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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Some Thoughts on a Contemporary Cernunnos

That the Horned God speaks directly to contemporary needs and sensibilities may readily be deduced from the hundreds—if not thousands—of contemporary visual images that He has inspired.

I'd like to take a little time to muse on what strikes me as one of the simplest, most beautiful and, simultaneously, most articulate of those many images: Thalia Took's "Cernunnos." 

Took takes as her prototype the famous—and eponymous—image of Cernunnos from the Gallo-Roman Pillar of the Boatmen discovered in 1710 underneath the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris (see below). Both images share a full-face view of the god, with antlers, beard, torque, and leaf-shaped cervine ears. Clearly this is a god who readily hears prayer, his hearing as sensitive as a deer's. Both images are inscribed with the name of the god: in the Notre Dame Cernunnos, above the image itself; in Took's, charmingly, below.

I'm struck by the visual economy of Took's rendering. We see only the base of the god's antlers; his shoulders and bare chest suggest both virility and nudity. His pentagrammatic face—beard, antler, ear, ear, antler, beard again—gazes out directly at the viewer, enhaloed in his wild tangle of hair. This is a wilder, more untamed god than that of the Paris Boatmen. 

In your imagination, take away Cernunnos' antlers, ears, and "torque" (on which, more shortly).  Connoisseurs of historic irony will note that the god, with his open face, short beard, and centrally-parted shoulder-length hair bears a strong resemblance to traditional images of Jesus. This is sheer brilliance on Took's part: it both lends the image a disquieting familiarity, and with gentle humor redresses the fact that early Christian artists, in the absence of any real knowledge of the historical Jesus' appearance, based what has come to be the standard image of the Christian god on pagan prototypes. Call it a cattle-raid of icons.

Note both the economy and the aptness of Took's palette. The original Pillar of the Boatmen Cernunnos sculpture would likely have been painted, but we can no longer say what the colors might have been. Took here renders the god solely in greens and browns: precisely what one would expect for a god of woodland and wildlife.

Also well worth noting are the ways in which Took departs from the Paris image. We see here the subtlety of her approach. The Paris Cernunnos wears a royal torque and, as god of wealth, sports two more hanging from his antlers. Here, though, what at first seems to be a torque proves, on closer inspection, to be a green snake. Like Shiva, the Western Antlered also wears around his neck a living serpent, which (as witches well know) whispers into his leaf-shaped cervine ears the mysteries of the Great Below.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Please, and with my blessing!
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Beautiful! Another one to print out for my inmates' binder of shadows. Thanks.
A Public Service Announcement from the Paganistani Ministry of Magical Culture

This is a public service announcement from the Paganistani Ministry of Magical Culture.

In a little more than a Moon from now, pagans everywhere will be dyeing eggs to celebrate the Spring Evenday/Equinox.

If you haven't started saving onionskins for that purpose yet, now is the time to start.

(If you need to learn how to dye eggs using onionskins, and other natural dyestocks, you can do so here.)

On behalf of the Paganistani Ministry of Magical Culture, we wish you and yours a very safe and happy Wolf Moon.  

Please remember to shovel your sidewalks.

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  • Kile Martz
    Kile Martz says #
    My birthday comes on the tiptoes of spring, so I have enjoyed my birthday, if only for the promise of warmth and flowers, each Mar
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    You actually used asparagus to dye eggs? Now that's pious.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Astounding Pagan Revival

Really, in the long history of human religion, the Pagan Revival has got to be one of the most surprising—and unforeseen—developments of all.

One of the things that's most amazing about it is that, as a mass movement, the Revival Paganisms are largely composed of—and driven by—individual choices made by isolated individuals across the world.

Without benefit (for the most part) of personal or social pressure, people have again and again thought—and felt—their way back into the Old Ways. One by one, we look at ourselves and we say: I am pagan. Every day, it happens again. It's happening to someone even as you read this.

In the history of human religion, such a thing is utterly unprecedented.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Even, one hopes--when the time comes--to death. "The Religions of Yes." Anthony, that's brilliant. I plan to mention your name whe
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Your welcome.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Unlike the twin monoliths of fundamentalism and materialism paganism offers an alternative that says yes to life and all it's expe

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Crown of Light

The crown of candles sits on the table by the door. I see it every time that I come into the house.

On Bridey's Eve, it graced a sacred head. The tall white candles bathed her in warm light, the leaves of its wreath crisply green against the white of her veil. 

That was thirteen nights gone. Now the brittle leaves crumble as I unwrap the gold ribbon that holds them to the crown. The ribbon goes back onto its spool; the leaves I will strew in the snowy garden, to nourish another harvest.

