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.
The Witchiest Little Shrine at PSG
Midsummer's 2009, Pagan Spirit Gathering: Camp Zoe, Missouri. A bunch of us Old Style folks are camped at a fork in the road down by Rock Creek. Between our camp and the road are a couple of tall old lodge-pole cedars.
My friend Sirius sets up his stang between the two cedars. In Old Craft lore, the stang is Old Hornie's preeminent symbol. It can take a number of forms, but the simplest is an old-style two-tined wooden hay fork.
Story goes that back in the day when it wasn't safe to keep Things around, when time for Doing came and the Old Buck not to be there in His Own Self (so to say), He'd be stood-for by a hayfork or pitchfork set upright in the ground: the Upright Man, as they called him. Light a candle between those horns, and here's a stand-in for the Old Un Himself, and next morning you hang him back up on wall of barn and none to be any the wiser.
So Sirius sets up his stang with a skull at its foot, and every night he'd light a candle Between the Horns, as you do. Between its twin cedars, the stang thus faced both outwards to the road and inwards to the camp, fit symbol for the God Who Looks Both Ways.
The weather being intensely hot and steamy, we spent a lot of time in Rock Creek that week. There we found a wealth of hag-stones: stones (in this case, limestone) with a naturally-occurring hole worn through them. We got in the habit of bringing them back to camp, where we'd string them up and hang them from the branches of the cedars above and around the stang, and well now, isn't that just the witchiest thing you've ever seen?
Lo and behold, the offerings begin to appear. Candles, incense, flowers, wreaths of green leaves, turned up routinely. One morning we found that overnight someone had left the skull of a 9-point buck. Our witchy little installation had become a roadside shrine.
Of course, lots of people just walked on by all unnoticing, but a surprising number would pause, salute, say a prayer, bow, sain themselves, pour a libation, or just stand looking. Sometimes they asked questions, but mostly they just interacted. Which is as it should be; that's what a shrine is for. It's a meeting-place, a fork in the road, a time between.
I always say that when there's a gap between what the ancestors used to do and what we do ourselves, we need to take note and ask questions. It doesn't necessarily mean that what we're doing is wrong—maybe just that times are different—but my experience has been that the ancestors generally knew what they were doing, and that they've still got plenty to teach us.
The ancestors lived in a world rich with shrines. We, however, are the children of a time when it wasn't safe to have them, and so we got out of the habit of holy places. We began instead to make our own to order: i. e. casting circles. This has the advantage of being portable, but dissociation from place is the inevitable result. And if our paganism doesn't connect us to our place, then frankly, what good is it?
Shrines were an important part of the spiritual technology of the ancestors, and they'll do their job for us today just as well as they have for thousands of years, if only we'll let them. Try it and see. The offerings that appear may surprise you.
As my friend Frebur Moore says: If you build the candy cottage, the children will come.
Photo: Raspberry Bidet
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