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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Witches Don't Dither; Witches Decide

Hey, can I tell you something, one witch to another?

Witches don't dither. Witches decide.

If it's got to be either Yea or Nay, choose one. Weigh the facts and your feelings; consult those whose opinions you respect. All other things being equal, consult divination.

Then make a decision, and own it. Commit. In the end, it may be a good decision or a bad one, but at least you've taken initiative.

In the end, dithering is a refusal of responsibility. I'll let someone else—maybe the “Flow”—decide. Then if it goes wrong, it's not my fault.

But, of course, it is my fault. I could have done something, but I didn't.

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Why Do Blue Jeans Have That Extra Little Pocket on the Right?

You've probably noticed that every pair of blue jeans has an extra little side pocket sewn in above the right-hand pocket.

You may have heard this called a “watch pocket,” a vestigial sartorial left-over from the days of pocket watches.

Don't believe it. Here's the real story.

Among the ancient Norse, for obvious reasons, it was customary to carry a small image of one's luck-god on one's person. This hlutr-god (hlutr is cousin to English lot, as in drawing lots) would be suspended from the belt in a little pouch of its own.

(Possibly the most famous story about a lot-god in the lore is that of Einarr Skálarglam. Einarr, a Norwegian, was considering a move to Iceland, but hadn't yet made up his mind. In the meantime, the little silver image of his luck-god Frey, which he carried with him at all times, disappeared. Frey appears to Einarr in a dream, and tells him to settle in Iceland after all. “When you dig the hole for your house's king-post, there you'll find my hlutr,” he tells him. Of course, everything turns out exactly as the god says.)

(Incidentally, Einarr's descendants still live on that same farm in Iceland.)

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The Care and Feeding of Sacred Fires

When the tribe foregathers, the sacred Fire of Gathering is lighted.

It burns through the duration of the gathering. The priesthood make offerings to It daily and pray for the well-being of the People.

At the end of the gathering-time, the Fire is bid farewell, and ritually extinguished.

There are, of course, innumerable laws governing the treatment of sacred fires. The single most important is this: Treat the Fire as you would an honored guest.

Three in-the-nutshell guidelines to bear in mind:

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The Sabbat-Field of the Buck

Gods, pagans.

Some of us are polytheists, some bitheists. Among our people, we may also variously number monotheists, monists, atheists, polyatheists, and agnostics as well.

We see here the brilliance of the paganisms, the genius of definition by praxis, not belief.

When, later this summer, the Midwest Tribe of Witches foregathers in our immemorial Grand Sabbat, chances are that what we do there may well mean something different to every single one of us.

And there we'll be anyway—theist with atheist, gnostic and agnostic alike—joining once again in the eternal dance on the Sabbat-Field of the Buck.

Really, it doesn't matter what you believe.

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The Tribe of Witches: A Story for Our Day

This is the story of the Tribe of Witches.

Five hundred generations ago, a people called the Hwicce (HWICH-eh) lived in the basin of the River Severn in what is now England.

Their forebears, mostly Angles speaking a Germanic language, had come from the Continent, and settled in the tribal territory of a Keltic-speaking people called the Dobunni, the “People of the Two Tribes.”

In time, as is the way of things, these two peoples became one people: and this was the making of us. For from their union, some say, Kelt and German, sprang those that today we call the Tribe of Witches; and, indeed, we still bear their name.

And this is the main thing: that from our very beginning, we have been a mixed people.

Look at the Wheel of our Year: sunsteads, evendays, and cross-farthings together: the Keltic with the Germanic. We are a mixture of peoples, and our lore a mixture of lores.

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Was the Wansdyke Originally Built to Keep Out the Tribe of Witches?

The Wansdyke is an early medieval earthen wall-and-ditch—clearly a defensive fortification—that extends for miles across the southern English counties of Wiltshire and Somerset.

The Anglo-Saxons later named the mighty earthwork after the chieftain of their gods—Wódnes díc, Woden's ditch, of which the modern name is an eroded form—but the fortification was built, not by Saxons, but by Britons.

Traditionally the Wansdyke was thought to have been raised by southern Kelts against incursions from the West Saxons to the north but, in their 2017 The Complete King Arthur, husband-and-wife team John and Caitlin Matthews make another suggestion: that it was originally built to keep out the Witches.

It would seem that the Wansdyke marks the old border between two late Keltic tribal territories: the Durotriges to the south and the Dobunni to the north (51-2).

The Dobunni are the Keltic predecessors to the later Anglo-Saxon tribe (and kingdom) of the Hwicce, whom maverick archaeologist Stephen P. Yeates identifies as the original Tribe of Witches. He makes a strong case for cultural and ethnic continuity between the Dobunni and the Hwicce, which has been borne out by subsequent archaeological finds and genetic studies.

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Pagans Don't Proselytize; We Don't Need To

Pagans don't proselytize. We don't need to.

They come to us.

Why? Because, unlike other religions, “pagan” isn't something that you convert to.

Pagan is what you already are.

Paganism is inherent in human experience. Everyone is born pagan.

Anything else, you have to be made into.

“Becoming” pagan, then, is a process of recovering what's already yours, yours by right.

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