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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Where Witches Dance: Some Thoughts on the Name 'Paganistan'

 “...and to the republic where witches dance...”

 

When, back in the mid-80s, I coined the name “Paganistan” as a term for the Twin Cities pagan community, it was with tongue firmly in cheek. No one is more surprised than I am that it actually seems to have caught on.

The word itself is a partial loan-translation of the hybrid Arabic-Persian Kafiristan, “land of the pagans,” the name given to the wild mountainous region of northeastern Afghanistan (“land of the Afghans”), which as late as the 1890s was still home to some of history's very last Indo-European-speakers to practice their ancient polytheist tribal religions.

(In a major land-grab in 1896, the Emir of Kabul declared jihad against the fierce mountain Kafirs, and in the end rifles and bullets won out over spears and arrows: the area was forcibly Islamized and renamed Nuristan, “land of light.” Saved by the Durand line, however, the Kalasha, the last culturally-intact Kafiristanis, numbering some 4000, still—in what is now northwestern Pakistan—worship their ancient gods with wine, dance, and animal sacrifice. Long may they live and flourish.)

The name Paganistan first saw print in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune a year later when Jim "Moon Dog" Runnels was quoted as referring to the Twin Cities as the “capital of Paganistan.”

That's how we became the first named community of modern pagan times.

The name spread with the rise of internet paganism, notably through the publication of our resident anthropologist Murphy Pizza's 1994 Paganistan: Contemporary Pagan Community in Minnesota's Twin Cities, and—latterly—through the present blog.

After thirty-some years of Paganistan, it remains a sorrow to me that the name's derivation from us, and not from the Land, marks it as a non-Indigenous—and, in this sense, an imposed—name.

But this would be valid grounds for critique only if the term were to be used in a triumphalist, or supercessionist, manner: which, of course, it never is. No one, much less myself, would propose that we replace an Indigenous name, Minnesota (“sky water”) with a non-Indigenous Paganistan. Paganistan is the pagan name for this place as home to the local community. It's the Twin Cities' Craft name. That's all.

Of course, we do have our own flag (Witch's Hat Tower, gray, on a blue, yellow and green field) and our own “national” anthem (no, I didn't pen it myself). But that's all by the by, offspring of the infinitely playful cauldron of creativity that is local Paganry.

This spring I heard myself introduced as the “President of Paganistan.” (“Make Paganistan great again!” I quipped in reply.) I've also seen, and heard, myself referred to as both the “King” and “Father” of Paganistan.

Actually, I'm neither. “King” is an iffy kind of title among pagan folk—usually it's his guts that end up in a steaming pile in a cornfield somewhere—and even if they offered me the job, I wouldn't take it.

As for the Father of Paganistan, that honor goes to another, probably Llewellyn's Carl Weschke.

If I'm the anything “of Paganistan,” it's more likely the Poet Laureate.

Or maybe the Gay Uncle.

 

Above:

Witch's Hat Tower (1913),

Prospect Park (Minneapolis)

Frederick William Cappelen

 

 

 

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Tagged in: Kalasha Paganistan
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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