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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What's Your Name?

What will they remember about you when you're dead?

1300 years ago, the Anglo-Saxon Hwicce—the Tribe of Witches—called it nama. 5000 years before that, it was *nomn. But they both meant the same thing.

As one whose concept of afterlife is the Grand Sabbat of the atoms, I've sometimes been asked: What, then, is your motivation for moral behavior?

The ancestors had a name for it: Name.

What's your name?

Call it name, or reputation. Name is what they know you by.

What do they say about you? What's your reputation among those that know you?

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What Maeve Told Fergus

Maeve, Queen of Connaught, was talking one day with Fergus mac Roi, that was foster-brother to Cuchulain.

(And were not those two, as Cathbad the druid said, like the two halves of a hazelnut?)

"There's only one thing that a man loves more than he loves a woman," she tells him.

"And what might that be?" he asks her.

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A Muppet Wicker Man

Well, it's that time of year again.

Bealtaine is coming, and throughout Greater Pagandom theaters far and wide are gearing up for their May Eve midnight showings of The Wicker Man.

(Not the one with Nicholas Cage, specify the marquees.)

But you've never seen The Wicker Man until you've seen:

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Oh Hell

Oh, go to Heaven!”

(Witch Hazel [Mama Cass Elliot], Pufnstuf)

It is an altogether remarkable fact that the language of Christianity should so faithfully have preserved the name of the ancient Indo-European Underworld, and (just possibly) of its goddess.

Hell.

Both Old English hell and its Norse cognate hel derive from Common Germanic *haljô. This in turn comes from a verbal root meaning “cover, conceal.” (The same root gives us hall, hull, hold, helmet, and Valhalla.) Apparently Hell has been the “concealed [place]” for a long, long time: when Ulifilas translated the Bible into Gothic, he used the word halja to translate Greek Hades and Hebrew She'ol.

Like its Greek counterpart Hades, the Old Norse name does double duty, naming both the Underworld and its mistress, the goddess of death. Whether this was also the case among speakers of Old English, we do not know. It's certainly possible: the Old English noun is feminine in gender. It must be admitted, though, that the Hel of Norse literature has a pronouncedly “literary” feel to her; she strikes one as more a personification than as an actual personality.

So we can say for sure that the Hwicce, the Old English Tribe of Witches, knew of Hell as the Underworld. Whether they also knew of Hell as Lady of the Underworld we simply do not know.

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The Shyest Wind

East Wind blowing today. Expect change soon.

The Winds don't figure much in modern pagan thought or experience, but the ancestors saw it differently.

Born of Earth's dance, the winged Winds, swiftest of gods, are the invisible messengers of the gods, with much to impart to those willing to pay attention.

Here on the edge of the Great Western Prairie, there's nearly always a wind blowing. Around here, stillness is temporary.

It's West Wind who does most of the talking hereabouts. He's a garrulous fellow. West Wind brings us most of our weather and almost all of our rain. If you want to know what the future will bring, look to the West.

We hear a lot from North Wind too, sometimes too much. North Wind means winter, cold and snow. When he and West Wind team up, look out. Better keep that snow shovel handy.

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Bloodstone

It's 1966. A little tow-headed boy is sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, reading the Sunday supplement of the Pittsburgh Press.

He doesn't know that his life is about to change forever.

There are real witches! There are real witches right here in Pittsburgh! Real witches doing real magic!

One detail from the article hit hard enough to stay with me 50-some years later.

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Daughter of Sun and Thunder

Sun lives in the east and walks to the west. A god of regular habits, his nature is warm and dry.

Thunder lives in the west and walks to the east. His nature combines both fire and water: a volatile god, much given to outburst.

Unlikenesses such as these are wont to breed fierceness in love and battle.

And having battled and loved, the daughter of their reconciliation is Rainbow.

(So they may do; after all, they are gods.)

Rainbow is a gentle and well-loved goddess, giver of golden joy. Daughter of reconciliation, she champions unity among peoples.

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