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.
'Witch' Originally Meant 'Too Busy,' Suggests Philologist

AP: Minneapolis MN

You may have heard that the word “witch” originally meant “wise one,” or “bender [of reality]”, or “waker [of the dead].”

But if Stefano Pozzo, Doctor of Philology at the University of Paganistan is correct, the word derives instead from an Anglo-Saxon adjective meaning “too busy.”

“Students of Old English, the parent language of Modern English spoken more than 1000 years ago, have long suspected the existence of an I-stem adjective wicca” said Pozzo, who pronounces the word WITCH-ah, “but until recently we had no manuscript evidence to prove it. Newly-available palimpsest studies, however, make it clear, not only that the word existed, but that its original meaning, as we had long suspected, was 'too busy.'”

Surviving Old English texts, he explained, were largely written on parchment, which at the time was a valuable resource, far too valuable simply to throw away. It was common practice to reuse old parchment by scraping off the original ink and writing a new text on the erased surface.

Pozzo noted that new computer technology has now made it possible to read erased texts, known as palimpsests, which had heretofore been inaccessible to scholars.

In a recent article, Hebrew University's Dr. Tzemakh Posner amplifies Pozzo's contention.

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Prince William and Kate Middleton Visit Pakistani Pagans

During their recent trip to Pakistan, eventual heir to the British throne prince William and his wife Kate Middleton paid a special visit to Bumboret Valley, home to Pakistan's famed pagan tribe, the Kalasha.

Sometimes called the “last pagans of the Hindu Kush,” the Kalasha, numbering some 4000, live in three remote valleys in what is now NW Pakistan. They are widely known for the freedom (and beauty) of their women, their wine-drinking, and their polytheistic religion.

Of all the Indo-European-speaking peoples, only the Kalasha have practiced their ancient and traditional religion continuously since antiquity. Characterized by sacred dances, outdoor sanctuaries, and animal sacrifice, the religion of the Kalasha offers an unparalleled window of insight into the practices and thought-ways of the pagan ancestors. More than anything else, it resembles an archaic form of pre-Hindu Vedic religion.

You can see unedited footage from the October 16th royal visit to Kalashastan here, courtesy of Ishpata News, the local Kalasha news outlet. (Ishpáta is the most common greeting in the Kalasha language: "Hello!".) You will recognize the Kalasha women by their distinctive and colorful clothing and headgear, and the men by the feathers in their Chitrali caps. During the long centuries of Muslim oppression, Kalasha were forced to identify themselves in public by wearing feathers in their headgear. Pagans being pagans, they took it up as a distinctive sign of pride, and unapologetically sport feathers to this very day.

The coverage of the royal visit is well worth watching (and doesn't Bonny Prince Billy look fetching in his feathered Kalasha cap?). After centuries of being despised as ignorant unbelievers, the Kalasha are currently undergoing something of a cultural renaissance. (Part of this new confidence in Kalasha identity derives from the knowledge that people of the West [i.e. us] are embracing, by choice, what the Kalasha already have by inheritance.) As several of the spokespersons interviewed toward the end of the clip discuss, the highest levels of Pakistani government, including Prime Minister Imrat Khan, have recently awoken to the knowledge of the living cultural treasure that the Kalasha represent, and moved to enshrine their rights by protective legislation. In a culturally homogenized world increasingly flattened by unthinking monotheization, pagans are the guarantors of freedom and eco-cultural health.

Don't be put off by the lack of subtitles, or the 26 minutes of narration in Kalashagrom, a profoundly archaic language closely related to Sanskrit. Here is your opportunity to hear the voices of the pagan ancestors, vibrantly alive in our hour and day.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    The headgear being such a prime marker of Kalasha identity, I found the Presentation a graceful and moving gesture: conferring, in
  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    I just watched up through the Presentation of the Hats, but that was fun.

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Into the Dark

Gods, it's dark.

These mornings I'm mostly up by 5: dark outside, dark inside. We've already lost Summer's long twilights. Now the Sun goes down and wham! it's dark, with nary a time between.

In a moon's time, paradoxically, I'll be able to navigate in here at this hour without turning on lights, what with all the ambient urban light reflected from the snow.

But for now, with the leaves still on the trees, and the creeper on the side of the house, I'm moving by feel.

Every few years, we hold our Samhain on an island at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. In the stone-built WPA hall with its central hearth, it's easy to forget what century you're in.

What I always notice most is how dark it is.

Last time, we must have had 50 candles burning on the tables to light our feast: a spendthrift extravagance of light for this most festive of feasts. Even so, it's dark. I think about the ancestors, who viscerally understood this annual descent into darkness in a way that we, with our electric-lit lives, hardly can.

Walking up the street this morning, the beauty of the waning Moon in the southeastern sky pierced my heart like a spear, the pearly, opalescent colors of crescent and disc precisely mirroring those of the pre-dawn sky. Only early-risers truly appreciate the Wane.

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Bull Stone Rising: Some Thoughts on Foundation Offerings

When you raise a standing stone, or build an important structure like a house or a temple, you'd do well to begin by making a foundation offering first. That's the pagan way.

What archaeologists call the “foundation deposit” is prayer made permanent. It embodies, in an ongoing way, the builder's intentions for the new structure, constituting the foundation beneath the foundation.

