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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Kalasha

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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Ek.

Du.

Tre.

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:

Ek

Du

Tre

Chau

Ponj

Sho

Sat

Asht

No

Dash

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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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Fairy Flocks: A Kalasha Tale

As in Scotland deer are said to be the fairies' cattle, so in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, wild goats are known as the fairies' flocks.

A certain Kalasha man was once benighted while hunting in the mountains, and decided to spend the night in a particular cave.

In the middle of the night, he was awakened by the sound of many people entering the cave. These were the fairies. When they lit a fire, he saw that they had with them a fine, fat ibex. This they proceeded to slaughter, joint, and roast.

They gave some meat to the man. He ate it, but hid two ribs in his shirt.

When the fairies were finished eating, they reassembled the goat's bones in its hide.

“Where are the two ribs?” they asked, but the man said nothing, so the fairies made two ribs from sticks of juniper, the fairies' tree. When they had laid them in place on the skin, the goat sprang up alive again, hale and hearty.

“We give this ibex to Such-and-so,” they said, naming another Kalasha man known to the hunter.

The man fell asleep, and in the morning found himself alone in the cave.

Going out to resume his hunt, he heard gunfire. Following the sound of the shot, he found the very man that the fairies had named, who had just shot a fine, fat ibex.

“Let me help you,” the first hunter said, and the two of them proceeded to skin and butcher the animal. They found that two of its ribs were wooden.

The wild goats of the mountains, the ibexes and markhors, belong to the fairies. No one successfully hunts them without their permission.

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And What Did the Yule Stag Bring You, My Little Pretty?

There aren't many Yule decorations that would make me consider theft.

In fact, I can only think of one.

My friend Sirius found the Yule Stag years ago, half-price at an after-holiday sale. He's your usual made-in-China, dressed-up Santa maquette of the kind that one sees in the stores by the scores at this time of year: the porcelain head, the red robe trimmed with faux fur, the shouldered sack of toys.

Oh, but he's got the head and hooves of a stag: Santa and Reindeer in one.

Oh my Hornèd God.

The Kalasha of what is now northwestern Pakistan are the only Indo-European-speaking people who have practiced their traditional religion continuously since antiquity. Their most important holiday of the year is—surprise—the Winter Solstice. During the most sacred days of the festival, the rider god Balumáin descends to visit the Kalasha valleys, accompanied by his boon companion, a god named Púshau.

Students of ancient religion have long wondered if the famed Horned God of antiquity finds a reflex in proto-Indo-European religion. Such would, in fact, seem to have been the case.

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A Real Old-Time Yule

 Augusto S. Cacopardo (2016) Pagan Christmas: Winter Feasts of the Kalasha of the Hindu Kush. Gingko Library.

 

If you've ever wondered what Yule used to look like back before it got Christmasized, I've got good news for you: it's not too late to find out.

Numbering about 3500, the Kalasha are the only remaining Indo-European-speaking people who have practiced their traditional religion continuously since antiquity. Living in three remote valleys in what is now northwestern Pakistan, they are famed for their wine-drinking, the beauty (and freedom) of their women, and their overtly polytheistic religion with its sacred dances, animal sacrifices, sacred groves, and (in the old way) sanctuaries both "roofed" (indoor) and "unroofed" (open-air).

Their most important holiday of the year is (surprise!) the Winter Solstice, known in Kalashagrom as Chaumós (chow-MOSS). This complex of festivities, with its feasts, bonfires, sacred songs and dances, sacrifices, and torchlit processions (any of that sound familiar?) lasts for nearly a month.

Heretofore, the only major resource on the rites of Chaumos available to English-speakers was Jean-Yves Loude and Viviane Lièvre's 1986 Kalash Solstice, a valuable study limited by poor translation from the original French, and by the fact that only about half of the book actually deals with Chaumos itself. In addition, the book was written after only two seasons of fieldwork, which—for a festival as profound and complex as Chaumos—can hardly even begin to plumb the depths.

So thank Goddess for Augusto S. Cacopardo's 2016 Pagan Christmas: Winter Feasts of the Kalasha of the Hindu Kush.

Cacopardo is an Italian anthropologist who has made a lifelong study of the peoples of the Hindu Kush, a cultural region which he rather charmingly calls Peristan, “Fairy Land.” (Belief in the mountain fairies characterizes all the local cultures of this region.) He has made a particular study of the Kalasha, and attended his first Chaumos many years ago as a young man. Since then, he's been back many times and, as a result, can offer us a treasury of lore which will, I promise you, enrich your Yule celebration in ways you never dreamed possible.

Pagans being pagans, even in a society of fewer than 4000 people, the Chaumos celebrations of the three different valleys that the Kalasha inhabit differ significantly from one another. Previous studies had focused on solstice celebrations of the Rumbúr and Bumbúret valleys, but Cacopardo focuses on Birír valley which, as he clearly demonstrates, preserves the old Chaumos traditions in their purest and most archaic forms.

Much will sound familiar here to the New Pagan reader: bonfires, torch-dances, decking with evergreens. (“The gods love the smell of juniper,” say the Kalasha. "When they smell it, they draw near.") The bean-feasts, the drumming and dancing, the sacred ball-games: Chaumos is, in many ways, very much like Yule as we know it.

Let one story suffice. One night, the last of the holiday, Cacopardo is privileged to witness—although not, as an outsider, to hear—the recitation of the ghach, the secret prayer known only to a few elders, which actualizes and directs the energies of the entire Chaumos celebration. Cacopardo notices that the old man reciting the ghach is holding a green branch in his hand as he does so.

“What's he holding?” he asks his informant.

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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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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • 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.

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