THE KULA DEVA OF HINDUISM

Kula devas are family/clan deities of Hindus. Every Hindu family, in addition to worshipping the main gamut of Hindu Gods, also has a family deity which has been passed on from generations. For very specific family problems, Hindus turn to their kula deva.

The form of this deity can be male or female – which is why, kula deva (male) and kula devi (female).

For non-Hindus or non-Indians, the closest concept to this is the Christian concept of patron saint where a family dedicates its prayers & devotion to a particular saint and deems him the status of the saviour or guide of the welfare of the family. In addition to Jesus and God, they also keep their patron saint in their worship.

So is the concept of kula dev in Hinduism. But it’s slightly different in that in Hinduism, the significance of Kula deva closely relates to your gotra (sub-caste system) and therefore, your ancestry.

How religion and worship work in the Indian subcontinent is different for the same reason that Hinduism did not “spread” as a “revolution” like many other religions. No one can trace it back to a date of origin. Hinduism was just…there. It just evolved as practices came out of wisdom of the those times. Even the great Hindu books (the epics, Vedas and puranas) were written over a long period by different authors.

Hinduism’s really what was just…there. It was never a dogma. That’s what makes it so cool and that’s also what makes it so complicated. Nobody ever had to subscribe to it. Nobody ever had to declare themselves into it. You just were…Hindu because you obviously followed the wisest practices of the day.

It was really just that simple. And in that sense, it was also really why it’s complicated for anyone outside the region to understand this massive body called Hinduism.

Technically, it is still hard to say Hinduism is a religion because it has no one main book. It has loads of giant, heavy-ass books, none of which take upon themselves to prescribe anything. They just talk about life, existentialism and what have you – if you manage to understand their metaphor-heavy ancient Sanskrit.

But coming back to the kula deva, while it has its origins in the ancestor veneration period, the more important root of it lies in the genetic lineages.

Now, comes the real meat of this blog piece.

Like what most of the people think, the original purpose of the Indian caste system and gotra system was not to create inhuman, cruel lines between people for the sadistic fun of it.

Like most other practices that came out of this ancient civilization, we will learn the idea behind this caste and gotra system once we cut it some slack J

The Hindu culture is designed on a deep understanding of the way the universe and earth’s ecology function. When it was not this modern diverse cosmopolitan that it is today, the genetic lines within the society were very carefully protected and the Hindu caste and gotra system was designed precisely to preserve these genetic systems given to us by nature and transmit them from generation to generation.

How did that transform into upper and lower castes, Brahmins and untouchables, I don’t know. Yet.

Ancient Hindus had a very good understanding of genes. Forbidding of cousin marriage or marrying within the same family genetic line (within the same surname) were also based on this understanding of how genetics function.

People from the same gotras and families carried the same DNA structure and to protect it and allow it to function in its purest form, were the caste system, gotra system and thus, the local deity system (the kula deva system) evolved.

These forces drove life in the Indus Valley region – modern day India. From this system thus, also come the kula devta system to whom you turned when you had specific family problems, because your genetics were involved in your family matters and your kula deva was the one to be consulted.

Even today, although it is now a bit difficult because of diversity in India as a result of invasions, you do see similarities between people from the same gotra and clans. It is because of the genetic lines.

 

DIN E lLAHI

Din-E-Ilahi is such a religion that this post is inevitably going to be more about history than religion and as you read along, you’ll understand why.

The most interesting question about Din-e-Ilahi is if it was out of King Akbar’s ego or out of his genuine attempt at uniting a kingdom fundamentally divided along religious lines.

 Mughal akbar.jpg

There’s enough evidence supporting either claim (which is why it’s still a question, hah!)

 

But first the basics:

Din-e-Ilahi literally means ‘Religion of God’. It was a syncretic religion started by the Mughal king Akbar in the year 1582 AD in India.

It is assumed that he started this religion to make one religion out of the two main religions followed by his subjects – Hinduism and Islam – and thus, caused a well-defined difference among his people.

If you read Mughal history (which is super fascinating, so I recommend you should give it a try), you will understand what a refined politician King Akbar really was. Among other smart things he did, he married the daughter of a major Hindu king under his kingdom to cement the political ties and he gave important positions in his kingdom to Muslims and Hindus in an almost equal proportion – a smart move to keep both the sides of his kingdom happy.

