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.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form
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

 

 Tales from the Pagan Resistance

 

In the days of the Byzantine emperors, long after most of the empire had been converted—forcibly or otherwise—one little Anatolian town held resolute to the Old Ways. Despite repeated warnings to accept baptism or suffer the consequences, the entire community stood firm.

One day imperial forces marched into the city. After the massacre, they sawed the arms and legs off every man, woman, and child, and hung the severed limbs along the streets as a warning.

 

 I regret to inform you that the above story is true. In Catherine Nixey's 2018 The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, you can read similarly grim stories on virtually every page. Be warned: this is no easy read.

I have to be careful reading books about the history of what we really must call the Christianities; reading too many tends to make me morbid. I get angry; I start making stupid and thoughtless generalizations; I fall into an “us and them” mode of thinking that, down the years, I have come to eschew as ultimately counterproductive.

But we are who we are because we remember, so I read on. Many times during the reading of Nixey's engagingly-written, but devastating, history of the horror show that was 4th- and 5th-century Christianity, I've found myself laying the book down because I simply couldn't bear to read any more. Each time, though, I find myself picking up the book once again, needing to know the rest.

Let me quote from Nixey's introduction:

As Samuel Johnson...put it, pithy as ever: “The heathens were easily converted, because they had nothing to give up.”

He was wrong. Many converted happily to Christianity, it is true. But many did not. Many Romans and Greeks did not smile as they saw their religious liberties removed, their books burned, their temples destroyed, and their ancient statues shattered by thugs with hammers. This book tells their story; it is a book that unashamedly mourns the largest destruction of art that human history has ever seen. It is a book about the tragedies behind the “triumph” of Christianity (Nixey xxiv).

Last modified on

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Colorful foggy autumn park with bench and yellow maple tree Stock Photo -  Alamy  

 

I wrote a story  a while back. A good little story, actually: in all candor, one of my best. "Leaf Man, Rise Up," it's called.

It's scary: a horror story, with a neat pagan twist to it. Lyrical, if horror can be lyrical.

The old priest sat on the park bench, watching the boys play their weird game. That's how it begins.

Unfortunately, you probably won't be seeing the story anytime soon. Why not?

Last modified on

 Tom Riddle | Harry Potter Wiki | Fandom

 

It's got to be one of the lesser ironies of the current war in Ukraine that both its hero and its villain (I'll leave you to decide which is which) share the same name.

Russian Vladímir, Ukrainian Volodýmyr: two equivalent Slavic names, both with their roots in Norse.

(This is unsurprising, since the Slavic state was first founded by east-faring Viking traders-cum-mercenaries; the classic Slavic woman's name Olga, for example, derives from Norse Helga “[female] holy [one].”)

Indo-European languages have long favored two-element names—e.g. Beowulf, “Bee-wolf”—and the Norse name Valdimar is of the same sort. One could translate it “power-fame” or “powerful fame.” Its first part is kin to the English word wield. (We still speak, tautologically, of “wielding power.”) Compare, also, the Yiddish expression oi gevalt, literally “O Power!” (i.e. “O 'God'!”). Gods being, by definition, powerful, one could perhaps render the name “divine fame” or “godly fame.”

Drawing, no doubt, on the name's “foreign” feel, J. K. Rowling recasts it as a Norman French charactonym for the main antagonist of the Harry Potter-verse: Voldemort, which one could parse as “death-willing.” (Cp. deus vult, “'God' wills [it]”.] That, a thousand years after the Noman invasion, the good guys of Rowling's series tend to have Anglo-Saxon names (Potter) while the bad guys have French ones (Malfoy) probably tells you quite a bit about the enduring nature of the English class system.

Still, Voldemort Putin.

Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    The statistic I've heard is that to this day, 90% of the land in England is owned by 10% of the population. I suspect that that's
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, It would also not surprise me one bit, if the titled descendants of the Norman victors at Hastings in 1066 still held

 Hares 'dying' from mystery illness warns conservation expert - BBC News

 

Which is better, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny? That's the first elementary school theological argument that I can remember getting into.

(Both figures, of course, represent a kind of temporary children's autonomy. For both, you're up early, before anyone else, and in full control of the house; not only that, but you get rewarded for it.)

For most of the other kids, the answer to this question was a no-brainer, but I can remember—characteristically enough—holding out for the minority position.

Santa just brings you clothes and socks and stuff that you don't want anyway, went my argument.

(In rather poignant hindsight, I can rephrase this as: Santa brings you things that you would want if you were who they thought you were, or rather, if you were who they wanted you to be. Thus, Santa and his gifts paradoxically embody a kind of existential parental rejection.)

The Bunny, on the other hand, brings you bad stuff.

