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

 

 

A Lost Verse of Genesis

 

5B  But some among

the sons of the gods

(or “God”: bnei ha-elohím)

looked also upon

the sons of man

(or “men”: bnei ha-adám)

and found them fair,

and took them

unto themselves,

and knew them;

to these, to such

as received them,

did they impart

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Thanks, I like that one.

 Roasted Cabbage Wedges Recipe - Food Fanatic

 

Hey, I live in the frozen North. We eat lots of cabbage up here. You could even call it a way of life.

I like cabbage; in some form or other, I eat it almost every day. Like most vegetables, it can be good—even quite good—if you know how to prepare it properly.

But if you'd told me that cabbage could be delicious, one of the best things that you've ever eaten, well...quite frankly, I'm not sure that I would have believed you.

O ye doubters and cabbage-deniers: prepare ye to believe.

 

Roasted Cabbage Wedges

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 Wedding Traditions and Meanings: Jumping the broom

 

Modern witches have been jumping brooms at weddings pretty much since there were modern witches. One readily sees why: of the affinity between witches and brooms, you don't need me to tell you.

Jumping the broom in the sense of a de facto marriage, unsanctioned by either church or state, originates in Lalland Scots lore. It's from there that the custom spread to the southeastern US and became current among enslaved Africans, denied the right to legal marriage.

The first time that I presided at a public handfasting, the couple had made for the purpose, from the three traditional woods, a beautiful ritual broom. (Ash, birch, and willow, in case you're wondering.) Lo and behold, come the day of the wedding, the ritual broom languished forgotten at home. (It's not a real ritual unless something goes wrong.) So they ended up jumping a manky old broom from the janitor's closet instead. The broom-jump retained its magical transformative power, nonetheless. Hey, a broom's a broom.

As to meaning, I'll leave that to you to divine. Personally, I can't help but suspect that “jumping the broom” was originally some sort of sexual euphemism, but maybe that's just me. As a humble domestic tool, of course, the broom represents the home and home-life; I've also heard it said to stand-in for the threshold.

In lots of places, couples tend to do a simple run-and-jump—over and off—but around here we do things a little differently. First you sweep the bad luck away from the couple: three times around, widdershins, of course.

Then you lay down the broom. Three times, as people clap, the couple circles deosil, hand-in-hand. Each time around, they jump the broom. Third time over, we pelt them with barley, and done's done.

(Rice? Rice? Ha! What are you, some kind of cowan?)

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Ah yes, that lovely old institution of "indentured servitude": slavery lite. Yeesh!
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Interesting, I thought the practice grew up in Virginia during colonial times when Anglican marriages were the only ones that were

 Quarter of Americans Convinced Sun Revolves Around Earth, Survey Finds -  ABC News

 

Founded more than 50 years ago in 1970, the Pagan Movement in Britain and Ireland was headquartered on a pagan communal farm in rural Carmarthenshire (Wales). It originally grew out of a London organization called the Regency, which in turn had its roots in (and was founded by former members of) Robert Cochrane's Royal Windsor Coven.

What follows is a hymn to Earth and Sun from the PM's Rite of Imbolc, which marked the reborn Sun's Coming-of-Age. (Though not directly named, Earth is the “thee” to whom the piece is addressed.) It is sung to the tune of Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March #1, familiar to Americans as the processional march at high school graduation ceremonies, also known as Land of Hope and Glory.

Though not attributed, the lyrics were clearly the work of Tony Kelly (1943-1997), the PM's leading light, and my own beloved teacher. Kelly was a brilliant but deeply flawed man; Old Craft historian Michael Howard once described him to me as having had “horns of gold and hooves of clay.” Truly one of the Wise, his understanding of the Old Ways and their gods was deep beyond telling. It was from him that I learned what many pagans, 50 years on, have still to realize: that the truest and most authentic pagan experience comes, not from dusting off some old god or goddess from Long Ago and Far Away, but from an active lived relationship with—to begin with—Earth and Sun, Here and Now.

Though a brilliant and articulate writer, Kelly's verse suffers from his fondness for archaic diction and his willingness to sacrifice anything, even clarity and grammatical integrity, for the sake of rhyme. (That said, rhyming "Goddess" with "forest" is sheer pyrotechnic verbal genius, brilliant.) Still, Proud the Sun Adore Thee has much to teach.

You can see the hymn in its original ritual matrix here. Please note that a number of errors have crept into the version cited in the Weebly Pagan Movement Archive, foremost among them the inversion of the first and second lines of stanzas one and three. I have here restored the song to its original form.