Among the Copper Age cultures of what archaeologist Marija Gimbutas called Old Europe—as in Minoan Crete, Old Europe's final flourishing—it was not uncommon, when building a house, to bury beneath it first a small, clay model of a house: action made articulate. The intention could hardly be clearer.

So when, at Beltane, we raise the Bull Stone at Sweetwood Sanctuary in southwestern Witchconsin's Driftless Area, you can be sure that, before the raising of the Stone itself, we'll first be laying our intentions in Earth.

The Bull Stone marks the marriage point of Earth with Sun, of People with Land. The Stone itself makes the Great Marriage with the Land both in microcosm—at the shrine itself—and in macrocosm, lining up with the notch on the horizon where two ridges meet that marks the place where the Sun sets on the shortest day of the year.

In the Earth beneath the Bull Stone we will lay three carefully-chosen offerings:

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I know that many people would include fishing as part of the hunt, as in "hunting and fishing" however I tend to view fishing as a

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The Craft Is No Thornless Rose

 “She hath a grip of all the Craft.” (Andrew Mann, 1594)

For behold: I am Queen of all Witcheries.” (The Charge of the Goddess)


Here's the thing to remember: there are many Witcheries.

Feign though we be to one amongst the many, yet are we heirs to them all.

I've been reading (and mostly enjoying) Aaron Oberon's 2019 Southern Cunning: Folkloric Witchcraft of the American South. Oberon is a post-Wiccan witch (his nutshell definition of Wicca as “four corners and gods” has got to be one of the wittiest and most succinct critiques that I've ever heard) in search of a Witchcraft with some grit and spooge to it. This he finds in the folklore of the American South, where he grew up, and in the American witch-tales collected in Hubert Davis' classic (but, among witches, much-neglected) collection The Silver Bullet and Other American Witch Stories.

Now it has to be faced that one of Wicca's great weaknesses lies in the fact that its magic is largely coven-magic. When it comes to practical magic for one, the standard Book of Shadows simply doesn't have much to offer. This explains why so many Wiccans have been off studying Hoodoo for the last 20 years: they're looking for the micro-nutrients that their own diet simply isn't providing.

In one chapter, Oberon sets himself to unravel a bit of folklore that he himself grew up with. “The Devil is beating his wife,” his mother would say when it rained while the Sun was shining.

Well, the expression raises some interesting questions, and Oberon's discussion ranges—as it should—through Scots trial disquisitions, domestic abuse, and his own dream-work.

But you've missed something important, Aaron: you're forgotten your Witch mythology. Remember the Lady's Descent? Remember the Scourging? Remember the “pangs of love”?

Feign though we be to one Witchery, yet are we heirs to them all.

The Horned drives. His Scourge, that most problematic of all His tools—as I learned from local Wiccan elder Burtrand back in the 80s—may be little-understood, but with it, he drives us to surpass ourselves, to go beyond what we thought we were capable of. Pain, adversity: these push us to transcend our own limits.

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Deck the Goat

October waning away, Samhain coming on. That means it's time to deck the Goat.

Like most witches, I'm a full-fledged aigolator (< Grk. aix, aigo-, “goat”). Whence our folk's affinity for things caprine?

If you think that it has something to do with the Bible, you're probably right. The Bible famously prefers sheep to goats. Well, sheep are passive and stupid, goats smart and headstrong. As Dion Fortune says, Some love one, and some love the other, but let me ask: Which would you rather be?

But the witch's aigophilia runs deeper than this.

Long ago, when the tallfolk's red bronze broke our people's blue flint, we got pushed up into the unfertile hills that no one else wanted. There's not enough graze up there for a cow, but goats thrive on the spiny browse that grows from the rocks. That's how the witch-folk became a People of the Goat: like us, they're survivors.

In this, we are like the Kalasha of what is now NW Pakistan, the only Indo-European-speaking people who have continuously practiced their traditional religion since antiquity. They too got pushed up into the mountains, in this case the Hindu Kush. They too survived thanks to the Goat.

Along with their herds of domestic goats, the Kalasha also reverence the argali, the white Himalayan wild goat, which they call “the cattle of the fairies.” Interestingly, the Scots refer to deer by the same title. On deer's milk I was suckled, goes a fairy song from the Highlands.

If it should seem strange that a lifelong vegetarian should have an argali head mounted above his fireplace, let me hasten to add that it's an antique from the 1920s. Crowning the head, the magnificent horns spiral out horizontally on either side, like the ram-horns worn by gods in Egyptian art. (The Egyptian wild goat, a relative of the Himalayan species, went extinct in pre-Dynastic times but—Kemet being Kemet—the Egyptians portrayed their gods with its horns to the very end of pharaonic civilization.) That's my deckable Goat.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Although I've never seen it, I've heard for years about National Lampoon's Satanist Catechism for Children: "This is the Goat. We
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I remember seeing a YouTube video of baby goats on sheet metal. They were adorable.
How Did the Standing Stone Get to the Top of the Hill?

At Beltane, we raise the Bull Stone.

How, you ask, did we manage to get a ton of local limestone from the wall of the coulee (ravine), across the bed of the coulee itself, and all the way up the hill to where it now lies?

Not difficult.

The Witch sat at the top of the slope and Sang the Stone up.

Really. She Sang, and the Stone just—as it were—floated up the hill. Call it levitation.

I, Steven of Prodea, tell you this, and I know it to be true because I was there, and saw it happen myself.

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