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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Gods and Contrails: The "Horned One's Farewell"

Paul Rucker's evocative photo, “Horned One's Farewell,” which accompanied my post Grand Sabbat: Final Blessing, has occasioned so much comment on Facebook that I'd like to offer a little more context for the image.

For the past 25 years or so, here in the Upper Midwestern US, we've been holding—at the requisite irregular intervals—Grand Sabbats in the Grand Old Style: the Horned Man up on the altar, the oaths made crouching, the sacrifice, the wild dancing, the love-making in the woods afterward. Just like in the woodcuts, as they say.

Last year's Grand Sabbat was a four-day event that took place in late July among the hollow hills of southwestern Wisconsin's Driftless region, with the Sabbat itself on Saturday night. Over the course of the four days, we saw Old Hornie (as my friend and colleague Keith Ward remarked at the time) in several different characters: as He Who Hears the voice of His people, Bringer-of-Fire, as the Black Buck of the Sabbat, between Whose Antlers constellations wheel, as the sun-dappled Lord of Field and Forest.

It is in this latter character that we see Him here in Paul's photo. On the final morning of the event, He led us up from the ritual circle under its towering maples to the edge of a sloping meadow in full late summer bloom. As meadowlarks sang, he climbed the slope alone and, at the crest, turned and raised a hand in final farewell. Then he disappeared beneath the skyline, a naked red Sun setting in the east.

Those of you familiar with Paul's work (you can see more of it at know that he is, first and foremost, an iconographer. What I specifically want to praise in this instance is his decision not to remove the contrail that arcs above the Antlered. (How easily it could have been Photoshopped away.) It oh-so-subtly marks this god as a being very much of our time. It renders the image a profoundly theological one: in our own day, He continues to walk the Earth just as He always has, an archaic power taking post-modernity in stride.

The Old Gods are speaking today just as clearly as They ever have before. As always, it is up to us whether or not to listen.








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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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