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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In the Age of the Red Hag

hag, v. trans. 1. to torment or terrify, as a hag; to trouble, as the nightmare 2. to ride ruthlessly, as a witch a “night-borrowed” horse

 

Back around the onset of the pandemic, I posted a piece about Shitala Ma, “Mother Smallpox,” the Hindu goddess of infectious diseases, who “possesses” those who offend her.

It turns out that, at the opposite end of the Indo-European diaspora, Shitala Ma has a Celtic analogue.

In Ireland,certain diseases were at one time traditionally known as “hags,” frequently distinguished by colors. The Yellow Hag was the name for a fever accompanied by jaundice. Starvation was known as the Black Hag. I've heard of others as well, though I can't offhand remember what they were.

Making use of this traditional metaphor, we may say that we live now in the era of the Red Hag. Just why it is that the covid-19 virus has become associated with the color red, I'm not sure—there's certainly no molecular reason for it—but there we are.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Covid-19 causes blood clots in capillaries causing skin to take on a reddish color. That's why they've started treating patients
Rethinking Policing: The Pagan Model

As the city of Minneapolis, and the US as a whole, begin the process of rethinking what policing might look like in the wake of the unrest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the MPD, let me tell you a story from the Nights of the Burning.

Unlike my neighborhood, which the authorities—including the police—in effect abandoned to three nights of riot, looting, and arson, the Indigenous neighborhood here in Minneapolis saw very little destruction. Everyone agrees that this was thanks to the AIM (American Indian Movement) Patrol.

The AIM Patrol as we know it today originated in the Indigenous activism of the 60s, but its roots are firmly grounded in the old tribal models of self-policing.

It turns out that the stories that circulated locally attributing the protest-related arson to out-of-town assholes were correct. Only some of the arsonist assholes were, as bruited, White Supremacists, but all of them—of the ones that have been caught so far, anyway—were from somewhere else. Assholes drove in from all over the state—and from out of state—to burn other people's neighborhoods. Whatever their motivations, I think we can all agree that those who would do such things are, indubitably, assholes.

One night the AIM patrol caught some kids who had driven 100 miles from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, attempting to torch the Seward Co-op, a worker-owned and -operated neighborhood grocery.

The AIM patrol, armed only with baseball bats, stopped the kids and non-violently—I won't say there was no implied threat of violence—herded them into the middle of a parking lot.

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Saturday Pagans, or: Paganisms-of-Convenience

 O do not tell the priest of our rite,

for he would call it a sin:

but we've been out in the woods all night,

a-conjuring Summer in.

 

An e-mail went around to the coven: Can anyone attend the NoW Zoom meeting on Friday?

(NoW—National Organization of Witches—isn't the organization's real name.)

Now, wait a minute: let me get this straight. A national organization of witches is holding a business meeting on Midsummer's Eve?

Well, I suppose that one could find a certain amount of precedent for such a thing in Received Tradition. According to the Lore, most successful mythological invasions of Ireland took place either at Samhain or at Bealtaine. It makes a certain amount of sense to begin an important endeavor on a Day of Power.

I wish I could believe that such logic underlies NoW's Midsummer's Eve business meeting. Alas, though, I fear that the main motivator here is the logic of pragmatism: in our time and place, most pagan holidays get deferred to the nearest Saturday.

Well, the pagan world is a world of graduated values. It's better to do than not to do. Accordingly, the holiday waits until it's convenient for people to get together.

You'll gather that I don't wholly approve of such Paganisms-of-Convenience. There's something about such a cavalier approach to timing that seems to me, frankly, un-pagan. Is our paganism something that we do in our heads, or does it connect us with Something Real Out There? Is three nights into the Wane really still Full Moon?

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Sesame Asparagus in a Tamari Reduction

This is a good recipe for big, horsey, late-season asparagus, served either chilled or at air temperature: just the thing for a Midsummer picnic.

 


Sesame Asparagus in a Tamari Reduction

1 bunch asparagus

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

¼ cup tamari

¼ cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

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Does a Building Have a Spirit?

In the wake of the epidemic of arson and property destruction that accompanied the first George Floyd protests in Minneapolis—currently estimated at some $26 million dollars worth—we've heard numerous voices raised to justify (or at least soft-pedal) such destruction.

People are more important than buildings, they say.

But I'm a pagan and, because I'm a pagan—as the ancestors did—I think that (in effect) buildings are people, too.

Now, the notion that a building could be a person falls pretty far outside the general overcultural definition of what a “person” is, so (without committing myself to metaphysical specifics) let me rephrase the question: Does a building have a spirit?

Speaking experientially, I suspect that most of us would answer: Yes.

This has implications.

Note that I'm not necessarily talking here about “spirit” in the sense of something separable from physical reality; what I mean here is a matter of integrity-within-self, of (as it were) “being-hood” or “self-ness.”

In this sense, as pagans, we recognize personhood in non-human beings as well.

Animals are people. Plants are people. Rivers are people. Mountains are people.

Looking at Received Tradition, we see that made beings are also considered to have spirit: think of the swords and spears wielded by the heroes of epic, for example. Would anyone, anywhere, actually contend that, for example, Stonehenge does not have a spirit?

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Still-Life with Face Mask

Heading out in the morning, my eye falls on the assemblage of items on the table by the front door: a white cotton face-mask with long ties, stubs of sidewalk chalk in various colors, and a mottled black cow's horn, point trimmed for blowing.

Well, that sums it up pretty neatly, I think to myself.

 

Face Mask

In these months of the pandemic, face-masks like this one have become more or less de rigueur. As Minnesota slowly opens up again, everyone is expected to wear them in enclosed public spaces. Certainly the vehement explosion of protests following the public murder of George Floyd is in some part pressure-cooker effect following the months-long covid lock-down.

Sidewalk Chalk

I don't go to demos myself, but I'm a big believer in sidewalk activism. (Hey, I'm a writer.) The sidewalk in front of my house speaks, and what it says it true.

Murder is Murder, it says.

Justice for George Floyd Now, it says.

Silence = Complicity, it says: Speak Out!

Blowing Horn

My neighborhood has borne the brunt of the Twin Cities' epidemic of riot, arson, and looting. (We were the sacrificial goat that those in charge threw to the wolves in order to buy themselves time to get their act together.) When the authorities don't, or can't, come through, it's up to us to look out for ourselves.

At our Block Watch meeting, we agreed that if you need help, the best thing to do is to make noise. For most of the neighbors, that means banging pots and pans, but I'm a pagan, and we do things with style: pagan style. Hence the horn, just like in the old days.

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Uncle Hugo's 1974-2020

An empire of the imagination, Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore, the US's oldest (and only surviving) independent science fiction/fantasy bookstore was not only a well-loved local landmark, but a site of pilgrimage for readers all over the Midwest as well.

Now it's gone.

(It also had the grungiest men's room in the Midwest, which—on the evidence of it—had never once been cleaned since the store was founded in 1974. Ah, fandom.)

An unknown arsonist or arsonists burned it to rubble and ash on the night of Friday, May 29, in the arson that has stalked the first George Floyd protests here in the Twin Cities like a withering shadow.

I stand on the sidewalk before the hollow cave of the ruins. Strata of burned books carpet what was once the basement floor.

Touchingly, some people have left flowers. I, however, am here for another purpose.

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  • Kile Martz
    Kile Martz says #
    If I could have levitated my body off this cruel and inexplicable world yesterday, even if it would have meant a cold and breathle

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