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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Steven Posch

Steven Posch

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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“Clean!”

 “The gods receive no offerings from dirty hands.”

(Hesiod)

 

So: at Paganicon next month we'll be doing a big, public ritual for the many-named and many-hued Lady of Spring.

Here's the downside: We' ll be doing it in a cowanish and public place, to whit, a hotel.

Here's the resulting problem: Ritual of this sort demands a high state of ritual purity, and public spaces such as hotels are not generally in a ritually clean state.

So what do you do? Obviously we can't expect to maintain the same high degree of ritual cleanliness that one does back home at the temple.

So we do what pagans have always done: we make do.

As the procession bearing the Offerings and the Holy Things proceeds through the hotel to the Place of Offering, it will be preceded—even before the drums—by one bearing the rose water and the leafy spray for sprinkling.

(And surely those who bear the Offerings and the Holy Things will have washed themselves well beforehand, hands and forearms to the elbows.)

As she cleanses, she will cry out in the ancient language of the Tribe of Witches.

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The High Priestess Effect

They call it the “high priestess effect.

You've been there before. It may not have been the worst ritual in the world, but it was somewhere Down There among the Bottom Thirteen. People walk out of the circle feeling bored, irritable, imbalanced.

All but the high priestess, that is. She's giddy with excitement. She thought the ritual was masterful, one of the best ever.

Premise: If you want to know how a ritual really went, don't ask the high priestess.

The sad fact of the matter is that when you're leading a ritual—especially one that you wrote yourself—your perception of the ritual will be both qualitatively and quantitatively different from those of the other folks present. You have a level of investment and engagement that they simply don't. That fact must inevitably shape the experience.

It's not quite fair to put these parallax views down to incompetency: not entirely, anyway. Perhaps it's a matter of experience, really. Experienced priestesses—priests too, of course—know about the High Priestess Effect and understand that they need to temper their own reactions accordingly. The experienced priestess (or priest) knows that, of all the people in the circle, his/her experience of the ritual is the least important. The right to your own experience is one of the sacrifices that you make when you enter the priesthood.

Moral of the Story: From inside and outside, the same ritual looks very different.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Worst Insult

Really, I didn't mean to insult the guy.

A library book that I'd ordered had come in, but I couldn't find it on the reserve shelf. Finally I gave up and went to check with a librarian.

The cute straight guy with the big beard came over to help me. The book had been misfiled on another shelf, but he managed to locate it right away.

“Thanks: I could have looked all day and not found that,” I say, taking the book and shaking my head. “Librarian's intuition.”

There was an awkward pause. I'd intended a compliment, but instead I'd just insulted him.

I'd been riffing, of course, off the phrase “women's intuition.” Inadvertently, I'd just compared him to a woman, which of course—as every man knows—is the most insulting thing that you can do to another man.

Gods. Two (I'm intuiting here, myself) feminist guys, and it's still an insult for one to compare the other to a woman. I'd probably even insulted his choice of careers by implying that it wasn't sufficiently manly work.

I'm sorry, but that is so f*cked.

It's an old, old story. Famously, in ancient Athens, a youth was tried for having murdered his lover.

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Don't worry Steven, we're human beings I'm sure that no matter what we'll keep finding new ways to f*ck things up and say stupid s

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Why I Don't Like Bernie

Well, I've finally figured out just what it is that I don't like about Bernie Sanders.

Here's the thing: I'm a storyteller. When I listen, I always listen for the underlying story.

When it comes to overarching narrative, Bernie's story is just like the Buffoon-in-Chief's. For them both, the guiding narrative is the same lying, Abrahamic story that has wreaked so much ill in the world down the centuries: Us versus Them. Black vs. White. Good Guys v. Bad Guys.

All their ideas come with an enemy attached.

The enemy may be Muslims and brown people, or it may be corporations and rich people. But they're still the Bad Guys of the old, simplistic story, and they're still out to get Us.

For all its cultural omnipresence—pick a Hollywood movie, any Hollywood movie—moral dualism is not a universal story. More importantly—to me, anyway—it is not a pagan story.

It's not that pagan stories lack conflict; it's conflict that makes a story interesting, after all. Look at the great pagan epics: the Iliad, the Táin, the Mahabharata. They're all about wars. But look more closely: Who are the good guys here, who the bad? In a pagan world, conflict arises naturally because people have differing needs and obligations, not because one is good and one is evil.

