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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Does Planet Earth = Goddess Earth?

One day, while Mother Earth was visiting Athens...

So begins a story from Robert Graves' Greek Myths. Theologically speaking, I find these words profoundly disturbing. I thought so when I first read them years ago; decades on, they still trouble me.

The same problem arises in Isaac Bonewits' Litany to the Earth Mother:

R: You who are called Gaea among the Greeks....

V: Come to us!

R: You who are called Tellus by the Romans....

V: Come to us! etc.

So let me get this right: we're calling Earth to come to us. Call me opaque, but if there's a logic here, I fail to see it.

In both cases, we proceed from the presumption that, in some sense, Earth-as-Goddess is different to, and distinguishable from, Earth-as-Planet.

Such a view, I suspect, is premised on a binary body/spirit worldview: Planet Earth as the Body of Goddess Earth.

But are the gods spirits? If so, what does that mean?

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, I follow the Divine Iamblichus' beliefs on the nature of Godhood. Mother Earth governs the physical matter of the surf
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I tend to view Spirit as quintessence the fifth element. Along with Earth, Air, Fire, and Water I see it as part of the matrix of
  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    This dichotomy/tension continues in ADF today: there's a spot in the Core Order for "The Earth Mother" and I regularly have issue

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Guy in the Red Suit: Pagans and Santa

A local coven just sent around the invitation to their big public Yule this year. So far as I can divine, the heart of the ritual will be an encounter with the “Guy in the Red Suit.”

Now, historically speaking, Santa is entirely a creation of Christian folklore, with no known connections to the pre-Christian world. Contemporary pagans differ in their attitudes towards this most popular—and vapid—of American folk figures.

Some pagans wholeheartedly embrace Santa, name and all, along with Yule trees, wreaths, and the rest of the (secular) Christmas package. I suspect that there's a strong element of nostalgia here. As pagans, we're so often entirely out-of-step with the overculture that, come Yule, it can come as something of a relief just to relax and go with the flow for once.

Some see Santa as a figure with pagan roots, and hence acceptable, if perhaps rechristened [sic] with a new pagan name. This is untrue, historically speaking: like the Yule tree, Santa grows out of folk Christianity. Granted this historical datum, whether or not—like the Yule tree—Santa is ultimately paganizable (now there's an adjective for you) remains a matter of opinion.

Some would reject Santa as hopelessly tainted by his Christian connections, often in favor of some other Yuletide gift-bringer: Mother Berchta, Befana, or the Yule Goat inter alia. With Brom's recent novel of the same name, Krampus has gained something of an enthusiastic following.

(In fact, all of these figures originally emerged out of Christian folklore as did Santa himself, and none of them have any traceable connection to any known pagan tradition.)

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, Hooray for Krampus!
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    According to "Psychedelic Mystery Traditions" by Thomas Hatsis Santa didn't get stuck in a red suit until Coke used him in and adv
My Vegetarianism Is Not a Judgment of You. But....

A Helpful Guide to Social Relations Between Dietary Minorities and Practicing Omnivores

 

First off: Hey, Non-Vegetarian, my vegetarianism is not a judgment of you, OK? There's absolutely no need for you to feel criticized, defensive, or apologetic.

No, I don't feel superior. No, I'm not out to convert you. You make your choices, I make mine. Really, there are far more important things to disagree about.

 

That said, let me make a few helpful suggestions to my fellow vegetarians, vegans, dieters, and other non-practicing omnivores for dealing with the Dietary Majority:

When someone offers you something that you don't eat, say: No, thanks.

No, thanks.” That's all.

Not: “I can't eat that.” Actually, you can; you just (for whatever reason) choose not to.

Not: “I don't eat that.” That's the kind of statement that can't help but come off as judgmental, however you intend it.

Not: “Ooooh!” (recoils in repulsion). When someone else offers you what they themselves are eating, it's an act of generosity and hospitality, regardless of how revolting you may or may not find it. Act accordingly, instead of with a rebuff.

I won't tell you about my dietary parameters if you don't tell me about yours.

For gods' sakes, spare us the details, OK? 1) They're a bore, and 2) they're the best way to sound like a smug, sanctimonious, self-righteous A-hole. Just shut up and eat already, OK?

Be proactive.

When someone else offers to cook for you, make sure that they know your parameters beforehand, so that you're not springing it on them at the last minute. The laws of hospitality are binding on the guest as well as the host.

So when Mom invites you to a Thanksgiving table that you know won't fit your dietary parameters, tell her: “Great! I've got this great [vegetarian entrée] that I'll bring along; I know you'll just love it.”

Or offer to help with preparation. ("Hey, I'm going to mash some of these potatoes with almond milk; I really love them that way.") Then you can actively ensure that there's food that you're willing to eat.

