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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Altar or Alter? Censer or Censor?

Altar or alter? Censer or censor?

Pagans being people of praxis, our vocabulary generally references ritual rather than belief. When it comes to writing, though, homonymy can be problematic, and with homonyms, Spell Check can't help you.

Why should you care? Credibility. If you get the small stuff wrong, why should we trust you on the large?

Here as elsewhere, the ancestors knew what to do. With a mnemonic—what French would call an aide-memoire—you can remember anything.

Here's mine.

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Fathers and Sons (Plus the World's Oldest Gay Joke)

While I've never actually sired any children myself,* I have had the good fortunate to help with the raising of several of our coven kids.

The first of them was maybe a year old when we went to the store one day.

The cashier smiled.

“He looks like his father,” she said.

Really, there was only one possible response.

“Yes, he does,” I said, smiling back.

 


*The world's oldest gay joke:

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The Book That I'd Write, If I Had the Backing (Hint: The Mother of All Cauldrons)

Considering its fame and (literally) iconic status, it's absolutely incredible that there is, in English, no good, general book about the Gundestrup Cauldron.

Absolutely incredible.

Oh, there are scads of specialist articles, and a few of general interest. There's one academic monograph that attempts to read the Gundestrup Cauldron as an early redaction of the same Keltic tale told in the Táin Bó Cualigne. (Since the scenes depicted on the Cauldron differ from the Irish Táin in several notable ways, the author contends that it represents an earlier form of the tale instead. Mmm: sounds circular to me.)

So I figure, I'll write it. Beautiful plates, and everything we know—or can guess—so far. The finding, general trends of interpretation, how it fits into its time, etc. There will, of course, be a chapter on its (massive) impact on contemporary paganism, as well as one on the solid gold Gundestrup-style cauldron (but with original art) that the Nazis commissioned (I kid you not). (It was discovered by divers in the waters of a Bavarian lake in 2001.) Honestly, you couldn't make these things up.

Well, I'll need a travel budget, of course—Denmark and Bavaria at the very least—and naturally I'll have to talk to the experts. Six months to research, six months to write. I figure I could probably do it for under 40 grand. In the book industry, that's nothing.

They say that as a writer, it's your job to write the book that you'd like to read.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    You might try applying for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Check your local library and see if they have a book

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A Very Pagan Kind of Pain

 “The very great virtue of the Old Ways is that they see the world as it is, not as they wish it were.”

(Alain Daniélou)

 

Life is full of pain.

That's what my grandmother would say when you skinned your knee, or grated a knuckle along with the cheese.

(“A little blood makes everything taste sweeter,” was another of her ungainsayable sayings.)

As I've grown older, I've found myself saying the same. As an observation, it's hard to fault.

A friend once accused me of closet Buddhism on the basis of this saying. If I were the kind of person who took easy offense, I would have been offended. So far as I'm concerned, Buddhism is just another damned missionary religion, may they all rot.

But he was wrong, so I let it go by. Life is full of pain.

No, there's nothing Buddhist about this simple saying. This is a pagan Life is full of pain through and through, pragmatically acknowledging the way that things are and then getting on with it.

The expression lends itself to ready irony. When things are merely irritating, or merely inconvenient, it means: it could be worse. Which, of course, is usually true.

And when it addresses real pain instead, it gives perspective. No pain is unique. In pain, as in joy, we always have fellows.

Yes, it hurts, I know, but you'll get through. Yes, it's inconvenient, but it could be so much worse; just accept it and get on with it. Are you going to let a little pain stop you? Come on, you're bigger than that, and besides, there's dinner to make.

No, this is a life-affirming Life is full of pain. Yes there's pain, but there's joy, too. If you're lucky, they'll balance each other out. If not, well...when there's joy, then savor it all the more, knowing that that won't last either.

There's an incompetent in the White House, the country has lost its way, and I don't look nearly as good naked as I used to. Life is full of pain. There it is, and we get on from there as best we may.

