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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Kalasha

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

 

At Twin Cities Pagan Pride this Saturday, we'll be making the twelfth annual Offering to Minnehaha Falls, and praying for the well-being of pagans everywhere.

If you can't be there, I invite you to join us anyway in praying for the well-being of pagans everywhere.

In particular, I invite you to join us in praying for the well-being of the pagans of Afghanistan.

Are there pagans in Afghanistan? Well might you ask.

Truth in advertising: I don't know any Afghan pagans personally. But I feel quite confidant in declaring that yes, of course there are pagans in Afghanistan. There are pagans everywhere. Wherever (gods help us) the internet reaches, there are pagans. Wherever people are in chains, some dare dream of freedom.

There were pagans in Afghanistan—real, old-time, rifle-toting, goat-sacrificing pagans—up until the 1890s, when the emir of Kabul (of cursed memory) declared jihad against the mountain tribes of what was then called Kafiristan: “Unbeliever Land.” Those that weren't killed were forcibly converted to Islam, and their mountainous territory was officially renamed Nuristan, “Land of Light.” Light at rifle-point: welcome to Abrahamic history, boys and girls.

(Their close cousins, the Kalasha of what is now Pakistan, being on the British side of the Durand Line, were spared the genocide, and practice their ancient religion to this day, the only Indo-European-speaking people to have done so.)

So yes, Diana, there are pagans in Afghanistan. There are (gods help them) pagans even in the deepest, darkest, most repressive Muslim countries of the world, like Saudi Arabia. Wherever people are in chains, some dare dream of freedom.

Consider what life must be like for the pagans of Afghanistan. The very worst that we've seen here in the US—even in the deepest, darkest Bible Belt—pales by comparison.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, Thanks again for reminding us all about the Kalasha. I love the part about renaming Kafiristan to Nuristan. "Land
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Interesting quibble. Can one be a Celt if one doesn't speak a Celtic language? My neighbor's ancestors came from West Africa, but
  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    Good post. I'll split hairs on the "only" part: The Mari-El have kept a Pagan tradition going. Their old language is not in the In

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

 A Kalasha Tale


Long ago, in the dawn of days, First Man and First Woman had seven sets of twins. Each set of twins consisted of one girl and one boy.

When it came time for the twins to marry, First Man and First Woman carefully broke up the sets of twins, so as to avoid incest.

But one set of twins mated incestuously with one another instead.

That's where non-pagans come from.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

 

In Which the Anthropologist Screws Up

 

“But is our religion true?”

It was the final night of Chaumós, the extended Winter Solstice celebration of the Kalasha of NW Pakistan, the only Indo-European-speaking people who have held to their traditional religion continuously since antiquity. Around the huge bonfire, drums throbbed and wine flowed; the dancing was wild and passionate.

Italian anthropologist Augusto S. Cacopardo has made a lifelong study of the Kalasha and their ancient religion, characterized by its polytheism, animal sacrifices, and sacred dances.

Posing the question to him was local informant Bairam Shah, a young Kalasha man who had gone to Islamabad to study law so that, as a lawyer, he could fight for his people's rights in the Pakistani courts.

Of his commitment to his people and their 4000-year tradition, there can be no doubt. As they watch the dancing, the young Kalasha lawyer asks the Italian anthropologist his question, one modern to another.

“But is our religion true?”

Here Cacopardo screws up. Embarrassed, he tries to fob off Bairam Shah with some limp-dick generalization about the nature of truth.

(Although I don't know for certain, I'm guessing that—as an academic—Cacopardo is probably a-religious himself, and believes that no human religion is true, at least not in the sense that Bairam Shah meant. But of course, you can't say that to an informant, even—let us not forget—to a fellow modern, a professional with several degrees.)

But I'll tell you what he should have said.

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Ek.

Du.

Tre.

It even sounds like “one, two, three”, doesn't it?

The Kalasha are the last pagans of the Hindu Kush, and thus kin to every Western pagan. Of all the Indo-European-speaking peoples of the world, they're the only ones who have practiced their traditional religion continuously since antiquity.

Numbering about 4000, they live in three remote valleys in what is now Northwestern Pakistan. Famed for their polytheistic religion, their wine-drinking, and the beauty (and freedom) of their women, they are currently undergoing something of a cultural renaissance.

Their language, Kalashamon, is a profoundly archaic dialect closely akin to Sanskrit. In its numbers one through ten, you can hear the distant kinship:

Ek

Du

Tre

Chau

Ponj

Sho

Sat

Asht

No

Dash

You will scarcely be surprised to learn that in Kalashamon, as in English, Ek, du, tre also means: Come on! Now! Hurry up! Let's go!

As I write this, the Kalasha are celebrating their year's greatest festival: Chaumós, their month-long celebration of the Winter Solstice. With its bonfires, sacred dances, evergreens, wine, and feasting, its sacrifices and sacred songs, much here will sound familiar to the Western pagan ear.

Each year at Chaumós, the Kalasha gather together, and their gods count them. If their celebration is worthy, next year there will be more Kalasha than last.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Fairy Flocks: A Kalasha Tale

As in Scotland deer are said to be the fairies' cattle, so in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, wild goats are known as the fairies' flocks.

