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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"Has This Been Libated?" Vintage Corning Ware (A-84-B) "Cornflower" Casserole Baking  Dish (4 quart) with lid: Other Products: Home & Kitchen


Libations played an important role in the religious practice of the pagan ancestors, and they still do today amongst Latter-Day Pagans.

But libations aren't quite what they used to be.

For the ancients, “libation” (Latin libatio(n)- < libare, “to pour”) meant what 19th-century translators used to refer to as “drink offerings".

Contemporary pagans, though—at least here in Paganistan—tend to use the term libation more generally, to mean “a sacred/set aside portion,” whether of food or of drink.

At feasts, in particular, it's customary to set aside a token portion of each dish for the gods: hence the modern usage—which would have been incomprehensible to the ancestors—of the “libation plate.” “Has this been libated?” people ask before taking a portion for themselves. No Midwestern feast table is complete without both the libation bowl (for beverages) and the libation plate (for the food).

Well, let the purists decry. (In the end, purism is its own punishment.) We're certainly not the pagans that the ancestors were; we can't be. We have to be the pagans for our own time and place: it's the only kind of pagan that we can honestly be.

And we can be absolutely certain that the ancestors would have approved the practice itself, if not what we call it.


It's something of a standing joke here in Midwestern Potluck Culture—surely the archaeologists of the future will know us as the “Casserole People,” from our most common cooking vessel—that no one will ever take the last piece of something on a plate.

Received Wisdom would have it that this collective quirk is a matter of politeness: that among Midwesterners it's considered selfish—and hence impolite—to take the last piece of something.

Silly cowans. Politeness has nothing to do with it.

It's piety.


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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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