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 little girl was heartbroken.

They killed him! she sobbed. They killed him!

And him so tall and shining, and his antlers reaching up, up, up to the trees, and his velvet muzzle that you wanted to stroke.

And he called you his bonny wee bird, and his daughter.

And he came down from the altar and danced, danced with everyone.

And him so shining and full of life, and now he's dead. He's dead.

The mother takes the child into her arms and holds her head against her shoulder.

Oh, but only see, she whispers into her ear, turning her around again to face the altar.

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The bonfire is a universal symbol of human celebration.

The flaming cauldron is a distinctive symbol (in the English-speaking world at least) of the new paganisms.

Here's the story that marries these two divergent facts.

 

Bonfires are really pretty impractical things. For one, they're a waste of wood. They're of no use for cooking; a bed of coals is much better for that purpose. Likewise, a small fire is a much better means of keeping warm. You can't really get close enough to a big fire for long enough to warm yourself through.

That's why, universally, a bonfire means: something special, out-of-the-ordinary, spendthrift. That's why a bonfire means: celebration.

 

In the normal way of things, cauldrons have fire on the outside, not the inside. Generally, fire in a cauldron means a burned dinner.

Yet, by virtue of this very unusualness, the flaming cauldron has become a distinctive symbol of Wicca: so much so that, from within the movement, its self-contradictory nature has gone largely unremarked.

Why?

 

Here's the story. In the beginning, modern revival witchcraft insisted on skyclad ritual. For practical reasons, both meteorological and sociological, this mostly meant indoor ritual.

But you can't have a bonfire indoors.

Enter the flaming cauldron.

At this remove of time, we no longer know who lit modern paganism's first flaming cauldron. A likely candidate would be “Aunt” Doreen Valiente who, as a novice, was tasked with creating Wicca's first Yule ritual. (“Emeth, dear, write us up a nice Yule for tonight, would you? There's a good girl.”) The rite that she crafted on the fly that afternoon in December 1953, with the flaming cauldron at its very heart, has become the Book of Shadows' quintessential rite of Yule.

The cauldron-as-indoor-firepit is a brilliant use of available resources. Though historically an intimate attribute of the witch—being shorthand for potion-brewing—the cauldron otherwise has (with one exception) little presence in classic Wiccan ritual, an odd fact directly attributable to Wicca's rootedness in Ceremonial Magic. (Few, if any, historic witches would have had even the slightest idea what a "pentacle" was.) Most lists of Wicca's sacred tools don't even include the cauldron.

 

Modern Paganism has an Indoor Problem. “Nature religion aside,” as Bast observes in Rosemary Edghill's Bowl of Night, “most pagans are indoor people.”

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                                        Sweet or tart, cherries are the bomb | Health Beat | Spectrum Health

I don't own a cherry tree myself, but I've got the next best thing: picking rights on a neighborhood tree.

(“Hi, I'm the guy that's been stealing your cherries,” I said when I finally met the couple that “own” the tree. They laughed. “You're the third person that's told us that,” they said. “Take all you want.”)

This year I harvested about two gallons of cherries. Some became jam; most went into the freezer to be baked into pies in the deep pit of Winter when you're starting to think that Summertime is just a dream, and eating the fruit of July becomes an act of sympathetic magic.

Meanwhile, there's the cherry vodka.

As a neutral spirit, vodka absorbs flavors beautifully. The color, the fragrance, the flavor on the tongue: cherry vodka is Essence of Cherry, Summertime in a glass.

As we do every Yule, this year the Mother Berhta Guerrilla Wassailers will once again be making our annual rounds to do some socially-distanced, doorstep wassailing to deserving households. This year, as one does, we'll be wassailing the cherry tree as well.

We'll gather around the Tree and sing to it, thanking it and asking for more of the same next year.

We'll pour a libation of cherry vodka from the tree's own cherries.

Then we'll toast the tree in its own vodka.

(In the Old Ways, this is what passes for religion. What's not to like?)

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I adore cranberries—here at Witch Central (North), they're a wintertime staple—but most standard cranberry preparations involve truly toxic amounts of refined sugar. Fruit-sweetening seems a smart (to say nothing of aesthetically-preferable) alternative.

To palates accustomed to commercial cranberry sauces, the fruit-sweetened variety can at first seem overwhelmingly tart. (Unsurprisingly, witches value tartness, both behavioral and gustatory.) If you find that this is true for you, just up the proportion of grapes to cranberries.

 

Old Warlock's Fruit-Sweetened Cran-Grape Sauce

 

12 oz. (1 bag) fresh cranberries

1 generous bunch table grapes (red, white, or purple)

apple cider

pinch salt

 

Pick over the cranberries and wash them. Wash the grapes and stem them.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    In one of his early "Letters from America," Aleister Cooke, describing Thanksgiving to a British audience, described cranberries a
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I never cared for cranberry sauce myself, not home made and certainly not the canned variety. Now there are craisens in the store
From the 'Protocols of the Elders of Paganistan'

On the Left, they've convinced themselves that QAnon is a hoax.

On the Right, they think that we're a worldwide pedophilia ring.

Mwahahahahaha!

Little do they know that the time of fruition has finally come to achieve the goals that we first publicly articulated as far back as 1981!

Haven't they ever seen Halloween III? It wasn't subtitled The Season of the Witch for nothing!

Silly cowans. Did they seriously think that it was nothing but the stupidest Witchsploitation film of all time, not to mention the world's most annoying advertising jingle?

Mwahahahahaha!

Yes, my friends: the witches of the world are finally going to get our own back!

Sex? Ha! Little do they realize that the real reason why we've kidnapped all those children is to sacrifice them!

Yes, indeed: Samhain 2020 will see the greatest mass human sacrifice in human history, guaranteed to bring about not just the election of Joe Biden, but the worldwide resurrection of the ancient age of Witchcraft!

Mwahahahaha!

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Samhain Sans Coven

The coven has a sweet (but deep) little Rite of Samhain planned for this Saturday night—down on an island at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, if you can stand it—but it's looking like I probably won't be there.

Why not? Possible Covid exposure.

I'll spare you the story. In the end, it all comes down to a bunch of old guys who, being Trumpers, don't take precautions on principle. It's hard to believe anyone could get to be so old and still be so stupid.

Oh well. Years back, back before I knew anyone, back when I was still a Pagan Alone, come Samhain I'd go down to the woods, light the fire, and make the magic.

And it was always the real thing.

This year, it looks like I'll be going back to my roots. That's always a type of renewal. Besides, no matter how well-covened you are—as gods know I am—we're always all solitaires first. "Thou mayest not be a witch alone"? Not so, say I.

Mayest not? In fact, thou must.

Come sunset, on the Eve of November, I'll climb down the cliff—just like I did when I was in high school—light the fire, and make the magic.

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The Deer People Have Come

In the dream, the coven has gathered, ready to begin the Rite of Samhain.

Night has fallen. Turning, I see deer on the hillside: first two, then more, then many.

We have visitors, I say.

We watch them watching us. The Deer People have come to witness our sabbat.

As we watch, one by one, the deer take human form.

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