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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Steven Posch

Steven Posch

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.
Rabbi Shimon ben Shetah and the 80 Witches of Ashkelon

In the days of Queen Salome Alexandra, the city of Ashkelon was plagued by a coven of 80 witches who lived in a cave outside the city. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetah decided to rid the city of these wicked women and their sorceries. He summoned 80 strong men and instructed each of them to acquire a jar and place within it a change of clothing; he did the same himself.

On a night of pouring rain, he went with his men and stood outside the cave. “Sisters,” he called out to the witches, “I am a sorcerer, like yourselves; let me come in out of the rain.” Quickly he removed his wet clothing and donned the dry set from his jar.

“Enter, fellow sorcerer,” cried the eighty.

R. Shimon entered the cave, and the witches marveled at his dry clothing. “How did you do this deed?” they asked.

“My power is so great that I can walk through rain and remain unwetted,” said he. “By the power of my magic, I can work another wonder for you: I can summon 80 men, each in clothing as dry as my own, to come and dance with you.”

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The Cross-Legged God

The god who sits cross-legged: you know Who I mean. The position is central to the iconography of the Horned, in art both ancient and modern. In Old Craft symbolism, the Master may be represented by the skull of a horned animal with two longbones crossed beneath it. If Witchdom had pirates (!), I suppose that's what they'd fly on their flags. The Lord of the Red Bones, above and below.

Even in images such as Lévi's Baphomet and the Gundestrup Antlered, where the god is seated in a position not fully “tailor seat” (as we used to call it), his crossed or bent legs at least allude to the fully cross-legged seat. It's well worth asking what this pose can tell us about the god.

Nature. Civilized people (and their gods) sit on furniture. Barbarians sit on the ground, and cross-legged is the natural way to do so. This is an untamed god, a god in touch with the powers of nature, drawing strength and stability from the Earth.

Duality. The iconography of the Horned lord is dominated by doubling, and this speaks deeply to His nature. He is both Dark and Light, Lord of life and death, the master driven by his own internal contradictions. (Whereas Wicca tends to read duality in terms of male-female pairing, Old Craft generally looks to the divided self for the primal articulation of Twoness.) Just as his legs cross beneath him, so too do the two sides of his self cross and intersect with one another, the basis of his Being.

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Bean Cakes

In 1802, the Fulani sheikh Usman dan Fodio declared jihad against the Hausa. Thirty years later his successors moved against the Yoruba.

The disunited Yoruba city-states fell rapidly before the Fulani onslaught. By 1834, the cities of Oló Iyé, Ikoyí, Offá, and Erín had been taken, with massive destruction and forced Islamization. The huge Fulani army then turned south, and in 1840 camped outside the city of Oshogbó at the great bend of the River Oshún.

Oshogbó had grown into a populous city, its population more than doubled by refugees. (Those years are still known in Yoruba as itán isá isá, the 'time of running.') As Yoruba cities go, Oshogbó was not a particularly ancient city; at this time, it had seen only 10 obás, kings.

The city had been founded by the obá Laró, who led his people there after a dispute over succession in Ibokún, and was built in pact with the goddess Oshún. Laró first planned to build in a grove on the river bank, but the goddess herself emerged from the river and told him that the grove was sacred to her, and that he must build instead on a nearby hill. If, she promised him, he would protect her grove, she would protect his city.

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Other People's Stuff

They're all over the world now, but they started out right here in the Midwest: Little Free Libraries.

In front of their homes, people erect what look like roadside shrines, and so they are: shrines of literacy. Open the door to one of these little god-houses and you'll find inside, instead of an image, shelves of books. The idea is, take a book, leave a book. All completely free. It's a great idea: generous, hospitable, practical. Very Midwestern.

A coven-sib and her husband put up one in their front yard. Suddenly, a problem arose: what to do with the Kreesh-chun materials, the Bibles and other “literature,” that accumulated on their shelves?

