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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in idols
Photographing Sacred Objects: The Right Way to Do It

Sacred objects—hallows, sacra, call them what you will—constitute a category of being all of their own.

When interacting with them, always remember: These are not mere “things.” They must be treated as if they were persons.

There's an etiquette to photographing such beings, and here it is:

Ask first.

Most sacred objects, especially those that are recipients of cult, have someone who tends them and cares for them. Before photographing,You need to ask the hallow's keeper for permission.

This person will be able to tell you whether or not photography is permitted.

Bear in mind that, even if photography is usually (or sometimes) acceptable, the object may not wish to be photographed at this time, or (possibly) by you. The keeper has an ongoing relationship with the hallow, is sensitive to its moods, and will be able to tell you.

When in doubt, take no photograph.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The God Store

There's one in every pagan town. Still, there's something not entirely comfortable about the place.

You know where I mean: the God Store.

Big gods, little gods. Famous gods, obscure gods. Hand-crafted gods, mass-produced gods.

Rows and rows and rows of gods. Statues, statues, statues.

Oh, don't worry, these are not “enlivened” images; their “eyes” have not been “opened.” (Yet.) For now, they're works of art, no more. (Or craft, at least.) (But still....) You can walk past without greeting them, without making eye contact, no disrespect intended.

Still, there's no denying that there's something off-putting about so many, all in one place: not-gods, but somehow gods nonetheless.

What must it be like—O paradoxical profession—to be a seller of idols, a merchant of gods?

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    In ancient Egypt, the rite was called "Opening the Mouth," because it enabled the image to receive the food offerings that were ma
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I remember hearing about waking up or making holy icons. Apparently icons of the eastern orthodox churches are just art until the
Why Do Blue Jeans Have That Extra Little Pocket on the Right?

You've probably noticed that every pair of blue jeans has an extra little side pocket sewn in above the right-hand pocket.

You may have heard this called a “watch pocket,” a vestigial sartorial left-over from the days of pocket watches.

Don't believe it. Here's the real story.

Among the ancient Norse, for obvious reasons, it was customary to carry a small image of one's luck-god on one's person. This hlutr-god (hlutr is cousin to English lot, as in drawing lots) would be suspended from the belt in a little pouch of its own.

(Possibly the most famous story about a lot-god in the lore is that of Einarr Skálarglam. Einarr, a Norwegian, was considering a move to Iceland, but hadn't yet made up his mind. In the meantime, the little silver image of his luck-god Frey, which he carried with him at all times, disappeared. Frey appears to Einarr in a dream, and tells him to settle in Iceland after all. “When you dig the hole for your house's king-post, there you'll find my hlutr,” he tells him. Of course, everything turns out exactly as the god says.)

(Incidentally, Einarr's descendants still live on that same farm in Iceland.)

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How the Idol-Maker Saved the World

 A Kalasha Tale

 

One year Dezáu—Heaven—decreed that, in honor of the winter solstice, all of humanity should keep all-night vigil.

Yes, yes, they all said. But one by one, they all, nonetheless, fell asleep.

Finally, out of all humanity, only one man remained awake.

This man was a Kalasha, a wood-carver. The reason why he stayed awake when everyone else fell asleep is that he was busy carving a statue: a statue of Dezáu himself, as it happens.

When Dezáu saw this, he was pleased, and so he blessed the man and his craft, and also his entire people.

So it is that, of all the Indo-European-speaking peoples, only the Kalasha, a small tribe of some 4000 people, who live in three valleys in what is now NW Pakistan, have continuously and uninterruptedly practiced their ancient religion since antiquity: the Great Blessing of Dezáu.

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On Self-Revealed Images

 These images [of the gods] were first revealed to humanity by the gods themselves.

 

In his Letter to a Priest, the Emperor Julian (299?-323), arguably the world's first New Pagan, lays out a case for maintaining the traditional religion “of our ancestors.”

Images of the gods make-present the gods on earth, he writes. We know that their use is legitimate because they “were first revealed to humanity by the gods themselves.”

So the question is: Did the gods first reveal images to us?

And the answer: Of course they did.

Humans are social animals. As a result, we look for human features in the world around us, and often enough we find them. You've seen them yourself. (You don't have to look at leaves for very long before you start seeing Green Man faces.) In Hindu thought, these are what are referred to as “self-revealed images.”

On my first encounter with the Pacific Ocean, I picked up a pebble as a reminder. It's glossy from wave-wear, the size, maybe, of a Brazil nut. What's striking about it is the striations. They quite clearly outline the head, breasts, and thighs of a tiny little goddess, tucked comfortably into one little brown pebble.

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In Which Our Intrepid Blogger Reviews a Book on a (Gasp!) Non-Pagan Subject

This is Not the Resurrection You're Looking For

 

Resurrecting Easter would be a better book if it knew what it wanted to be. Art history? A husband-wife travelogue? A mystery novel à la Da Vinci Code?

Unfortunately, it never manages to decide.

In it, Jesus Seminar rockstar John Dominic Crossan and his wife Sarah travel (literally) to the ends of Christendom to tell the story of the emergence of the iconography of the Resurrection. He writes, she takes the pictures.

This important topic has received surprisingly little attention from art historians. Apart from Anna Kartsonis' magisterial 1988 Anastasis: The Making of an Image, there are virtually no monographs on the subject. The Phaidon Press series of anthologies on the art of Holy Week—Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Descent (i.e. deposition from the cross)—does not, surprisingly, devote a volume to the art of the Resurrection. Somehow, when it comes to art history, it's always Nativity, never Pascha.

So I praise the Crossans for perceiving this lack and attempting to address it. It's a pity they couldn't do so more successfully.

Oh, they do manage to chronicle the emergence and development of Christendom's two major visual representations of the Resurrection, with some attention to various dead ends and roads-not-taken along the way. Unfortunately, the art-historical material is interspersed almost randomly with pointless tales from their travels, including local-color details about what time they caught the cab and what T-shirt the driver was wearing. The quest—and narrative—are driven by forced cliff-hanger questions about the iconography (“What happens to the universal resurrection tradition in Eastern Christianity during that same fateful period?”) that are meant to seem urgent but mostly fall flat.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I can go onto Bing images and type in resurrection to get a whole bunch of pictures. If I haven't run out of ink in my printer I

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Of House-Gods and the Pork King

In the West Telemark Museum in Eidsborg, Norway, you can see numerous small wooden figures of “house-gods.”

Some of them date from antiquity, discovered, anaerobically preserved, in bogs.

Some are more recent.

In Norway's remote, rural Telemark region, house-gods such as these were kept at certain farms well into the 19th century. Associated with a specific farm and with the family that lived there, they were regarded not so much as gods, but as heirlooms, talismans that warded off misfortune and ensured good harvests and many offspring both to the family and its livestock.*

They say that one such house-god was called the Pork King. At holidays, it was customary to anoint this figure with lard or butter. At Yule, before the family took their traditional pre-Yule baths, the first to be bathed in the purifying waters was the Pork King himself. Only the mistress of the farm was permitted to be present for the bathing of the Pork King. Not even the farmer himself could witness this sacred ablution.

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