A certain Kalasha man was once benighted while hunting in the mountains, and decided to spend the night in a particular cave.

In the middle of the night, he was awakened by the sound of many people entering the cave. These were the fairies. When they lit a fire, he saw that they had with them a fine, fat ibex. This they proceeded to slaughter, joint, and roast.

They gave some meat to the man. He ate it, but hid two ribs in his shirt.

When the fairies were finished eating, they reassembled the goat's bones in its hide.

“Where are the two ribs?” they asked, but the man said nothing, so the fairies made two ribs from sticks of juniper, the fairies' tree. When they had laid them in place on the skin, the goat sprang up alive again, hale and hearty.

“We give this ibex to Such-and-so,” they said, naming another Kalasha man known to the hunter.

The man fell asleep, and in the morning found himself alone in the cave.

Going out to resume his hunt, he heard gunfire. Following the sound of the shot, he found the very man that the fairies had named, who had just shot a fine, fat ibex.

“Let me help you,” the first hunter said, and the two of them proceeded to skin and butcher the animal. They found that two of its ribs were wooden.

The wild goats of the mountains, the ibexes and markhors, belong to the fairies. No one successfully hunts them without their permission.

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And What Did the Yule Stag Bring You, My Little Pretty?

There aren't many Yule decorations that would make me consider theft.

In fact, I can only think of one.

My friend Sirius found the Yule Stag years ago, half-price at an after-holiday sale. He's your usual made-in-China, dressed-up Santa maquette of the kind that one sees in the stores by the scores at this time of year: the porcelain head, the red robe trimmed with faux fur, the shouldered sack of toys.

Oh, but he's got the head and hooves of a stag: Santa and Reindeer in one.

Oh my Hornèd God.

The Kalasha of what is now northwestern Pakistan are the only Indo-European-speaking people who have practiced their traditional religion continuously since antiquity. Their most important holiday of the year is—surprise—the Winter Solstice. During the most sacred days of the festival, the rider god Balumáin descends to visit the Kalasha valleys, accompanied by his boon companion, a god named Púshau.

Students of ancient religion have long wondered if the famed Horned God of antiquity finds a reflex in proto-Indo-European religion. Such would, in fact, seem to have been the case.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
A Real Old-Time Yule

 Augusto S. Cacopardo (2016) Pagan Christmas: Winter Feasts of the Kalasha of the Hindu Kush. Gingko Library.

 

If you've ever wondered what Yule used to look like back before it got Christmasized, I've got good news for you: it's not too late to find out.

Numbering about 3500, the Kalasha are the only remaining Indo-European-speaking people who have practiced their traditional religion continuously since antiquity. Living in three remote valleys in what is now northwestern Pakistan, they are famed for their wine-drinking, the beauty (and freedom) of their women, and their overtly polytheistic religion with its sacred dances, animal sacrifices, sacred groves, and (in the old way) sanctuaries both "roofed" (indoor) and "unroofed" (open-air).

Their most important holiday of the year is (surprise!) the Winter Solstice, known in Kalashagrom as Chaumós (chow-MOSS). This complex of festivities, with its feasts, bonfires, sacred songs and dances, sacrifices, and torchlit processions (any of that sound familiar?) lasts for nearly a month.

Heretofore, the only major resource on the rites of Chaumos available to English-speakers was Jean-Yves Loude and Viviane Lièvre's 1986 Kalash Solstice, a valuable study limited by poor translation from the original French, and by the fact that only about half of the book actually deals with Chaumos itself. In addition, the book was written after only two seasons of fieldwork, which—for a festival as profound and complex as Chaumos—can hardly even begin to plumb the depths.

So thank Goddess for Augusto S. Cacopardo's 2016 Pagan Christmas: Winter Feasts of the Kalasha of the Hindu Kush.

Cacopardo is an Italian anthropologist who has made a lifelong study of the peoples of the Hindu Kush, a cultural region which he rather charmingly calls Peristan, “Fairy Land.” (Belief in the mountain fairies characterizes all the local cultures of this region.) He has made a particular study of the Kalasha, and attended his first Chaumos many years ago as a young man. Since then, he's been back many times and, as a result, can offer us a treasury of lore which will, I promise you, enrich your Yule celebration in ways you never dreamed possible.

Pagans being pagans, even in a society of fewer than 4000 people, the Chaumos celebrations of the three different valleys that the Kalasha inhabit differ significantly from one another. Previous studies had focused on solstice celebrations of the Rumbúr and Bumbúret valleys, but Cacopardo focuses on Birír valley which, as he clearly demonstrates, preserves the old Chaumos traditions in their purest and most archaic forms.

Much will sound familiar here to the New Pagan reader: bonfires, torch-dances, decking with evergreens. (“The gods love the smell of juniper,” say the Kalasha. "When they smell it, they draw near.") The bean-feasts, the drumming and dancing, the sacred ball-games: Chaumos is, in many ways, very much like Yule as we know it.

Let one story suffice. One night, the last of the holiday, Cacopardo is privileged to witness—although not, as an outsider, to hear—the recitation of the ghach, the secret prayer known only to a few elders, which actualizes and directs the energies of the entire Chaumos celebration. Cacopardo notices that the old man reciting the ghach is holding a green branch in his hand as he does so.

“What's he holding?” he asks his informant.

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