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.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Foundation Offerings

The offering bears the prayer.

The ancestors thought long and hard about their foundation offerings.

In their choices, we see their intent, their wit and (like enough) their humor.

When the New Stone and Copper Age ancestors of Old Europe built a new house, they buried beneath its floor a little model of a house, lovingly rendered in ceramic detail.

No one needs to tell you what that means.

To the ancestors, it was obvious that when you built something important like a house or a temple, you first laid an offering in the ground to bear the embodied prayers of the builders.

We too have thought long and hard about what offerings to lay beneath the Bull Stone, when we raise it to mark the Marriage Point of Earth with Sky, of Land with People.

There will be three.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
So, a Druid Walks into a Bar...

In the days of Queen Boudicca, there was a young woman who aspired to become a Druid.

“For the first three years of your training, you will keep the Great Silence,” the Chief Druidess tells her. “From one Samhain to the next, you will speak not so much as a single word. Then at Samhain you and I will meet to review your progress, at which time you may speak as many as two words, if you wish.”

The first year of the woman's training goes by. At Samhain she is summoned to the Chief Druidess.

“Well,” says the Druidess, “You have completed your first year of the Great Silence. You may now say as many as two words, if you wish. What would you like to say?”

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  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven says #
    Love it!
  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    Good one! Thanks for the giggles, and a belated Blessed All Hallows. Tasha

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Happy Summersend

We don't know whether or not the Anglo-Saxon Hwicce—the original Tribe of Witches—celebrated Samhain.

If they did, we don't know what they called it.

It's generally acknowledged by historians that, both demographically and culturally, the Hwicce emerged from a Keltic-Germanic meld. If so, and if they kept Samhain, they may well have called it something like Samonios.

Among their latter-day descendants, the November quarter-day generally goes by one of two names: Keltic Samhain and Germanic Hallows.

Samhain (however you choose to pronounce it) is an Irish name for an Irish festival. The word's original meaning is not entirely clear; likely it derives from samh, “summer.” Folk etymology would read it as “summer ends” or “summers' end.”

It's a good name, an ancient name, but it is and will always be an import.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Nicely put, Courtney; I thoroughly agree. Our work, it seems to me, is not just to know and to transmit the Lore faithfully, but a
  • Courtney
    Courtney says #
    I've always been okay with the name Samhain b/c half of the modern Wheel came from the big Celtic festivals. But I'm also not look
Did Ancient Indo-Europeans Celebrate Samhain 6000 Years Ago?

According to Italian anthropologist Augusto S. Cacopardo, we've been celebrating Samhain for a long, long time now.

Some 6500 years ago, a group of people speaking a family of related dialects called Proto-Indo-European lived in the grasslands between the Black and Caspian Seas. In time, they expanded east and west into Asia and Europe, bringing with them their language, ancestral to many South Asian, and most European, languages, including the one that you're reading now.

In his book Pagan Christmas: Winter Feasts of the Kalasha of the Hindu Kush (2010) Dr. Cacopardo contends that they also brought with them a festival called *Semen(os), the ancestor (and namesake) of our modern Samhain.

Of this festival Cacopardo writes, [T]hough it may not have marked the beginning of the year, it seems to have some traits of a New Year feast, or it must have opened, at any rate, the winter period (260).

He adds: It surely marked, however, a time considered to be particularly numinous because gods and fairies came close to human beings. It coincided with the time when the herds were brought back to their winter quarters and it marked the beginning of the winter sacrifices (260n51).

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Do the Dead Still Speak to Us?

Do the dead still speak to us?

Of course they do.

I, Steven, who do not believe in life after death, I tell you so.

They speak to us in memories. Have you ever heard your grandmother's voice in your head, counseling one course of action or another?

They speak to us through their deeds. Through stories, through their remembered actions, the ancestors tell us today how to behave or how not to behave.

They speak to us through their words and songs. We live by the Lore, and through the Lore their words and ways come down to us. In oral cultures, memory is passed down in songs. Many covens have a Book of Shadows; we have a songbook.

They speak to us through their artifacts. Although here in North America, relations between First Nations communities and archaeologists have (and understandably so) been contentious, the Mapuche of Bolivia love the archaeologists. “Through them, the ancestors speak to us,” they say.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    When it comes to belief, I'm very much of the "Value Added" school of thought: let's go with what we know for sure. Then if there'
  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    I like your philosophy, and agree! Blessed Be and a Good Samhain to you also. Tasha
  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    I must respectfully disagree. While I honor your belief I hav so much evidence of "the dead" speaking in the past umpteen years to

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
On First Meeting Old Hornie in the Woods

Yes, it's true: I first met Old Hornie in the woods when I was 16.

And no, I'm not going to tell you about it.

I suspect that many (if not most) of us have experienced something like this: the Encounter that changes everything that comes after.

You might think that more of us would talk about these Meetings. In a community like the pagan community, which lacks (for the most part) central accreditation, such narratives would serve to establish credibility.

But in my experience, people mostly don't want to talk about these things. A holy silence surrounds them. For me, that unwillingness to talk is precisely one of the hallmarks of authentic encounter.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Just so.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    In the book "The Wind in the Willows" there is a chapter called piper at the gates of dawn. I believe that the author had his own
"Witches' Rune" Originally Sung to Stephen Foster Tune, Says Historian

AP: London

According to Wiccan historian Philip Heselton, Doreen Valiente's famous chant “Witches' Rune” was originally intended to be sung to the tune of the Stephen Foster tune, “Camptown Races.”

“According to some recently-discovered correspondence, that's the tune that she originally wrote the words to fit,” said Heselton. “Of course, since then it's been sung to many other tunes as well.”

American composer Stephen Foster (1826-1864) wrote “Camptown Races” (also known as “Camptown Ladies”) in 1850, and the tune was a favorite of Valiente's first husband, Joanis Vlachopoulos, who had learned it while in the Merchant Navy.

Although the Foster tune was Valiente's intended setting for her lyrics to what was to become a classic Wiccan liturgical chant, it never caught on with British witches, perhaps because they were unfamiliar with the American tune.

An interesting aspect of this discovery is the fact that the original words to “Witches' Rune” were slightly different from those now found in most recensions of the Book of Shadows.

According to Heselton, the first verse, along with a now-disused chorus, originally went:

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