Čatež

God of Cattle and Shepherds

The figure of Čatež as described in Slovenian legends is identical with Greek Pan, and his double Roman Silvanus. In common with these deities Čatež is half man half goat, and has horns. He dresses in animal skins and lives in the mountains. He has a staff and the distinctive flute, “piskulce” with seven pipes, the famous Pan flute. Such piskulce have been preserved in Slovenian lands till recent times. The name Čatež may have the same root as cattle, with the softening of consonant from k to č. It indicates ancient herding.

The foundations of an ancient Venetic temple were discovered some years ago, in Venetian Slovenia, the town Villa di Villa near Ceneda (Vittorio Veneto), where dedicatory bronze tablets of square shape were also found. Chiseled on them was the image of the god of cattle and shepherds.

He is standing in the midst of a herd of cows. He has a hat on his head and is dressed in a short tunic and jacket. He is wearing typical Venetic boots with rolled up edges. In one hand he holds a cup, in the other something that might be a wreath, and over it an animal skin. One of the figures is holding only a staff.

According to the findings, the temple was in existence from 3rd century BC to 3rd century AD. The image of the god of shepherds is evidence of his worship during this period. We must assume that he was also present among the deities of Carni, the Venetic people who lived in the Alps to the north of Ceneda, in the kingdom of Noricum of the time.

Among the deities of the Roman Noricum we don’t encounter a special god of shepherds. Evidently because its ruling romanized elite in the land were not country people but dwellers of market towns and city. However there are records of worship of Roman god Silvanus, who is god of forests and meadows, and guardian of herds and cattle. He was almost identical with Faunus, who was a Roman double of the Greek god Pan.

Worship of Silvanus is recorded in the village Londorf near the city Teurnia, today St. Peter in Lesje near Spittal. We may assume that this Roman god embodied the local indigenous god of shepherds, whose name was probably Čatež.

His ancient figure became that of the devil after christianization, man above the waist and goat below. In Noricum however, the local country people imagined this god as shepherd and with a horn. His image was transposed in Christianity into the Good Shepherd. This is why the stone was built into the church wall in Grače. No other explanation is possible.

Christianity could not quite displace the role that the shepherd god had assumed among the people, particularly in his role as guardian of the herds. The role of shepherd and protector was taken over by Sv. Lenart (St. Leonard). Sv. Lenart Feast Day is now a thanksgiving feast, long ago addressed to god guardian of cattle, and reaching far into Slovenian prehistory. It is the celebration of bringing the cattle back from summer pastures in the mountains. Such is even today the famous Kravji bal in Bohinj (Cow festival).

In Slovenian lands, St. Leonard has around 70, mostly auxiliary churches. The first churches consecrated to St Leonard are from the 12th century. The wave of his churches overwhelmed Slovenia in the 15th century, when Turks took many country people into captivity. It was then, that he gained fame as patron saint of captives. On his representations he often holds in his hands a chain and shackles as symbols of captivity. However his original role, protection of cattle and shepherds, which he took over from the ancient god of cattle and shepherds has never been forgotten. Čatež lives on in the figure of Sv. Lenart in many legends and tales of magic healing.

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Jožko Šavli
Jožko Šavli

Jožko Šavli (1943-2011), was Slovenian author, freelance historian and professor of economics. He completed his university studies in 1967 at the University of Ljubljana, continued his studies in Vienna, and in 1975 completed a doctoral degree in social and economic sciences. From 1978 he taught Slovenian in the technical and commercial college in Gorica, Italy. However his true interest and love led him elsewhere – to the history of his nation. To this interest he dedicated all his time and energy ceaselessly, and with the passion of a true researcher.

As a historian, Jožko Šavli is the originator of the Venetic theory of Slovenian history, which has remained officially unrecognized. It offers however a refreshing alternative history of Slovenians, that proved to be exceptionally creative and fertile. It offered a new perspective for research and led to new discoveries about Slovenian past, such as Slovenian symbols, Slovenian saints, Slovenian nobility, enthronement of Slovenian dukes, and most significantly to insights about Slovenian mythology. This research was published in a comprehensive monograph Zlati cvet, Bajeslovje Slovencev (Golden Flower, Slovenian Mythology). Its sequel, monograph Zlata ptica (Golden Bird), was published in 2010.

Jožko Šavli continued the work of Slovenian ethnologists and collectors, such as Niko Kuret, Jakob Kelemina and others, and gave it a new meaning and perspectives. As it often happens, the full significance of Dr. Šavli’s work and achievements will be only fully appreciated and recognized by future generations.