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.
Entering the Cave of Bones: A Preview of "Doorways to the Underworld"

Through Doorways to the Underworld, the Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists' Samhain 2014 exhibit, we enter into the disquieting—sometimes disturbing—dreamscape that is both Samhain and the world of contemporary pagan art.

In Anne Marie Forrester's Bear Priestess, the viewer stands at the mouth of a cave literally packed with skulls and leg-bones. Between us and the cave sits the bear priestess herself, all breasts, belly, and thighs, dressed only in the head and skin of (apparently) a bear cub. She wields that classic shamanic tool, the frame drum, in her role of go-between for living and dead, past and present.

The painting disturbs on a number of levels. Content is one: corpulence, nudity, powerful female eroticism. Another is scale. The priestess' head is too small for her mountainous body, the bear's head that she wears too small for her own too-small head. One cannot help but be reminded of Paleolithic “Venus” figurines, whose heads and feet dwindle into unimportance compared with their massive bodies, the true center of their power. Small as it is, though, the priestess' head is still much larger than the skulls that frame her in the cave mouth. The viewer experiences a dizzying loss of sense of proportion.

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Leaf Man Rise Up

This autumn children's game, a variant of "tag," comes from the old Hwicce tribal territories in England's southwest Midlands. Like many traditional children's games, it is circular, self-replicating, and orally transmitted. The game's ritual structure and deeply mythic resonances will hardly be lost on anyone likely to be reading this post.

Players gather in a circle, hand-in-hand, around a mound of leaves. (In some versions, they circle.) They chant:

 Leaf Man Rise Up Leaf Man Rise Up Leaf Man Rise Up

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The Samhain Song Everybody Knows

For all its liturgical and cultural importance, Samhain has yet to inspire much popular music.

So when we end our big public Samhain ritual by joining hands and announcing, “Let's finish with the Samhain song that everybody knows,” you'll see eyebrows go up all around the circle.

When you first start in, you'll get a nice laugh, and then folks will belt it out like they mean it. After all, what's Samhain for, if not for Old Long Ago?

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The Holiday that Dared Not Speak Its Name, or, Samhain: The Correct Pronunciation

Sam Hane. Sam Ane. Rhymes with coven. Rhymes with towin'. Rhymes with plowin'.

The first New Pagans of America mostly started off by reading books. In the absence of an oral tradition, we made do. With pronunciation of weird words, for instance.

Sam Hane. Good old rule of thumb for American English: pronounce it like it's spelled. What, you've never heard of Sam Hane, Druidic god of the dead?* (Not to mention his consort, Belle Tane, goddess of life. Sounds like quite the couple.)

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Internal polyvocality. You make me jealous, MPC! I suppose one could draw up a dialectal map of the pagan community according to
  • MizPixieChris
    MizPixieChris says #
    This was the first post I found at this community - and it pushed me to sign up and join, so thank you! In my area people seem to
  • Anne Forrester
    Anne Forrester says #
    This whole Samhain pronunciation issue, as well as the "Which God of the Dead is this? I've never heard of him..." issue are 2 rea
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I've been playing around with Summer's-End and Winter's Eve myself. I don't see any reason to canonize one name. We're the people

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Do You Speak Pagan?

Paganism is a language.

It is, for many of us, a language that we are still learning to speak. We may have been speaking this tongue for many years--decades, in some cases--but it is still, nonetheless, not our mother tongue.

This fact has implications. We may have mastered the grammar and have a large vocabulary. We may, over the years, have become fluent speakers of Pagan. But we are still not native speakers, and we never will be.

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  • Mariah
    Mariah says #
    Yes, I think if you're talking about (Neo) Paganism it can be very broad theologically- we have the tradition-minded polytheists,
  • Gregory Elliott
    Gregory Elliott says #
    Yeah, the 'what is paganism?' can of worms has been opened. If you go with a simple 'paganism is nature reverence and this worldly
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Your definition of paganism has the advantage of being clear and testable. Assmann (who doesn't use the term "paganism") prefers t
  • Mariah
    Mariah says #
    A problem I've noticed among Pagans is a tendency for individuals to want to idiosyncratically define words their own way, and the
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I see your point, Mariah, but it seems to me that there's a danger in self-defining ourselves away from indigenous and tribal reli

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A Different Beat

Witch Hazel is having an existential crisis.

Despite the assurances of her magic mirror, she's worried that she's getting prettier as she ages.

The doorbell rings.

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The Minoan Salute

As we search out a vocabulary of gesture—articulate action—with which to embody our old-new worship, we turn both to the ways of the ancestors and to our own experience.

A gesture of reverence that occurs again and again in the glyptic art of Minoan Crete is the gesture known to scholars as the “Minoan salute.” The worshiper stands before the deity with right fist raised to brow, elbow held high. Generally the left arm is held at the side.

The gesture is clearly a formal act of reverent attention, perhaps of greeting. Sometimes the fist is held with the thumb up, sometimes with the thumb to the brow. The standard reading of the gesture is that the worshiper is shielding his or her eyes from the radiance of the deity. Try it out and see what you think of this interpretation. I do not find it personally convincing because one shades one's eyes with an open hand. This, I suspect, is something else.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    No offense taken, Steven. I'm just so used to people assuming I'm a fluffy bunny that I tend to take comments that way. Sorry I mi
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    No offense intended, Laura. If anything, my critique was directed both at myself and what I perceive as a general tendency to idea
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    So where do you draw the line between 'accurate reconstruction' and 'projecting our own visions of the ideal culture onto the past
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I find the salute increasingly natural when greeting Sun, Moon, River...even geese in flight, a tree in full, flaming color, or (s
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    I love the way you're working with this gesture. I can't say I agree with many of Nanno Marinatos' assumptions in the kingship boo

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