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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 White House warns Russian invasion of Ukraine may be imminent

 

Gods, it's like watching a rape that I'm powerless to stop. I can't bring myself to look away, but the very act of looking seems in itself unclean, an act of complicity.

I feel like a war voyeur.

Putin's invasion of Ukraine has become a hideous kind of live entertainment as we watch it play out in real-time. Somehow my obsessive interest in what's happening seems to me prurient, ghoulish even. Something Nascar-ish is happening here: you don't really want wrecks, but the potential smell of blood has its own allure. In candor, the wrecks are the draw.

Well, war is interesting: a terrible truth, but a truth nonetheless. I think of the Iliad, the Mahabharata, the Táin, those culturally-foundational war epics. War is reality of the most extreme sort.

From the safety of somewhere else, I watch the suffering of others with fascinated horror. Try as I might, I feel myself in a state of perpetual uncleanness. How do I dare make offerings, do the sacred and necessary work, in such a state of mental impurity?

Yet the sacred work must still be done: without it, the world would fail. Better an imperfect offering than no offering at all. I turn off the radio, take a deep breath, wash my hands, and do my best to clear my mind as I enter the temple to make the morning offering.

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 Drunk Birds? How a Small Minnesota City Stumbled Into the Spotlight - The  New York Times

 

The first robin of Spring sits in the snow of the front porch roof.

He looks cold.

Pleased as I am to see him—the gods grant the omen—I'm also surprised. Being eaters of worms and insects, robins usually follow the thaw northwards. But it's been a cold Winter here in Paganistan. Not only is the ground still frozen—in fact, the frost-depth is deeper than usual this year—but it's still covered with snow.

Why the robin, then? Easy.

He's here for the party.

Going upstairs one sunny morning in early Spring several years ago, I found myself thinking: What are those birds making such a ruckus about? Looking out the back window, I saw an amazing sight.

The branches of the crab trees on either side of the back gate were filled with robins, all squawking—not singing—at once. First off, this was odd because robins are not, in general, flocking birds.

Moreover, maybe a dozen more were actually rolling in the snow on the roof, a very un-birdlike behavior. As I watched, one staggered and fell over.

In fact, they were drunk.

Late Winter's repeated freezing and thawing ferments the sugars in the hard little crab apples. Birds and animals all know this and seek it out: robins, deer, bears. Think of it: a drunk bear. Now there's an encounter best avoided.

Back when I used to work as a waiter, my fellow servers would often gripe when they got a table of non-drinkers. This is understandable: a few cocktails and a bottle of wine can double a tab and up your tip percentage accordingly. Me, I never minded non-drinkers though, for this very good reason: people that don't drink are much more likely to order dessert, and not just one for the table, either.

In Mormon Utah, where, for religious reasons, many people don't drink alcohol, the per capita sugar consumption is higher than anywhere else in the country. The same is true of Hindu India and the Muslim Middle East. Everybody likes a buzz, and sugar is a powerful drug.

Well, it's been a long, hard Winter. Things are unsure. Food is beginning to run out, and we're not going to be seeing much from the garden in the near future. Meanwhile, we're seeing the worst inflation in decades, gas prices are way up, and Putin's war in Europe could just possibly spell the end of the world-order as we know it.

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    I remember reading a magazine article about how a train car carrying corn had overturned in the rocky mountains. Instead of tryin

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42 years ago, back before Paganistan was even called Paganistan, a few of us got together just before the Vernal Equinox to dye up a few dozen eggs using only natural dyestocks.

We've done the same every year since and, 42 years on, we're still doing it. Since the demise of the Wiccan Church of Minnesota's May Lottery—remind me to to tell you that story some time—it's the oldest ongoing tradition observed in the local pagan community.

1980. I had blown into town the previous year, ostensibly for post-graduate study at the U, but in actuality looking for my People. Knight, Tanith, Volkhvy and I had decided to try putting together a coven. When Ostara rolled around, we got together to dye up a batch of eggs using the natural dyestocks that I'd been reading about in Venetia Newall's magisterial An Egg at Easter. It seemed an appropriately witchy way to welcome in Spring.

That first year, we used just two dyestocks, onionskins and tumeric. (Depending on how you do it, these produce a range of colors from pale yellow to deep Minoan red.) Natural egg-dyes are mostly heat-applied: you throw the dye-stocks into the pot as the eggs are boiling. The results were breathtaking, infinitely more beautiful than the insipid food-color pastels of my youth: rich, gutsy Earth-Mother colors, tribal colors, pagan colors.

(As it turns out, my great grandmother used some of the same dyestocks for her eggs that we do for ours, but I didn't find this out until later. Now there's a pagan parable for you: knowledge lost, knowledge regained.)

So today's the day, Egg-Dye Sunday, one of my favorite days of the year. (Usually it's the Sunday before Ostara, but next weekend some of us will be out at Paganicon 2022 instead. Pagans haven't survived all these years without being flexible.)

The house fills up with people, the tables fill up with food. (It wouldn't be a pagan holiday without a potluck.) The windows steam up; the volume of a house-full of pagans all talking at once is ear-splitting. By the time we've finished, we'll have dyed up scores of dozens of eggs, the kitchen floor, and the snow in the backyard. It's our annual act of collective alchemy, transmuting Winter lead into Summer gold.

Pagans are a young community, and to date, we haven't been very good at building successful institutions. Still, all things considered, 42 years of the All-Natural Pre-Ostara Egg-Dye strikes me as an accomplishment to be proud of.

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