Really: what other day of the year do you get to gorge on candy before breakfast?

On top of which, he makes you work for it.

(In retrospect, I can see here also the stirrings of an early proto-pagan instinct: Santa : culture :: Easter Bunny : nature.)

Sorry, folks: more than 50 years on, I stick with my original position.

The Bunny is way better.

 

Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I drove past an egg tree in someone's front yard the other day: its exuberant colors against the dull early Spring Minnesota lands
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Growing up I enjoyed them both with enthusiasm each in his own time. Nowadays the people who lived in the house before I moved in

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

One Ocean Summit: an international summit to take action together | Campus  France

 

Many pagan rituals begin with the purificatory sprinkling of salt water. This act mythically reenacts creation: as all life arose in the womb of the Sea, so too do the touch of its waters make new.

What follows are the preparatory formulas that I myself generally use.

 

The Blessing of Salt and Water

 

(Take up dish of salt)

 

Blessings be upon you, O Salt.

 

(Sign)

 

In the name of Mabh, be blessed.

 

(Raise dish of Salt)

 

(Take up bowl of water)

 

Blessings be upon you, O Water.

 

(Sign)

 

In the name of Mabh, be blessed.

 

(Raise dish of Water)

 

(Add three good three-finger pinches of Salt into Water. Using aspergillum, stir three times.)

 

In the beginning was the Sea.

 

(Sprinkle.)

 

Comment

Last modified on

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 Review: 'Bridgerton' Is Sexy Shondaland Goodness : NPR

 

Somehow, Bridgerton reminds me of a blown-out Ostara egg.

Pretty on the outside, but that's all you get.

It's no exaggeration to categorize the Netflix period costume-drama Bridgerton, set in an ethnically diverse early 19th century Britain-that-never-was, as a fantasy series. At heart, it's a Mating Game drag show—how many fabulous costumes will our heroine get to swan around in this episode?—but, of course, lacking the poignant self-satire that gives real drag its pungency.

Women in female drag. Now there's a concept.

In Bridgerton, we enter into a world entirely matriarchal, with (basically) an all-female cast. Yes, there are a few nominal male characters, virtually all of them pretty prizes for the scheming central characters, without interior life of their own. (That they're beautiful and occasionally take their clothes off provides only limited consolation.) If this seems due payback for all those decades of hero-centric TV with its pretty-but-empty female trophies, unfortunately, in the end, one is just as boring as the other. Revenge nearly always makes for better fantasy than reality.

At very least, Bridgerton manages to avoid the all-too-predictable Masterpiece Theater trope, in which the lowah closses (= servants) are always good for a loff. (I'll include here Julian Fellowes' current Gilded Age, basically an English costume-drama in American drag.) Here, the dramatis personae are all Persons of Privilege, and working folk—amusing though they be—stay duly in the background, where they belong.

Although I don't doubt that eventually we'll be seeing the more-or-less obligatory Christmas episode, one advantage for the pagan viewer is that this is a thoroughly secular fantasy, in which religion—Christian or otherwise—plays virtually no part at all. As I said, this isn't a period piece, it's 21st century in drag.

What redeems Bridgerton is its unabashed let's-pretend ethnic romp. What if early 19th-century Britain were as ethnically diverse as contemporary Britain? What would it be like to live in a multiracial society utterly lacking in racism? In that sense, having laid aside even the slightest pretension to historical accuracy, the series offers the viewer a breath of fresh air.

Alas, Bridgerton's ethnic diversity is as far as it goes. Predictably, its lack of non-cardboardy male characters puts any sort of gay interest beyond the pale. (Unlike real matriarchies, there isn't even any lesbianism.) Sorry, Netflix, if you think that your gay audience is going to content itself forever with identifying with female characters while salivating over all those firm young male bodies, I've got some bad news for you.

Last modified on

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 It's a Summertime Classic! Homemade Potato Salad with 5 Variations | My  Sweet California Life

Some Advice to the Newly Pagan

 

Well, that was a very special experience, I'm sure. Now let me ask you a question.

If you'd just met someone, like we've just met today, would you start by telling them about your most intimate sexual experience?

No, of course you wouldn't. Well, that's what you've just done.

Look around the yard here. Every single one of these people that you see here has had experiences like yours, every single one.

You're new to this community, and you feel like you have something to prove. I understand that. Out there, experiences like the one that you've just told me about make you special; they make you stand out.

But this isn't there. Here your experience doesn't make you different; it makes you just like everybody else.

One more thing: experiences like the one that you've had are gifts, intimate as sexual experiences. They're for holding close, not for handing out to strangers like me. You've had power given to you; don't go throwing it away.

Last modified on

Additional information