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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Thirteen Below

Dance, children, dance

as I sing a song of Summer:

children dance, children dance.

 

The thirteenth of February: Old Imbolc Day. Temperature: 13 below.

Swathed in wraps, the kid and I sit on the front porch waiting for the school bus, singing songs of Beltane.

Call it defiance.

Call it delusion.

Call it sympathetic magic.

We're not the only ones singing of Summer. In the back yard, a redbird trills, proudly delineating this year's breeding territory with a magic song.

Here in Paganistan, our cardinals winter down south in balmy Iowa, but round about Imbolc (New Style), the males come back and start the New Wheel turning. On the front porch, we sing along, turning a Wheel of our own.

Or maybe it's the same one.

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Now the Green Blade Riseth: Invoking the Lady of Spring at Paganicon 2020

What follows is the Invocation/Bidding Prayer from the Rite of Welcome at this year's upcoming Paganicon. The prayer will be chanted together by the priest (=yours truly) and the people. The people's lines are in italic.

Ushrine is the name of the Baltic (specifically Lithuanian) Goddess of Dawn; Her name is cognate with many of the other Indo-European dawn-goddesses here invoked. Note that the invocation consists of Nine Names, and that these play out, as one might expect, from West to East. A good spell is one in which the words themselves do what they say.

 

Invocation/ Bidding Prayer (sung)

 

Priest (facing people):

Let us lift up our hands.

(Turns, faces altar.)

 

Many-named and many-hued Lady of Spring,

radiant goddess of the Day's Dawn,

radiant goddess of the Year's Dawn also,

we your people call to you:

 

You who are called Eostre,

(Eostre)

you who are called Ostara,

(Ostara)

you who are called Ushrine,

(Ushrine)

you who are called Aurora,

(Aurora)

you who are called Eos,

(Eos)

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Now the Green Blade Riseth: Crafting Rites of Welcome and Farewell for Paganicon 2020

Crafting—I'm tempted to say “wrighting”—Rites of Welcome and Farewell (known to the poetically-challenged as "Opening" and "Closing" Rituals) for this year's Paganicon 2020 has been an interesting and challenging commission.

So let me invite you to put on your ritualist's robes, and come along with me on the journey.

 

OK, ritualists, here are our parameters:

  • The Rites take place in a hotel, an unbeautiful institutional building.
  • We need to engage a large group of people (say 100+) from many different traditions.
  • We need to have special roles for the guests of honor.
  • No permanent installations (e.g. altars) are permitted.
  • No open flames.
  • The theme of this year's Paganicon is Journeys.

To these, I will add my own personal provisos:

  • The rites need to be about doing, not talking. Words need to be kept to a minimum.
  • The rites need to be something that, as a people, we do together.
  • The rites need to offer an encounter with Mystery and an opportunity for collective worship.
  • The structure of the rites needs to be such that one part flows into the next without need for verbal cueing. (“Now we're going to....”)
  • The rites need names. The common but colorless titles “Opening Ritual” and “Closing Ritual” simply will not do.
  • In these rites, as in all good ritual, every action needs to bear meaning.

 

The purpose of the Rite of Welcome is to bring together people who have come from different places, to claim the turf as ours, and to do something sacred that brings us together. Given these specifics, what kind of rite would you craft?

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks Leandra; I'm taking a big risk here, and (who knows) it could be a disaster. Scaling-up pagan ritual has been a steep learn
  • Leandra Witchwood
    Leandra Witchwood says #
    YES! You have your hands full! I can relate to the stress and issues that come with this kind of planning. Planning rituals is nev
  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    Very nice. Icon or statue? Or maybe an empty/draped chair? The anointing is en masse, yes? "Sprinkling/asperging the people" vs.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    The Goddess will (I trust) be aniconically present in Her attributes: the Fire, the eggs, the catkins, and the ram's-horned stang

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The Greater Disrepair

In the latter days of the Greenland Norse colony, it so happened that the episcopal seat fell vacant.

