Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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A Rite of Male-Male 'Marriage' Among the Kalasha of Pakistan



Those who contend that, historically speaking, marriage is a male-female phenomenon only are, in effect, wrong.

In fact, there's good evidence for rites of male-male bonding—a functional equivalent of marriage—across the Indo-European-speaking world.

Such a rite survives to this day among the Kalasha of what is now northwestern Pakistan, the only IE-speaking people who have practiced their traditional religion continuously since antiquity.


The Goat at the Heart

Being a mountain culture, the Kalasha are aigocentric: goat-centered.

Like the Celts of ancient Britain, Kalasha culture is transhumant. During the Summer, the young men take the flocks of goats up to the Summer pastures in the mountains and live there together for months at a time.

It's unsurprising that intense emotional relationships should spring up between these young men. When two of them wish to make a lifelong commitment to one another, it's time to enact the traditional rite of, in effect, blood brotherhood.


An Act of Mutual Adoption

Together, the two sacrifice a goat to Sájigor, the protector of flocks. (Here in the West, the Horned has always been patron of male-male bonding.)

Having slaughtered the goat, they roast its kidneys over the fire. They then feed one another pieces of the kidneys on the tips of their knives.

Then they suck each other's nipples.


Though pungent with symbolism throughout, it is this final act which articulates the rite's central meaning. Across the Indo-European world, the act of suckling figures as part of the rite of adoption.

The Kalasha rite of blood-brotherhood constitutes, in effect, an act of mutual adoption.


A Pan-Indo-European Phenomenon?

Nineteenth century travelers' accounts make it clear that this rite was once common among the cultural kin of the Kalasha, the so-called “Kafiri” cultures of northwestern Afghanistan, now—since its forcible conversion to Islam during the 1890s—called Nuristan, “land of light”.

In fact, British consul George Scott Robertson undertook the rite with Waigali warrior Shermalik, and wrote of it in his 1896 book The Kafirs of the Hindu Kush, though he clearly didn't understand the implications of what he was doing.

We may suspect that similar, parallel rites of male-male bonding once occurred across the Indo-European-speaking world. As among the Kalasha, traditional societies tend to be structured along lines of kinship; such rites serve to build ties between kinship groups, and are hence indispensable for long-term cultural stability.

Surely we have every right to expect similar, if not identical, rites to have been enacted among the herders' shielings of premodern Scotland.


Value Added...?

Kalasha youths who have made this blood-brotherhood with one another—called, in Kalashamon, dári—may or may not later go on to marry women and raise families, but their lifelong commitment to one another is permanent, and recognized as such by the entire community.

As to whether or not, O curious reader, such “marriages” include sex, I can only suspect that, throughout ancestral history, this has varied from relationship to relationship.

Besides, it's none of your damned business, anyway.



According to Ronald L. Trail and Gregory R. Cooper's Kalasha Dictionary, Kalasha women may also become dári to one another by this same rite. Trail and Cooper compare the word to the Sanskrit dâraka-, "boy, son, child," which would certainly be appropriate to a rite of mutual adoption.

Possibly. Myself, I suspect a connection with the Proto-Indo-European root *deru-, "be firm, solid, steadfast", from which derive such English words as tree, trust, troth, true, and Druid.




Peter Parkes, “Livestock Symbolism and Pastoral Ideology among the Kafirs of the Hindu Kush,” in Man 12, 1987.

George Scott Robertson, The Kafirs of the Hindu Kush (1896). London: Lawrence and Ballon. (Reprinted 1999, Manshiram Manhanlal)



Kafiri sculpture, 19th century




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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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