To really understand what Din-E-Ilahi was and why it started, we only have written historical sources of Akbar’s time and frustratingly (and hilariously), out of these, one was written by his friend and the others by sources that were hostile to him. So we really don’t know which one to believe.

However, what we can do is construct a picture –however flaky, from the sources, and this picture has already been constructed by my great historian friends whom I don’t personally know but still think of as friends, even though I don’t remember their names.

 

Religion at the Beginning of Akbar’s Reign

In the beginning of his life and well into his kingship, Akbar was a dedicated orthodox Muslim, following the customs like an example king should.

His deep reverence for the religious teachers of his time – Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti, Shaikh Abdul Nabi, Makhdum-ul-Mulk – is very evident from the documented events, like the pilgrimage Akbar took each year, walking on foot from Agra to Ajmer to meet Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti. And many more.

He was very interested in religious matters – or let’s say, matters concerning finding the “answer”. There is reference of him engaging in philosophical discussions and listening to religious priests.

As Akbar and his reign matured, we see him getting more and more involved into these discussions, until he set up the Ibadat Khana in 1575 AD. Ibadat Khana means “House of Worship” and was set up as a meeting place for religious leaders to congregate for religious and philosophical discussions after every Friday prayers.

File:Jesuits at Akbar's court.jpg

Something that Akbar did not foresee was how such a platform could soon turn into a ground for egotistical battles and political debate among the well-read but also politically powerful and ambitious scholars. And this is what soon happened. The scholars soon fell into fights over seniority, intelligence and power among themselves. Debates soon turned into spats.

This is said to have had an impact on Akbar. He became less orthodox Muslim from around this point. These Ibadat Khana discussions also included the two great scholars Akbar revered – Makhdum-ul-Mulk and Shaikh Abdul Nabi, and this drove him away from them both.

Soon these meetings started seeing more and more secular presence – Jain priests, Hindu priests, Parsi scholars and even Jesuits from Goa started attending them and debates broadened…and lowered!

If you have seen as much life as I have, you can already guess that Akbar never found his “answers”. He just got more and more disillusioned and these meetings had an effect on the politics of the time – naturally, religion and politics!

As soon as the Jesuits from Goa started attending these meetings, they hit a new low when the Jesuits challenged the Islamic scholars by questioning Islam and shutting out diplomacy in their detest for it.

These events caused great dissatisfaction among the major religious groups of the day, and the Muslims particularly were disappointed in Akbar, who they expected as a Muslim leader would have upheld Islam finally in all these discussions, which he didn’t do.

From this point on, we notice different historians and recorders giving us different accounts. Hindu recorders of the time maintain that Akbar was a tolerant king but himself remained a Muslim. Some Muslim recorders of his time record the same while others wrote that he abandoned Islam. Of course, these records are not unaffected by the person emotions of the writers.

 

What Exactly did Din-E-Ilahi Look Like:

There were no texts written to dogmatize Din-e-Ilahi and neither did Akbar put it forth as something free people could choose to follow. He supposedly selected a handful of his people as disciples into this order.

Din-E-Ilahi, at best, put together the main beliefs and ideas of his people – largely, probably an attempt to bring them all to agree on the main ways of living to live harmoniously together.

It prohibited the general things that were considered bad – lust, pride, slander etc – and upheld virtues like piety, peace, kindness etc. Din-e-Ilahi borrowed from Hinduism, Islam, Zoroastrianism as well, and Jainism. Sun and fire became worshippable under it. Elements of Sufism are also present in it. He encouraged every man to have one wife, government officers to allow people to worship as they liked, discouraged the Hindu practise of sati, etc.

 

Akbar as God or Politician?

Many believe that Akbar started Din-e-Ilahi because he wanted to be worshipped as God. Having been born almost exactly a 1000 years after Prophet Mohammad, many believe he wanted to claim divine powers. But we are not sure. The greeting “Allahu Akbar” which started around that time means “God is Great” but many wonder if the inclusion of his own name in this greeting to God was meant to suggest he is God – “God is Akbar”.

