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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I'm in the front yard clearing away the last of the Winter detritus from around the shrubs when I hear the tinny sound of the Summer's first ice cream truck.

All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel.

It's playing the first phrase from the old kiddie classic, Pop! Goes the Weasel. Unfortunately, that's all that it's playing, over and over and over again.

All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel.

All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel.

All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel.

After only a few truncated repetitions, my teeth are already on edge. I wonder how the driver manages to deal with it for hours at a time. Surely he must wake up at night hearing it in his head. Not having heard of any curbside massacres recently, I presume that after a while the thalamus kicks in and you just stop hearing it. Thank Goddess for sensory gating.

All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel.

A few seasons back, the neighborhood ice cream truck played some cowanish Christmas carol; I can't recall which one. (Silent Night, maybe?) I was never sure whether this was intentional or not. Christmas = Winter = cold = ice cream seems a pretty straightforward set of linked associations. Certainly the seasonal incongruity successfully caught my attention pretty much every time.

On the other hand, a lot of local ice cream trucks are owned and operated by immigrants, many of them from the Middle East. I suppose it's possible that the Winter-themed music was no more than a product of blissful cultural unawareness.

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 Sexual content

 

“I mean, one of their initiations is letting yourself be sodomized,” says my friend, with obvious distaste. “Really, what's up with that?”

We've been discussing the OTO; he's alluding to the Ordo's XI° initiation. I'm not OTO myself, though I have friends that are. I am, though, gay. I could easily tell him what's up with that.

I will never, never get used to hearing a sacred act of love, one of the most intimate things that it's possible to do with another person, be spoken of with such visceral loathing. To my surprise, though, I don't find my friend's clumsy faux pas offensive. Rather, I find myself loving him for it. He's actually just given me a gift.

All too often, being gay, like being a member of any minority, means being reduced. You don't merit full personhood; you're always the gay guy. In this reducing atmosphere, of course, gay men, distressingly often, become synonymous with a single act of love, which (ironically) some of us don't even like. “Nothing like being reduced to one action,” a gay friend of mine once remarked, bitterly.

(Talking with an acquaintance at Pagan Pride one afternoon, I listened with increasing confusion as she spoke effusively about something that I'd supposedly done recently. Finally, I realized what was going on: she had confused me with D, the other prominent gay elder in the local pagan community. [You know, those gay guys all look alike.] I thought of telling her: “No, I'm the other gay guy.” I didn't, though; she would have felt humiliated to have made such a mistake. Aînesse oblige: elderhood obligates.)

What my friend has just told me, without realizing it, is that in his mind, I hold full personhood; I'm not gay first and foremost. It's an odd, and maybe even pathetic, thing to be grateful for, but I am.

The two of us have been friends for a long time; there's a lot of love between us. Still, there's an important point to be made here.

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Scene: Department store, Women's Wear

Brassiere display, two racks side-by-side.

Sign on first rack:

Bras for Cowans

(Shows regular two-cup brassieres.)

Sign on second rack:

Bras for Witches

(Shows bras with three, four, and five cups.)

 

You know about witches' nipples: we've got extra. All the better to feed our familiars with, they say.

Polymastia: the condition of having extra breasts. Some years back, I gave a workshop on the subject at a local festival. My plan was to discuss the lore from the trials. I hadn't expected the workshop to turn into a show-and-tell. Turns out, some witches actually do have extras. That's just how some bodies are made, although of course in this particular instance we do have to factor in a certain self-selecting demographic.

In the minds of the Hunters, of course, a witch's polymastia made her something less than human. Humans have two nipples; animals have many. The witch's extra nipples demonstrate her essentially bestial nature.

Still, I can't quite help but think of Many-Breasted Artemis of Ephesus: Goddess of Witches, She Who Feeds the World. Like Goddess, apparently, like votary.

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 Wiccan Army Embroidered Patch

 

In Starhawk's 1993 utopian/dystopian novel The Fifth Sacred Thing, all of the Pagan Resistance guys are named John. "It's one of their names for the Devil," explains one of the bad guys.

It's a solidarity thing. (Think: Je suis Charlie Hebdo. Think: Non-Jewish Danes wearing yellow stars during the Nazi occupation.) It's also a resistance thing: we're all one. We're all in this fight together, anonymously interchangeable.

To distinguish one John from another, they all have by-names à la Old Norse: Hijohn, Littlejohn, Johnny Be Good.

In that world, I would definitely be Johnny Deer. We're Deer Clan from way back, my people, and Deer's always been my guy. I'm built like a deer, I've got the cervine grace and moves.

