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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To Those Who Stay

I think of the Big Names of the American Craft who, before they died [bitterness alert] went crawling back to the Church: Eddie Buczynski, Jesse Wicker Bell (a.k.a. Lady Sheba)*, Marion Zimmer Bradley. I don't doubt that among the rest of us, we of the little names, there are others, locally known, who went the same way.

I'll be the first to admit, it hurts. Even to those of us who didn't know them personally, what the leavers did comes as a betrayal. To those who were their friends and students, I can only imagine the dissonance. What do you do when your mentor in the Mysteries, in the end, betrays those very Mysteries?

At the end of The Mists of Avalon, after fighting spiritual imperialism all her life, Morgaine realizes that maybe, as her elders have been telling her all along, All Ways Are One. Bradley's own cowardly defection demonstrates why this is such a poisonous belief. If all ways are equal, why take the harder?

I'm sure that, in the early days, Christianity had its share of defectors, too. Their stories haven't come down to us, but—human nature being what it is—we can be sure that they were there. In the end, the defection of a few Big Names, and unnamed others, proves nothing about the Craft itself, only that in extremis even the strong can be weak, the which we already knew.

That some, even among the leadership, should choose to go should be no surprise to anyone. What is perhaps even more surprising, under the circumstances, is that so many should choose to stay.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I enjoyed Bradley's Darkover series, especially Darkover Landfall. I tried reading one of the Avalon books but couldn't get into
  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    An article on her collaboration with Carl Weschcke, etc. could be really interesting.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    She was before my time, but I'm in the process of interviewing some of the few remaining community elders around here who still re
  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    Bell, really? I don't know much about her biography.
The Silver Beaker: An American Faerie Story

Up around Westby, they say, there was a wedding one day, and the bride, she steps out for a breath of air, being a touch winded from the dancing and all.

Out she goes in her finery and her wedding crown and, it being a fair day, she walks a bit, and doesn't she hear more music, coming from over the fields, so she walks on over, and sees that it's coming from a little green hill.

...
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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Moon is a Mirror

Our temple Goddess wears a crown of Three Moons, and the disc in the center is a mirror.

Many are its meanings, but this foremost: that the Moon is Herself a mirror.

...
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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
How Not to Rename a Lake

“Then turn right when you get to....”

The clerk pauses in her direction-giving. A year ago, she would have said “...when you get to Lake Calhoun.” But last summer the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decided to change the official name of Minneapolis' largest lake back to its original name.

“...Bde Maka Ska,” I say. She nods, gratefully, and continues with her directions.

Really, you can't blame her not being able to remember the “new” name. She doesn't speak Dakota. Most people don't.

I applaud the DNR's decision to shed the imposed triumphalist name, and to call the Lake formerly known as Calhoun what those who originally dwelt on its shores called it.

But I think that they've gone about it wrong.

It's a little much to expect most English speakers to wrap their tongues around a word that begins with bd-. (When's the last time that you used the word bdellium in a sentence?) To most non-Dakota speakers, Bde Maká Ska reads as gibberish: hard to pronounce, hard to remember.

So they end up calling the lake “Calhoun” anyway, which rather defeats the purpose of the change.

Here's what I think that the DNR should have done. The Dakota-speakers who lived on the southern shores of the lake named it Bde Maká Ska, “White Earth Lake,” for the deposits of white clay found on its banks.

White Earth Lake”: that's the new/old name that the DNR should have chosen.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Greetings fellow Twin Citizen, and thanks: blessed are they that do their research. Luck to the work of language preservation: the
  • Mary Lanham
    Mary Lanham says #
    Fellow Twin Cities pagan here! My initial reaction to the name change was also that the English translation would have been more e
All The World Is the Country of the Wise

It once so happened that, in their travels, a Greek, an Egyptian, and a Northman came to the far-famed Sabbat of the witches.

There, with the others, they danced for the Horned, drank his wine, and made love for the corn.

...
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Witchcr*p Is In the Eye of the Beholder

“Do you think you can get rid of these?”

I look dubiously at the bag of books that my friend has just handed to me. It's filled with what, 40 years ago, we used to refer to as “witchcr*p”: the dregs, books that didn't adhere to the Wiccan party line.

My friend and I are both Second Generation Craft in the US: not the founders, but those who learned from the founders. In those information-starved days, when you saw “witch” in the title, you bought it regardless, good, bad, or indifferent.

“Well, we'll see,” I tell her, reluctantly taking the bag. “I kind of doubt it.”

Boy, was I ever wrong.

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  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza says #
    And please think of your Pagan studies scholars! I ransacked used bookstores during my research looking for sources like these --
  • Haley
    Haley says #
    We cleaned out this last haul as well! My own copy of The Golden Bough. Thank you!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Flowers in Amber

The ancestors are still speaking.

One of our very greatest inheritances from the forefathers and mothers is language. If we listen closely, we can hear their voices today.

2500 years ago, the ancestors bound their thought together with alliteration, what we may think of as initial rhyme. Many of these phrases—hundreds, if not thousands, of years old—are with us still.

 

Might and main. “Might” is physical strength; “main” (OE megn) is non-physical (psychic, spiritual) strength—“soul-strength,” one might say. To do something with all one's might and main means to use all one's available resources. Those seeking a word for “energy” that doesn't reek of patchouli may wish to consider “main.”

Kith and kin. It's interesting how frequently these inherited alliterative phrases refer to a totality. “Kith and kin” means “everyone”: both those that you're related to (kin), and those that you know (kith). Preserved like a flower in amber, the ancient word for “know personally” also survives in “uncouth,” originally meaning “unknown.”

Bed and board. Tables take up a lot of room. In the houses and halls of the ancients, where interior space was at a premium, at mealtimes it was customary to set up trestles and boards to eat from. Hence, board, pars pro toto, came to be short for “table.” (“Table” is a French word. The Normans, of course, were the aristos; they could afford to have tables sitting around, uselessly taking up room. Every word's a story.)

Bed and board,” then, means home: where you sleep and eat.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Thank you for the House and Home paragraph. I have a house but it is not yet home. I have often caught myself saying "I want to

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