Could be – these royal kids are very egoistic, you know.
Just look at the image below which depicts how Akbar (like many royals of his time) played board games with real people as pieces:

While understandably Muslims were disappointed that under Akbar’s nearly-secular rule, Islam was not as privileged as they expected, Akbar’s policies left the Hindus confused too. Many Hindus in his court too reacted the same, namely Raja Man Singh, among others.

 

Interesting thing is, that while Din-e-Ilahi does not exist as a religion anymore, many sources during Akbar’s time also do not mention it as a religion! They mention it, yes, but not as a new religion Akbar was trying to found but as a spiritual order. So that “religion” thing is just confused populist baloney.

 

Looking at it a bit more rationally, we can say Akbar was simply borrowing from other cultures in order to maintain a multi-cultural kingdom.

To maintain such a religiously defined and divisive kingdom, Akbar, like the damn-good politician that he was, was probably just trying to get his people together peacefully under his reign. Religion did definitely affect his administrative policies and he was probably just trying to manage it in his way.

So while Din-e-Ilahi is referred to as a religion started by Akbar, in popular literature, it probably wasn’t one at all.

 

ANCESTOR WORSHIP

Ancestor worship is of course not a religion in itself but it is definitely an aspect of religion. Going further, we will notice, it may even have been the very beginning – the root – of religions. Interesting, right?

Why (and how) did something so illogical even start?
Who first could have come up with something so unnatural / weird? Worshipping a dead family member, irrespective of whether you did actually love or respect them when they were alive!

It’s interesting how the dead are appropriated these almost luminescent divine-ish powers just after they’re dead. Alive they might even have been dumb and annoying and maybe even evil, but once dead, we make them worshippable.

I said “worshippable” above. The practice is called ancestor worship usually but many greater minds suggest that it is more like “veneration” rather than actual worshipping.

 

What Does It Symbolize / When Do They Turn To It

In all the cultures practising ancestor worship, this practise is followed with a clear motive in mind – and that motive essentially is well-being of the self, that is, well being of the living family. It is not done just because they are missing the dead family member or because they truly care about their ancestors’ afterlife but because the ancestors hold power over the well being of the living family.

Ancestors, in their travel to their heavenly abode, are now believed to possess powers and affect the fortunes of their living family.

So with their worship of ancestors, the living family members want to keep the ancestors happy because they now hold the power to influence the quality of their existence. And when the ancestors are unhappy, misfortune can come upon the living family.

Some cultures believe that their ancestors actually need to be provided for by their descendants, and their practices include offerings of food and other provisions.

So, the relationship between the living family and the ancestors is clearly a relationship based on reciprocity. The living have to provide for the ancestor spirits and based on that, the ancestors bring prosperity to their living successors.

 

Similarities among Cultures Following Ancestor Worship

Cool Fact: Ancestor Worship has appeared in all human cultures so far.
That’s interesting and curious, especially because its origins go back further than 20,000 years.

So what are the similarities in all these cultures that follow this seemingly unreasonable practice?

Ancestor Worship is found to be practiced in hierarchical societies rather than egalitarian ones – societies where fathers and mothers hold a superior position, a role of authority, over their kids and these same privileges pass on to the kids when they have their children further.

Many cultures understand this as a way to honour the continuity to life that comes with parents and procreation. One receives ones physical body from ones parents, who take care of the child till he/she is on a firm footing. To respect the parents in their lifetime and after it, is therefore, natural.

Ancestor worship is seen to exist in cultures where hierarchical structures are emphasized on the father’s side, where the father-eldest son relationship carries its own certain nature, particularly inheritance, passing on of family duties etc.

It exists in societies that have strong lineages – where an identity of the family is felt to be important and is continued on for generations.

Societies practising ancestor worship have a general belief in the existence of spirits – that is, life beyond the existence of the physical body. Which is why, they believe that the dead ancestors still have a spirit and can respond to the veneration being given to them by their living family.

Ancestors are considered mediators between the living members and the divine, and thus hold influence over the fortunes of the living family. They are thus, considered guardians of the well-being of the living family, towards whom the family turns for maintenance of their fortunes, and for guidance & knowledge that comes from traveling to the after-life.

 

Origins of Ancestor Worship / Why It Could have Started

Ancestor worship has been found to be a part of almost all human cultures we know. From China to India, Africa to Polynesia, aspects from ancient Egyptian and Roman cultures, and even among the Mayan culture and the ancient Hebrews.

