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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 PIE cattle raiding myth ...

"Reuse, repurpose, recycle."


Me, I'm a man of peace, but the more I think about it, the more it starts to look like prophecy.

Across the Indo-European-speaking world, and beyond, they tell the story of Thunder and the (variously-named) Three-Headed Monster.

In a nutshell: the three-headed monster arises and oppresses the people. Thunder arises, arms himself, and after a terrible battle, slays him, freeing all the people.

And there was much rejoicing.

It's an old story, with reflexes across Europe and Western Asia. We see it in the East (Indra v. Vritra), the uttermost West (Thor v. Midgard Serpent), and in between (Zeus v. Typhon). Italian anthropologist Augusto Cacopardo has even suggested that the story underlies the great Winter Solstice festival of the Kalasha of what is now Pakistan, the sole remaining Indo-European-speaking people who have continuously practiced their traditional religion since ancient times (Cacopardo 116-118).

At this point, the astute mythographer will be asking: Why three heads? That's where the prophecy comes in.

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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.

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 Earthquake was Allah's wrath for Kalash community's immoral ways'

Apparently, they don't teach plate tectonics at the local madrassas.

Some 4000-strong, the Kalasha people live in three remote valleys in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains of what is now Pakistan's northwest Chitral province. They are widely known—and, among some conservative Muslims, infamous—for their wine-drinking, the social freedom (and beauty) of their women, and their unabashedly polytheistic religion, complete with sacred dances, outdoor sanctuaries, and animal sacrifice. Of all the Indo-European-speaking peoples, only the Kalasha have continuously practiced their traditional religion since antiquity.

Although the magnitude 6.2 earthquake of June 22, which killed 43 in Pakistan and more than 1000 in Afghanistan, was felt in the Kalasha valleys—some 500 miles from the quake's epicenter—it did little damage there, and no injuries were reported.

This fact hasn't stopped some local Muslims from blaming the quake on the Kalasha. “The earthquake was Allah's wrath for the Kalasha community's evil ways,” one told Pakistan's Express Tribune after a similar quake in 2015.

(One might, of course, wonder why a supposedly omnipotent god wouldn't simply deal with said pagans directly, instead of killing Muslims, while leaving the infidels untouched. Truly, the ways of gods are mysterious.)

Kalasha, who experience pressure to convert to Islam on a practically daily basis, report an increased level of harassment since the earthquake. After a previous quake, Shira Bibi, a young Kalasha woman from the village of Brun in Bumburet Valley, while studying in Peshawar, was told by an old man in the street, “Look, daughter, don't walk around like that, can't you see that earthquakes are striking, floods are coming, because of you?”

She was wearing traditional Kalasha dress at the time.

(When asked if she intended to convert to Islam, Diana Bibi, also of Brun in Bumburet Valley—she was named for England's princess Diana—giggled “Yes! I will go to heaven and have 70 virgins!”)

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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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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:











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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