Life is full of pain, but the implication is not: Therefore, life is no good. The implication is: Savor, then, while you may.

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Thanking Tony Kelly

Last night I finally got to thank the man who gave me the gods.

This might not seem so strange except for the fact that he's been dead for 20 years, and that I never actually met him in person.

But actions taken in dreams signify. You know that they do. When you have an erotic dream about someone, it changes the relationship, whether or not you've ever actually slept together. An initiation received in a dream is a valid initiation, as (incredible, maybe, but true) the courts have determined.

How can I claim as my teacher someone that I never actually met? Well, through Tony Kelly—specifically through his writings—I first came to the gods. From him I learned to think like a pagan. From him I learned to do ritual.

If that doesn't make him my teacher, I don't know what would.

In the dream, Tony sat across a wooden table from me. (There was much between us when he was alive, including the Atlantic Ocean and the fact that he was a mature thinker while I was still a callow youth.) I thanked him for everything that he'd given me, and in particular for teaching me the names of the gods. To hear him pronounce the Sacred Name of Earth was a blessing indeed.

I've never met either of the Grand Old Men of the Craft in dreams—GBG or Bobby Cochrane—but I did once dream about meeting the Regency's George Winter and Ronald “Chalky” White (1921-1998) in an elevator: going down, I think. And now I've dream-met Tony Kelly of the Pagan Movement in Britain and Ireland.

Interestingly, Tony was “off of” the Regency, as the Regency was “off of” Bobby Cochrane's Royal Windsor coven. So I guess (inter alia) that's my lineage, for what it's worth.

Back in the old days, resources were few and hooking up was hard. When in Fate magazine I saw a classified ad for the Pagan Movement in Britain and Ireland, I immediately wrote and, eventually, became (along with Margot Adler and Tom deLong, later known as Gwydion) an overseas member. That's how I learned about Tony Kelly, one of the New Paganisms' deepest thinkers.

That's how my life changed forever.

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Jai Ma Kali

We'd had a good month in Malta and the UK, and the night before our flight out of London's Heathrow airport I spent nearly an hour carefully wrapping and packing my carry-on bag of ceramics and other fragile objects.

Just before boarding—this was back before post-911 air paranoia—they pulled me aside for a baggage inspection.

“Ye gods,” I thought as a young South Asian woman began unwrapping the objects on top. “If I have to repack all of this, half of it will be broken by the time we get home.” I stood there, fuming but powerless.

The clerk gave a little start. “What's this?” she said.

She was holding a little statue of Kali that I'd bought a few days before.

Playing dumb American, I said, “Isn't that a wonderful little Kali?”

“You know Kali?” she said, looking up.

“Oh, sure," I said. This was no more than the truth. Every witch knows the Void, the Dark Mother.

"I got her in a little Hindu religious goods store in Forest Gate," I continued. "Isn't the detailing beautiful?”

The woman looked at me. She looked at Kali.

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What Do You Say When a Non-Pagan Wishes You 'Good Samhain'?

If you're out of the broom closet, and it hasn't happened to you yet, it will.

A non-pagan wishes you “Good Samhain”* (or Beltane, or Yule).

What do you say in response?

It's an act of hospitality to wish someone joy of their holiday. When that holiday is not one's own, the act becomes even more gracious, an act of grith-weaving. (Grith is an old name for “peace between communities,” as distinguished from frith, which means “peace within a community.”) It says: I know you. It says: I accept you for who you are. It says: I care enough to keep informed.

When someone wishes you Good Samhain (or Beltane, or Yule), the automatic instinct is to return the greeting, but of course when the well-wisher is not pagan, it's bootless to wish her joy of a holiday that she doesn't celebrate. It also denies the difference that she has just so graciously acknowledged.

So what do you say in response to a non-pagan "Good Samhain"?

Best, as always, is to answer graciousness with graciousness, hospitality with hospitality, while at the same time acknowledging difference.

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