It first emerged in complex Upper Paleolithic societies, even among the Neandrathals.

In an attempt to answer the questions similar to the ones I raised at the beginning of this post, a few anthropologists gave forth some ideas.

My favourite one is by Edward Burnett Tylor who offered the concept of animism. Animism means a belief in a spirit essence of things that aren’t alive. So basically animism is a belief that everything has a spirit/soul which survives after death. He suggested that at some point, the ancients started believing that the spirit of the ancestor survives even when his body dies.

This could also have been a very early beginning of the concept of religions (but that’s still debated and probably will be for a long time because after all, it is anthropology).

Ancestor worship could have started to support an important social function in the evolution of humans. It is a practise that strengthens, symbolically at least, family as a strong continuous unit. It might have started to foster family loyalty, to honor the continuity of family lineage, and sacredness of one’s roots.

Another possibility is that ancestor worship may have been started by the elites of complex Upper Paleolithic societies who may have used it to establish the idea of familial continuity and thus, the continued claim on superiority and control over other people. (Vincent W. Fallio)

 

How Has Ancestor Worship Evolved Over Time

Like in any other cultural phenomena (I don’t like this word), local practices continue under the wider umbrella of one sweeping religion or practise, in this case, ancestor worship. While ancestor worship evolved from burial rites in different cultures (and therefore, probably exist in every single culture/religion).

Similarly, under the wider umbrella of ancestor worship, we notice different cultures following vastly different practices. But one thing remains common – like most things human, these practices have been driven more by fear than love.

As we know, ancestor worship definitely revolves around the basic concept that some essence of the ancestor still is alive even when his body is dead. So what does that mean?

That means, that at some point in the evolution of the human brain, we did improve our imaginary faculties to the point that it lead to things never ever seen or possible to be seen – the conception of ghosts.

Herbert Spencer calls it the “root of all religions”.

 

Forms of Worship It Takes In Different Cultures

You will notice that ancestor worship is definitely about family ancestors and in a lot of cultures and religions, they also extend to sainthoods.

It takes place in three major physical locations: domestic shrines, local temples and graveyards.

In some cultures, people visit the graves of their ancestors regularly or on a special day dedicated to this, leave flowers and pray to them in order to honor and remember them. The All Saint’s Day on November 1 (the day after Halloween) is famous among Catholic Christians for this. Interestingly, Halloween also actually has its origins in the resurrection of the dead – which is why it has its famous ghostly theme (in case you didn’t know).

In the ancient Egyptian culture, the mummification of the dead body was done so that dead could come and receive gifts from their living family after they had entered afterlife. Mummification was a form of preservation of the body and spirit of the dead ancestors.

In the Egyptian culture, the worst fate a dead person could suffer was to be forgotten. So this led to a few practises to keep them alive. One was of course mummification, offering gifts to the dead ancestors, and among others were hiring priests to keep performing rites of remembrance for the dead in order to sustain their spirit. Of course the priests were allowed to keep a part of the rite offerings as payment for their services.

Similarly, some tomb inscriptions requested passers-by to read the name of the dead aloud so as to keep the memory of the dead alive. They could also offer prayers, water or gifts.

Ancient Rome: In ancient Rome, the month of February was dedicated to veneration of the ancestors. It also included a nine-day festival which included purifications and veneration, and also included a practice in which the family visited the grave of the ancestors and shared cake and wine with them as a meal.

In Madagascar, they follow the practice of the famadihana, in which they exhume the remains of their dead family members, wrap the remains in fresh silk shrouds and bury them again.

In Madagascar, they also follow fady – which is to not do what the ancestor during his lifetime did not do or appreciate. Fady is more of a taboo system. By not doing what the ancestor did not like when he was alive, is a way of showing respect to the ancestor and may encourage him to bless the fortunes of his living family. Not following this, may of course, cause misfortunes to befall the family.

They also do minor everyday activities keeping their ancestors in mind. One of them is the practice of zebu, in which they throw the first capful of rum in the northeast corner of the room as an offering to their ancestors.

In China & Taiwan, many cultures understand this as a way to honour the continuity that comes with parents and procreation. One receives ones physical body from ones parents, who take care of the children till they are on a firm footing. To respect the parents in their lifetime and after it, is therefore, natural.

