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.
Did the 500-Year Old Whiteleaved Oak Burn Because of a Pagan Offering?

Lighting a candle to a tree. Dear Gods.

How could anyone be so stupid?

In England's Malvern Hills, the 500-year old Whiteleaved Oak has gone up in flames. Charred tea-lights were found at its base.

Dear Gods. How could anyone be so stupid?

Tea-lights are despicable anyway, and never a worthy offering. Ask yourself: what kind of offering leaves garbage behind?

Hear, O Pagandom:

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On Being a Steve

Hi, my name is: Steve.

The name my parents gave me at birth has always been a comfortable fit. Although—unfortunately—a biblical name, by origin it's impeccably pagan. Steven: from the Greek stéfanos, “a wreath (or crown).” Not the kind of wreath that you hang on your door, but the one that you win in a competition.

One of the things that I like about it has always been that, though not a common name, it's familiar enough not to seem weird or be impossible to remember.

That said, if you run into a guy that lives on my block and say: Steve?, you'll stand a good chance of being right. There are four of us here (that I know of). I suppose that statistically it was bound to happen sooner or later. There's me, the guy down at the other end of the block, and the two Stephens next door, one upstairs, one down.

(Responding to the moronic nazz quip “'God' didn't create Adam and Steve, you know,” gay comic David Sedaris pertly retorts: “Of course not! It was Adam and Steven,” alluding to the stereotype that gay men prefer formal forms of their names. I suppose that it encourages people to take us seriously, which can be difficult for gay guys. Adam and Steven: the first gay couple.)

Me, I tend to use Steven in formal situations and Steve in informal. I suppose that makes me bi.

Yes, it's a name I bear like a victor's crown. Although I've had plenty of pagan names over the years—Deer Stands Up and Two Stags F*cking, both gifts, are my two favorites—none of them have ever really stuck. That's OK with me. I don't divide my life into the pagan and the rest. I decided a long time ago that I wanted to be pagan full-time, and that's how I've led my life. It's a decision that I've never had cause to regret, though I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a career choice.

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The One Thing Never to Say to a Cowan Man

Although as contemporary pagans, we spend much of our lives surrounded by cowans—non-pagans—there remains much about cowan thinking that pagans find opaque.

So, in the interest of maintaining grith—the old Witch word for “peace between communities”—I'd like to offer a point of inter-communal etiquette that might well save you from a potentially embarrassing situation.

Never compare a cowan man to a woman.

If you do, he will interpret it as an insult.

If you're thinking: But that doesn't make any sense; why would anyone find being compared to a woman insulting? please be aware that I share your bewilderment.

Even so, counter-intuitive as it may seem, this is how many cowans think, and as good pagan neighbors, it's our responsibility to be aware and to be respectful, even when we disagree.

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The Guy in the Red Porsche, or: What I Should Have Said

“Need a ride?”

I didn't, but the golden young guy leaning out of the red Porsche convertible that's just pulled over beside me is gorgeous, absolutely drop-dead gorgeous: way out of my league, actually. In its own way, gay male society is just as much a caste system as traditional India.

I play clueless American, as if I didn't know full well what he means.

“No thanks, I'm just down the road here a bit,” I say, pointing with my chin.

Him: Upper-crust Anglo-Norman, beautiful as a god. Judging from his clothes, car, and posh accent, moneyed. Really, a gayboy's fantasy, just waiting to happen.

His smile melts something inside me. “Oh, come on, let me give you a ride.”

Me: scruffy American, walking back from town to the orchard—in bloom, no less—at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, where I'm camped with our sister coven. Biker boots, black leather jacket, nose ring. Nice body, if you like skinny, but probably—after a week in a van—not smelling very good.

He clearly wants this. In some ways, so do I. I consider his offer.

OK: I'm in another country. Nobody—not even the friends that I'm traveling with—knows where I am. So: I'm going to get into a car with a guy that I don't know, and go off to wherever he decides to take me? 100 years ago, my yeoman ancestors left Staffordshire for other shores. 100 years on, I still retain their deepset suspicion of the ruling classes.

Ah, risk assessment. Maybe I'm being foolish here. Maybe I've seen too many films about uppa closs decadence, and am just being a reverse snob. I could have the time of my life and a story to tell for the rest of my days. I could end up chained up in a well-appointed torture chamber, and buried in the back shrubbery.

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Retson Retap, or: A Spell Against the Power of the Book

My next-door neighbor's husband is losing it.

A retired Baptist minister, his mental decline expresses itself in the form of public preaching to no one in particular. Sunday afternoon, while sitting on the front porch pitting cherries (pagan hands are never still), I listened with half an ear as he circled the block haranguing an unlistening and uncaring world about Sin, Salvation, and the Bible.

Generally I find public preaching noisome, but in this case what witches call ruth—compassion—wins out. He's not hurting anyone, and we all need to feel like we're doing something important in the world.

Besides, 20 years from now, that could be me out there, haranguing an uncaring and unlistening world about the Craft, the Horned One, and what it means to be a real pagan.

In some ways, the two of us—deeply religious people in a culture increasingly non-religious—have a lot in common.

 

The Deitsch people of Eastern Pennsylvania recognize a state of being that they call being “read fast.”

To be read fast is to become so obsessed with a particular book that one is driven to read and quote from it constantly, to the neglect of other aspects of one's life.

Among the Deitsch, the danger of becoming read fast is frequently associated with the classic grimoire the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, but experience readily suggests the term's potential for a wider applicability. Part of the danger of books—and, in particular, of book-driven ideologies—is their potential to possess—utterly and destructively—a soul.

Fortunately, there's an out.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Is that why pagans accumulate their own libraries? So that no single book has a chance to take them over?
The Single Most Important Pagan Ritual That You Can Ever Do

What's the single most important pagan ritual that you can ever do?

Hint: you don't need either a temple or a magic circle to do it.

Here it is: Go forth and watch the Sun rise, or set.

Do this as often as you can, and better it be if you do it from a wild place.

At sunset, I often blow a horn when the Sun first touches the horizon. As the Sun sets, I address him. (You can call this prayer if you want to.) This is also a good time to pour out a libation. Then, when he slips entirely below the horizon, I blow the horn again. Then I sing a hymn.

You can elaborate if you want to, but you don't have to. The watching is all that's really necessary.

We have it from the ancestors that the most auspicious time to address oneself to the Sun is when he is on the horizon. In my experience, this is a time of special face-to-face intimacy, not usually present at other times of the day.

If you don't know where to go in your area for a clear view of the sunset and sunrise horizon at various times of year, what kind of pagan are you? Real pagans, being people of the place, are territorial beings.

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New Discovery Revolutionizes Understanding of Stonehenge

Honestly, it seems like every week—especially in the pagan press, especially especially around the Summer Sunstead—you see yet another article announcing yet another new discovery that's going to revolutionize our understanding of Stonehenge.

Somehow, none of them ever do.

Of course, I always read them. Hope springs eternal in the pagan heart.

Now, it must get tedious for journalists to have to write this same article over and over again, week after week after week.

So here's a generic template article to relieve all those underpaid, overworked journalists of the burden of having to come up with a fresh angle every bloody time some "startling" new discovery is announced. Just plug in the relevant information, and publish.

And once again, the rest of us will sit back and prepare to be underwhelmed.

 

New Discovery Revolutionizes Understanding of Stonehenge

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