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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Pakistan's Pagans In Danger Following Massive Quake

Pakistan's The Nation warns that hundreds of deaths could result if aid does not soon reach the Kalasha, the last remaining pagans of the Hindu Kush, now spending a second night outdoors in snow and sub-freezing temperatures, only a few hundred miles from the epicenter of Monday's devastating R-7.5 earthquake.

The Kalasha, who number about 4000, including 500 children, live in three isolated valleys in Pakistan's remote Northwest province. Because landslides and heavy snowfall have blocked the main access road from Chitral, the provincial capital, requests for aid have so far gone unanswered.

Qaid-e-Azam, a Kalasha who manages a hotel in Chitral, told Britain's The Guardian that the situation in the valleys could be worse: "Some of the roads are blocked, but the phones are working and people are reporting only minor damage to some of the houses." No Kalasha deaths have yet been reported.

The Kalasha valleys are still recovering from this July's devastating floods, which destroyed many houses and washed away many of the flocks and gristmills on which the Kalasha depend.

Of the Kalasha, known for their unabashedly polytheist religion, their love of wine, and the beauty and freedom of their women, Italian anthropologist Augusto Cacopardo has written that they are

unique in being the only Indo-European culture that was not absorbed by any of the great religious systems centered on urban civilization that inspire the philosophy and social organization of all other Indo-European peoples: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and, to a lesser extent, Zoroastrianism and Jainism (Cacopardo 317).

I simply cannot overstate the importance of helping to support this spirited but imperiled pagan community. What we new pagans have come to by choice, they have inherited directly from their ancestors. Alone among the Indo-European peoples, the continuity of their ancestral religion has never been broken. The Kalasha are unique, and have much to teach.

We need their wisdom; they need our help. May the gods of our people strengthen and keep the Kalasha through this difficult time.


Augusto Cacopardo, "The Kalasha (Pakistan) Winter Solstice Festival" in Ethnology Vol. 28, No. 4 (Oct. 1989)

Photo: Wooden ram's heads frame the door of the temple of Jestak, Bumboret Valley

Kalash Welfare is a UK-based aid group created to assist the Kalasha people.

Please consider making a donation.

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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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