The Wearers Of Skulls

buschmasterbuschmaster Member Posts: 14,230 ✭✭✭
edited December 2011 in General Discussion
I had been reading about this, and when I came across a young Indian man here for an internship while studing for his master's degree, I asked whether any of it was true and if the average Indian knows of these people. He said yes, they are known, and they persist even today in remote jungle villages where there is no law enforcement...

Yoga: Immortality And Freedom
Mircea Eliade, 1958


In this spiritual process, we find one point important. It is the degradation of an ideology through failure to comprehend the symbolism that it came from. We shall give an example. The role that the cemetery plays, together with meditations performed while sitting on corpses, is well known in a number of Indian yoga schools. The symbolism is emphasized in the texts: the cemetery represents mental life, fed by consciousness; the corpses symbolize sensory and mental activities. Seated at the center of this awful experience, the yogin "burns" the activities that feed them, just as corpses are burned in the cemetery. By meditating he achieves the combustion of egotistic experiences; at the same time, he frees himself from fear. he evokes the terrible demons and obtains mastery over them.

Now, there are some disciples of Shiva, the Aghoris, who have interpreted the symbolism of a "cemetery" and "corpses" literally. Their name has been translated as "not terrific" (a-ghora); an Aghorapanthi would, then, be one who follows the path (or the cult) of Shiva under this form. These Aghoris eat from human skulls, live in cemeteries, and still practiced cannibalism at the end of the nineteenth century; Crooke cites the case of an Aghori in Ujjain (1887) who ate a corpse from the pile at the burning ghat. They eat all sorts of refuse and any kind of meat except horse meat. They justify these practices by saying that all of man's natural inclinations and tastes should be destroyed, that there is neither good nor evil, pleasant nor unpleasant, etc. Even as human excrement fertilizes a sterile soil, so assimilating every kind of filth makes the mind capable of any and every meditation. [1] For them, there is no distinction of caste or religion; parents are mere accidents. They are divided into two branches: the shuddhs (the pure) and the malins (the dirty). As to cult, some of them worship Sitala Devi, others Parnagiri Devi, [2] yet others Kali. Any Shaiva of any caste can become an Aghori. They do not worship images. Except God, they respect only their guru. Celibacy is obligatory. They lead a life of vagabondage, and a disciple (chela) cannot become a guru until twelve years after the death of his spiritual master. Every guru is always accompanied by a dog. Their bodies are not buried laying down, but sitting up, with the legs crossed.

These Aghoris are only the successors to a much older and more widespread cult, the Kapalikas, or "Wearers of Skulls." The Maitrayani Upanishad (VII, 8) already mentions a kapalin; an inscription from the seventh century names the god Kapaleshvara and his disciples. [3] The Kapalikas worshipped Shiva under his aspects of Mahakala (the Great Destroyer) and Kapalabhrit (he who carries a skull). They carry orgiastic practices and ritual cruelty to the extreme. From the sixth century on, references become more frequent: the Dashakumaracarita in the sixth century; Hiuen Tsiang, who encountered them on his journey through India (650-645); Bhavabhuti, who, in his eighth-century play, features a Kapalika on the point of sacrificing a virgin to the goddess Camunda. There is a similar episode in the Prabodha Chandrodaya, which was performed in 1065; the author seems to have known the Kapalikas well. He makes one of them say:

"My necklace and ornaments are of human bones; I dwell among the ashes of the dead and eat my food in human skulls... We drink liquor out of the skulls of Brahmans; our sacred fires are fed with the brains and lungs of men mixed up with their flesh, and human victims covered with the fresh blood gushing from the dreadful wound in their throats, are the offerings by which we appease the terrible god Bhairava... The might of our religion is such that I control Hari-Hara and the greatest and most ancient of the gods; I stop the course of the planets in the heavens; I submerge the earth in water, with its mountains and cities, and I again drink up the waters in a moment... He who resembles the gods, whose crest is the lunar orb, and who with delight embraces women as beautiful as Parvati, feels supreme bliss." [4]

The European travelers to India confused the Kapalikas and the Aghoris with Hindus in general. The description could not be more vivid:

"In many places and among a great number of the Hindus, this worship exists: a great many follow the Agama, in which wine drinking is approved, and if, instead of a common cup, a man's skull be used, the beverage is much more agreeable. They hold the killing of all animals, even of man, to be permitted and call it 'daring'. At night they go to the cemetery, where the dead bodies are burnt; there they intoxicate themselves, eat the flesh of the burnt corpses, and copulate before the eyes of others with women." [5]

The information given by the author is substantially correct. He says that they prefer incest to ordinary union. He knows that "public women" are prized; that there are two kinds of cults, bhadram (pure) and vakam (impure), and that the second is preferred. He knows, too, that in the sexual act the woman personifies the goddess. The author had seen a Kapalika meditating on a corpse, and in Gujarat he came upon a certain Mahadeo who spent his nights seated on a corpse. Sterile women spent a night with the guru.

