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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Proverb from the Pagan Future

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Confession: pagan post-apocalyptic fiction is one of my guilty pleasures. You know: civilization as we know it falls apart and it's up to the witches to rebuild. There's a surprising amount of it (for a sub-genre of a sub-genre of a sub-genre), and it offers us as a community a way to reflect on what a pagan future might look like.

I'm currently reading the latest installment in what is surely the most successful of the entire franchise: S. M. Stirling's Dies the Fire series. (Premise: on All Snakes' Day—March 17—1999 all the machines stop. Everything falls apart. The witches—among others—rebuild.) Ignore the title-by-Disney (The Golden Princess, wince. Not to mention the cover art: not just cheese, but stinky cheese. It's hard to be reading a book I'm ashamed to be seen with in public); as popular fiction goes, this is actually well-written, nicely-observed, and thoughtful stuff (on which, more in the future).

Our story so far: It's 2044. Our three principles have been having the same dream for the past three nights. One remarks, as if citing a quotation known to them all, “Once is coincidence, twice can be happenstance....” and her friend finishes, “The third time is either enemy action, or someone sending you a message” (245).

This strikes me as being a pretty sensible approach to omens. I thought I'd recast it in folk-proverb form, since a society which took the reading of signs seriously would certainly have such things in its oral literature. Folk expressions tend to be held together by rhyme or alliteration, and to preserve archaic diction. (Think of Mother Goose.) What might such a saying look like if it had been current in the English-speaking world since, oh, say 1500 or so?

Once as may be, 

twice for hap;

thrice for a foe,

or tidings in your lap.

The things some people do for fun. Sigh.


S. M. Stirling, The Golden Princess (2014). New York: Roc.


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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.


  • Stephen M. Stirling
    Stephen M. Stirling Sunday, 14 September 2014

    Alas, I'm totally powerless about the covers. I agree certain aspects were unfortunate -- the mail bodice, holding the katana edge-down. The next one, I hope, will be classier.

    Glad you're enjoying the book, though.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 14 September 2014

    Ah, that explains the disconnect. That's book business, I guess. A shame: such classy writing deserves better.

    What you're doing with Emberverse is epic and you get big thanks from this reader for all the pleasure you've given me down the years. Long may you write, sir.

    I was deeply amused to hear that you've fielded accusations of proselytizing on behalf of Wicca, so thanks on yet another behalf. The portraits you draw of living pagan cultures are consistently savvy, insightful, respectful, and affectionate, while managing to fully savor our essential wackiness. Honor to the thinkers and the makers.

  • Stephen M. Stirling
    Stephen M. Stirling Sunday, 14 September 2014

    I used to just laugh when accused of being a Wiccan missionary; then I started getting people telling me that they'd become Pagans because of the books. Evidently I am a missionary, completely unintentionally. Life is strange, but entertaining.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 15 September 2014

    Och, call me a McClintock, the Old Ways sell themselves. It's something of a point of pride for pagans that "We don't have to proselytize; they come to us." Which is true enough in its own way, so far as it goes.

    Like homosexuality (!), the Old Worship is something we don't dare let the kids know about or, of course, they'll want it for themselves. Which is also true enough in its own way, so far as it goes.

    But it's not really a matter of seeing something and wanting it. It's seeing something and recognizing yourself in it.

    Anyway, thanks for the good work. Bet you didn't see that one coming.

  • Lee Pike
    Lee Pike Sunday, 14 September 2014

    "pagan post-apocalyptic fiction" is a legit genre? WOW! I am a sucker for stinky cheese covers. Adding this to my to-read list and hunting for more. Thanks!

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 14 September 2014

    Hmm, define "legit." Still, it surprises me just how many books fit into this genre. I'll post a list of what I've found soon. The oldest so far, if you can believe it, is from the 20s. Who'da thunk?

    If you're considering dipping a toe into "Dies the Fire" waters, I'd really recommend (as Glinda says) that you start at the beginning (Dies the Fire). Part of the joy of Stirling's magic is the pleasure of recognition as characters--and cultures--change, grow, and mature. Smart, funny, insightful stuff.

  • Stephen M. Stirling
    Stephen M. Stirling Sunday, 14 September 2014

    Post-apocalyptic pagans make a lot of sense. When the going gets weird, the weird get going, as one of the characters says... 8-).

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 15 September 2014

    Post-apocalypse scenarios strike me as worth exploring because they're a very real likelihood. As oil runs out and we see the increasing effects of climate change and overpopulation, within the forseeable future we're going to be living in a much lower-tech world than we are now. I like to think that the old Ways will give us an advantage in that future.

    When the going gets Wyrd...

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 17 December 2014

    Thank you for mentioning this book. I just finished reading it today. It's the first book in the series that I've read and now I want to go back and read everything else in the series I can find in the public Library. I always enjoy a good read.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 18 December 2014

    You're got an enjoyable journey ahead of you, Anthony. Happy trails.

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Thursday, 18 December 2014

    I just think of the Change happening in 2038 instead of 1998 and the story works as a fairly plausible view of the future. Plus I get to put "Cost of the Crown" by Mercedes Lackey and "Mordred's Lullaby" by Heather Alexander as part of the mental soundtrack that plays in my head as I read the story. You can find both songs on Youtube. There seem to be a lot of videos posted of them both.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Friday, 19 December 2014

    Why 2038?

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Friday, 19 December 2014

    I read "Too Much Magic" by James Kunstler in which he predicted that the oil bonanza from fracking would run out in 10 years. I think that with more fuel efficient vehicles, more power companies shifting to wind and solar, and; perhaps most importantly, millenials shift to public transportation over car purchase, that we can extend it for 20 years, about 2033. I also read his novel "A World Made by Hand", I didn't enjoy it enough to read the sequel.
    Having just replaced my PC last Saturday I don't believe in Ray Kurzweil's Singularity. I first read about the Singularity in an article Kurzweil wrote for The Futurist in which he described it as a time when it would be impossible to distinguish the robotic from the organic, the virtual from the real. To me it sounded like an online video game turned inside out, as though we would be living out our lives in an Everquest/World of Warcraft environment. To me integrating humans and computers just means another vector for infection.
    I figure that the 2030's and 2040's will be a race between nations to refurbish and redeploy 19th century transportation while maintaining 21st century communication. Without oil and gas to run things it may take on a surprising coal fueled steam punk appearance. Because of our technological advances and bureaucratic intransigence I believe that we will fall farther than many of the developing nations. Please note that by bureaucratic I include large corporations not just big government.
    Perhaps I'm being unduly optimistic but I think a one Biblical generation; 40 years, shift seems about right.

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