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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Truly, the Old Gods are everywhere. You can't escape them.

I had been listening to Bach's Goldberg Variations on the radio. “That was American pianist Simone Dinnerstein,” said the announcer.


Dinnerstein (rhymes with “seen”): a not uncommon Ashkenazic surname. But suddenly it was as if my ears had become unstopped.


It's Yiddish for “Thunder stone.” (German would be Donarstein.) There are men named Þórsteinn in Iceland, and Torsten and Torstein in Scandinavia, even today. English Thurston could be “Thunar's stone” (or tún: Thunder's enclosure). It's a name from the Danelaw—the area of England settled by Scandinavians—so it could bear the name of the Norse rather than the English Thunder. But they're both still Thunder.


Why Thunder's stone? Well, Thunder's not just a lover; he's a fighter, too, the armed god par excellence, the protector. Plowing fields, you'll find his thunderbolts (bolt = “arrow”) everywhere. Look at this: looks just like an ax head. Of course, it can't actually be an ax head: it's stone. Must be a thunderbolt. Well, keep that in your house or your barn, under the threshold maybe, or up above the rafters. Wards off lightning-strike. Yessir. He sees that, he knows you're on his side. Hold on to that one, mate.


Piedras de rayo (“thunderbolt stones”), they call them in Santeria: they're sacred to Changó, of course. Most botanicas carry them.


He has a taste for human lovers, they say. He must: he takes people all the time. Once long ago, they say, he took a king's son, the most beautiful boy in the world. He saw the boy in the fields one day, tending his father's flock, and was smitten with love. In return, he gave the boy's father the world's finest horses, and a vine that bore golden grapes. He takes as a god takes, and gives as a god gives.


From concert pianist to the Old Gods is not really very far.


Not very far at all.






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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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