Muhsin-i-Fani very probably misunderstood his sources to some extent and confused certain sexual rites of the Kapalikas with the orgy of the Vallabhacaryas. However, there is no doubt about the orgiastic tendency of the Kapalikas; we even have evidence of seasonal collective orgies, in which all the members of the sect participated. According to the Kaumudimahotsava Nataka, these festivals took place in the spring and autumn and were strongly orgiastic in character. Not only those who took part in these ceremonies were all the Kapalikas, but also the "materialists" and the "cynics," those who rejected the Vedic tradition and all the values of Hinduism. Seasonal festivals and the orgies accompanying them were specific features of the archaic, pre-lndo-European cult of vegetation. It is interesting to note that some traditions make the Kapalikas the originators of the seasonal orgies; here festivals of vegetation, tantric orgies, and the eccentric practices of the "materialists," cannibals, and wearers of skulls are merged in a single system of aboriginal values.

Heine-Geldern has established a connection between the human sacrifices and skull hunts that are abundant in Burma, and a matriarchal ideology that still survives in Tibet and the Himalayan regions. In India proper, some of the archaic cultural elements played their part later in the prodigious advance of tantric Shaktism. Such are the ethnological elements of the problem. But it also has a historico-religious aspect in the resurgence of prehistoric customs entailing human sacrifice and the cult of skulls. And it is this aspect which is of chief interest to us here.

The process may be imagined as follows. ... (etc.) ...

In this light, we can understand how one or another tantric yoga becomes licentious on a certain cultural level imbued with matriarchal elements; we also understand why a particular Kapalin forgets the yogic meaning of the "corpse" and the "skeleton" and becomes a head-hunter, thus reverting to cannibal behavior (minus the "philosophy" of cannibalism, which, as Volhard has shown, was not as aberrant as it appears to modern eyes). Above all, these reciprocal degradations and devalorizations are explained by "symbolic confusionism," by a symbolism being forgotten or inadequately comprehended. We shall have occasion to observe the same phenomenon again in other cultural contexts and in connection with other symbolisms, mythologies, or techniques incorporated into Yoga.

[1] H. W. Barrow, "On Aghoris and Aghorapanthis" (Proceedings of the Arthropological Society of Bombay, III, l893, 197-251), p. 222.
[2] Goddess worshiped at Pali, near Ajmer, and regarded as the tutelary goddess of ascetics; cf. Barrow, p. 210.
[3] R. G. Bhandarkar, Yaishnavism, Shaivism and Miror Religious Systems, p. 118. Cf. Brahma-sutras, 11, 2, 37.
[4] Tr. Briggs, Gorakhnath, p. 226.
[5] The Dabistan; or, School of Manners, tr. D. Shea and A. Troyer, 11, 129-60, compiled by Muhsin-i-Fani in the seventeenth century.


  • Waco WaltzWaco Waltz Member Posts: 10,821
    edited November -1
    Freaky stuff. There was a movie or two that aluded to those types of cults in India. I never knew much about it.
  • machine gun moranmachine gun moran Member Posts: 5,198
    edited November -1
    You left out the part where they founded the Democratic National Committee.
  • andrewsw16andrewsw16 Member Posts: 11,311
    edited November -1
    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?
  • Mr. PerfectMr. Perfect Member Posts: 59,459 ✭✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    Celibacy is obligatory? No wonder this has no traction.
    Some will die in hot pursuit
    And fiery auto crashes
    Some will die in hot pursuit
    While sifting through my ashes
    Some will fall in love with life
    And drink it from a fountain
    That is pouring like an avalanche
    Coming down the mountain
  • mrseatlemrseatle Member Posts: 15,806
    edited November -1
    I saw that show about the thugees on the History channel. Creepy

    Why does the.c&p mentioned Yoga at the top?

    [}:)]Jesus was a Master Yogi
  • kidthatsirishkidthatsirish Member Posts: 6,867 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    Intersting....It truly makes it hard for anyone to understand Hindui denominations. There are so many with so many types of gods that its nearly impossible to categorize all of them!
  • mrseatlemrseatle Member Posts: 15,806
    edited November -1
    Again just for the record,
    Yoga is unrelated to Hindu also[}:)]

    Yoga is a totally seperate and independent cult, accountable to God Alone.
  • mrseatlemrseatle Member Posts: 15,806
    edited November -1
    Where are you C&P this stuff from?

