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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in idolatry



I'm telling my archaeologist friend about my visit to a local Hindu celebration.

“I got to help carry the 'idols' in to the altar,” I tell him, drawing air-quotes. Smiling, I add: “My Jewish ancestors must have been reeling in their graves.”

(The three deities, who live at the pujari's house, traveled to the Lutheran church where the celebration was to be held in the back seat of his four-by-four, covered with a cloth because they were “asleep.” As we bore them, one by one, into the sanctuary, he preceded each god, ringing little cymbals and chanting a responsorial praise song. Music accompanies gods wherever they go.)

My friend smiles.

“Ah, but your Judaean ancestors must have been dancing in theirs,” he says.

This is no more than truth. One of the most common finds in pre-Exilic Hebrew houses are are little clay terafim of gods and goddesses.

As for “idols” and “idolatry”: of all god-images, the most dangerous by far are Books. Books have wrought more wrong in the world than any statue ever did.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs


 Golden Calf Syndrome | The Layman's Bible


 The Making of a Pagan


The little tow-headed boy is sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, watching TV. Now playing—maybe because it's Holy Week—is C. B. de Mille's epic kitsch-fest The Ten Commandments.

The film is unrelentingly grim. Oh the slavery! Oh the plagues! Oh the suffering!

Suddenly, the mood changes. The Children of Israel are, for once, happy. They're dancing, they're getting drunk, they're grabbing each others' asses.

They're worshiping the Golden Calf!

That looks like fun! thinks the little boy. That's what I want to do!


With its implications of juvenescence, “calf” is really something of a mistranslation. In Hebrew, an égel (עגל) is actually a yearling bull, newly come to maturity. The Golden Bull is a youthful god, shining with juicy adolescence.


“What the heck is that?” asks my friend.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

You and I are both standing in the temple, gazing upon the face of the god.

You are really tuned in. For you, the god is entirely present. You're seeing the god himself.

Me, though, not so much. For me, I'm just seeing the statue: a masterwork, true, but still only a statue.

Two worshipers, standing side by side: for one, the god is present; for the other, not.

Call it the Pagan Paradox: in the same image, at the same time, the god is both present and not present simultaneously.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I'm reminded of a story I once heard about Orthodox Icons. Most of the time they are just painted wood, but sometimes there is th
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, It's my belief that a tiny bit of divine essence is refracted through the agalma (holy image). Failing to sense that g

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Pagan Transubstantiation

It is, I suppose, the pagan equivalent of transubstantiation.

The god is present in the image; or, put differently: The image makes-present the god.

Insofar as pagans agree on anything, I suspect that this is one agenda item on which most of us would concur. Well worth asking, of course, is the question: How, then, is the god present in the image?

Is the god symbolically present in the image?

Is the god literally present in the image?

If symbolically, what does this imply about Who the gods are and how They act?

If literally, what does this imply about Who the gods are and how They act?

I can't answer these questions for you; after years of temple-keeping, I can barely answer them for myself. (I do not, however, think that this Real Presence is symbolic only; and whatever the gods may be, I do not believe that they are "spirits" that "inhabit" an image as one would enter—and leave—a room.) This much, however, I can say:

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Photographing Sacred Objects: The Right Way to Do It

Sacred objects—hallows, sacra, call them what you will—constitute a category of being all of their own.

When interacting with them, always remember: These are not mere “things.” They must be treated as if they were persons.

There's an etiquette to photographing such beings, and here it is:

Ask first.

Most sacred objects, especially those that are recipients of cult, have someone who tends them and cares for them. Before photographing,You need to ask the hallow's keeper for permission.

This person will be able to tell you whether or not photography is permitted.

Bear in mind that, even if photography is usually (or sometimes) acceptable, the object may not wish to be photographed at this time, or (possibly) by you. The keeper has an ongoing relationship with the hallow, is sensitive to its moods, and will be able to tell you.

When in doubt, take no photograph.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The God Store

There's one in every pagan town. Still, there's something not entirely comfortable about the place.

You know where I mean: the God Store.

Big gods, little gods. Famous gods, obscure gods. Hand-crafted gods, mass-produced gods.

Rows and rows and rows of gods. Statues, statues, statues.

Oh, don't worry, these are not “enlivened” images; their “eyes” have not been “opened.” (Yet.) For now, they're works of art, no more. (Or craft, at least.) (But still....) You can walk past without greeting them, without making eye contact, no disrespect intended.

Still, there's no denying that there's something off-putting about so many, all in one place: not-gods, but somehow gods nonetheless.

What must it be like—O paradoxical profession—to be a seller of idols, a merchant of gods?

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    In ancient Egypt, the rite was called "Opening the Mouth," because it enabled the image to receive the food offerings that were ma
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I remember hearing about waking up or making holy icons. Apparently icons of the eastern orthodox churches are just art until the
How the Idol-Maker Saved the World

 A Kalasha Tale


One year Dezáu—Heaven—decreed that, in honor of the winter solstice, all of humanity should keep all-night vigil.

Yes, yes, they all said. But one by one, they all, nonetheless, fell asleep.

Finally, out of all humanity, only one man remained awake.

This man was a Kalasha, a wood-carver. The reason why he stayed awake when everyone else fell asleep is that he was busy carving a statue: a statue of Dezáu himself, as it happens.

When Dezáu saw this, he was pleased, and so he blessed the man and his craft, and also his entire people.

So it is that, of all the Indo-European-speaking peoples, only the Kalasha, a small tribe of some 4000 people, who live in three valleys in what is now NW Pakistan, have continuously and uninterruptedly practiced their ancient religion since antiquity: the Great Blessing of Dezáu.

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