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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An aspiring young warlock named Gwydion

would sleep through the ante meridian,

but then spend his hours

weaving garlands of flowers,

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 Classic Potato Pancakes Recipe Recipe | Epicurious

 

I was born in a time (and place) where men didn't learn how to cook.

Here's the story of how I did.

Now, let me mention from the outset that raising men incapable of preparing their own food violates ancestral precedent. In the old tribal days, every war party or hunting party would take along a few youths—men-in-training—to cook for them. These would already have learned to cook in the Boys' House, where you made your own stew, stir-about, and oat cakes, or went without.

For numerous reasons—personal affinity foremost among them—I became vegetarian at 18. (It is, admittedly, a very freshman year kind of thing to do.) In those days, that made eating out difficult.

One night as, for the umpteenth time, I was cobbling together (at a steak house, no less) a meatless meal for myself from the “Sides” menu, sitting with my baked potato, tossed salad, cottage cheese, and glass of tomato juice in front of me, I had my Scarlett O'Hara moment.

“As the Goddess is my witness,” I vowed, “I'll never piece together a meal out of 'sides' again!”

So I learned to cook.

Even my father, who (you could tell) for years felt kind of ambivalent about his gay son who liked to cook, learned—after my mother stopped cooking (surely after 50+ years, she'd earned the right)—to love the fact. When I came to visit, he would always have suggestions.

“So, how about potato pancakes on Friday?” he would say.

Friday it was. Indeed, my potato pancakes are some of the best.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Round about the cauldron go...
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    There is a Methodist church north of the James river that sells homemade Brunswick Stew for a few days each year. My parents love

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

WHITE TAIL COUNTRY.: John Ozoga & Daniel J. Cox.: Amazon.com: Books

 

Forget Starhawk and Penczak. Screw Hutton, Halstead, and Posch.

Check out John Ozoga's White Tail Country instead.

It doesn't mention mythology, or the gods. (Not directly, anyway.) It never uses the P-, H-, or W-words, not even once.

But it's still the most pagan book that you'll read all year.

Ozoga's four-season paean to that iconically pagan animal, the white-tailed deer, will teach you the kind of things that the ancestors would have taken for granted, but that few pagans these days—even the hunters among us—know.

Daniel J. Cox's stunning photographs—150 of them—will teach you even more.

Reading about Whitetail society and—one can hardly avoid using the word—culture can't help but give the sense that somehow we're seeing here into our own tribal past (I'm Deer Clan myself, on my father's side) and—realistically—future.

You can be a witch and not know anything about Tarot.

You can be a witch and know nothing about astrology, Qabala, or the Golden Dawn.

But you cannot be a witch and not know your own territory: its seasons, its plants, its animals.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

 

At Twin Cities Pagan Pride this Saturday, we'll be making the twelfth annual Offering to Minnehaha Falls, and praying for the well-being of pagans everywhere.

If you can't be there, I invite you to join us anyway in praying for the well-being of pagans everywhere.

In particular, I invite you to join us in praying for the well-being of the pagans of Afghanistan.

Are there pagans in Afghanistan? Well might you ask.

Truth in advertising: I don't know any Afghan pagans personally. But I feel quite confidant in declaring that yes, of course there are pagans in Afghanistan. There are pagans everywhere. Wherever (gods help us) the internet reaches, there are pagans. Wherever people are in chains, some dare dream of freedom.

There were pagans in Afghanistan—real, old-time, rifle-toting, goat-sacrificing pagans—up until the 1890s, when the emir of Kabul (of cursed memory) declared jihad against the mountain tribes of what was then called Kafiristan: “Unbeliever Land.” Those that weren't killed were forcibly converted to Islam, and their mountainous territory was officially renamed Nuristan, “Land of Light.” Light at rifle-point: welcome to Abrahamic history, boys and girls.

(Their close cousins, the Kalasha of what is now Pakistan, being on the British side of the Durand Line, were spared the genocide, and practice their ancient religion to this day, the only Indo-European-speaking people to have done so.)

So yes, Diana, there are pagans in Afghanistan. There are (gods help them) pagans even in the deepest, darkest, most repressive Muslim countries of the world, like Saudi Arabia. Wherever people are in chains, some dare dream of freedom.

