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.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
A Shared Bed Is Warmer

A shared bed is warmer.

(Nils-Aslak Valkeapää)

 

Beltanes up at Sioux Portage were always cold, and that was the year that it snowed while we were dancing the Maypole.

I was skinny as a boy well into my 30s. In the time that it took to empty my bladder and fumble my way back into the tent, I was already shivering uncontrollably.

Fortunately, I had offered tent-room to my friend Daniel that year. Though we weren't lovers at the time—that would come later—in an act of pure body hospitality, only half-awake, he wordlessly opened his arms to me and enwrapped me in primal mammalian comfort. Willingly I dove into those warm waters.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Is It Ethical to Mine the Moon?

According to the mysterious Artemis Accords now being drafted by the US government, the US claims the “right” to “extract resources” from the Moon.

Does the US have this right?

Let me frame the question more broadly: Is it ethical to mine the Moon?

To some, this may seem an odd question, but to New Pagans, as to traditional peoples everywhere, this question is profoundly religious in nature. The answer to this question, in fact, lies at the very heart of the Old Ways, both New and Old alike, and—interestingly—the answer is surprisingly uniform across traditions.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, We'll just have to agree to disagree about this matter. The REEs (Rare Earth Elements) are so economically and strate
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    We've already seen the damage that unsacred exploitation of resources can do here on Earth; gods forbid that we should take it els
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, I think it would be unethical to not mine the Moon. So many people crave the First World lifestyle, and will do whatev

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
A Visit to St. Cornely's

...if you'll please just step this way, we come to one of the highlights of our tour of St. Cornely's: a Roman Era bas-relief depicting St. Cornely himself, dating to roughly A.D. 425. Though worn, note the quality of the sculpture.

Horns? Rather surprising things to find on the head of a saint, no? Although of course, Moses frequently wears them as well in medieval art, as you know. Well, no, those aren't actually horns per se...the name Cornely derives from the Latin clan name, Cornelius. While the name's ultimate origin is unclear, it's thought to derive from Latin cornu, “horn.” So the horns are, in effect, a visual pun identifying the saint, alluding to his name.

Ah, yes indeed, the saint's nudity: visitors always comment. Surprising, is it not? Although not, of course, unparalleled in Christian art. This alludes to the manner of his death: stripped naked and thrown into the arena to be trampled by wild bulls.

But, of course, he's not entirely naked, is he? Does anyone know the name of the kind of neck-ring that he's wearing? Yes, that's right, a torc: a type of jewelry associated with ancient Celtic nobility. This particular torc is one of the mysteries of St. Cornely's. The reason for its inclusion here is unclear: there's no mention of it in the legend of St. Cornely. Perhaps this sculpture was commissioned by a noble Celtic family: this part of England was once, as you know, the territory of a Celtic tribe called the Dobunni. Perhaps the torc is by way of making a claim of local ancestry for the saint, though of course such a claim would be highly unlikely, historically speaking. As it is, we simply don't know.

Note the bull here to Cornely's right—not looking particularly wild, I must say—with the saint's hand raised in blessing over its head. This alludes to the manner of the saint's death which, according to the rather gruesome logic of canonization, makes St. Cornely the patron saint of cattle and cattle-herding. In fact, the Dobunni were known far and wide for their fine herds, so the choice of this particular saint as patron for this particular parish makes a great deal of sense.

As it happens, Cornely is rather unusual among saints in having two feast days each year, both of which, interestingly, correspond with major events in the cattle-herder's year. The annual Blessing of the Herds falls in late April, just before the cattle would have been driven to the summer pastures, and the other in early November, just after All Saints' Day, at the time of the annual slaughter. Intriguing, no?

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    In fact, there actually is a Roman Era bas-relief of a Horned God in a little parish church up north somewhere (Yorkshire?). (Good
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    No, but you've read my rune: he's the fiction that tells the truth.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    So, the local version of the horned god continued onward wearing St. Cornely as a mask. Is this St. Cornely found in Lives of the

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Motherless

Who you callin' 'cowan'?”

 

In Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin's “Masters of Solitude” novels*, the Witches—they call themselves “Coven” or “Circle”—have a derisory term for cowans/non-pagans: they call them Motherless.

