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
Fathers and Sons

My father watches me approach. The look on his face is complex.

He shakes his head, wondering.

“You look so much like my father,” he says.

Sometimes one single sentence is the very best gift you can give.

He's right: the rangy build, the jaw, the widow's peak. Right now I'm about the age that my grandfather would have been when I first remember him.

He was born in Vienna. I'd always thought that his name was Frank, but recently I found out that his parents named him (for the kaiser, I suppose) Franz Josef.

I'd be willing to bet that he chose Frank himself. Except for songs, he always refused to teach his children any German.

“We're Americans,” he'd say.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
What a Goddess

 Now our lady the Goddess had never loved,

but she would know all mysteries, even the mystery of Death,

so she journeyed to the Underworld.

 

So begins Wicca's foundational story of the Goddess's Descent into the Underworld.

It's an etiological masterpiece, the tale of the making of the First Witch. But for now, I'd like to linger here with this first sentence. Often it gets glossed over in a rush to get to the good stuff, but that's a shame, really. As a first sentence, it's a brilliant set-up, and my gods: talk about rich characterization.

Now our lady the Goddess had never loved... Well, there's your foreshadowing. You know exactly what's going to happen in this story: she's going to fall in love. That's the central mystery, after all. But look at what else it says about her.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Thank you! I already knew about Ishtar's descent to get back Dumuzi from Babylonian mythology but I wasn't familiar with this one
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    GBG. To the best of my knowledge, the tale of the Descent first saw print in Witchcraft Today in 1952. Although he already knew Do
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Is this story from Robert Graves or Gerald Gardner?

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Draugatrú: Or, Undead Religion

The old Norse didn't believe in ghosts per se.

Instead, they knew of a being called a draugr: a revenant, an un-dead, an animated corpse that will not lay still, but instead walks, wreaking ill, to trouble the land of the living.

The Norse said DROW-ger. In Iceland today, they say DROY-goor. If (there's no evidence that they did) the English-speaking ancestors had known of such wights (or rather, un-wights) and had called them by an equivalent name, we would today name them drows (as drowse).

When the southron shavelings came in and started vaunting about their new god, you can't tell me that people didn't nod in recognition and say: Aha.

Come to think of it, this actually explains quite a bit about the history of the last thousand years, and (alas) much ill-wreaking that still goes on today.

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What Do You Swear On When You Take a Public Oath?

You're giving testimony in court, or maybe you're assuming public office.

In both cases, it's customary to swear on a holy object.

So, Pagan: on what do you swear?

Strike me dead if I'd swear on one of their accursed books.

Strike me dead if I'd swear on a book at all.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Makes sense: who is as stable or trustworthy as Earth? And, of course, she knows everything.
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    Traditionally, Slavic people would take a lump of earth in hand while making an oath and then eat it. I like it.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I once read that the ancient Egyptians took their oaths on an onion. Something about those concentric rings in an onion. I like
  • Ian Phanes
    Ian Phanes says #
    I've thought that an altar pentacle could work for a witch.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
New Moon of the Seasons

Do you go out every month, just after sunset, to greet the New Moon in the West?

(They say that it's bad luck to see her through glass, but this means through a window; wearing glasses doesn't count.)

Do you greet her with the sound of horns?

Do you blow her a kiss when you see her?

Do you raise to her your hand?

Do you bend to her your knee?

Do you give her a word of greeting, like Love to you, my Light?

Do you carry in your pocket money, for her blessing?

(For long and long, the silver penny was our major money, and so it was reckoned that money was the Moon's, always waning, like her, and—hopefully—waxing again.)

Do you sing to her a song, like Hail to Thee, Thou New Moon?

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
In Praise of Catalpas

The catalpas are in bloom: thank Goddess.

Catalpa speciosa, the northern Catalpa. They're huge trees, catalpas: often the tallest on any given block. Heart-shaped leaves, bigger than your out-stretched hand, and those flowers: creamy with spotted tongues, like little orchids, really, if you can imagine tens of thousands of orchids all in one place. (Thus does superabundance render even the greatest beauty banal.) The city's catalpas are towering pyramids of white right now, that you can smell a block away: that sweet, spicy, nutmeg-y smell of Midsummer.

They're weedy kinds of trees, actually. Soft wood, not good for much of anything. They're also "dirty" trees: first the fallen flowers, which coat the sidewalks with slime, then the long, carob-like seedpods that litter the lawn by the thousands and (I swear) tens of thousands.

Oh, but they're in their glory now, and that means Midsummer can't be far away.

I grew up calling them (PI alert) "Indian tobies." Oddly enough (it took me a while to figure it out), "tobie" is short for "tobacco." Here's why. 

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Why the Craft Is Different

There were many horned gods in antiquity.

There's no evidence that any of them were “dying gods.”

(Osiris, perhaps the preeminent dying god of antiquity, was a horned god, it's true. But since most of the other gods—not to mention the goddesses—of ancient Egypt wore horns, but were never said to have died, it's questionable how much the case of Osiris can be said to prove.)

We have no evidence, for instance, that the Cernunnos of the Keltic world was a dying god, much less a dying-and-rising god. In a single story, Pan is said to have died (“Great Pan is dead!”), but this is a one-off story, not a mythology of an Eternal Return.

Yet, in the modern paganisms, the Horned God is preeminently He Who Dies and Rises: the great and sacred story of humanity's lifelong religious involvement with the animal species which, through the history of our kind, have been the source of our food.

Where, then, did this identification come from, if not from the ancient paganisms? Why do we think of the Horned as He Who Dies to Feed the People?

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Interesting observation about the dying God as a Christian concept. Maybe that's why I have never been comfortable with the whole

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