] Enlightenment for men corresponds to an understanding of Tha's Law.[2]

Theshkhue is omnipresent in his creation (coagulation); according to Adyghe cosmological texts, "his spirit is scattered throughout space".[2] In Adyghe hymns, Theshkhue is referred to as "the One everyone asks, but who doesn't ask back", "the multiplier of the non-existent", "on whom everyone places their hope, but who doesn’t place hope on anyone", "from whom the gifts come", "His amazing work", "the One who permits heaven and earth to move".[2]

Everything is one (Псори Зыщ/Хыщ, Psori Zysch/Hysch), and is one with Theshkhue.[5] The material-manifested world is in perpetual change, but at the same time there is a foundation that always remains unshaken. That is the originating principle of the world and its Laws.[5] The always-changing world and its basis is compared to a rotating wheel (дунейр шэрхъщи / мэкӀэрахъуэ, duneir sherxschi / mek’eraxue): although the wheel is constantly rotating (changing), the central hub, about which it rotates, remains still.[5] Followers of this worldview, sometimes also Islamised, are found in modern day Turkey.

Secondary deities

After Theshkue, the supreme god, there are secondary deities, such as:

Various other deities are believed to exist as well, with extensive regional and universal pantheons.

The gods and goddesses are divided into two fundamentally different groups:

  1. Gods without image, cosmogonic (Thashkhue, Uashkhue, Psetha, Schyble).
  2. Anthropomorphic (humanoid) gods (Mezytha, Tlepsh, Thagaledj, etc.).


Circassia was one of the few places in Europe that retained its native religious traditions for the longest time, up until Islamization in the 17th century, with almost a continuity between the ancient traditions and the modern religiosity and world-view (Khabze), which syncretized and maintained many of its native elements even in Islamic times. The Khabze beliefs and Sufi-Islamic beliefs are currently seen as complementary philosophies by some Circassians.[6]


  1. ^ "Arena: Atlas of Religions and Nationalities in Russia". Sreda, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Khabze: the religious system of Circassians.
  3. ^ a b c Customs & Traditions [1].
  4. ^ a b Religion & Beliefs [2].
  5. ^ a b c What is Khabze? Archived 2020-01-16 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Chen Bram (1999). "CIRCASSIAN RE-IMMIGRATION TO THE CAUCASUS" (PDF). In S. Weil (ed.). Routes and Roots: Emigration in a global perspective. pp. 14–15.