It is Wednesday – Woden’s Day – and therefore, something a little different. This is another excerpt from Richard Strand’s interview with the Nuristani Vasi headman, Zaman Xan, in 1973. See if you notice anything … familiar sounding from a comparative Indo-European perspective:
Speaking of his tribe’s shamans, and their manner for encountering Imra / Imro –
“They would come when the people were putting on dances, right? When there was a boiled-meat feast, then they would play a flute and drum and whatever, and during that he would suddenly turn into this character. Then he would jump up and say this will happen and that will happen. He would be up and then he would settle down. Then they would ask, “What did you see; what did you see,” whatever.
He would say, “Uh, I saw Imro. Imro came and he’s way up in the sky. He’s wearing dark [blue?] clothing, and has taken the form of so-and-so’s grandfather. He’s up in the sky. He’s going to give you so much goodness. He says that he will shower [?] us with grain. When I look out, the season for grain will be clear. There will be good fortune. Don’t worry. But within a year so many people will die; five or six, or a score, so many men and so many women will die. There won’t be any additional ones dying. Don’t worry about this. And no armies will come, this summer. Maybe they’ll come once or twice, but they’ll go back defeated. Don’t worry about it.”
Then they would say, “Bravo! You brought good news. You brought Imro’s good news. Bravo!” They would praise him there. [laugh]
They would give him a bit of honor, right? Sometimes his words would be correct. If it was correct, they would say, “Son of a bitch, Imro is just with us! What he said was correct!” Those were just the beliefs of their religion. That’s what they had! When the words of a man who would speak in trance would come true, the people would think that, by God, his words are right, and they would be duped by him. The people became infidels over things like that. [laugh] Yes.
There was one here before. The people were going up the valley; there were a lot of people. The people kept dancing and partying, playing the flute. He says, “Hâu,” and goes out into the water and shouts. After he went into the water and shouted, he came and stood up said that this and that were supposed to happen. After this happened, an old man goes up and says, “Tell us, what did you see?” “Go out [?] to the water,” he says. A man in the water is shouting; bring him down to me [?]. “Three score people will die.” Then he came up and said, “One boy and one old man of yours will die. Be aware of this.” That’s what he said, whatever might have been going on.
Well, then some religious students here said, “Let’s beat him. Let’s beat him. He should be removed [?]. He didn’t act well there.”
“Let an old-timer do what he will; what would be accomplished by beating him? Forget it,” I said.
Then down the valley an illness struck. The illness struck, and approximately three score and some people died there! Then it came up to us, and by the count here, one greybeard and one boy died, in our village! “Son of a bitch, the shaman’s words were correct. Correct; last spring he was saying that three score will die there, and two here. Now two have died. Son of a bitch, the prediction was right after all,” they thought. Because of this, some belief was born among the people. They’re thinking, “Son of a bitch, whatever could this be.” [laugh]
Later, the religious students called him and really did [xxx] [?]. They said, “We’ll take you prisoner and give you to the government. Don’t speak these different kinds of words. The devil is in you; the devil is speaking through you here. You’re an infidel; the devil lives in you. You shouldn’t say these outlandish [?] things.” They intimidated him. After that he remained unhappy, and the poor fellow died a few years later. Yes.”
Now, if you have read my previous work derived from this interview, you may note that the incident in question was referenced earlier – and that those ‘religious students’ are, in Xan’s language, referred to as ‘Talibon’ … ‘Taliban’ in more popular Afghan parlance. A continuation of the persecution Xan’s ancestors faced throughout much of the past thousand years, and even from their sword-point conversion in the 1890s onward. But that is not why this section stood out for me.
Instead, it is for two heavily intertwined elements. The first of which being the ritual processes and understandings involved – and I mean to prepare a more comprehensive writeup on these in the very near future, as they are strongly aligned with exactly what we ought to expect; featuring, as they do, a state of ‘Furor’, or ‘Seizing’ and the priestly figure acting as the ‘Conduit’, assuming the ‘Character’ of the Divine (there is also the ritual-ized ‘feasting’ context to be considered, so familiar to us from the Indo-European ritual comparanda). But as I say – more upon that in the very near future!
The second, of course, is because this brief description of the encounter with Imro – it sounds so very familiar to us who are in (or, perhaps, in my case, have a foot in) the Nordic / Germanic sphere.
Odin, riding in the Sky, wearing a Blue-Black mantle or hood – and yes, appearing as a ‘Grandfather’, an old man, precisely because .. well, He is of such a metaphorical and metaphysical relationship with humanity. Speaking of the future, through a furor-ious vessel, the bestowal of boons and death and warfare and fate.
In Hindu terms, we should likewise expect to see Shiva in the Sky – and we have broad attestation not only from the Hindu but also Greek comparanda for the Sky Father deific having just such a blue/black association, of ‘sky’ saliency. The Vyomakhesha of Mahadeva, the Kyanokhaitis of Dionysus / Hades / Poseidon. And certainly, an association with death [‘Mara’, indeed – another theonym of Imro; from a PIE root, ‘Mer’, that is an interesting near-doublet for the term for ‘Water’ … the Sky, after all, is also Sea], in the case of Rudra, particularly the striking down with disease. And also, of course, with warfare and combat. Yet also, as we have seen via the relevant broader span of Vedic understandings, the provision of the wealth of greenery and growth.
Now, one further point ought be made – and that is that the image I have chosen to illustrate this brief piece is not, in fact, a Kafiri / Nuristani effigy (we might say ‘Murti’) of Imro / Imra. Indeed, it appears to be from Bumburet / Mumuret , a valley just inside Pakistan and inhabited by the Kalasha – so a part of the same general religious sphere, if a somewhat different linguistic one.
And, furthermore, it is a funerary totem ostensibly for a mortal man’s passing.
Yet all the same – I saw this image, and, well .. the decision to utilize it for a Wednesday (A)Arti-cle that should invoke Odin in the context of explicating Nuristani / Kalasha religious understandings … it was almost made for me…
3 thoughts on “Grandfather In The Sky – An Account Of Nuristani Imro Appearing To His Shamans, Situated In Indo-European Context”
I like this bloke. Something warm about him.
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