[A Zuñi elder once remarked: "How can they expect us to take their religion seriously when they throw it away as if it weren't worth anything?"]

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Shit

It's a curse word. It's the ultimate bad comparison: “Smells like....” “Tastes like....” To the poisoning of our waters and the impoverishment of our fields, we flush it away so we can pretend it doesn't exist. Frequently enough our collective aversion seems to take on a moral tone. Bad shit.

I think we've got it wrong. The opprobrium in which we hold shit is a mistaken opprobrium. I don't think this is how pagans think.

Old English scîtan, “to defecate.” We didn't have fancy Latinisms back then to describe an everyday bodily function and its product. Same with Old Norse skíta and Old High German skîzzan. We've been talking shit for a long time, it would seem. All the offspring of Common Germanic *skîtan, “to separate, defecate.” Separate and defecate. Where's the opprobrium?

The Kalasha of Pakistan are the last remaining pagans of the Hindu Kush. The greatest festival of their year is Chaumos, the winter solstice. To decorate their houses and temples for the holiday, the children whitewash the walls and cover them with good luck paintings for the coming year: sun-wheels, trees, pastures, hunters, and goats, goats, goats. (The goat is central to the Kalasha economy.)

An anthropologist observing while the children painted these designs noticed that many of them were surrounded by dots; in many of the paintings, the lines of dots actually served to unify the compositions visually. She asked the kids what the dots were.

“Oh, that's dung,” the kids explained. To the Kalasha, dung is a valuable commodity because it fertilizes the fields. Lots of dung is a desideratum because it means lots of herds to drop it, and lots of crops to be nourished by it. Dung = fertility.

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  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    Some of the best Indian incense includes cow dung, for exactly the reason those kids said. Also, I find it instructive that the wo

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The Sign of the Hoof

A mudra that links Star Trek, Orthodox Jewish liturgy, and the god of witches.

Fascinating.

The “Vulcan salute” premiered in 1967 during Star Trek's second season. Series creator Gene Roddenberry felt that the words of the newly-invented Vulcan greeting needed some sort of physical gesture to go with them. Actor Leonard Nimoy held up his hand, palm facing out, thumb extended, fingers divided between the second and third fingers. In that moment, a pop-culture icon was born. Live long and prosper, folks.

Nimoy knew the gesture from his childhood. Six times a year in the Orthodox synagogue that his grandfather took him to, the kohanim—men from priestly families—would face the congregation, raise both hands before their faces making the same hand-sign, and pronounce the ancient Threefold Blessing:

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Deus eduxit eum de Aegypto cuius fortitude similis est rincerotis. So, a god whose strength is like unto a rhino's. Well.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Yikes. My first thought was, "they must have been working from a different underlying Hebrew text," which, given the difficulties
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I would agree that your reading makes sense of 24:8 with its singular object, Brian, and would add that some MSS. read motsi'o for
  • Brian Niskala
    Brian Niskala says #
    One thing I find funny is the Septuagint's translation here: ὡς δόξα μονοκέρωτος αὐτῷ, taking the Hebrew's תוֹעֲפֹת רְאֵם as 'glo
  • Brian Niskala
    Brian Niskala says #
    I would question that translation of Number 23:20/24:8. That reading of 'lo' לוֹ as a possessive here doesn't quite work; I read i

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Sex. And Kitty Cats.

What do people really want to read about on the internet?

Well, Sex, of course.

And Kitty Cats.

So (Carnival's reputation being what it is) forthwith: a twofer. (In the long, twisted history of the Anguish Linguage, have ever those two words been used in the same sentence before?) A Mardi Gras tribute to Mr. Rudycat, the bad-most, pukin'-est kitty that ever missed the litter box. Sung, of course, to the tune of the immortal Dr. Longhair's classic Go to the Mardi Gras.

 Says the Rude: Aw, just pick me up, click the damn link, and dance, already.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Don't be deceived: it's all a ploy.
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Cute kitty.

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