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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The Thirteenth Treasure

On first Mother Night, we tapped the box of red.

It was a nice wine for winter: chewy, hearty, a little leathery.

Next day, there was still wine left.

On second Mother Night, we drank more from the box of red.

Next day, there was still wine left.

Tonight, Thirteenth Night, we'll keep on drinking.

As for tomorrow, we'll see.

I'm beginning to wonder if what we've got on our hands here may not be that legendary box of wine that, no matter how many rituals you take it to, never runs dry.

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It's a Yule Tree, Sabrina Spellman

 Sabrina: Oh Ambrose, Aunt Hilda: what a beautiful Christmas tree!

Aunt Zelda: I wish you wouldn't call it, that, Sabrina. It's a Yule tree.


Well, I can die happy now: I've just seen television's first Winter Solstice holiday special.

Courtesy—of course—of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

And believe me, this isn't your mother's Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.

Come on, admit it: Sabrina's lots of fun. It's way campy and (unlike those silly Wiccans who want to protest how “inaccurate” it is) doesn't take itself too seriously. In fact, it doesn't take itself seriously at all.

And it did bring us TV's first Winter Solstice holiday special.

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  • Susan “Moonwriter” Pesznecker
    Susan “Moonwriter” Pesznecker says #
    Nice article with one correction: as far as I know, the first fully-devoted winter solstice TV episode was "Northern Lights," a 19
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I stand corrected, Susan, and happily so. Good old Northern Exposure. A friend who loved the series insisted that I watch the Rave
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    That was the one with the string of raven lights right? Where Marilyn told the story of how Raven brought back the Sun.

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Of Kreesh-chun Radio and Ego-Paganism

As someone who regards himself as “religious but not spiritual” (the main difference being, are you part of a community or not?), I'm always interested to see how other religious people do what they do.

I've recently been watching Shtisel, a smash Israeli series about a dysfunctional dosi (ultra-ultra-ultra Orthodox) family in contemporary Jerusalem. Part of what has made the series so popular among secular and marginally-religious Israelis is the intimate portrait that it paints of what it's like to live in a world in which even the most commonplace everyday function—taking a sip of water, chopping vegetables, taking a shit—becomes an act with religious implications.

To me, as a pagan, such a world seems very familiar indeed.

That's why, when I happened to chance on a Kreesh-chun music station in the car the other day while channel-surfing, I stopped and listened instead of moving on.

What struck me most about what I heard was the music's egocentricity: how happy I am, how bad off I was before I got religion. Me, me, me. Even when the songs were ostensibly about Jesus or “God,” the referent was nearly always the self: how much my god has done for me. How much I love my god.

My impression of the essentially egocentric nature of Kreesh-chun music is, of course, by no means a methodical sampling—I'll leave that work to some other student of contemporary American religion—although I do have to say that it does indeed match how much contemporary evangelicalism (to my eye, at any rate) presents: as shallow, self-satisfied, essentially an exercise in self-projection.

Alas. Lest we feel smug, let me mention that much contemporary paganism strikes me in the same way. This my dear friend and colleague Sparky T. Rabbit used to refer to as “ego-paganism.”

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I have listened to contemporary gospel and found it boring and monotonous. There used to be a station that played Country, Bluegr

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The Psychological Solstice

“There's no more light now than there was a week ago—in fact it's even colder—but somehow just knowing that the solstice is past makes a difference.”

My non-pagan friend and I had been discussing the exhaustion and sense of listlessness that tends to dog this time of year.

For me, the Solstice is an occurrence of profound religious significance, for him it's not. But his comment is right on the mark, and it's good for me to be reminded of how the solstice looks from outside the Broomstick Ghetto.

The darkness, the oncoming cold, the cumulative rush of preparations for Yule often leave me feeling drained, as if there's simply not enough of me to go around.

But then we turn the corner.

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Yule Man

Odin is well-known for his many bynames and, interestingly, one of them—Jólnir—specifically associates him with Yule.

Jólnir  (YOLE-neer) is hard to translate. "Yule-man"? "Yule One"? "He of Yule"? "Yule-er"?

The title clearly derives from Jól, Yule. -Nir is an Old Norse suffix of agency. An English equivalent would be -er, but unlike -er, which attaches to verbs, -nir pairs with nouns. Interestingly, it is a common element in Old Norse name-creation:

Sleipnir, Odin's eight-legged horse = “slip-er,"

Skírnir, Frey's attendant = “shine-r,”

Gleipnir, the chain that bound Fenris-wolf = “open-er,”

Grímnir, another title of Odin = “mask-er” (or “hood-er”), and, of course, mostly famously of all,

Mjöllnir, the name of Thor's Hammer: “mill-er.”

So maybe “Yuler” would be the most accurate translation, though it's hard not to think of the German Weihenachtsmann, the “Yule Man.” (Modern German pagans have taken to calling Yule Weihenacht—which is an older form of the word—to differentiate it from Weihnacht, “Christmas.”)

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The Bad Luck Wassail

One guy had a heart attack.

A house burned down.

Some bad neighbors got evicted.

Really: don't make us sing the Bad Luck Wassail.

Through the long nights of December, the wassailers bear joy and blessing. (“Wassail” means: “Be hale!”) Out of the dark we come, singing the Sun's rebirth. It's a traveling party. People set out a Yule board, fill our glasses. We sing together, laugh, tell stories, and before we leave, we sing a song of blessing on the house for the year to come.

Do you have any bad neighbors? we ask before we go.

Mostly the answer, thankfully, is No. But if it's not, well...there's always the Bad Luck Wassail.

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  • Tyger
    Tyger says #
    I'll sing this one with you. I may not know the words, but I'll find some that fit.
  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza says #
    Oh how.funny!!!

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Sr. Wendy Beckett 1930-2018

Wendy Beckett



If the Vatican had any sense, they would have made her pope.

See what happens when you don't have priestesses?

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