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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Kalasha
Prince William and Kate Middleton Visit Pakistani Pagans

During their recent trip to Pakistan, eventual heir to the British throne prince William and his wife Kate Middleton paid a special visit to Bumboret Valley, home to Pakistan's famed pagan tribe, the Kalasha.

Sometimes called the “last pagans of the Hindu Kush,” the Kalasha, numbering some 4000, live in three remote valleys in what is now NW Pakistan. They are widely known for the freedom (and beauty) of their women, their wine-drinking, and their polytheistic religion.

Of all the Indo-European-speaking peoples, only the Kalasha have practiced their ancient and traditional religion continuously since antiquity. Characterized by sacred dances, outdoor sanctuaries, and animal sacrifice, the religion of the Kalasha offers an unparalleled window of insight into the practices and thought-ways of the pagan ancestors. More than anything else, it resembles an archaic form of pre-Hindu Vedic religion.

You can see unedited footage from the October 16th royal visit to Kalashastan here, courtesy of Ishpata News, the local Kalasha news outlet. (Ishpáta is the most common greeting in the Kalasha language: "Hello!".) You will recognize the Kalasha women by their distinctive and colorful clothing and headgear, and the men by the feathers in their Chitrali caps. During the long centuries of Muslim oppression, Kalasha were forced to identify themselves in public by wearing feathers in their headgear. Pagans being pagans, they took it up as a distinctive sign of pride, and unapologetically sport feathers to this very day.

The coverage of the royal visit is well worth watching (and doesn't Bonny Prince Billy look fetching in his feathered Kalasha cap?). After centuries of being despised as ignorant unbelievers, the Kalasha are currently undergoing something of a cultural renaissance. (Part of this new confidence in Kalasha identity derives from the knowledge that people of the West [i.e. us] are embracing, by choice, what the Kalasha already have by inheritance.) As several of the spokespersons interviewed toward the end of the clip discuss, the highest levels of Pakistani government, including Prime Minister Imrat Khan, have recently awoken to the knowledge of the living cultural treasure that the Kalasha represent, and moved to enshrine their rights by protective legislation. In a culturally homogenized world increasingly flattened by unthinking monotheization, pagans are the guarantors of freedom and eco-cultural health.

Don't be put off by the lack of subtitles, or the 26 minutes of narration in Kalashagrom, a profoundly archaic language closely related to Sanskrit. Here is your opportunity to hear the voices of the pagan ancestors, vibrantly alive in our hour and day.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    The headgear being such a prime marker of Kalasha identity, I found the Presentation a graceful and moving gesture: conferring, in
  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    I just watched up through the Presentation of the Hats, but that was fun.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
How to Remember Anything

Of all the Indo-European-speaking peoples, only one has practiced their traditional religion continuously since antiquity.

The Kalasha, some 4000-strong, live in three remote valleys in what is now northwestern Pakistan. There they worship their ancient gods with wine, animal sacrifice, and sacred dances.

To honor these courageous people, I want to teach you a word in their language, Kalashamon: pooch, “penis.”

Some years back, it so happened that an English tourist came to visit the Kalasha valleys. (When you're the last surviving pagans of the Hindu Kush, the tourists will certainly come.) Being English, she naturally brought her dog with her. (“A priest in Ireland, a dog in England,” goes the saying, answering the question “What's the best thing to be?”) Of course, the dog's name was Pooch.

One day Pooch ran away. To the great amusement of the Kalasha, the distraught woman wandered through the village calling “Pooch! Pooch!” and explaining to anyone who would listen that she had lost her Pooch and just had to find him.

The story may or may not be apocryphal. Likelihood aside, it very much has the feel of something that an amused Kalashamon-speaker learning English might make up.

But if by any chance you should happen to find yourself in the secret mountain valleys of the Lost Pagans of the Hindu Kush, you'll know at least one useful word in the local language.

You will have remembered it, you will find, because I've taught it to you in the traditional way, which—in the days before literacy took all human knowledge hostage—the ancestors utilized in every aspect of life.

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Where Witches Dance: Some Thoughts on the Name 'Paganistan'

 “...and to the republic where witches dance...”

 

When, back in the mid-80s, I coined the name “Paganistan” as a term for the Twin Cities pagan community, it was with tongue firmly in cheek. No one is more surprised than I am that it actually seems to have caught on.

