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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Cooking Up a Paganism

So: I wrote a ritual that—due to the covid-related rescheduling of this year's Paganicon—we didn't do.

It's a good ritual (you can read an outline here), as you'll see when we do it eventually. But that's not the point that I want to make here. While discussing the ritual with colleagues both during and after the shaping process, I was struck by how well the ritual and its making mirrors the overall trajectory of modern paganism itself.

Virtually everything in the ritual—the sacrificial procession, the chanted prayers, the libations—ultimately has parallels with ancient religious practice. That said, these are practices drawn from different times and places in the ancient world, including (to mention only some) Hellenic, Roman, and Germanic sources.

There's more. Looking over my decades of formation as a ritualist and as an artist, there are also elements here drawn from Hindu temple ritual, Jewish cantorial practice, and the liturgies of Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism as well.

To give just one example: the ancestors chanted their prayers. We know this, but exactly how they did it has been lost to us with time. In order to learn how one goes about improvisationally setting words to chant tunes, one has to look elsewhere. In my case, I learned how to do this at synagogue.

Here's the thing. From years—decades—of experience with the creation of ritual, I, as a ritualist and artist, have learned to put together elements from diverse sources that, nonetheless, together read and feel “pagan.”

To make new and living paganisms for ourselves, the process is the same. We must, of necessity, gather our ingredients from diverse sources, but with experience and artistry we make from them something else: something delicious, something that both nourishes and satisfies.

Cooking can be a messy process, and there's no guarantee that, for all our time and labor, what we make today will be any good.

But with time and experience, we can learn to make something excellent.

And we know that we can. Every good ritual proves it.


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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.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Sunday, 22 March 2020

    I like the cooking analogy. Not every recipe I try works out but I do learn from the experience, and sometimes it turns out to be really good.

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