Consider what life must be like for the pagans of Afghanistan. The very worst that we've seen here in the US—even in the deepest, darkest Bible Belt—pales by comparison.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, Thanks again for reminding us all about the Kalasha. I love the part about renaming Kafiristan to Nuristan. "Land
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Interesting quibble. Can one be a Celt if one doesn't speak a Celtic language? My neighbor's ancestors came from West Africa, but
  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    Good post. I'll split hairs on the "only" part: The Mari-El have kept a Pagan tradition going. Their old language is not in the In

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 The Power of Lightning

 

If it isn't my earliest memory, it must be at least one of the earliest.

It's night. The summer thunderstorm has waked me out of a sound sleep, and I'm sitting in bed crying, terrified. Our house is near the top of the hill, and the crash of the thunder and irregular strobe of lightning seem to come from all around.

The door opens, and my father comes in. He scoops me up into his arms. I have a distinct visual memory of moving from the darkness of my room, through the hall, and into the kitchen, where the lights are on.

My mother—entirely understandably—is saying: Russell, what are you doing? Russell, what are you doing?

Dad opens the back door and steps out into the rain, which is bucketing down. (We must both have been drenched to the skin in seconds, though I have no memory of it.) He snags a lawn chair in one hand, goes out to the center of the yard, and opens it. He sits down, and sets me in his lap.

The storm's initial front has moved on. Together we sit in the rain, listening to the grand rolls of thunder and watching the play of lightning on the horizon.

That's all I remember, but—as dad had intended—ever since then I've loved, not feared, the beauty and majesty of thunderstorms.

Some years ago, having belatedly had some experience in the field myself, my father and I were discussing the fine art of parenting. I cited this story as one of the wisest examples of creative, proactive parenting that I could think of.

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I saw a squirrel with a newspaper this morning.

No, seriously. I actually did see a squirrel with a newspaper.

Well, with a sheet of newspaper, anyway.

In the first hour after sunrise, before people are up and about, the city belongs to the squirrels. (I actually groaned when I saw where the Sun came up today: already so far South of his Northern-most Midsummer rising, rapidly approaching due East and the Equinox.)

At that hour, it was just me and the squirrels. I'd gone out to collect a case of apples: the next best thing to having an apple tree yourself is to have picking rights on someone else's.

That's when I saw the squirrel. Actually, in the still morning I heard it before I saw it. Compared to a squirrel, a full sheet of newspaper is huge, but the squirrel was doing his best to drag the awkward thing along. Unfortunately, he was trying to walk with one forefoot on the ground and the other on top of the sheet, and not having an easy time of it.

A squirrel with a newspaper? Yep, it's that time of year. Sun going South: Winter coming. Now, as the apples are picking, is time to start insulating that dray of yours with all those good air-trapping things like leaves and sheets of newspaper, that are going to keep you warm through the cold to come.

(Good old English. What other language has a specific name for a squirrel's nest?)

The squirrel lining its nest, me gathering the apples that I'm going to cook down into the applesauce that will sweeten the long nights ahead.

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In retrospect, it was one of the formative moments in my early pagan career.

1973. A gangly tow-head is sitting on the floor of his grandparents' living room in Pittsburgh, reading a National Geographic article about that year's Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan.

One photo was all it took.

The organizers had commissioned a local artist to make three massive—25 foot—snow sculptures of three pertaining kami for the occasion: the kami, if memory serves, of Winter, Snow, and Ice.

But now the Olympics were over, and it was time to tear down the snow-statues before they became a hazard. ("Look Out for Falling Gods.") In the photo, a workman is making a final offering to the kami before they're broken up: he's leaning out of the basket of a cherry-picker, pouring a bottle of sake into the fanged mouth of one of them.

In that moment, a door opened in my head. Lacking contextual experience of kami, Shinto, or pagan religious practice, I somehow recognized and understood what I saw in that photo. I didn't need any explanation of what they were doing to know that it made sense, and that it was right.

Lo and behold: nearly half a century later, that gawky teen, now grown up, has become chronicler, and éminence grise, to one of the US's largest and most vibrant pagan communities.

Talk to any pagan, and you will hear about similar formative experiences; we all have them.

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