The candles, half-burned, go into the chandelier in the temple, where they will light our next rite.

The crown, denuded, returns to its peg in temple storage, to await the coming of another February.

More than 300 years ago, Robert Herrick wrote in his poem "Candlemas Eve":

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  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Beautiful, Steven, as always. Linking on FB.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Are You Coming to Thunderfest?

What with this summer's forthcoming Midwest Grand Sabbat, I've already got my hands full, but if I didn't, and were I inclined to throw a public festival, I know just what it would be.

“Thunderfest: A Meeting of Traditions.”

People know the Thunderer by many Names, but just about everyone honors Him, and rightfully so. Was it not likely the jolt of His lightnings that sparked the primal womb of Mother Earth and so gave rise to life? Is it not He Who gives us the rains that nourish our crops and feed us?

Such a festival would bring together those of different traditions who don't usually mingle, but probably should: heathens, Reconstructionists of various flavors, Afro-Diasporic folk. No matter who our people, we've all got Thunder in common—whatever you call Him—and swapping lore will only make us stronger.

Thunder, Þórr, Donar, Taranis, Perkunas, Perún, Zeus, Iuppiter, Xangó, Enlil, Ba'al Hadad, Indra....Thus, by His many Names, we'll invoke Him with a flashing libation of liquor on opening night, when we call to Him to ask for His blessing on our gathering, and—of course—for fair weather for the duration.

Throughout thee days of the festival, we'll sing for Him, dance for Him, and tell (and maybe enact) tales of His mighty deeds. Then, at the festival's crowning rite, we'll offer Him a goat, just like in the old days.

And that will be a feast to remember.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    "I'm your V-neck...." That's the Minnesota version.
  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza says #
    Yeah baby! She's got it!!!
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I suppose that when we throw the Love Goddess festival you'll want to do Shocking Blue's "Venus"? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=
  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza says #
    Only if I can lead a procession of folks air-guitaring to AC/DC's "Thundsrstruck"!
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Another thing about pagans: we have more fun with our religion(s) than anyone.
On the Sex Scandals in Christendom, or: Why Religions Need Goddesses and Priestesses

To misquote Euripides: Alas, ill-rule in Christendom.

If you were thinking that the ongoing (and systemic) sexual abuse in the “Catholic” Church was a product of a misguided policy of clerical celibacy, think again.

As it turns out, the Southern Baptist Church, the US's largest Protestant denomination, has the same problem.

Particularly disturbing here is the fact that both churches have routinely acted to protect the organizations themselves rather than the victimized. Equally disturbing is the routine failure of both organizations to report sexual criminals to secular authorities. Christians have a long history of thinking that they're above the law.

One point is only a point. Two points make a line.

Christians of the world: the rest of us are really starting to wonder if this kind of thing is built into your religion.

Abuse of power—and, in particular, sexual abuse of power—is not, of course, only a Christian problem. Given power, human beings have demonstrated again and again their capacity to abuse that power, and by male human beings, alas, such abuse is all too often enacted sexually.

That's why societies—and religions, in particular—need built-in checks and balances.

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Why I Don't Call the Horned God 'Cernunnos'

The Horned God is assuredly one of the preeminent (and, I would contend, patron) gods of the Pagan Revival, and I would be willing to hazard a guess that in English-speaking Pagandom at large, He is named by the majority of His votaries as “Cernunnos.”

(Writer and thinker Ceisiwr Serith once remarked to me that an image search for “Cernunnos” turns up mostly modern, and very little ancient, art.)

But though the Horned is my heart-god and I offer to Him daily, I myself never call Him Cernunnos.

Why not?

To me, names are culture-specific—one could even say culture-bound—material. “Cernunnos” is a specifically Gaulish name, bound to a particular language, place, and people. I'm not a Gaul, I don't live in historic Gaul, and I don't speak Gaulish. Therefore, though I honor the Name and recognize it, I don't use it.

The same with “Herne,” “Pan,” or most other historic Names that you'd care to mention.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Well, of course how you, or anyone else, conduct your spiritual lives, Greybeard, is no business of mine. But if one accepts my pr
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Wait. What? We can't say Cernunnos because we aren't Gaulish? Can we say Ishtar if we aren't Babylonian? Can we say Diana if
  • Kile Martz
    Kile Martz says #
    Indeed, I don't think of him as antlered, but horned. I was born under the sign of the ram, was raised around cattle. I see the ho
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks Joanna. Personally, I'm a big fan of precision in language. If that's pedantry, so mote it be. The issue that you raise is
  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven says #
    Plus, Cernunnos is an antlered god, not a horned god Am I the only pedantic when it comes to this lol? Great blog post, great b

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