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 Youngest God
It's a crisp night in late October. A friend and I have driven out to the annual “Burning Man Midwest” event that for the past decade or so a local couple has hosted at their place in rural Wisconsin. A stiff breeze is blowing out of the northwest. We process through the woods with jack o' lanterns, and circle up around the Wicker Man.
He's a Cornstalk Man, actually—this is the Midwest, after all—a 25-foot wooden armature covered with bundled cornstalks that we'd harvested earlier that day. As we arrive, we set our pumpkins in a circle around him, at his feet.
The ritual continues, and we all know where it's headed. But Fire has other ideas. From the candles in the jack o' lanterns, the Man lights himself, in several places. The dusty, dry cornstalks kindle with a crackle, and the fires mount alarmingly fast. In a nightmare moment of awe and terror, the separate fires merge into one, and their united voice roars with the terrifying freight-train roar of a tornado.
We're standing around a swirling 75-foot firestorm, and there's nothing we can do about it. This fire will do what it wants to, and we cannot possibly stop it. Sparks and blazing corn leaves fly on the stiff wind into the woods behind us, with its carpet of dry leaves.
That was my moment of conversion.
“This is no mere element,” I think in some deep recess of my being. “The ancestors had it right: this is truly a god.”
And I bowed down to the ground before the awesome might of this god—I “fell upon my face,” as the colorful idiom has it—and prayed as I have never prayed before that he/she/it would spare the woods that night.
Then I arose from my worship and went out with the others to stamp out sparks in the fallen leaves, the ritual forgotten.
The “Four Elements” model has never worked for me. It twists my nuts to know that all up and down the east coast of the US pagans turn their backs on the Atlantic Ocean to invoke water in the west. That's just plain wrong: that something we've read in books should trump our own experience. Should trump the way the world is, for gods' sakes. That's what the poets call “unwisdom.”
To the ancestors, Fire was a god (or goddess): Agni, Hestia, Vulcan, Gabija, Brigid. That Fire consents to live in our homes and cook our dinners should not deceive us: we live out our lives on Fire's sufferance. Let us remember this, and be accordingly grateful.
They say that Fire is the youngest god, constantly reborn in every moment. Fire does not live on all worlds (not all worlds have fuel), but Fire lives on ours. In Old Craft lore, the ritual begins the moment the Fire is lighted.
Thankfully, Fire did not take the woods that night.
But that ritual left its mark on me, nonetheless. I have heard, in terror and helpless rapture, the awful voice of a god.
And I will not forget.
Please login first in order for you to submit comments