Traditional Polytheism Helps the Economy

Or why Amazon is selling cow-dung cakes in India:

I learned that cow dung cakes can now be ordered on the Indian Amazon website. Out of curiosity, I ordered 6 pieces. It cost me 236 rupees, about $4. I called the local office of Amazon and spoke to Jaideep, who was very courteous and happy to answer my questions.

Read the rest.

Somewhere, Hermes is laughing at the mark-up on cow dung.

(Via Professor Althouse)

Animal Sacrifice and ‘Hard’ Polytheism

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A sacrifice to Kali in Nepal. (Washington Post)

There was some discussion last week at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting as to whether the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group should sponsor or co-sponsor a session devoted to issues surrounding animal sacrifice.

Some voices in the Pagan world suggest that you are not really a “hard” polytheist (truly understanding the gods as independent beings) unless you do it or at least accept its feasibility. Certainly it was a chief feature of civic Paganism in the ancient Mediterranean world. For many people, probably their chief or only opportunity to eat red meat was in the context of communal sacrifice.

At any rate, if being a hard polytheist is the goal and sacrifice is a way to get there, then these Nepalese Hindus in the middle of a sacrifice of thousands of animals are the “hardest” (and perhaps the longest and thickest) of polytheists.

More Reflections on Doninger’s Hinduism Book

Like a lot of people, I was dismayed (to put it mildy) that Penguin India has pulled Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History from sale in that country.

Indologist Koenraad Elst, no stranger to such controversies, explains some of the background on Indian law about religions here.

Art. 295A was never the doing of Hindu society. It was imposed by the British on the Hindus in order to shield Islam from criticism. The reason for its enactment was the murder of Pandit Lekhram in 1897 by a Muslim because Lekhram had written a book criticizing Islam. While the British authorities sentenced the murderer, they also sided with him by retroactively and posthumously punishing Lekhram.

Though originally and for a long time serving to shield Islam, Hindus gradually discovered that they too could use the religiously neutral language of this Article to their seeming advantage. Christians as well have invoked it, e.g. to ban Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code. This creates a sickening atmosphere of a pervasive touch-me-not-ism, with every community outdoing the other in being more susceptible to having its sentiments hurt.

American academics have a moral right to deplore this law, on condition that they have spoken out against it on the occasion of earlier conspicuous incidents of book-banning. Where was Wendy when Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses was banned? Not knowing her entire record, I leave it to her to provide the answer. At any rate, many Indian secularists, who mostly enjoy the support of those American academics, supported the ban, which was decreed by a self-declared secular Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi) and ruling party (Congress).

Some . . . interesting . . . comments on Elst’s post, too.

At the Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog, Steven Ramey uses this incident to discuss some larger issues in religious studies and the old scholar-practitioner tensions:

One point of contention between Doniger (and many contemporary scholars) and some of her detractors is the difference between a generally post-modern conception of interpretation as subjective and a more modern, objectivist epistemology. While Doniger’s detractors identify specific assertions and dates that they have labeled as inaccurate, the central issue, the cause for taking offence, seems to be Doniger’s emphasis on less prominent anecdotes, images and interpretations that do not conform to the image of Hinduism that her detractors want to maintain. Doniger’s self-reflexive acknowledgement of her own selectivity within the “embarrassment of riches” that she identifies as Hinduism (and sometimes Hinduisms) becomes a further point of complaint. These opponents assume that questions have definitive answers. They acknowledge “the historical consensus,” whereas Doniger describes her book as “a history.” They consider the meaning of a text to be fixed, as expressed in the legal complaint, “When text remains the same it is obvious that its meaning & message have remained the same.” Doniger, on the other hand, acknowledges that multiple meanings are possible throughout the diversity of Hinduism.

There are some obvious parallels with the academic study of Paganism(s), which I will leave (for now) to my readers to ponder.

The Purity, the Honesty . . .

Indian filmmaker decides to reinvent himself as a guru in America. It looks as though unexpected hilarity results.

The only question is, does pretending to be a guru actually transform him into some sort of guru? “I fake so much, I forget who I was before.”

Not available on Netflix yet, but I have it on my wish list.

Giving Animal Sacrifice a Bad Name

You know that I am all for polytheism, and I say “All honor to Durga,” but isn’t this a bit much?

The Los Angeles Times reports that more than 40,000 people, many of whom were inebriated, took their sacrificial goats to the Tildiha village temple in Bihar state to pray to the goddess Durga on the last day of the Navratri festival.

“People were vying with each other to get their goats sacrificed first, and they had a verbal duel with the butcher,” Banka district spokesman Gupdeshwar Kumar told the paper.

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, people—at least urban people—often ate red meat only in the context of a religious ritual. James Davidson discussed this matter in Courtesans & Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens.

What is important is that the omission of fish [from the Iliad] helped to construct an opposition between the meat of pigs, sheep and cattle, all of which had to be sacrificed before it could be eaten, and fish, which was quite free of such structures, an item for private, secular consumption, as and when desired. In an important sense, fish-consumption was simply not taken as seriously as other kinds of carnivorousness.

Wikipedia’s entry on hecatomb (sacrifice of one hundred animals) quotes the Homeric passage about what sounds like one big cookout.