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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Ahl al-Kitab

I guide without need of scripture,

for my words are written on the hearts of my people.

Muhammad was right.

There are the ahl al-kitâb—the People of the Book—and then there are the pagans.

One of the things that impresses me most about the New Paganisms—and this is one of the ways in which we have remained most true to the ways of the ancestors—is that, from our very beginnings, we have been, and remain, non-scriptural religions. Occasional jokes about Edda-thumping aside (“Snorri said it, I believe it, That settles it”), we have, for the most part, managed to dodge the silver bullet of Canon. In a world in which religions are defined by their scriptures, this is an impressive achievement, rendered all the more striking by the apparently unconscious nature of the decision.

I keep meaning to e-mail Krista Tippett, moderator of National Public Radio's token religion program, On Being (née Speaking of Faith). If I were ever to get around to it, the title-line would read: Your Unconscious Bias. Her bias, of course, is that she interviews people that write books, and so we're treated to yet more rewarmed Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism. (Leftovers again? Sigh.) Even Hindus rarely make it into the line-up. But as for the ethnic/tribal religions: listening to her show, you'd hardly even know that we exist. I have Scripture, therefore I am.


One of the rare exceptions was her interview with Ernie la Pointe, grandson of Sitting Bull, and what he had to say was well worth the listening. “Our way is carried by our stories and songs,” he told her, “and actualized in ceremony.”

Stories, songs, ritual. In the absence of scripture, this is how we keep our way alive and pass it on from generation to generation. This is our Received Tradition, the accumulated wisdom of the ancestors: stories, songs, rituals. As long as these live, we live, and our people live.

Our way is carried by our stories and songs, and actualized in ritual.

Holiday coming up here, folks. I say, Get out there and do it like your life depends on it.

Because it actually does.


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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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