In Chinese and Taiwanese cultures, they have a system of elaborate gifting to the dead because they believe that the living family should try and make the life of the dead in their afterlife very comfortable. You will see things refrigerators, shoes, car and even actual money taking the form of gifts to the ancestors.

In Ireland and Scotland, they have the festival of Samhain.

In the United States and Canada, gifts to the dead often take the form of flowers, wreaths, decorations on the grave in the forms of stone structures or candles, and sometimes even small pebbles as a way to honour the dead. This is followed in Judaism too.

 

Ancestor Worship Today

Ever heard the phrase “Don’t speak ill of the dead”?
I wonder if it comes somewhere from ancestor worship.

While today you will see these practises being followed, and you may or may not follow them elaborately, do you have any pictures or mementos in your house of your dead family members? *wink wink*

 

 

Witchcraft

Why a religion?

I am writing this for people who have hardly ever given a thought to witchcraft; who think witchcraft is a thing of the past – things we read about in fairy tales like Snow White; people who think witchcraft is all about obscure magic, something to do with a long hook-nosed evil old woman, looking over some pot on a fire on which she is brewing a potion and right now just threw a live frog into it.

Hang on, people, Witchcraft is a real thing.

But it has nothing to do with an old wicked woman who eats children. (All your stories – Hensel & Gretel, Snow White and all, are misinformed and pure fantasy)
They do not fly on broomsticks.
They do not put poison in apples to kill pretty innocent girls.
They do not mate with the devil.
They do not wish anyone bad. At least, not more than any normal human like you and your neighbour’s mom!

It took me a long time to decide why I should write about Witchcraft on my blog. Can Witchcraft be called a religion?

The very existence of religion is to give some comfort to hold on to in the face of risk or fear.

We are afraid of other human beings. We are afraid of how they may harm us. We are afraid of the future. When something bad befalls us, and we can’t seem to place a reason on it, it’s ‘inexplicable’ things that other people may have done on us. They must have done something bad on us.

Most Wiccans agree that while Wicca is a religion (if you don’t know about it, no worry, I’ll write about it soon. Maybe), whereas witchcraft is only a way of life.

The reason I choose to write about it on my blog is because from every aspect of it, it does fall into a cohesive belief system, deeply individualistic though it might be, can be understood as one body. So what does witchcraft give you to hold on to when you have to face life?

It gives you, you.

So, yes, I will give it the respect of a religion.

When did it start

Witchcraft finds its origins much earlier than most religions today. It dates back around 40,000 years, to the Paleolithic period. It has obviously been growing in its form since then and today, it looks very different from what it did a thousand or five thousand years back. Obviously.

Before it was demonised in popular culture, Witchcraft was also known as ‘craft of the wise’ because it was deep, wise craft practised by the wiser ones in the society, the ones who were in alignment with nature, the ones who understood how it functions and why it’s important, the ones who had the knowledge of herbs and medicines, whom you could turn to for counsel. These were the people highly regarded as healers in the village and community.

These practitioners of witchcraft understood how nature was prime to anything else and there was more to it than we can see or feel. Human beings were only a small part of nature, the wholeness of which was more important than anything else.

Until a 1000 years ago, it was a very common thing for people to go to a witch to seek help for any medical illness or for life- & family-related problems.

What is Witchcraft

The word ‘Witch’ comes from Old English, which means ‘wise woman’.

Witchcraft believes in shaping your reality, the world around you, the way you want it. It may sound manipulative. And maybe it is. Through internal powers, the Witch shapes the external circumstances. So basically, Witchcraft can be fundamentally understood as a path that does give you a reason to complaint — because if you can create your reality, you will create it the way that is best for you. Hence, you are taking responsibility for your own self and you do not need to depend on others to do anything on which your happiness depends.

Witchcraft is power. But it’s the beautiful kind. Not the kind we see politicians manipulating the world for. Or terrorists shooting innocents for.

Because you see, dependence is a powerful tool of social control but Witchcraft disrupts it. When you know that you can shape reality through magic, you have a means of resisting any attempt to make you dependent.

A witch believes in nature. He/She reveres the elements of Nature such as earth, fire, air and water. Fire cleanses. Water purifies. Earth gives herbs to heal. Air is our connection to nature as we breathe it deep in – it is considered a divine blanket by the witches. Nature has always allowed self-sufficiency in humans, a reason for which witchcraft upholds it.

