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.
How Did the Standing Stone Get to the Top of the Hill?

At Beltane, we raise the Bull Stone.

How, you ask, did we manage to get a ton of local limestone from the wall of the coulee (ravine), across the bed of the coulee itself, and all the way up the hill to where it now lies?

Not difficult.

The Witch sat at the top of the slope and Sang the Stone up.

Really. She Sang, and the Stone just—as it were—floated up the hill. Call it levitation.

I, Steven of Prodea, tell you this, and I know it to be true because I was there, and saw it happen myself.

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The Witch-Men

A murder of crows.

A pride of lions.

A coven of witches.

Having originated in hunting terminology, such nomina collectivitatis are known technically as “venereal terms.”

So what's the venereal term for a group of warlocks?

The Warlocks of the Driftless have bruited a number of possibilities.

Dark: a clot of warlocks. (Warlock-magic not infrequently involves blood.)

Eerie: a quantum of warlocks.

Erotic: a tumescence of warlocks. (Warlockry being quintessentially men's magic.)

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Moonset: A Warning

Funny, the things you hear coming out of your own mouth.

Just before sunrise, looking west for traffic as I cross 31st Street, I see her, hovering there over the horizon: what seemed at the time to be just about the hugest Full Moon I'd ever seen.

My reaction surprises me.

Blessed be!” I say out loud.

It was both a reaction of surprise, and a blessing. It was, likewise, a greeting to Herself. What most delighted me about my spontaneous little ejaculation was its utterly un-self-consciousness nature.

Pagan language, when used in everyday settings, can sometimes seem a little forced, as if we're trying too hard.

But then, suddenly, there you are. You see a beautiful, big Moon where you're not expecting her, and the words gush forth like water from a spring.

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A Samhain Song from the Celtic Revival

Irish Revival writer James Stephen's dazzling little 1924 novel  In the Land of Youth, though largely forgotten today, is nothing short of a modern pagan classic. In it, Stephens takes up an ancient Irish literary genre, back-stories to the Táin Bo Cuailinge, and recounts, in shining, lapidary prose, his tales (and tales-within-tales, and tales-within-tales-within-tales) of human and sidhe, of This World and the Other, and of the intercourse between the two.

The Song of Death is drawn from the novel's second section, “The Feast of Lugnasa,” but in this Season of the Ancestors it is the novel's first half, “The Feast of Samhain,” which I commend to the reader and which, in my opinion, richly deserves to become to the modern Samhain what Dickens' Christmas Carol has become to its eponymous holiday.

In the royal hall at Cruachan, on the Eve of Samhain—when gates between worlds swing wide—Ailill the King proposes to his assembled heroes a pastime while waiting for the feast to be made ready: that on this night of terrors, one of them should go out alone to tie a withy around the ankle of one of the dead men hanging from a nearby tree.

Two men go out, two men fearfully return, deed undone. Then Nera the Hero goes out into the night's darkness, withy in hand.

But things are not as they seem, for Ethal Anbual, King of the Sidhe of Connacht, is that very night proposing to raid and burn the royal hall at Cruachan....

 

The Song of Death

(James Stephens)

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Card Tables of the Gods: Paganism, Good and...Not So Good

The festival organizers had chosen the one mostly flat place on the slope between the woods and Turtle Creek on which to lay out their ritual circle. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.

Mistake Number One. They'd designed their Circle using the "Quarter altar" model, with four card tables, one per quarter, each covered with a schmatte in a garishly bright “elemental” color.

On the living body of the valley's natural beauty, the cheap and artificial tables and cloths stood out like an open wound.

Moral Number One. When it comes to the gods, only the real and the beautiful are worthy.

Mistake Number Two. The landscape had a distinct and palpable flow to it, from the forest above to Turtle Creek below, and back again, running roughly ENE by WSW.

Unfortunately, the organizers had decided to lay out their Circle with a compass, thereby placing the Card Tables of the Gods in due East, South, West, and North.

Completely out of rhythm with the land around it, this skewed circle in fact impeded the valley's natural flow rather than augmenting it.

Moral Number Two. Regardless of what the books may say, real sacredness inheres in working with the landscape.

OK, Posch: so how would you have done it any better?

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Tales of Paganistan: Killing the Pumpkin

That year, Coven X had volunteered to lead the big Samhain ritual for the Wiccan Church of Minnesota.

Weeks before Samhain, the winds of controversy had already begun to blow.

The folks in Coven X, the new young coven in town, thought of the WiCoM folks as stodgy and regressive, mired in Wiccan dogma. Clearly, their intent with this ritual was to blow some of the cobwebs out of the attic.

It didn't take a seer to foretell where this was going to go.

The day before the ritual, the priestess told me all about it with a glint in her eye.

“We'll show them,” she concluded.

Well, if she wanted a firestorm, she got it.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    My view of ritual is heavily influenced by decades of the Runequest and Heroquest role playing games. To me ritual is a dramatic

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The Year of the Wild Hunt

Minneapolis: Samhain 1986

For the big public Samhain that year, we wanted to avoid the usual cliches: the skulls, the jack o' lanterns.

So we threw a Wild Hunt instead.

300 people crowded—probably in contravention of fire regulations—into a park building in South Minneapolis.

The drums come up. We're dancing.

Suddenly, the Deer is among us: tall, lean, naked in antlers and paint, he dances with a cervine grace.

The drums change. Enter the Hunters, men and women, pounding the butts of their spears on the ground.

The Hunt ensues. We become the trees of the forest: the Deer dodges among us. The Hunters pursue.

(With the eye of years, I see the potential danger here. I like to think that we saw it then, too. In fact, no one was injured.)

The Hunters surround the Deer. Then comes the moment of grace. Seeing that he can't escape, he gives himself to it.

The Deer crouches, then springs straight up into the air. The Hunters' spears track him as he rises and falls. As he lands, the spears thud home.

The Hunters kneel: first silent, heads bowed, then keening. People mourn with them. Real tears rain down. Everyone has some private grief; public mourning heals.

The Hunters hoist the Deer onto their shoulders. Exit Hunters, with Deer.

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