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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The Real Leys

Pagans can be a notoriously credulous lot, but me, I don't come from believing people, and I'm not a believer myself. Among the things that I don't believe in (astrology, an afterlife, Christian charity...) are leys.

I simply don't see the point of believing in ley-lines that exist only in imagination when, in fact, virtually all of us are surrounded by real-world lines on the landscape.

They're called trackways, or greenways.

I live on one such myself. These days it's paved over and called Lake Street, South Minneapolis' major east-west artery. But originally, it was an old Indian track that led from the summer village at Bde Maká Ska—White Earth Lake—down to the Mississippi River. And back again, of course.

Pretty much everywhere has old trackways of this sort, contouring along the Land from one important place to another. Probably most of them were old animal trails first and became human trails later.

“Much has been written of travel, far less of the road.” So begins Edward Thomas' lyrical book The Icknield Way, his biography of the ancient greenway that runs NE-SW across England from Norfolk to Wiltshire. Named for the Iceni—Boudicca's people—the Icknield way leads Thomas on a lyrical journey through history, lore, and Land. First published in 1930, it has never since been out of print.

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  • Kile Martz
    Kile Martz says #
    As it happens, the house I grew up in sits atop one of the highest points in the county on the farm my elders bought when they mov

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Are the Days of the Heroes Behind Us?

In the mail yesterday, my Covenant of the Goddess clergy credential renewal arrived, along with—I kid you not—my very own vial of Covenant of the Goddess lip balm.

Vanilla flavored, no less.

Well, I receive these gifts—as the ancestors used to say—with both hands, i.e. gratefully. Now I can continue to hatch, match, and legally dispatch in the eyes of the Great State of Minnesota, a Land where winter lip balm is pretty much a way of life.

Still.

In the old days, Christians used to fight (and sometimes kill) over whether the Spirit proceeded from the Father, or from the Father and the Son; or whether the Son was equal to, or lesser than, the Father. Substantive issues.

Now, of course, they fight about gay sex.

In the old days, witches used to make poisons, medicines, and flying ointment: pharmacopoeia.

Now we make lip balm.

I shake my head. Perhaps the days of the heroes and demigods are behind us. How are the mighty fallen.

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A Homeland More of Time Than Place: In Search of an Anthem for the Pagan Revival

Is there an anthem of the Pagan Revival?

Short answer: No, although it sure would be nice to have one.

Probably the closest we get to a New Pagan anthem is “Gwydion Pendderwen”'s 1981 We Won't Wait Any Longer:

We Won't Wait Any Longer

 

We won't wait any longer,

We are stronger than before;

We won't wait any longer,

We are stronger!

 

We have trusted no man's promise,

We have kept to just ourselves,

We have suffered from the lies

In all the books on all your shelves,

But our patience and endurance

Through the Burning Times til now

Have given us the strength to keep our vow.

 

Chorus

 

You have grazed away the heather,

You have razed the sacred grove,

You have driven native peoples

From the places that they love;

Though your greed has been unbounded,

You have felt the pangs of shame

Each time you trod upon the Mother's name.

 

Chorus

 

Though you thought you had destroyed

Each memory of the ancient ways,

Still the people light the balefire

Every year on Solstice day;

And on Beltane and at Samhain

You will find us on the hill,

Invoking once again the Triple Will!

 

Chorus

 

Through the ages many peoples

Have risen and have gone,

But dispersed among the nations

Of the world we linger on.

Now the time has come to take

The sacred Cauldron of Rebirth,

And fulfill our ancient pledges to the Earth!

 

Chorus

 

Kudos to Gwydion, who considered himself a Muse poet in the Gravesian tradition, for being the first to dream of a fine, rousing anthem for the New Old Religion(s). Alas that his aims generally outpaced his abilities.

As an anthem, We Won't Wait Any Longer hasn't aged well. The Pagan World has marched on in the last few decades, and the song's specifically Wiccan imagery reads more exclusively now than it did then.

Likewise, while fully endorsing the song's sentiments, I've always felt that it was weakened by the fact that it specifically addresses itself to...whom? Christianity? The Church? The non-pagan world in general? In any event, to them: the bad guys of our story.

