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.

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Three things stand out in my memory from my trip to the ancient city of Ephesus, City of the Moon.

The first, quite frankly, was the public toilet. Astoundingly, the row of side-by-side toilet seats—the ancestors were social people—looked exactly—exactly—like modern toilet seats.

But these were hand-carved from marble. Wow.

The second was the civic amphitheater. Here Saul of Tarsus—later known as “saint” Paul—was nearly lynched by an angry mob for blaspheming the city's patron goddess, the famously many-breasted Artemis (Diana) of Ephesus. Megálê hê Ártemis tôn Efesíôn! they chanted: Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!

According to the New Testament book of Acts, the mob was led by a guild of souvenir-manufacturers, cynically worried about loss of revenue. (Why do non-pagans find it so difficult to believe that we, too, might love our gods?) Unfortunately, in the end a conscientious city official intervened to save “Paul's” life.

During my visit to the theater, I had the pleasure of standing in the middle of the stage and chanting, in modern pronunciation, the chant of the ancients: Megháli i Ártemis tôn Efesíôn!

Indeed, as reputed, the acoustics were wonderful.

My third memory from the day is much more humble, but—in many ways—the most telling of all.

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, That story is awesome. Praise be to Artemis, Goddess of the forest and the swamplands, of the Moon and the wild plac

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“The Witches' Almanac," a priestess that I know once remarked, sadly, "never fails to disappoint.”

Somehow, I've always felt the same way about the novels of Canadian author Charles de Lint.

On the face of it, this seems odd. Fantasy novels situating Old World lore in the New World...you'd think that I would be all over it. But no. Elves, Green Men, and Moon Goddesses are all very well, but in de Lint, somehow they're all just so much window dressing. The depths, the wisdom, just aren't there.

I find this to be even more specifically true (alas) of Greenmantle, his 1988 book about the Horned God. It's something of an hommage to Lord Dunsany's stunning 1928 fantasy The Blessing of Pan: a lyrical and deeply sad novel about a rural English village being slowly won over to the Wild. The contrast between the two novels, unfortunately, illustrates my point in the starkest of ways. Dunsany's book has both substance and magic. De Lint, instead, tells you how magical things are, but somehow never quite manages to make you feel the magic.

Well, but. Even a stopped clock tells truth twice a day. When you're writing about Himself, every now and then, something is bound to sing. Sure enough, in Greenmantle de Lint nails it:

[The Horned] becomes what you bring to him. If you approach him with fear, he fills you with panic....If you approach him with lust, he becomes a lecherous satyr. If you approach him with reverence, he becomes a majestic figure. If you approach him with evil, he appears as a demonic figure [181].

Transcribing this passage makes me wonder if perhaps part of my unhappiness with de Lint's writing may not stem from the unrelentingly pedestrian quality of his prose. Unlike Dunsany, who was both, de Lint is storyteller, but not poet.

Still, though his language may leave something to be desired, what it says offers deep insight into the nature of this particular god, skin-strong shape-shifter that He is. In Him, you will see preeminently—as de Lint so rightly says—whatever you yourself bring to the encounter.

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 Taking Time To Be Thankful: Surviving A Wild Turkey Attack | by Carie  Fisher | Mission.org | Medium

Well, next time you come to Paganistan, you won't have any trouble picking out the Witch houses.

Just look for the turkey out front.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from my neighbor next-door titled “Visitor.” Curious, I opened it, only to find a photo of a turkey standing in my front yard.

This is strange. Though I've lived here for more than 30 years, I've never seen any turkeys around here before: unsurprisingly, since I live in a densely urban neighborhood with no nearby wild spaces. Even the River is more than a mile away.

I made a point of bringing it up to the coven at our May Eve get-together because my covensib Z has had a guardian turkey at her place for over a year now. (In fact, we were meeting at her house that night.) Sometime last Spring, a male turkey decided that her front yard was his territory, and he's been there more or less ever since. Her husband has befriended the turkey, and feeds him regularly. Otherwise, though, the turkey is very protective of his territory—we call him the Attack Turkey—and has been known (on more than one occasion) to chase off Amazon deliverymen. (I presume that this represents territorial defense rather than commercial preference, though with turkeys, it's hard to say.)

After I'd told the tale, my covensib A laughed. Turns out, a turkey had just shown up in her yard for the first time a few days previous. This would ordinarily be a little less surprising than in Z's instance, or mine, since she lives in a wooded area backing on a lake. Still, though she's lived there for more than two years, she's never seen a turkey there before.

Well, you know witches: hedge-straddlers all, one foot in the Tame and one in the Wild. Somehow, I can't help but think of the Temple of Juno in Rome with its protective flock of guardian geese, which managed to raise the alarm during a Celtic raid on the city and so save the temple treasure.

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I'm in the front yard clearing away the last of the Winter detritus from around the shrubs when I hear the tinny sound of the Summer's first ice cream truck.

All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel.

It's playing the first phrase from the old kiddie classic, Pop! Goes the Weasel. Unfortunately, that's all that it's playing, over and over and over again.

All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel.

All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel.

All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel.

After only a few truncated repetitions, my teeth are already on edge. I wonder how the driver manages to deal with it for hours at a time. Surely he must wake up at night hearing it in his head. Not having heard of any curbside massacres recently, I presume that after a while the thalamus kicks in and you just stop hearing it. Thank Goddess for sensory gating.