The word itself is a partial loan-translation of the hybrid Arabic-Persian Kafiristan, “land of the pagans,” the name given to the wild mountainous region of northeastern Afghanistan (“land of the Afghans”), which as late as the 1890s was still home to some of history's very last Indo-European-speakers to practice their ancient polytheist tribal religions.

(In a major land-grab in 1896, the Emir of Kabul declared jihad against the fierce mountain Kafirs, and in the end rifles and bullets won out over spears and arrows: the area was forcibly Islamized and renamed Nuristan, “land of light.” Saved by the Durand line, however, the Kalasha, the last culturally-intact Kafiristanis, numbering some 4000, still—in what is now northwestern Pakistan—worship their ancient gods with wine, dance, and animal sacrifice. Long may they live and flourish.)

The name Paganistan first saw print in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune a year later when Jim "Moon Dog" Runnels was quoted as referring to the Twin Cities as the “capital of Paganistan.”

That's how we became the first named community of modern pagan times.

The name spread with the rise of internet paganism, notably through the publication of our resident anthropologist Murphy Pizza's 1994 Paganistan: Contemporary Pagan Community in Minnesota's Twin Cities, and—latterly—through the present blog.

After thirty-some years of Paganistan, it remains a sorrow to me that the name's derivation from us, and not from the Land, marks it as a non-Indigenous—and, in this sense, an imposed—name.

But this would be valid grounds for critique only if the term were to be used in a triumphalist, or supercessionist, manner: which, of course, it never is. No one, much less myself, would propose that we replace an Indigenous name, Minnesota (“sky water”) with a non-Indigenous Paganistan. Paganistan is the pagan name for this place as home to the local community. It's the Twin Cities' Craft name. That's all.

Of course, we do have our own flag (Witch's Hat Tower, gray, on a blue, yellow and green field) and our own “national” anthem (no, I didn't pen it myself). But that's all by the by, offspring of the infinitely playful cauldron of creativity that is local Paganry.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Dream of a Common Language

In the dream, I'm part of a delegation of New Pagans from the West that has gone to the Kalasha valleys to attend a grand convocation of contemporary pagans, both old and new.

(The Kalasha are the only Indo-European-speaking people who have continuously practiced their ancestral religion since ancient times. About 4000 of them live in three remote valleys in what is now northwestern Pakistan. They are known for their polytheistic religion, their wine-drinking, and for the freedom—and beauty—of their women.)


A Kalasha spokeswoman stands up to welcome everyone to Kalashastan. A few sentences into her speech, everyone begins to laugh in appreciative surprise.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Indeed! Very few of my dreams strike me as being profound, but I think that this one qualifies. Me, I'm going to hold out for a m
  • Dragon Dancer
    Dragon Dancer says #
    Awesome dream! If only, right?

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Wearing of the Green

Me, I wouldn't be caught dead wearing a Santa hat in public (or in private, for that matter: sorry, not my mythos), but even so, you won't have any problem picking me out in a crowd by my headgear.

I'm the one that's wearing a sprig of holly tucked into the roll of his cap.

Every morning, on the way out of the house, I snap off a fresh twig from the bush that grows by the front gate and don it for the day.

Let the cowans think what they may. (Probably: Gods, what a geek.) So what if it makes me look like a plum pudding? I'm a pagan, and pagans wear our holidays.

Tonight, when together we dance the Great Dance of the Wheel for the Sun's rebirth, the men (inside, facing out) will be wearing holly, the women (outside, facing in) ivy. Holly and ivy, male and female: that's the custom.

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  • Donna Swindells
    Donna Swindells says #
    A great salute to the Pagan Gods & Goddesses at Yule. Your article is spot-on.
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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If Pagans Had a Food Taboo, What Would It Be?

By and large, the pagan religions are not known for their food taboos.

Oh, we may have our dietary preferences, but it's worth noting that, when food taboos are present among pagans, they tend to apply only to the priesthood, or to be observed only for a certain period of time. Otherwise, generally speaking, the default food setting for pagans is Omnivore.

But if, say, Indo-European-speaking pagans did have a food taboo, what might it be?

Please note that what follows is neither prescription nor suggestion. It is, merely, three points of historic data.

West

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