Witchcraft uses the energy of the world through its elements to sustain life on this planet. What’s evil about that?

Witchcraft is a path that promotes an individual’s ability to think, act and do what he decides. It supports and nurtures free thought and will and thus, requires one to be wise, considerate of the consequences and be learned. Witchcraft, by taking from nature, needs a knowledge of the earth and nature. By giving power to create reality, witchcraft is a path that teaches responsibility. We acknowledge responsibility for our own actions – we cherish the success or we suffer the consequences.

Witches have a very strict belief in the Law of Three. The law of Three is that everything we send out into the world will come back to us multiplied by three. Everything. Good deeds we do will come back three times to us in various forms. And so will bad deeds. Even bad thoughts. Therefore, witches, the real ones, would not cause harm to anybody because that would come back even worse (because three times larger).

The nature is divine for a witch. Every single entity within nature is therefore divine for a witch. It’s not just living things like you, animals and animals. For a witch, even a stone by the side of a river is not to be harmed.

Witchcraft is a way of tuning into the energies of life; it is a connection with source energy. Everything is a living thing in witchcraft because it carries a vibration. Everything deserves love, reverence, respect, and protection.

Hence, the concept of sacrifices is not supported by witched. They do not sacrifice animals or even plants.

Witchcraft, therefore, is a deeply loving religion.

It considers one’s human body as divine. And therefore, one must deeply loving one’s own self. It requires removal of all kinds of fear and fearful actions like jealousy and low self esteem. One’s thoughts, actions, emotions, and prayers create energy and vibration. The better these things are, therefore, the better will be the energy that goes out into the world and comes back from other beings to us.

Every witch I have spoken to overuses the word ‘healing’ so much so that it tells what their main obsession and purpose is: healing.

Witches believe that all living things have two parts. An oversoul and an undersoul.

The oversoul is beyond our body and this life’s experiences. It is what we are, who we are, in a forever state. This means that our oversoul has much deeper knowledge than our conscious mind realizes. It is our connection to our oversoul that allows us to have abilities like clairvoyance, psychokinesis etc.

On the other hand, our conscious experiences of this life are through our undersoul, right from our birth. Needless to say, since the undersoul adds to the overall experience of the oversoul, it is a part of the oversoul.

In many Pagan religions, the undersoul and oversoul have been portrayed as lovers -Siva and Sakti in Hinduism, Apollo and Diana in Mediterranean and Adonis and Venus.

That is why, when you connect your mind, body and spirit, miracles happen as the Universe responds to your powers.

There is no dogma or doctrine that dictates witches. They are free. Witchcraft is in fact an individualistic religion.

Modern Witches

It is quite possible for all of us to still believe that witchcraft is a thing of the past. But it’s not. In fact, followers of witchcraft and paganism are rising.

It’s a simple enough path to follow and perfectly coincides with all that we people are worried about these days. Since going to the Sunday masses has not really shown good results over the years, there are many who swear by the witchcraft.

Even today, it is a peaceful and individualistic path. For example, if you’re cash strapped, a simple affirmation or lighting a candle to the Moon Goddess is what witchcraft will suggest you to do.

In fact, every time you see a wish coming true, in witchcraft, you must do a selfless act for someone else as a gratitude offering to the Universe.

These spells or affirmations could also be self-fulfilling prophecies but so be it.

Conflicts

Dependence is a powerful tool of social control. When you want to establish yourself on fear, the first thing you do is take power from your subjects away.

This is the tool that Witchcraft disrupts. Because when you know that you can shape reality, you have a means of resisting any attempt to make you dependent.

It was not until 1000 AD that the practice of Witchcraft and witches invoked the wrath of priests, Christianity, and people. Witchcraft, seen as a religion of the ancient which worships the feminine, earthly, and masculine aspects of God, was considered as anti-Christian and a heresy.

Witchcraft may have existed thousands of years ago as a protection against the crude forces of nature, at the mercy of which we lived. But when organized religion came in to the market, they couldn’t let such a democratic religion just be. This was so empowering. Of course power has to be taken away from the people when you want to establish yourself on fear.