All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel.

A few seasons back, the neighborhood ice cream truck played some cowanish Christmas carol; I can't recall which one. (Silent Night, maybe?) I was never sure whether this was intentional or not. Christmas = Winter = cold = ice cream seems a pretty straightforward set of linked associations. Certainly the seasonal incongruity successfully caught my attention pretty much every time.

On the other hand, a lot of local ice cream trucks are owned and operated by immigrants, many of them from the Middle East. I suppose it's possible that the Winter-themed music was no more than a product of blissful cultural unawareness.

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 Sexual content

 

“I mean, one of their initiations is letting yourself be sodomized,” says my friend, with obvious distaste. “Really, what's up with that?”

We've been discussing the OTO; he's alluding to the Ordo's XI° initiation. I'm not OTO myself, though I have friends that are. I am, though, gay. I could easily tell him what's up with that.

I will never, never get used to hearing a sacred act of love, one of the most intimate things that it's possible to do with another person, be spoken of with such visceral loathing. To my surprise, though, I don't find my friend's clumsy faux pas offensive. Rather, I find myself loving him for it. He's actually just given me a gift.

All too often, being gay, like being a member of any minority, means being reduced. You don't merit full personhood; you're always the gay guy. In this reducing atmosphere, of course, gay men, distressingly often, become synonymous with a single act of love, which (ironically) some of us don't even like. “Nothing like being reduced to one action,” a gay friend of mine once remarked, bitterly.

(Talking with an acquaintance at Pagan Pride one afternoon, I listened with increasing confusion as she spoke effusively about something that I'd supposedly done recently. Finally, I realized what was going on: she had confused me with D, the other prominent gay elder in the local pagan community. [You know, those gay guys all look alike.] I thought of telling her: “No, I'm the other gay guy.” I didn't, though; she would have felt humiliated to have made such a mistake. Aînesse oblige: elderhood obligates.)

What my friend has just told me, without realizing it, is that in his mind, I hold full personhood; I'm not gay first and foremost. It's an odd, and maybe even pathetic, thing to be grateful for, but I am.

The two of us have been friends for a long time; there's a lot of love between us. Still, there's an important point to be made here.

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Scene: Department store, Women's Wear

Brassiere display, two racks side-by-side.

Sign on first rack:

Bras for Cowans

(Shows regular two-cup brassieres.)

Sign on second rack:

Bras for Witches

(Shows bras with three, four, and five cups.)

 

You know about witches' nipples: we've got extra. All the better to feed our familiars with, they say.

Polymastia: the condition of having extra breasts. Some years back, I gave a workshop on the subject at a local festival. My plan was to discuss the lore from the trials. I hadn't expected the workshop to turn into a show-and-tell. Turns out, some witches actually do have extras. That's just how some bodies are made, although of course in this particular instance we do have to factor in a certain self-selecting demographic.

In the minds of the Hunters, of course, a witch's polymastia made her something less than human. Humans have two nipples; animals have many. The witch's extra nipples demonstrate her essentially bestial nature.

Still, I can't quite help but think of Many-Breasted Artemis of Ephesus: Goddess of Witches, She Who Feeds the World. Like Goddess, apparently, like votary.

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 Wiccan Army Embroidered Patch

 

In Starhawk's 1993 utopian/dystopian novel The Fifth Sacred Thing, all of the Pagan Resistance guys are named John. "It's one of their names for the Devil," explains one of the bad guys.

It's a solidarity thing. (Think: Je suis Charlie Hebdo. Think: Non-Jewish Danes wearing yellow stars during the Nazi occupation.) It's also a resistance thing: we're all one. We're all in this fight together, anonymously interchangeable.

To distinguish one John from another, they all have by-names à la Old Norse: Hijohn, Littlejohn, Johnny Be Good.

In that world, I would definitely be Johnny Deer. We're Deer Clan from way back, my people, and Deer's always been my guy. I'm built like a deer, I've got the cervine grace and moves.

But here in the Midwest Pagan Resistance, the guys all seem to be Jacks.

So what kind of Jack am I?

Jacks figure large in pagan lore. (Is he one, is he many? Reply hazy, try again later.) Think of Jack in the Green, and all his latter-day seasonal variants: Jack in the Sheaf, Jack o' Lantern, Jack in the Drift.

Even the resident priest at one of our local pagan land sanctuaries is a Jack: Jack in the Buff, it would have to be in his case, just like in the song. Hey, if anyone embodies the spirit of skyclad, he does.

Not to mention all those other Jacks of the legendarium: Jack the Giant Killer, Spring-heeled Jack, Jack in the Pulpit, jolly Jack Tar, Hijack, Car Jack, Whiskey Jack, Jack Daniels. Nor, of course, should we forget that perennial favorite, Jack Off.

(I presume that he's some sort of kin to the CBC's immortal Carol Off, long-time hostess emerita to the curry-souled All Things Considered North news program As It Happens.)

Well, the oathbreaker partisan hack Injustices of the American Supreme Court have (in effect) declared war on the Free peoples of the US, and—just as we've been doing for centuries—the Pagan Resistance continues our immemorial cultural rear-guard action. I'll have to dig my old “Wiccan Army: Thirteenth Airborne Division” patch out of the drawer. Our motto: “We will not fly silently into the night.”

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, By the Gods, the GOP has finally achieved its dream of turning America into a dystopian 1980s science-fiction movie.

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