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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Of Photocopier Butt-Prints, the Turin Shroud, and the Q-Anon Apocalypse


One of the things that astounds me about the human animal is our stubborn will to believe, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Case in point: the Turin “Shroud.”

Dating to the mid-14th century, the so-called shroud is a 14-foot piece of linen displaying what appears to be the imprint of a man's naked body, fore and aft. As a quick web search will show you, many, many people continue to believe that this is the actual burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth.

They continue to believe this in spite of the fact that three separate C-14 tests performed in three different laboratories in 1988 proved the cloth to be of medieval origin.

They continue to believe this in spite of the fact that, counter to all historical likelihood, the figure shown on the cloth looks exactly like conventional Western representations of Jesus.

They continue to believe this despite the fact that an actual human body laid out on a cloth wouldn't produce an imprint looking anything like what we see on the “shroud.”



Take a look at the image's “butt,” (lower right). Looks like a (skinny) butt, right?

(“I've seen Jesus' butt. Now I can die happy,” a Christian friend recently quipped.)



I have to admit, the trickle of blood between the buns is a nice touch, but of course, that's not what the imprint of a human butt actually looks like. A rude office joke back in the early days of photocopier technology was to drop trou (or raise skirt), sit, and photocopy one's bare ass. (No, I never did this myself.) I won't darken your day with reproductions of any such, but, as you will have guessed, these prints don't actually look like butts at all. This is because human buttocks are malleable tissue and, with the weight of the entire body resting on them, compress.

Of course, that's not what we see on the “shroud.”



It's common to speak of the Turin “Shroud” as a forgery, but this presumes that it was made with intent to deceive, which is more than we can know. Historian Charles Freeman makes a convincing case for thinking that the cloth may have been produced to be used as a prop in a medieval Easter drama, and illusionist Joe Nickell has likewise determined the most likely means by which the anonymous 14th-century artist created the body images on the cloth. (Basically, it's a rubbing of a bas-relief.)

Even so, like haters, believers are just going to believe.


We see the same will to believe among Q-Anon believers, who expected—but didn't get—a Trumpian apocalypse on Inauguration Day. Apparently Trump was supposed to ride in (on a white horse, no doubt) at the last minute and save the day: declare martial law, imprison or execute the traitor Biden and his pedophilic cabal of Congressional Democrats, and voilà: we'd all live happily ever after.

Of course, things didn't quite work out that way.

There's a predictable pattern to these things. Some Q-Anon believers will be disillusioned, and move on. Some will insist that, appearances aside, Trump actually did ride in and save the day. (In a spiritual sense, no doubt.) Yet others will find even dottier beliefs to embrace.


Where does it come from, this stubborn human will to believe? One could see a certain survival value in it: beliefs will keep us slogging on when otherwise we'd just lay down and give up.

Still, beliefs can deceive and, in the end, betray. My friends, as we craft for ourselves the paganisms of the future, let us not neglect to remember this truth.

Oh and, hey, I'm gay, and a witch of the Tribe of Witches.

I totally get the part about loving your god's butt.




Joe Nickell, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Prometheus






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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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