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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 Rällinge statuette - Wikipedia

Chances are, you've seen pictures of the Rällinge Frey many times before.

But how often have you seen His back?

 

 Rällinge statuette - Wikipedia

Note the complex, swirling patterns worked in gold. Whoever it was that took the time and care to make them clearly felt that the god's back was important, perhaps just as important as his front.

What are they? Vegetation? A tree, maybe? If so, this tells us something important about this god that we would never have guessed if we'd only seen him from in front.

Across Pagandom these days, gods tend to get shoved onto altars, and there's an end to it, but that's not how the ancestors saw it. To them, the god's back was as important as his front, and they took care to lavish attention—and craftsmanship—on both.

It's intriguing that this should be so regardless of the perspective from which the image was intended to be seen. This makes sense, of course: who would leave a god's likeness incomplete? Such would hardly be a worthy vessel for the divine.

A major way to venerate a statue—or, rather, the god present in the statue—was to circumambulate: to walk around the statue. Anyone that knows gods knows that there's more to any given god than what you can see from the front alone. Much, much more.

One of the pleasures of traveling to Greece was finally being able to see what famous statues looked like from behind; for some curious reason, rear views rarely tend to make it into books. There I was quickly disabused of the notion that I knew these works well. How can you claim to know a work of art when you've only seen half of it?

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

You and I are both standing in the temple, gazing upon the face of the god.

You are really tuned in. For you, the god is entirely present. You're seeing the god himself.

Me, though, not so much. For me, I'm just seeing the statue: a masterwork, true, but still only a statue.

Two worshipers, standing side by side: for one, the god is present; for the other, not.

Call it the Pagan Paradox: in the same image, at the same time, the god is both present and not present simultaneously.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I'm reminded of a story I once heard about Orthodox Icons. Most of the time they are just painted wood, but sometimes there is th
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, It's my belief that a tiny bit of divine essence is refracted through the agalma (holy image). Failing to sense that g

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Pagan Transubstantiation

It is, I suppose, the pagan equivalent of transubstantiation.

The god is present in the image; or, put differently: The image makes-present the god.

Insofar as pagans agree on anything, I suspect that this is one agenda item on which most of us would concur. Well worth asking, of course, is the question: How, then, is the god present in the image?

Is the god symbolically present in the image?

Is the god literally present in the image?

If symbolically, what does this imply about Who the gods are and how They act?

If literally, what does this imply about Who the gods are and how They act?

I can't answer these questions for you; after years of temple-keeping, I can barely answer them for myself. (I do not, however, think that this Real Presence is symbolic only; and whatever the gods may be, I do not believe that they are "spirits" that "inhabit" an image as one would enter—and leave—a room.) This much, however, I can say:

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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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