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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Gerald Gardner, Terrorist

In this season of the ancestors, a tale of the ancestors.

Gerald Gardner was living on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea when he initiated Arnold and Pat Crowther. After their handfasting (“The Bride Wore Black When the Witches Wed”), which Gerald himself performed, they got their own place in Sheffield and set up a temple in the attic.

Pat wrote to Gerald and asked if he would fly over from Man to consecrate the temple. Delighted, Gerald agreed.

On the day of the flight, the Crowthers drive to the airport to collect Gerald. Waiting on the tarmac, they watch Gerald get off the plane, limping pronouncedly.

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What Do We the Living Owe the Dead?

 What do we the living owe the dead?

Three measures of respect: respect of body,

respect of offering, respect of memory.

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The Old Ways Endure

A rural Anabaptist commune in mid-20th century Manitoba seems an unlikely time and place for a sacrifice to a river.

But that is the story that journalist Mary-Ann Kirby tells in her autobiography I Am Hutterite.

Some memories, it would seem, live long indeed.

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Text Messages of the Gods

So, I heard about a guy who gets text messages from his patron deity.

Text messages.

My initial impulse was to roll my eyes and think, “Pagans.” To misquote G. K. Chesterton, “Once people start believing, they don't just believe in something; they'll believe in anything.”

But I've begun to reconsider.

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The Man Who Loved the Goddess

In this season of the ancestors, I remember W[illiam] Holman Keith (1900-1993), the Baptist minister who fell in love with the Goddess and so became one of the pioneers of the New Paganism in the United States.

From the jacket of his book Divinity as the Eternal Feminine, the first (1960!) American book of self-consciously pagan theology:

W. Holman Keith, born June 11, 1900 at Vincennes, Indiana, began his “pilgrimage of faith,” to use his own words, with evangelical Christian Protestantism. After taking a BA degree at Franklin College...he went on to earn the degrees of Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Systematic Theology at Newton Theological Institution...and an MA in Theology at the University of Chicago. His subsequent career included two brief pastorates at Baptist churches in Massachusetts and New York. However, he writes, “I was progressively disillusioned in the two theological schools I attended,” and he subsequently abandoned his vocation as a minister. His search for faith “at last found its haven in a small chapel in West Hempstead, Long Island, New York, known as the Church of Aphrodite, of which the Rev. Gleb Botkin was the founder, and the priest of Aphrodite.

Presently, the author writes, “the challenge of this truth commands all my loyalties of mind, heart, and will.

And so it would be to the very end of his life.

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Whatever Happened to Animal Sacrifice?

At one time, animal sacrifice was the most common form of public worship in the West.

So what happened to it?

We tend to think of Judaism as mother and Christianity as daughter, but in fact Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism are sister religions that arose at the same time in response to the self-same trauma: the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.

In ancient Hebrew religion, anyone could build an altar anywhere and offer up sacrifice there, but with the rise of the Jerusalem temple, a hard-fought process of centralization set in which eventually banned sacrifice anywhere else, on the logic of “one god, one temple.”

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The Divine Economy

If I had to characterize Kirk S. Thomas' Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods in only two words, it would be: “accessibly profound.”

Don't be put off—as I initially was—by his bantering tone, hyper-colloquial diction, or home-spun analogies. This book speaks as an incisive work of contemporary pagan scholarship and philosophy, and (best of all) points the way forward for future pagan thought.

There can be no relationship without communication. How, then, do we communicate with the gods?

In Sacred Gifts, Thomas answers this question elegantly and authoritatively by beginning with a careful examination of ancestral precedent. From these specifics, he deduces the general principles of the divine economy.

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