Oh, in deep ways Sanders and the Troll-in-Chief are very different, of course. One is a not-very-bright, self-serving, cynical bully; the other is intelligent, capable of compassion, and actually believes what he's saying.

That's why I'll vote for Sanders if it comes to that. Of the two, he's by far the better human being. Our only real hope, this time around, is that Democrats (and democrats) are smart enough to realize that voting against is far more important than voting for.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I read in "The Road to Serfdom" by Friedrich A. von Hayek that centralized planning requires an enemy to justify itself, and expla

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Thirteen Below

Dance, children, dance

as I sing a song of Summer:

children dance, children dance.

 

The thirteenth of February: Old Imbolc Day. Temperature: 13 below.

Swathed in wraps, the kid and I sit on the front porch waiting for the school bus, singing songs of Beltane.

Call it defiance.

Call it delusion.

Call it sympathetic magic.

We're not the only ones singing of Summer. In the back yard, a redbird trills, proudly delineating this year's breeding territory with a magic song.

Here in Paganistan, our cardinals winter down south in balmy Iowa, but round about Imbolc (New Style), the males come back and start the New Wheel turning. On the front porch, we sing along, turning a Wheel of our own.

Or maybe it's the same one.

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Now the Green Blade Riseth: Invoking the Lady of Spring at Paganicon 2020

What follows is the Invocation/Bidding Prayer from the Rite of Welcome at this year's upcoming Paganicon. The prayer will be chanted together by the priest (=yours truly) and the people. The people's lines are in italic.

Ushrine is the name of the Baltic (specifically Lithuanian) Goddess of Dawn; Her name is cognate with many of the other Indo-European dawn-goddesses here invoked. Note that the invocation consists of Nine Names, and that these play out, as one might expect, from West to East. A good spell is one in which the words themselves do what they say.

 

Invocation/ Bidding Prayer (sung)

 

Priest (facing people):

Let us lift up our hands.

(Turns, faces altar.)

 

Many-named and many-hued Lady of Spring,

radiant goddess of the Day's Dawn,

radiant goddess of the Year's Dawn also,

we your people call to you:

 

You who are called Eostre,

(Eostre)

you who are called Ostara,

(Ostara)

you who are called Ushrine,

(Ushrine)

you who are called Aurora,

(Aurora)

you who are called Eos,

(Eos)

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Now the Green Blade Riseth: Crafting Rites of Welcome and Farewell for Paganicon 2020

Crafting—I'm tempted to say “wrighting”—Rites of Welcome and Farewell (known to the poetically-challenged as "Opening" and "Closing" Rituals) for this year's Paganicon 2020 has been an interesting and challenging commission.

So let me invite you to put on your ritualist's robes, and come along with me on the journey.

 

OK, ritualists, here are our parameters:

  • The Rites take place in a hotel, an unbeautiful institutional building.
  • We need to engage a large group of people (say 100+) from many different traditions.
  • We need to have special roles for the guests of honor.
  • No permanent installations (e.g. altars) are permitted.
  • No open flames.
  • The theme of this year's Paganicon is Journeys.

To these, I will add my own personal provisos:

  • The rites need to be about doing, not talking. Words need to be kept to a minimum.
  • The rites need to be something that, as a people, we do together.
  • The rites need to offer an encounter with Mystery and an opportunity for collective worship.
  • The structure of the rites needs to be such that one part flows into the next without need for verbal cueing. (“Now we're going to....”)
  • The rites need names. The common but colorless titles “Opening Ritual” and “Closing Ritual” simply will not do.
  • In these rites, as in all good ritual, every action needs to bear meaning.

 

The purpose of the Rite of Welcome is to bring together people who have come from different places, to claim the turf as ours, and to do something sacred that brings us together. Given these specifics, what kind of rite would you craft?

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks Leandra; I'm taking a big risk here, and (who knows) it could be a disaster. Scaling-up pagan ritual has been a steep learn
  • Leandra Witchwood
    Leandra Witchwood says #
    YES! You have your hands full! I can relate to the stress and issues that come with this kind of planning. Planning rituals is nev
  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    Very nice. Icon or statue? Or maybe an empty/draped chair? The anointing is en masse, yes? "Sprinkling/asperging the people" vs.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    The Goddess will (I trust) be aniconically present in Her attributes: the Fire, the eggs, the catkins, and the ram's-horned stang

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