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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Pagans Are Pagans Everywhere

The Two Arrows

When the Kalasha people first entered Rumbur Valley, their greatest shaman, Naga Dehár, stood at the pass with his back to Afghanistan. He fired two arrows, one red and one black. Where the black arrow landed, they built the altar to Sájigor, still the most sacred place in the Kalasha valleys.

Where the red arrow landed, they built the first bashali—the women's moon-house (Maggi 47).


It's as if one were to discover an ancient Celtic tribe living up in the mountains, still practicing their old religion.

The Kalasha are a people some 4000-strong who live in three remote valleys in the Hindu Kush mountains of what is now Pakistan. They are known far and wide for their wine-drinking, for the beauty (and social freedom) of their women, and for their proudly polytheist religion, which in many ways more closely resembles pre-Hindu Vedic religion than anything else.

With their pantheon of gods and goddesses, animal sacrifices, and sacred dances, the Kalasha are probably as close as we will ever come to the Indo-European ancestors.

The more that I learn more about the Kalasha, the more struck I am by just how familiar they seem.

And I don't just mean their religion.

University of Colorado anthropologist Wynne Maggi observes that, although known world-wide for it, most Kalasha are neither particularly knowledgeable about, nor particularly interested in, their religion.

“Why do you care about all that?” the women would say to her when she persisted in her inquiries about gods and goddesses, or the reasons for a particular custom. “Here, why don't you chop some onions?” (Maggi 45).

The types of things that anthropologists want to know are regarded by most Kalasha as specialist knowledge, known only to a few experts.

And then, of course, there are those irritating enthusiasts who drone on and on about gods and rituals and traditions long after everyone else has heard more than enough on the topic and wishes heartily that they would just shut up (Maggi 45).

Gods. Am I actually blushing?

Old or new: pagans, it would seem, are pagans everywhere.


Wynne Maggi (2001). Our Women are Free: Gender and Ethnicity in the Hindu Kush. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

For more on the Kalasha:

Debra Denker (1981). “Pakistan's Kalash; People of Fire and Fervor,” in National Geographic Vol. 160, No. 4.

Mytte Fentz (2010). The Kalasha: Mountain People of the Hindu Kush. Rhodos.

Jean-Yves Loude & Viviane Lièvre (1986). Kalash Solstice: Winter Feasts of the Kalash of Northwest Pakistan. Lok Virsa, Islamabad.








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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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