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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Kalasha

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Holly Seeketh Ivy

At this time of year in the English-speaking world, one hears a lot about Holly and Ivy. As usual, the songs preserve the old lore.

In medieval England—and possibly earlier—Holly and Ivy were shorthand for "Male" and "Female." It used to be that when there was a birth in a household, you'd announce the newborn by hanging at the door a branch of holly for a boy or a wreath of ivy for a girl.

So what all those songs about the Holly wearing the crown are really about is male dominance.

But don't go grinding that double ax just yet. As usual, that's just the beginning of the tale.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Crack Nuts and Cry Yule

Yule, Yule, my belly's full; crack nuts and cry Yule!

(Yorkshire, 17th century)

Well, it's not quite time to cry Yule yet, but in preparation I've certainly been cracking my share of nuts lately. From my Samhain trip down to Midwest Witch Country, I brought back several bags of hickory nuts and black walnuts gathered from the forest floors of the Driftless.

Delicious as they are, I can see why neither species has ever become a commercial success. Their shells are uncompromisingly hard, the nutmeats seated snugly. Shelling them has been an hours-long, involved business of hammers, picks, and tweezers. If ever I wondered what the ancestors did during the long nights of early winter, I now know.

But now, for all my labor, I've got two bags of treasure.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Compleat Pagan


In Hopi, the expression ka-Hopi means “un-Hopi.” It describes, not non-Hopi (who, after all, cannot rightfully be expected to act like Hopi), but rather fellow Hopi whose actions lie outside the Hopi way.

It is not a compliment.

Similarly, among the Kalasha, the last remaining pagans of the Hindu Kush, the phrase sau Kalasha, “completely Kalasha,” describes someone who embodies the Old Ways in their entirety.

It is the highest praise one can offer.

In the absence of a universal definition or central authority to decide paganness, pagan identity is largely a matter of individual determination, and I (for the most part) am willing to take people at their word. Who, after all, better knows the truth of your heart than you do? Certainly not me.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Why Don't You Convert to Islam?

When you're the last surviving pagans of the Hindu Kush, I suppose you get used to the fact that every now and then you're going to be up to your ears in anthropologists.

And sometimes that's a good thing.

Wynne Maggi had come to the three remote valleys in Northwestern Pakistan where the Kalasha, a people some 4000-strong, continue to practice their ancestral religion, in order to study the women of the culture and, in particular, the role of the basháli, the moon-house, in their lives. Generally, when the missionaries come, the moon-house is one of the first institutions to go, and surprisingly little anthropological study has actually been done on the subject as a living concern.

One morning, while she was drinking tea with her hostess Wasiara Aya, two of Wasiara Aya's relatives, both converts to Islam, came to visit.

After some general conversation, one of them asked Wasiara Aya point blank: "Why don't you convert to Islam so you can go to Heaven, and not burn in Hell forever?"

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • john stitely
    john stitely says #
    I would like a middle position. I think that steve is right that we can never assume that we are individually morally superior.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I honor your many years of experience, Elle; as a community, we are fortunate in our elders. Who is a pagan? In the absence of an
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    My understanding is that the gunman is also heathen (or, at least, claims to be heathen), although the article that you reference
  • Elle
    Elle says #
    I think, until you can provide some proof that the gunman was "pagan, or a heathen", I will err on the side of the present facts.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    On April 13, 2014, a pagan guy gunned down three people on the (mistaken) belief that they were Jewish. Does that (despicable) act
Pakistan's Pagans In Danger Following Massive Quake

Pakistan's The Nation warns that hundreds of deaths could result if aid does not soon reach the Kalasha, the last remaining pagans of the Hindu Kush, now spending a second night outdoors in snow and sub-freezing temperatures, only a few hundred miles from the epicenter of Monday's devastating R-7.5 earthquake.

The Kalasha, who number about 4000, including 500 children, live in three isolated valleys in Pakistan's remote Northwest province. Because landslides and heavy snowfall have blocked the main access road from Chitral, the provincial capital, requests for aid have so far gone unanswered.

Qaid-e-Azam, a Kalasha who manages a hotel in Chitral, told Britain's The Guardian that the situation in the valleys could be worse: "Some of the roads are blocked, but the phones are working and people are reporting only minor damage to some of the houses." No Kalasha deaths have yet been reported.

The Kalasha valleys are still recovering from this July's devastating floods, which destroyed many houses and washed away many of the flocks and gristmills on which the Kalasha depend.

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The Male Nipple in Myth and Ritual (!)


Gentlemen, why does Pickering's Moon go around in reverse?

Gentlemen, there are nipples on your breasts: do you give milk?

And what, pray tell, Gentlemen, is to be done about Heisenberg's Law?

Somebody had to put all of this confusion here!


Thus did the goddess Chaos reveal herself, with acid-etched revelatory clarity, to two young Californians in the 1960s (Younger 1968).


“About as useful as tits on a bull,” goes the folk expression, but—as any cattleman can tell you—bulls actually do have nipples. All male mammals, including humans, begin our existence as females. It is to this fact, gentlemen, that we owe our nipples.


In the language of symbolism, the nipple—from its basic biological function—means nurturance.


The nurturing male is a presence little addressed in the modern paganisms, but the ancestors, of course, knew better. So I'd like to explore the surprising role that the male nipple, that paradoxical female presence in the male body, plays in ritual and lore.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Holy Shit

It's a curse word. It's the ultimate bad comparison: “Smells like....” “Tastes like....” To the poisoning of our waters and the impoverishment of our fields, we flush it away so we can pretend it doesn't exist. Frequently enough our collective aversion seems to take on a moral tone. Bad shit.

I think we've got it wrong. The opprobrium in which we hold shit is a mistaken opprobrium. I don't think this is how pagans think.

Old English scîtan, “to defecate.” We didn't have fancy Latinisms back then to describe an everyday bodily function and its product. Same with Old Norse skíta and Old High German skîzzan. We've been talking shit for a long time, it would seem. All the offspring of Common Germanic *skîtan, “to separate, defecate.” Separate and defecate. Where's the opprobrium?

The Kalasha of Pakistan are the last remaining pagans of the Hindu Kush. The greatest festival of their year is Chaumos, the winter solstice. To decorate their houses and temples for the holiday, the children whitewash the walls and cover them with good luck paintings for the coming year: sun-wheels, trees, pastures, hunters, and goats, goats, goats. (The goat is central to the Kalasha economy.)

An anthropologist observing while the children painted these designs noticed that many of them were surrounded by dots; in many of the paintings, the lines of dots actually served to unify the compositions visually. She asked the kids what the dots were.

“Oh, that's dung,” the kids explained. To the Kalasha, dung is a valuable commodity because it fertilizes the fields. Lots of dung is a desideratum because it means lots of herds to drop it, and lots of crops to be nourished by it. Dung = fertility.

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    Some of the best Indian incense includes cow dung, for exactly the reason those kids said. Also, I find it instructive that the wo

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