    The ancient Jews weren't the only or first to realize there is one God.[:D]

    They stole their religion from the Akkadians.

    The True Religion of all time is only now called Christianity. It didn't come from Jews[:D]
  • kidthatsirishkidthatsirish Member Posts: 6,867 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    quote:Originally posted by buschmaster
    it says yoga because that's what it is. when we hear "yoga" we think of soccer moms in a strip mall doing weird stretching exercises. those are so far removed from the real thing it's like comparing a poodle to a wolf. a "yogi" uses extreme yoga stretching for the purpose of meditation. while doing that he can imagine himself with all the flesh stripped from his body so he can look at his bones, or imagine himself a skeleton the size of the universe with flames shooting out, etc. and with that, he releases energy into his body, uses buddhistic techniques to alter levels of consciousness, and they say, gain supernatural capabilities such as levitation, premonition, ESP, or reaching out an arm hundreds of miles to slap another yogi that was meditating on doing harm. it must all be imaginary, but nevertheless you can see why they would describe it as immortality and freedom.

    the greeks were in contact with the Indians. the Indians have some Greek and Persian influence, and the Greeks had some Indian and Perisan influence. the Greeks originally had their gods we are all familiar with (Zeus, Apollo, etc) but later they developed a Stoic philosophy (which the Romans took up wholeheartedly) which at first was non-theistic, but with the influence of the Indians, came to include some belief in some kind of deity (they weren't sure) and had branched off into Gnosticism before their culture fell apart.

    this Gnosticism was centered on the self, a notably Indian approach, not Greek. being Greek it was influenced by Pythagoras and so relied on rational considerations instead of meditation, and so the purpose is to find "the Christos within" without anything like bending yourself like a pretzel, eating corpses or believing yourself to be shooting flames out of your * in the vicinity of Uranus.

    also you may notice the Indians did not care for enlightenment in terms of a man functioning in society. the Greeks were an eminently social people, and so the brand of enlightenment found among them (Gnosis) did care for enlightenment in terms of a man functioning in society.

    and so it was that this Jesus came to be- whether true or fictitious- who was a great teacher destined to save mankind by teaching them to find God within themselves. modern christians don't think that sounds quite right. as far as they know they are supposed to find God outside of themselves. all around them, up in heaven, whatever. that came to be when the Romans seized upon the religion and Paganized it, inducting Platonic philosophy and naming God as some emperor- corresponding to the "philopher kings" that Plato espoused. at first christians were Gnostics, worshipping Jesus, not God (hence "christians") who looked for God in themselves- they were Gnostics. many Romanized christians split off from the Roman Catholic Church because they (correctly) saw that it was Pagan in nature and lacked Gnosisticism. they were called Donatists. they fled Rome and grew their church in Carthage. they didn't last long and what remained was the version of christianity we had for the next 1000 years. when the Protestants broke off, they retained that Paganistic version of christianity that views God as some emperor in the sky, instead of a part of you. they merely don't put a pope on a throne in between to read their bible to them. they read it themselves.

    so this Jesus is decidedly Buddhistic in flavor but completely contrary to anything that has to do with Yoga. to say Jesus was a "Master Yogi" is beyond ridiculous- almost as ridiculous as the denial that being a modern christian you are not actually a Pagan.

    quote:Originally posted by kidthatsirish
    Intersting....It truly makes it hard for anyone to understand Hindui denominations. There are so many with so many types of gods that its nearly impossible to categorize all of them!the cults described above are not a part of Hinduism. Hinduism is a religion arranged much like christianity. they are a lot like christians. they worship Krishna (who has similarities to Christ, btw). however, unlike christianity which demands that you worship their god alone, the Hindus see nothing contradictory in the worship of other gods, much as was the practice of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians, and everyone else monotheistic or not. in fact the only ones to demand a single religion were the Jews. and, as we know, christianity claims a Jewish heritage.

    Incorrect my friend, there are as many denominations that are primarly devoted to different gods in Hinduisim as there are in any religion. Shiva is most certainly a god in many Hindu cultures, most often viewed as "the destroyer" by many of its followers. Hinduism is so sketcy that you can not say in any god does not belong to Hinduism...even the monotheistic gods tend to find their way into the beliefs of many Hindus, they simply chose what aspect of each god they want to have faith in, and what aspects they dont want to have faith in. Why else do explain the grow in the Hindu population that is quickly gowing and may soon outpace the growth of Islam? Its because you worshop and believe in however many gods you want! Only problem is of course when you start worshiping or favoring one or several gods, you run the risk of ticking off all the other gods that are "against" them.[:p]
  • woodhogwoodhog Member Posts: 13,115
    edited November -1
    I think these are the folks who own all the convience stores around here. Never buy the sandwiches.
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