Take some ownership of the situation.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    When I visit my sister Barbara for Thanksgiving the big dishes are set out buffet style and we help ourselves. I pass on the corn

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Ghost in the Cellar

As kids in early 60s Steeltown, we had a whole repertory of backyard games. My favorite was Ghost in the Cellar.

Children's games often have a soupçon of ritual to them—most are circular, the game's intent being to regenerate itself by starting over again—Ghost in the Cellar being the most ritualized of them all. It had all the elements of good ritual: a story, archetypal characters, catharsis, a felicitous combination of the scripted and the spontaneous, and, best of all, a ritualized dialogue that had to be repeated with absolute precision every time.

Dramatis Personae: The Mother. The Children. The Ghost.

Story: In the course of play, the Children get dirty. (Here there was lots of room for fun improvisation. As we got older, the "dirt" became less physical and more behavioral.) The Mother calls the Children in for supper, but is dismayed to see how dirty they've gotten.

Mother: Go down to the cellar and wash your hands!

The Children go down into the (imaginary) cellar—it never occurred to us to play the game using a real one—but there they encounter the Ghost.

Ghost: [Shrieks]

The Children run back to the Mother, screaming.

Children: There's a ghost! A ghost in the cellar!

The Mother assures them that there is no ghost—here she would improvise creatively about laundry hanging up to dry—and sends them back down to the cellar. Three times—the ritual number—this happens. The third time, the Mother agrees to accompany the Children to the cellar. There, sure enough, they encounter the Ghost.

You've got to hand it to the Mother. Does she run away screaming? No. Instead, she confronts the Ghost (which, I'm told, is exactly what one should do in such situations).

Mother: What do you want?

Ghost: A match.

Mother: What for?

Ghost: To light my pipe.

Mother: What for?

Ghost: To kill you!

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Tribe of Witches: A Tale of the Bear Clan

While discussing the origin-stories of the Deer and Seal clans of the Hwicce (Tribe of Witches) a few posts back, I was struck by the similarities between the two stories. In both—though circumstances differ somewhat—a human man takes a non-human woman to wife.

This made me wonder if it sometimes works the other way, too.

In fact, it does. Shame upon me, I don't know the origin-stories of all the clans of the tribe of Witches, whether elder (historical) or younger (reconstituted)—alas, I can't even name all the clans themselves, so much has been lost to time—but I can tell you that with the Bear Clan, it's the other way around: a human woman who marries a non-human man.

It seems that a certain woman of the Hwicce once took a bear to husband. Authorities differ on the degree of agency here. Some say that Bear abducted her; others, that she went with him willingly.

Whichever it was, the young woman's brothers were displeased by this out-match. They tracked down the bear, killed him, and brought their sister back to the family hearth-side.

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Solstice People

Back in high school, a non-pagan friend and I were discussing the winter holidays.

“But we have Solstice, too,” he contended, meaning non-pagans.

Well, in the sense that the Solstice happens whether or not you pay attention to it, I suppose that they do.

But here's my question. The Sun, the Earth: are these (so to speak) just people that you walk past in the street every day without really noticing, or are they People that you actually know and engage with?

As I write, we're nearing the end of the Samhain Thirtnight. Every morning—I'm awake then, I actually see it—the Sun rises a little later, a little farther South. Every day, he goes a little farther away, and we see that much less of him.

I don't know about you, and I don't know about non-pagans, but personally I feel that that fact somehow involves me.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Conversely, I used to get all bent out of shape when someone would wish me "Merry Christmas," as if it were some sort of attempt a
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I remember a time when people would actually say Happy Holidays and nobody got upset about it. Then for some reason I don't under

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Seal Maiden

We're Seal Clan on my mother's side, and we've got the toe-webbing to prove it.

You know the story. One full Moon night, a man sees the Seal Maidens dancing naked on the beach. He steals one of the laid-by skins, so that, when the dancing's done, the youngest (and most beautiful) of the Seal Maidens cannot follow her sisters back to the Sea.

She becomes the man's wife and bears him several fine children. But then one day she finds her old skin in the chest where it's lain hidden for years, and it's back to the Sea for her. That's how these things work.

It's an interesting story, and an old story. You have to think that among the truths that it tells is the trauma routinely experienced by young women in patrilocal societies when, at marriage, they're uprooted from everything that they know to go live with their husband's family.

But that's where Seal Clan comes from, and to this day some of us bear the signs of that ancestry on our bodies.

I didn't know any of this until my nephew was born. That's when I first heard about the toe-webbing from the aunts, the bearers of family memory. Not all of us have it, but my nephew does and, as it turns out, so do I. I'd never noticed it before because, well, that's just what feet look like, right?

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