It had been 20 years since Bishop Álf died, and in all that time there had been no word from Norway, and no bishop for the Greenlanders. The great cathedral at Garðar had fallen into disrepair: the wall-hangings were threadbare and rotting away, the eucharistic vessels dented and dull.

At the Althing one year there was much discussion of this.

“Maybe we need to start sacrificing to Þórr and Frey again, like we used to in the old days,” said one man.

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Flight to the Sabbat

Full Wolf Moon: coven flying night.

The ointment makes the rounds; those who wish to, partake.

We lay down and Fly.

 

I am at the Sabbat in the firelit woods, kneeling at the altar.

I take His hand and kiss it. I tell Him I love Him. (I won't say there are no tears.) I lay my head in His lap. I speak the secret fears.

After a time, He takes His hand from my head and raises me up. His smile sears my soul.

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Culture Culture, or: Ambrosia in a Glass

I love buttermilk, or rather, the probiotic cultured dairy product that, these days, we call buttermilk.

(Historic buttermilk was the liquid residue left behind after the milk solids had been churned out into butter, but nowadays only butter-makers have access to this.)

I grew up drinking buttermilk in mid-century Pittsburgh—the Posches are an old Viennese family who, like most Central Europeans, relish sour flavors—and I still drink two or three glasses of it every day.

One of the things that I especially love about buttermilk is that it's easy. Other cultured dairy products—yogurt, kefir—require that you heat the milk to near-boiling, then let it cool until it's reached the right temperature to inoculate it with the appropriate culture. This is a big pain. It makes a mess of the cooking pot. If the temperature of your milk is too hot, it kills the culture. If it's not hot enough, it doesn't activate the culture, and you have to start the whole, laborious process over again.

Not buttermilk. Dump half a cup of buttermilk into a large, clean bowl. Add a quart of milk, and cover. Come back 24 hours later, and voilà: buttermilk. (You'll want to whisk it first before decanting, of course, to homogenize the texture.)

For years, I've just bought commercial buttermilk from the store and used that as my culture. One strain I managed to keep going for almost two years.

But cultures mutate over time, and eventually it's time for a new one. When this happened most recently, I tried four different local buttermilks, one after another, all without acceptable results. One had a nasty, ropey texture; one culture wouldn't take; one had a foul flavor; one was completely flavorless.

So I did what all early 21st-century people in despair do: I turned to the internet.

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Wert

“Our Mother, who art in Heaven....”

(Our Mother in Heaven: that would be the Moon, right?)

Och, gods help me: if I never see another pagan rewrite of the Our Father again, it will still be way too soon.

I understand, I understand. We're pagans; so much of our lore has been lost down the centuries that we're hungry, hungry. Cooking up something from scratch is hard; it's easier if you have a recipe to tweak.

Well, I have no problems with “reclaiming” material per se: certainly I've done my share of it down the years. (Most wassailing songs, for instance, reclaim very nicely, thank you very much.) It does seem to me that there's a certain etiquette involved in the process, though. (These things must be done delicately, or you hurt the spell.) You have no right to borrow something unless you can rightfully claim to have improved it.

So much for Mater Nostra.

What Protestants call the “Lord's Prayer” has its own integrity. For one thing, it sticks to basics, unlike virtually all of the bad pagan rewrites that I've seen. In America, where most of us take the basics for granted—and shame be upon us for it—we're left with nothing to pray for but intangibles like enlightenment and spiritual advancement.

As my grandmother used to say: Feh.

The last Our Mother that came my way (I think it began: “Our Mother and Father...”) was sent around—this was back in the days of on-line lists—by the moderator of the list. I'm not sure whether he intended it as a serious attempt at creating pagan liturgy (“Blessed be: welcome to the Pagan Irony-Free Zone”), or if he was just trying to stir up controversy. Either way, the results did not impress.

Besides, I'm a votary of the Horned. Witches don't need a new version of the Our Father; we've already got our own.

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