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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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City Goddesses

Cities are powerful beings. In the Roman world, they were thought of as goddesses, depicted wearing what are called “mural crowns”: crowns composed of city walls, with towers.

In the largely unsacred landscape of secular modernity, this seems inconceivable, almost a joke. To take an example:

In ancient Sumer one could say:

From Her temple in Uruk She turned Her ear to descend into the Underworld.

From Her temple in Nippur She turned Her ear to descend into the Underworld.

From Her temple in Shuruppak She turned Her ear to descend into the Underworld.

 

But surely it is impossible to say

 

From Her temple in Detroit She turned Her ear to descend into the Underworld.

From Her temple in St. Paul She turned Her ear to descend into the Underworld.

From Her temple in Fargo She turned Her ear to descend into the Underworld.

 

while maintaining a straight face. Go ahead, try it.

 

There was a time when cities were sacred places. That's where we need to go again.

 

I live in Minneapolis, a young, pragmatic mill town that straddles the Mississippi like the Morrígan the Dagda. Unlike our sister city across the River, Buda to our Pesht, we don't have an origin myth of foundation. (Or maybe we do: see below.) St. Paul, however, was originally called “Pig's Eye.” The story goes that the trader's prize sow, pregnant and about to pop, wandered off one day. He searched for her high and low. Finally he found her, nursing her newborn farrow, on a bank overlooking the Mississippi. (How's that for an omen?) “This would make a great place for a trading post,” he thought. And the rest is history. Reads like something out of Keltic mythology, sure.

 

My city was named in a contest in the late 19th century. A young girl, who'd clearly had the de rigueur Classical education of the day, won it with her hybrid coinage: Dakota minne, “water” + Greek polis, “city.” So, the Water City, a name which, with our lakes, creeks, and rivers, we richly merit. While not exactly beautiful, the combination of local and incoming seems well-omened. And certainly Minneapolis is still something of a young girl of a city.

 

The Dakota name for Minneapolis is Bdeota, “confluence.” This was the old name for the summer village that stood where Fort Snelling stands now, where the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers meet. It was the center from which the Dakota universe was created, and from which Trickster ascended into heaven. Somewhere out there they say that you can still see the red rock he was sitting on before his ascent. You can be sure which rock it was because it still bears the cupmarks that show where his testicles rested.

 

The other local name is Gah-kah-bey-kong, which, if my Anishinabe (Ojibwe) is correct, means “Right-Angle Rock Place.” To people accustomed to a curvilinear, organic architecture of birch bark and bent poles, the city's east-west street grid and angular brick buildings must have seemed alien, surreal.

 

Maybe things are beginning to change. The other day I drove past a sign for “The Church of Minneapolis.” I suspect, though, that this may read differently to pagan and non-pagan eyes.

 

A while back, I discussed the matter with a few of the Elders of Paganistan: what will She look like, the goddess Minneapolis, in her temple down by city hall, when the city officials come to stand before her on civic holidays, invoke her by her secret name,* and sacrifice to her?

 

We agreed on three things.

 

Like her sister goddesses, she'll wear a mural crown.

 

Since city goddesses tend to be seen as mothers to their people, she'll be bare-breasted and offering a breast.

 

Lastly, she'll be fish-tailed.

 

Hey, she's the embodiment of the City of Waters.

 

Of course, she's a mermaid.**

 


 

*All cities have secret names, used only in their secret-most rites.. Rome's was Flora; Constantinople's Anthusa, “flowering.”

**So, in the pagan future, the seal of the city of Minneapolis will bear a mermaid, and the seal of the city formerly known as "'Saint' Paul" will bear a sow suckling her young.

Makes sense.

 

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Tagged in: cities Goddess Goddesses
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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