To this, my attitude is: Why make our enemies the center of our discourse? F**k 'em! Let's direct our anthem to ourselves, or to our gods.

Well, there's no reason why, as New Pagans, we need an anthem, or—in what is, after all, the Wonderful World of the Many—anthems. Perhaps some day someone will write one that we can all get behind.

Until such a time (if any), my own nomination for New Pagan Anthem goes to Daniel Pemberton's We Shall Go Home/Song of Exile*, from the 2004 film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

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The Stinkies

“Steve, are you on AZT?”
It was a hot, steamy summer back at the beginning of AIDS. AZT was the first in the long line of drugs that the researchers cooked up to treat folks with HIV.

At festival after festival that summer, I'd been fielding indirect questions about my health from well-meaning people: “Steve, are you...OK?” Ah, the pagan rumor-mill. Well-known (and beloved) public gay guy, therefore, must have AIDS, right?

My current boyfriend was the last person from whom I expected to hear such a question, though.

“Gods, Don,” I say, a little miffed; I felt as though my integrity were being called into question. “We've been sleeping together for weeks. If I had HIV, don't you think I'd have told you by now?”

He apologizes handsomely. (He always was good at making up.) Still, it seemed an odd kind of question.

“Why do you ask?” I ask in turn.

“Your sweat smells like guys' on AZT,” he says.

Well, it was—as I'd said—a hot, steamy summer that year, and between the two of us we had indeed been working up a good deal of sweat. (“Is it possible for two men to have a baby together?” goes the world's oldest gay joke. Answer: “Theoretically no, but...they sure do keep on trying!”)

Still, it wasn't until long after the relationship was over that I finally puzzled out the answer to Don's question.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I once read an article by an anthropologist who was interested in why Americans--of all people--should have invented deodorant. He
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Salads just taste better if you chop up a slice on onion. Most dishes are improved with a couple of slices of onion and a couple

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In Praise of Dicks

I don't normally watch much television, but a while back I saw three shows at a friend's house. What dismayed me so much was not to hear dicks mentioned on every single one of them—I'm gay, I enjoy talking about dicks—but to hear how they were mentioned.

Not once were dicks mentioned as a part of the body. In every single instance, they were used as metaphors. In every single instance, they were used as a metaphor for something bad.

Don't be a dick. Translation: Don't be a jerk.

Dick-measuring contest.Translation: Being needlessly competitive.

Dick-waving.Translation: Pulling rank to get what you want.

Now, using television as a cultural barometer is a fraught and risky enterprise. But all of these metaphors are in general, real-world use, and to my gay, pagan ear they suggest a culture that finds maleness problematic.

And that really is a problem.

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  • Kile Martz
    Kile Martz says #
    Certainly referring to another as a taboo body part is one of the oldest forms of insult. Even today when you call a man a "dick,"

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Drink Yule

The Old Norse idiom for “celebrate Yule” means literally “to drink Yule.”

Where did you drink Yule this year?

To the ancestors, Yule was synonymous with, and unthinkable without, the special Yule ale that was brewed in quantity for the great Midwinter feasting each year. Most people drank beer throughout the year, but the Yule ale was always distinctive from the day-to-day brew, specially rich, dark, and high in alcohol. Medieval landowners were required by law to brew enough Yule ale to keep their families and retainers well-drunk for the entire Thirteen Days, and woe to the stingy farmer who tried to short his people of their Yuletide due.

 

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On the Sanctity of Drinking Bowls

When you pour out sacred drink, what do you pour it into?

If you're Wiccan, probably a chalice.

If you're heathen, probably a horn.

Now, I've got nothing against horns. (Some of my best friends wear them.) Nor, for that matter, chalices, although it's a matter of history that they derive their current stemmed shape from Christian liturgical necessity: not that there's anything wrong with that.

But when it comes to sacred drinking, as for me, I like to stick with ancestral precedent. Make mine a drinking bowl, please.

Drinking bowls tend to be smaller than bowls that you eat from, but that's the main difference, really. Whether richly carved or elegantly plain, drinking bowls read as “archaic,” ancestral, dating from a time when one single, undifferentiated vessel served all functions. It's interesting to note that while “bowl” is an indigenously Germanic word, “cup” was originally a Latin import.

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