 

Proud the Sun Adore Thee

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 Baths of Caracalla, Rome: interior of the Tepidarium | Works of Art | RA  Collection | Royal Academy of Arts

 

Two bathhouses for more than a thousand sweaty pagans? You've got to be kidding me.

The campground where the big pagan festival was being held that summer usually catered to music festivals. Maybe at heart the wholly inadequate shower facilities was largely a matter of demographics.

Even so. After waiting in line for more than an hour one morning for my 60 seconds under the showerhead, I go up to the office to protest and lobby for some sort of temporary accommodation. Propane showers, maybe?

The campground manager does her best to be mollifying. I'm clearly not the first to bring the issue to her doorstep. Equally clear is the fact that they're not going to be doing anything to rectify the problem any time soon. Thank Goddess for Turtle Creek.

As I turn to leave, she shakes her head.

“You pagans sure are a cleanly lot,” she says, sounding a little surprised.

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 The Full Moon Reflected On The Lake Surface Stock Photo - Download Image  Now - iStock

 

Who is the divine patron/matron of your city?

 

The Secular City

 

She left her temple in Uruk to descend into the Underworld.

She left her temple in Larsa to descend into the Underworld.

She left her temple in Nippur to descend into the Underworld.

 

So begins the story of the Sumerian goddess Inanna's descent into the Underworld.

(If the prospect of the Goddess leaving her people to descend into non-existence seems harrowing, it's true: we've been there, and seen what comes of it. Consider, though, that we've gone through non-existence along with her and, along with her, come out on the other side.)

Long ago, I noticed that there are certain aspects of the original that just don't translate.

 

She left her temple in Cleveland to descend into the Underworld.

She left her temple in Peoria to descend into the Underworld.

She left her temple in Fresno to descend into the Underworld.

 

Laughable, isn't it?

Once cities were sacred places. Now we live in what theologian Harvey Cox called “the secular city.”

That's the problem.

 

The View from the Broom

 

It once happened that I flew into the city of Minneapolis on the night of the full Moon. It was then that I made a surprising discovery.

(I was flying in an airplane, as it happens, but the view from the broom would be the same.)

You could easily tell when we'd reached Minnesota: they call it the Land of Lakes. (So we have been since the end of the last Ice Age.) The very name Minnesota means “Sky Water.” We're said to be the Land of 10,000 Lakes; actually, there are more.

What I discovered that night is that there's a full Moon in each of them.

 

The City of Minneapolis, Her Seal

 

Years back, several of us sat down to discuss—as a matter of course—what the Seal of Pagan Minneapolis, City of Lakes, should look like.

(Why, you might ask, do we get to decide? Not hard. We get to decide because we were the ones that asked the question.)

The question is not so quixotic as it might seem on the face of it. There are many pagans here, and have been for a long time. Then, as now, we were convinced that the future is pagan.

 

Mermaid rises from lake, wearing mural crown.

In one hand, she bears an ear of wheat, in the other, a fish.

 

Which came first, Athens or Athene? In the old days, cities were themselves accounted goddesses, iconographically identifiable by the mural—city-wall—crowns that they wear.

Minneapolis was first (paganly) settled by witches, Children of the Moon.

This, then, from the City of the Moon Goddess, Mother of Witches. If, for us, she wears a fish's tail, what's it to you?

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All by Itself, the Humble Sweet Potato Colonized the World - The New York  Times

The sweet potato lies in the middle of the porch roof. Looking out the window, I wonder if it's an omen.

An omen, as a warlock friend of mine once pointed out, needs to be something out of the ordinary. In order to know what's out of the ordinary, you first have to know what's ordinary.

(He was out on a first date with a Druid one night, when the guy picked up an oak leaf from the ground and said sententiously, “In my tradition”—gods, I hate it when pagans start sentences that way—“it's a favorable omen to find an oak leaf.” Then he paused, expectantly. At the time, they were standing in an oak grove. It was autumn. Needless to say, there were no more dates.)

I presume that the sweet potato in question came from the compost, and got to the roof via squirrel. That's ordinary enough around here, though I can't recall having composted any sweet potatoes lately. Still, mine isn't the only backyard midden on this alley.

A sweet potato on the roof, though: I'll grant that tentative “out of the ordinary” status. Now, of course, we arrive at the central crux of omen-reading: what the flock does it mean?

OK: it's on this roof, so clearly—if it is a sign—it's a sign for this household.

As for meaning, well: nice fat tuber, comes from underground, gold in color.

I'd say: Unexpected windfall coming soon. Gods grant the omen.

A few hours later, I remember and look out the window again. The sweet potato is gone.

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