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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Their falling-out had been terrible: so much so that when the woman who had brought her into the Old Ways died, she did not attend her funeral.

She knew, immediately, that this had been a colossal mistake, that by cherishing her anger over doing right, she had torn a rent in the fabric of being.

But what was there to be done?


“How did you know Hilary?”

It's the kind of question one asks after funerals.

Her answer surprises me.

“Actually, I didn't know her,” she says.

The woman tells me the story. She tells me that, ever since, when she hears of a pagan elder's death, she has made it a priority to attend the funeral.

Call it reweaving.


A rent in the fabric of being can never be unmade.

No: but it can be repaired.

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 Witches and Other Predators


Like other predators, witches are territorial animals.

You can be a witch and not know anything about Tarot.

You can be a witch and know nothing about astrology.

You can be a witch and know zip about crystals, the I Ching, or Egyptian mythology.

You cannot be a witch and not know your own territory.


The Sybil's Voice


Back when I was taking my first steps on the Crooked Path, I read everything I could get my hands on on the topic. In practice, this meant that I was reading mostly books by the Witchcraft Revival's remarkable First Generation of Priestesses: Doreen Valiente, Patricia Crowther, Sybil Leek.

Why, then—though arguably I got more information from the first two—was Sybil's influence on me so outsized?

Easily told.

Sybil was certainly the best writer of the three; unlike her colleagues, she told stories, rather than just imparting information. But there's more.

Aunts Doreen and Pat were what my friend and colleague Macha Nightmare refers to as “Witches at Large.” Wherever they were from, the Craft itself was their home.

But Sybil was the Witch of somewhere. Even after she had emigrated to the States and lived in Florida for years, she was still the Witch of the New Forest.

Of all those early witch books, only hers had a sense of place.

All witchery is local. You cannot be a witch without a territory.


The Witch of....

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Naturally Dye Your Easter Eggs - The New York Times


If ever you've wondered why we greet Spring with colored eggs, I can tell you in two words: sympathetic magic.


Spring is When the Eggs Are


In Autumn, the birds fly away. After a long, bird-less Winter, they come back, bearing Spring on their wings. Soon there will be eggs, and the cycle will begin anew.

The chicken got to northern Europe in Roman times. Before that, eggs were a strictly seasonal food. Even in domestic fowl, egg production is photo-dependent: more light means more eggs.

Just when food is starting to run out, behold.


Color, Come Back


Winter, especially here in the frozen North, is the colorless time, when all the world, Heaven and Earth, becomes one vast, undifferentiated whiteness.

Then comes Spring. Spring = color.

Therefore, to bring Spring, you take what was the color of snow, and transform it.


Bridging the Gap


In the old days, we dyed our eggs using vegetable dye-stocks: onionskins, beets, purple cabbage. (Witches still do this.)

Thus do the fruits of one growing season bridge the grinning gap of Winter to herald—and induce—the coming season of growth.

Call it alchemy, transformation. Call it Turning the Wheel.


The Daily Spring


Dawn is the daily Spring, Spring the yearly Dawn.

Just before sunrise, go look East. What do you see there?

Dawn: the eastern sky filled with color; in fact, the very colors that those natural dye-stocks produce. After colorless night, color floods back into the world.

Welcome to the Dawn of the Year.

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 Consider baked beans | Food | The Guardian

First off, I'm a man. I've never participated in the Women's Mysteries; by definition, I cannot, and never will.

Nor, being a man of honor, have I ever asked my women friends to reveal to me the secrets of the Women's Mysteries. (Being women of honor, of course, they wouldn't have told me, even if I had asked.)

Nor, frankly, would I reveal to you the secrets of the Women's Mysteries, even if I knew them. Call it a professional courtesy.

This much I can tell you, though: behind those Mysteries, Men's and Women's both, stands yet another Mystery.

That's what I'm about to reveal here.

Kind of.


This coming Summer, the men of the Driftless Tribe of Witches will be celebrating the Men's Mysteries, in conjunction with the Rites of Man-Making.

As Mysteries do, they will end with the oath of the Great Silence, in which we swear to keep secret that which we have seen, heard, and experienced.

(At the heart of life with honor lies the ability to keep a secret; but that's a mystery in and of itself.)

Liturgically speaking, the Men's Mysteries are a masterpiece. The central metaphors are so deep, so articulate, so true that I'm staggered each time I re-encounter them: so true, so articulate, so deep that they have the power to create transformation in those who experience them for the very first time.

They encode in themselves a deep meaning which lies at the heart of our tribe, and define us as a people.

As guardian of these Mysteries, there is much that I am pledged not to reveal, nor will I reveal them here.

But let me tell you my suspicion about the deep Mystery underlying them all.

Call it an educated guess.

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Common Evening Primrose  Oenothera biennis  25 seeds R image 1 

'Maiden in the Moor Lay'


Who is the mysterious 'maiden' of the '14th' century Middle English carol 'Maiden in the Mor Lay?'

(A carol was originally, not a song, but a round dance performed to sung, rather than instrumental, accompaniment. Witches still use the term this way.)

Is she some enticing witchly daughter?

Is she, perhaps, some woman of Faerie?

Or is she the witches' Goddess herself, Maiden Earth in her Springtime?

In the interest of readability, I have rendered the original Middle English lyrics directly into their Modern English equivalents. The reader will note a certain amount of semantic 'slippage' in the course of the six intervening centuries.

To my eye, this only adds to the carol's charm.


Maiden in the Moor Lay

(English, '14th' Century)

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Jeez, block's really parked up tonight.

Yeah, it's the Witches.


Yeah, first day of Spring today. One of their big shindigs, first day of Spring.

It is?

Yeah, it's like this every year, first day of Spring. That's what they do, I guess: make the seasons change, and such.

Sure wish they'd got around to it sooner, then. Been a bitch of a Winter.

Tell me about it. Swear I just about wore out the snow shovel this year.

You and me both. Witches, hunh? Who'd a thunk.

Yeah. Well, see ya round. Hey, happy Spring.

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Spring is risen. Indeed She is risen!

This exchange, in various languages, and with deities culturally-pertaining thereunto, is a long-standing tradition of our coven Ostara.

(Yes, it's a steal from the Church. Call it reparations.)

Through the course of the evening, the greeting, like a golden ball, is tossed back and forth in various languages, call-and-response style, a playful ritual game. Sometimes only one or two voices reply. Sometimes everyone calls out together. No matter where you go, or what language you speak, we're all glad to see Spring.

Every year, we try to add a language or two. (Greek: Korê anéstê. Alithôs anéstê! Akkadian: Ishtar tebîtum. Kînish tebîtum!) We try to include all languages spoken by coven members. (Dutch: Ostern is opgestaan. Echt, zij is opgestaan! Arabic: 'Ástarût qámat. áqqan qámat!) Recently, we've been incorporating ancestral languages as well. This is, after all, paganism: the ancestors are not only important, but axial.

For some of us, this means Yiddish, the Jews of northern Europe having been, for the most part, Yiddish-speaking. So come along with me on a fantasy journey into the depths of time.

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