But here in the Midwest Pagan Resistance, the guys all seem to be Jacks.

So what kind of Jack am I?

Jacks figure large in pagan lore. (Is he one, is he many? Reply hazy, try again later.) Think of Jack in the Green, and all his latter-day seasonal variants: Jack in the Sheaf, Jack o' Lantern, Jack in the Drift.

Even the resident priest at one of our local pagan land sanctuaries is a Jack: Jack in the Buff, it would have to be in his case, just like in the song. Hey, if anyone embodies the spirit of skyclad, he does.

Not to mention all those other Jacks of the legendarium: Jack the Giant Killer, Spring-heeled Jack, Jack in the Pulpit, jolly Jack Tar, Hijack, Car Jack, Whiskey Jack, Jack Daniels. Nor, of course, should we forget that perennial favorite, Jack Off.

(I presume that he's some sort of kin to the CBC's immortal Carol Off, long-time hostess emerita to the curry-souled All Things Considered North news program As It Happens.)

Well, the oathbreaker partisan hack Injustices of the American Supreme Court have (in effect) declared war on the Free peoples of the US, and—just as we've been doing for centuries—the Pagan Resistance continues our immemorial cultural rear-guard action. I'll have to dig my old “Wiccan Army: Thirteenth Airborne Division” patch out of the drawer. Our motto: “We will not fly silently into the night.”

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, By the Gods, the GOP has finally achieved its dream of turning America into a dystopian 1980s science-fiction movie.

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Waking from the Abrahamic Nightmare

 

You live in the City of the Goddess, a world wholly pagan. One night, you fall asleep. When you awake next morning, you find yourself instead in a place entirely Christian, the Lady's temples desecrated.

 

One day, the West fell asleep and awoke to find itself changed. Into this world poet Robert Graves was born; but, sensing from the beginning that something was missing, he set out on a quest to find it: the Quest for the Goddess.

(One thinks of the Quest for the Holy Grail: Christendom's ongoing and persistent sense that, deep in its core, something vital and utterly intrinsic is lacking. The Quest for the Holy Grail is none other than the Quest for the Divine Feminine, what Goethe called die Ewig Weibliche, “the Eternal Womanly.”)

Graves tells the tale of his spiritual quest in In Dedication, the poem which (in later editions) prefaces his magnum opus The White Goddess. (The reader will not fail to note the title's multiple applications: the poet's dedication both to his quest and to its goal, the book's dedication to that selfsame Muse.) In it, he presents himself as a spiritual explorer in the mold of “19th” century Britain's world explorers. As Graves sees it, he too is exploring a New World:

 

It was a virtue not to stay,

To go my headstrong and heroic way

Seeking her out at the volcano's head,

Among pack ice, or where the track had faded

Beyond the cavern of the seven sleepers:

Whose broad high brow was white as any leper's,

Whose eyes were blue, with rowan-berry lips,

With hair curled honey-colored to white hips.

 

Since knowledge of the Goddess has been lost in the West, he searches the rest of the world for her: from the tropics (“at the volcano's head”) to the poles (“among pack ice”). His quest leads him not only through place, but also time: “beyond the cavern of the seven sleepers.” To find the Goddess, he travels into the deep past, before the beginning of the West's Abrahamic nightmare.

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 Over native land Painting by Oleg Shupliak | Saatchi Art

 

It's always a somber note in the otherwise joyful May Festivities.

The May song “Unite and Unite”, originally from Cornwall, accompanies a processional dance that usually includes the Hobby Horse. Its verses recall the regular Maytide doings in the town of Padstow, where the song is from: gathering flowers, weaving garlands, singing, dancing.

One verse remembers the soldiers: local boys who should be here, and part of the fun, but instead are off in foreign parts, fighting someone else's war.

 

O where are the young men that now here should dance?

(For Summer is a-come unto day)

O some, they are in England, and some they are in France

(in the merry morn-ing of May).

 

At one point, the procession pauses, and the Hobby Horse—around here it's usually the Green Man—dies. Then—this being May and the point thereof, after all—he springs back to life, and the procession continues.

These decades past, here in Paganistan—this is, after all, a living tradition, not a museum piece—we've updated the verse to match the current war(s).

 

O where are the young men that now here should dance?

(For Summer is a-come unto day)

O some are in Afghanistan, and some are in Iraq

(in the merry morn-ing of May).

 

I regret to say that our youngest coven kid knows only these lyrics. Always, another war.

This year, alas, yet more new words. How long, O Lady, how long?

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