For sure, some witches might be evil. But so are some priests. Almost every politician. A lot of businessmen. But we still accept them and follow them and revere them.

Claims like witches have a pact with the devil was never logically based nor substantially proved. How could it be..?

In fact, all the historical evidence related to witch hunting and burning clearly suggests that most of those who suffered as witches were just generally antisocial characters who extremely unpopular in their local communities. It’s like that one old aunt that all of us have in our neighbourhood who is always scowling and shouting at kids when they play outside. If we were all living about 300 years ago, we could have said she’s a witch and got her burnt. Sounds good?

Finally

Think about it…

Aren’t superstitions also magic and witchcraft in a way?

Aren’t religions – most of which just expect you to pray & hope & donate money – witchcraft too?

Aren’t religions that hope for you to live to please someone obscure never-seen up in the sky witchy too?

Aren’t prayers & japas witchcraft too- just like witches say spells?

 

The Slavic Spring Doll – The ‘Madder’

It’s human nature to build superstition. Without making any bloated comment on the beliefs, rituals and practices of any culture or religion, let’s just look into our personal lives and those around us. Before an important exam, we re-do exactly what we did the last time we scored well, sportsmen wearing right knee pads first or carrying the same handkerchief in their pockets… you know what I am referring to.

Building superstitions is our way of creating a faith of safety around us, to avoid what we don’t like.

It is cute and intriguing at the same time, if you think about it. How our minds create fears and then also come up with solutions that have no actual sense in logical reality.

Instead of condemning it, we could just realize how neat this human behaviour is and how it has been forming communities around superstitions – communities that love to perform these together and in the process, the added smiles and further communal confidence strengthens the superstitions.

*

As I am adventuring in Poland right now; I was introduced to one of the old Slavic Pagan traditions of this region.

It’s called Marzanioka.

The Polish people hate winter. They hate it.

Almost everyone in Europe does. It’s understandable because the winter is very severe here.

Many traditions in Poland are associated with the end-of-winter and the welcoming-of-Spring. Just like it is in many cultures across the world.

One of these is called the tradition of the Madder. The madder has many names like Śmiercichy, Morena or Marzanioka. It is a colourful doll made by the local groups and communities, sometimes families, or friends etc. This doll symbolizes winter, illness and death.

It can look like this:

Image

This tradition finds its roots back in the old Slavic pagan tradition and is now largely practiced on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

Putting this doll in the river, burning it, and watching it melt away symbolizes the welcoming of the Spring season.

Like this one below. This one wasn’t burnt or left in the river to avoid causing environmental damage and was pulled back by the thread you can see attached and then destroyed.

Image

Of course with time and with the onset of the machine-run 21st century, this tradition too, like many others, is dying and is now just a spectacle meant for kindergarten kids.

Superstitions are fun J

 

The Layered Life — Hinduism

I don’t live in an illusionary world. I don’t believe money isn’t important. But at the same time, I don’t screw my nose when I see poor kids crowding outside a restaurant or a temple hoping to get some food (which is probably going to be their only meal of the day). I don’t date men just because they are rich. I don’t befriend rich people if I see they are assholes. I am real. I know the reality. And it can be managed – meaning, you can be good, you can have ethics and principles without being a hypocrite fuckhead.

Having been born in a devout Hindu family, I saw Hindu customs followed thoroughly & sincerely and witnessed all its idiosyncrasies in its most natural form, including the caste system / caste obsession.

As I’ve grown up and read about other religions, met people living vastly different lives from the one I saw at home, it has confirmed my belief that the Hindu caste system sucks donkey’s balls.

I did think earlier, while convincing myself that the caste system was formed eventually by the people who wanted political and economic control, but I can’t fool myself because the evidences of it in the many main Hindu texts discard this possibility.

I finished reading The Mahabharata a couple of days back. While it is an overwhelming highly recommended read for everybody, I hate to admit how very-normally, in a very matter-of-but-natural way, it demeans the ‘lower caste’ people from the ‘upper caste’ people, and how one’s birth determines almost everything about a person. If you’re born low, you’ll always be low irrespective of your deeds. I’ll briefly mention two incidents from The Mahabharata below and then talk about other incidents.

Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen.

These are such serious issues that it’s difficult to believe that they exist in revered texts.