(Quickie alternate-historical recap: the Chinese invade the US; the US collapses; then, for reasons never made clear, the Chinese withdraw. The East Coast, which has become a single sprawling megalopolis, literally walls itself off in incestuous techno-isolation and lets the Interior stew in its own atavistic juices. Out of this cauldron of ferment arises Circle, a tribal Witch culture that has bred for psychic/telepathic ability.)

Now, this makes sense. As pagans, we're the Mother's People, the First People. We've continued to love and to honor Her all along, even when others have forgotten Her.

Hence “Motherless.” It's a brilliant example of how things look from Inside. The term has a whole passel of implications, all of them apt. Those without a mother have no one to care for them. Those without a mother have no one to teach them the right ways of doing things. Those without a mother can grow up emotionally stunted and uncaring. (Just or not, those are the stereotypes.)

Not all non-pagans are Motherless, of course. The Goddess loves all Her children, even those who have turned their backs on Her. In Her mighty ruth (the old Hwicce/Witch word for mercy; tellingly, the term survives mostly in its opposite, ruthless), She shows Herself to them in ways that they too can understand. Hindus have goddesses; Buddhists too, though they may or may not call them that. Not all Christians are Motherless: consider Mary, Goddess of the Christians. (Let them play their semantic shell-games if they wish; pagans know a goddess when we see one.)

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Three Fish

Have you been having weird dreams since this all began, dreams that seem somehow more mythic, more weighted, more charged with meaning, than usual? Me too.

Here's today's.

 

Every year my grandfather would drive up north to a particular lake in Canada.

When he got there, he would lay down on the shore of the lake, and his soul would leave his body through his mouth. For three days and nights it would fly, while his body lay unmoving on the lakeshore.

Where it flew off to he would never say, but this much I can say: when he awoke, there would always be three fish lined up on the ground beside him.

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Jack-in-the-Buff

A loving springtime tribute to the Spirit of Skyclad.

 

Jack-in-the-Buff

(Tune: Jack-in-the-Green)

 

Now Winter is over, and Summer's come in,

so it's finally safe to start showing some skin.

Our ski-masks and parkas we joyously doff,

for to go about dancing with Jack-in-the-Buff.

Parkas we doff, parkas we doff,

for to go about dancing with Jack-in-the-Buff.

 

Now Jack-in-the-Buff is a singular man

with sandals, a beard, and an all-over tan.

A pentagram pendant is more than enough:

“Adorn, but don't cover,” says Jack-in-the-Buff.

More than enough, more than enough:

Adorn, but don't cover,” says Jack-in-the-Buff.

 

Now Jack-in-the-Buff has a very strange power:

be they never so prim, within less than an hour,

wherever he goes (it amazes us all)

the clothes will start dropping like leaves in the fall.

Amazes us all, amazes us all:

the clothes will start dropping like leaves in the fall.

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The Sears of Death: An Urban Witch Story

Nowadays it's called Midtown Exchange and Global Market: a lively and successful gathering of lofts, restaurants, and ethnic specialty shops.

But more than 30 years ago, when I moved into the neighborhood, everyone in the area knew it as the Sears of Death.

A kind of shadow hung over the place. Inside, the light was always dim, the air always felt cold and kind of clammy, and everything, even new things, looked somehow tired, gray, and colorless.

Here's why.

 

Year: 1928. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sears is proudly opening its newest landmark outlet: an Art Deco skyscraper, clad in shining golden limestone, carved in Celtic Revival style.

On opening day, a shabby old woman shambles up to the doughnut counter in the front lobby.

“Give me a dozen doughnuts,” she mumbles, carefully laying out twelve pennies on the counter.

The clerk looks at her a little askance: the woman is dressed in tattered layers of mismatched clothing and smells pretty rank. Nowadays we would assume that she's homeless.

Still, a sale is a sale. The clerk dutifully puts twelve doughnuts into the bag, closes the top, and holds it out to the old woman.

“That's only twelve,” says the old woman, “I want a dozen.”

She's missing a number of teeth, and it's hard to understand what she says.

“Twelve is a dozen,” says the clerk, with opening day primness.

“A dozen is thirteen,” the old woman tells her. “That's what they give at the bakery.”

“Well, this isn't the bakery,” says the clerk. “Here, a dozen is twelve.”

The old woman takes her bag and goes off, muttering.

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