Anders Kaliff

in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199232444
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology


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The shaping of human culture is closely linked to the domestication of fire. Fire has been particularly significant for eschatology and the form taken by burial rituals, but also for cosmology as a whole and thus as a sacrificial medium. The Vedic fire sacrifice, as well as its Old Iranian counterpart, is favourable as an analogy for the interpretation of fire rituals also in other Indo-European contexts. This analogy takes on an extra dimension because of the kinship between Vedic and Old Iranian fire ritual, and other Indo-European ritual traditions, in accordance with the basic similarities between languages. Just as there are linguistic similarities, there are also clear mythological parallels, which in turn reveal similar cosmological ideas. Comparative Indo-European studies can also be valuable as analogies, regardless of whether there is any kinship between the traditions, since the use of analogies is built into every archaeological interpretation — consciously or unconsciously. This article argues that the Indo-European religions also reflect a common background, with the different traditions being dialects in the same way as the Indo-European languages. This principle is applied in a discussion of the ancient Scandinavian fire ritual.

Keywords: Scandinavian fire ritual; ancient rituals; Vedic fire sacrifice; Old Iranian fire rituals; Indo-European rituals

Article.  5708 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; Historical Archaeology

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