Incident 1 –

The forest of Varnavata where the 5 Pandava brothers were sent by their conniving uncle Dhritrashtra and cousins. Pandavas were supposed to live in a house built here for them. This house had been made from inflammable material. Their plan was to burn down the house at midnight when all the 5 brothers would be fast asleep in it, so that they would burn to death.

The Pandavas received warning about this and planned an escape route. However, they felt it important to leave behind 6 human bodies within the house so that when people would inspect the burnt remains of the house the morning after the massacre, they would be convinced of the death of the Pandavas and of their mother Kunti.

Now, to solve this ‘serious’ problem, Yudhishthira, the eldest brother who is so popular for his honesty, kindness and righteousness, agrees to allow a poor Nishada woman and her 5 sons in the house. They, by the way, had come to them on the eve of the massacre, begging for a resting place and food for a night, asking for their merciful godliness! (Nishadas are lower-caste people.)

Yidhishthira allows them to stay in the house, secretly planning to use them as guinea pigs for this ‘great’ plan.

That evening, when the Nishada woman and her 5 sons fell asleep in the Pandavas’ house (probably blessing the Pandavas for their charity), the 5 brothers and their mother Kunti escape from the house minutes before it is burnt down by a man hired by their cousin Duryodhana.

It is confirmed in the text that the Nishada woman and her 5 sons get burnt and die.

Nowhere, I repeat nowhere, in the text thereafter do we see the Kind and Honest Yudhisthira or his brothers or their mother sparing one single thought to the innocent Nishada family and their unnecessary victimization in a battle that wasn’t theirs.

Incident 2 –

When the 5 Pandava brothers were young and learning the art of warfare under the tutelage of Dronacharya, Arjuna (the 3rd Pandava brother) was the most superior archer of them all and was greatly loved by his teacher.

One day, while going through a forest, the brothers found a young boy firing arrows with more skill and art than our dear Arjuna. When asked who his teacher is, the boy (named, Ekalavya) says his teacher his Dronacharya. This wasn’t exactly true because the great Drona had refused to teach Ekalavya because Ekalavya was born in a lower caste and also couldn’t have paid the high fees demanded by Dronacharya. So Ekalavya just learnt archery by watching Dronacharya performing it.

Wasn’t he a genius!

Arjuna became insecure at seeing someone better than him and asked Dronacharya to stop him. Worried about his job security, Dronacharya devises a cruel method to stop Ekalavya from outshining Arjuna. By asking Ekalavya to pay his fees by cutting off his thumb!

Thus maimed, Ekalavya was out of the path to glory for Arjuna – the upper caste boy.

The Natya Shastra

The Natya Shastra is an old text that is a kind of a rule book for the art of theatre. Like everything else of theatre, it devotes considerable focus on ‘language’. It mentions how language should come off of real life too.

And thus, it very normally goes on to state the different levels of language that are to be used by different castes and classes of people, as per their caste!

For example, a Brahmin male is allowed usage of certain words that a Brahmin female and all other ‘lower’ people in the caste pyramid are not allowed to use. Similarly, a Brahmin woman can use certain words that no one below her can use.

Weird.

A Custom of Death –

There’s a Hindu custom. I have seen it practised in my family too.

When someone dies, after the 13-day mourning ritual, it is customary to purify the room where the deceased lived (and died). The last of the purification steps is to invite a beggar to the room. You just pick any random beggar off the street. And you serve him a complete lunch meal in the room of the deceased. You give him a gift too. And send him off.

Why this?

Because the beggar symbolically absorbs all the remaining negativity left by the death.

Having given the chance to have a full square meal – which is a near-impossible treat for them most of their lives – no beggar ever refuses this chance. They probably don’t even know why they are being given this royal, loving treatment.

It’s not because we give a fuck about their hunger; it’s because we don’t!

I still remember when we followed this custom on the death of my grandmother, the 18-19 year old handicapped boy (the beggar) was so happy at being given food and a gift inside a house so grand, he couldn’t have imagined before what things we keep inside houses that are beyond the pavement corners that he called a ‘house’ all his life, and by people who till now and after today would kick him away like a germ. Not exaggerating, he was shaking with happiness!

The rich, thus literally stave off the bad vibes and negativity on to a poor person.

Do you find this sickening like I do?