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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The Goat-Man of the Hindu Kush

The Kalasha are the last remaining pagans of the Hindu Kush. Numbering about 4000, in three adjoining valleys in northwest Pakistan, they are known for their proud polytheism, the freedom (and beauty) of their women, and their wine-drinking.

The Kalasha are a transhumant society. In the spring, the young men take the herds of sheep and goats up to the high mountain pastures, where they spend the entire summer and autumn. In late October, they return, just in time for the Prun, the three-day harvest festival that marks the end of the growing season, the return of the flocks, and the first drinking of the New Wine, led by a mysterious figure called the Budálak, the Goat-Man.

The Budálak wears horns and goat-skins, and on the third and final night of the festival, as drums throb around the bonfires and wine flows freely, the women garland him and he joins their wild dance. He is the embodiment of the purity, fertility, and rampant maleness of the high mountains, the realm of the peri (“fairies”), and his role is to transmit this fruitfulness to the entire community.

He touches the women with his horns to fertilize them. (The young woman shown above wears the sign of the horns painted on her face in a cosmetic paste made from charred goat's horn and millet.)  It is said that in past years, for the duration of the festival, he was given sexual freedom of any woman in the valley who wished to mate with him, and that children born of such unions were held in high esteem.

 

The non-pagan neighbors of the Kalash were, of course, scandalized by such goings-on, and it is said that the Budálak has not danced since the 1970s, although the old women still sing his songs on the last night of the Prun festival.

But of course it is also the case that during the holy tides, unclean people—i.e. Muslims—are banned from the Kalasha valleys in order to maintain the requisite ritual purity.

In fact, the fertility-bearing Goat-Man is found in a wide swath of cultures across Northern Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, and North Africa.

Students of the Elder Witcheries will find here much to ponder.


Jean-Yves Loude and Viviane Lievre, Kalash Solstice: Winter Feasts of the Kalash of North Pakistan (1985), tr. Grahame Romaine and Mira Intrator. Islamabad: Lok Virsa.

Maureen Lines, Beyond the North-West Frontier: Travels in the Hindu Kush and Karakorams (1988). Oxford.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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