Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Our Jolly Wassail



We've been wassailing for a lot of years now, but this is the first time I can think of that the police showed up.

Throughout the nights of Yuletide, we severally wassail the various pagan homes of the neighborhood.

From house to house we go, singing of the Darkness and the newborn Sun. It's raucous, something of a traveling party: making light in a dark time. The wassailers bestow a blessing for the year to come; the wassailed, food and (usually alcoholic) drink.

People used to welcome us into their houses, but this Yule—under the epidemiological circumstances—it seemed wisest to restrict our singing to outdoors. Singing to the Darkness as snow fell, canopied by bare branches, seemed to bring all the world along with us into our Yuletide merry-make.

P___, R____, and M____ had set up a table for us on the front porch; they stood up on the balcony, and we wassailed them à la Romeo and Juliet. It was great.

They live on a block where, as a general rule, a bunch of people outside making a lot of noise is decidedly not a good thing. (Pagans live in some rough neighborhoods. Pagans are tough.) Neighbors stuck their heads out of their doors to see what was going on. (Urban Survival Strategy #3: Know what's going on around you.) A surprising number stayed on to listen. Who in the world goes caroling anymore? Leave it to the pagans to dredge up some archaic custom from out of the deep past.

One guy was so busy watching us that he slipped on the ice and wiped out. (He was fine.) The security guards from the parking ramp across the street came out to find out what the uproar was about, and then stayed to listen.

Then the police drove by. Slowly, craning necks.

(Not that anyone would have called them on us: they showed up way too quickly for that. Clearly, this was just a routine patrol. Still, what a hoot.)

Hopefully, by next Yule we'll be able to go into people's houses again. But somehow, wassailing an entire block in the December darkness really did feel like Turning the Wheel, primordial.

So if, next Yule, you should happen to hear a bunch of pagan voices at your door doing something that just might possibly be singing, consider grabbing a bottle and coming out to join us.

Driving darkness away—at least for a little while—is (as Minnie Castevet would say) our spessy-alley-tay.


Wassail, wassail: as you may believe,

'tis more blessed to give than it is to receive.

The more that you give, the more blessed are you;

the more we receive, the less damage we'll do.


The Death and Glory Wassail








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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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