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.

 

Image result for chocolate chip cookies

 

I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood in Pittsburgh and most of my friends went to St. Gabe's up on the hill so, although my family wasn't Catholic, I heard all the stories anyway. My favorite was the one about the little boy and the cookies.

 

The Little Boy and the Cookies

 

In preparation for First Communion, Sister X's second grade class was learning about the doctrine of the Real Presence: that Christ is literally, physically, present in the Eucharist.

Sweet, thought one little kid. After school one day he sneaked into church and knocked on the door of the tabernacle, the ritual cupboard on the altar in which the reserved eucharist is kept.

Hey, Jesus, he said, I brought you some cookies, and he laid out in front of the tabernacle the cookies that he'd saved from his lunch that day.

Preparing for mass next morning, Father Y found the cookies and, after (no doubt) puzzling a bit, ate them.

After school that day, the kid sneaked back into church. Pleased to see that his previous day's offering had been accepted, he once again knocked on the tabernacle door, and said: Hey Jesus, I brought you some more cookies. Once again he duly laid out that day's offering.

This went on for several days. Finally, one morning, the priest says, indignantly, Who's bringing all of these cookies?

(This line always got a laugh.)

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Note: The events here related took place before the pandemic.

 

Stan, Stan, the Swimming Pool Man,

looks as good as anyone can.

 

One of the advantages of taking the kid to his swim lessons is his instructor.

Stan, Stan the Swimming Pool Man is as beautiful as a god. I swear, this guy could crack walnuts with his butt. At open swim on Saturdays, it's always kind of amusing to watch the old ladies lining up to flirt with him.

As Sokrates says, the contemplation of beauty is its own reward.

He also says: If you want to understand the gods, look at excellence.

Today's lesson is over. I'm having a profoundly theological moment, watching Stan's trunks mold to his muscular, athlete's butt as he climbs out of the pool.

Suddenly I have a problem.

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The e-mail came in at about 5 on Friday evening: "Covid-19 Community Vaccination Program—Appointments Available Today—Act Fast."

When you see a broom like that, of course you hop right on.

I'm still not sure which of the lists that I signed up for actually managed to get me in. When it comes to things like signing up for vaccination, I operate strictly on the polytheist principle: More is Better. When you see a list, sign up. The more people that you ask for help, the more likely you are to get the help that you ask for.

Though the Minneapolis Convention Center has only been a mass-vaccination site for a week now, I was impressed with how well-thought-through everything was, and how smoothly the whole operation ran. If it hadn't been for the requisite waiting period afterward to guard against allergic reactions to the vaccine, I could have been in and out in under 30 minutes.

Boy, was it ever weird to be under one roof along with a hundred other people. The past year has left its mark on us all.

Needless to say, way too many people were still being way too careless about distancing. One good reason to continue avoiding crowds for the time being is that, in any given crowd, there will always be at least a few careless people.

What I really wanted to say to the guy behind me in line: Dude, I really hope that you're wearing a condom, because otherwise I don't want you that close to my ass.

What I actually said: Mate, there's two of us in line here. Could you maybe back off some?

He gave me a look, but he did it.

Jab 2 on Friday, March 5. Barring nuclear holocaust or a howling mob with torches and pitchforks, chances are I'll still be around six months from now to write more blog posts like this one for you to read.

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  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    I'd love to do this -- sign up -- but so far I have no option. There are several mass vaccination sites around the SF Bay Area, b

 

 

Thank Goddess: after a covid-driven hiatus, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is finally open again. At last, I can go see the Green Man Gun.

I've been thinking about it for months. Now, in the normal way of things, I've not a gun guy. I don't own a gun; truth to tell, I've never even fired one. (Yes, I'm just another pansy-ass South Minneapolis liberal wussie. You got a problem with that?) In general, I don't think of guns as things of beauty.

That's why the Green Man Gun—no matter how many times I see it—invariably takes me by surprise.

The Green Man Gun is indeed a thing of beauty. No, I can't tell you what kind of gun it is. (A wheel-lock pistol?) No, I can't tell you for sure where it was originally from. (One of the Germanies, I think.) No, I can't even tell you how old it is. (“16th” century, maybe?) If you're interested, stay tuned and I'll tell you these things once I make my pilgrimage and find out. Maybe I'll even get a picture to show you.

Here's what I can tell you. It must have been made for some well-heeled nobleman, because it wasn't just made to shoot: it was made to be beautiful.

The Green Man Gun is inlaid with mother-of-pearl and colored enamel, set into the sides of the wooden stock. (“Lock, stock, and barrel” we say, meaning the gun in its entirety. “Stock,” of course, originally meant “tree trunk”: here, the vegetative component of an otherwise metal object.) The major decorative motif, of course, is swirling vegetation with a Leaf Face peering through: hence the name.

What does it mean to have the God of Vegetation adorning, of all things, a gun: a god of life on an instrument of death?

Well, we can ask this question, but—let us acknowledge—it's a modern question. The Green Man only became a god in the so-called 20th century. To the nobleman for whom this gun was made, I suspect that the Leaf Mask represented decoration, no more. At most, it would have read contemporaneously as an allusion to the forest to which one resorted for the hunt.

As modern pagans, though, our reading of the past is not limited to how the past read itself. This is a central principle of contemporary pagan hermeneutics. The New Pagan Thought is non-Originalist by definition. (Take that, foul SCOTUS conservatives.)

So let me pose the question once again: why a god of life on an instrument of death?

Here we encounter one of the new paganisms' central concepts: the fruitful Death, the death that gives life. The wheat dies on the scythe to give us bread. The grape is plucked and crushed to give us wine. The gun fires to protect, or to give us food. The Green God is no mere god of life. Like his brother the Horned, he is a sacrificial god.

Welcome to the pagan world. Here opposites meet, kiss, and resolve. Here, death brings life, and guns bear Green Men.

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In the dark days following 9/11, I heard numerous voices of condemnation raised from within the Muslim community: That isn't real Islam.

As a non-Muslim outsider looking in, I have to say that personally, I found (and find, since they continue to be raised after every subsequent atrocity) such responses disingenuous at best, self-serving at worst, but ultimately unsatisfying, and possibly even dishonest. Worst of all, such a response doesn't even begin to address the problem.

Who, after all, gets to decide just what is, and what isn't, real Islam?

As a outsider looking in, it sure looks to me as if the Islams of the world constitute a continuum. Some are inherently violent, some aren't. As a pagan outsider looking in, it seems to me that the most honest statement that, under the circumstances, one can make is: This is not my Islam.

I find that I respond similarly to discussions of racism in contemporary Heathendom. Who decides just what is and what isn't real heathenry?

(As to whether or not I can claim either insider or outsider status here, you'll have to decide for yourself. Of the Tribe of Witches, we're wont to say: We're too witchy for the heathens, too heathen for the witches. Straddling the hedge, of course, is fine old Witch tradition.)

Who owns the past? As pagans, I think that we often feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to the past: that, because of our love for it, the past somehow belongs to us in ways that it doesn't belong to others. In this, of course, we deceive ourselves. The past belongs equally to us all.

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Over a doobie one festival afternoon, Feri elder Alison Harlow and I are talking holidays.

“I just love Imbolc,” she says wistfully, “when the almond trees bloom.”

All real paganism is local. Allison was a daughter of Califia, through and through.

Me, though, I'm a naturalized Minnesotan. For us, Imbolc is the time of year when we're up to our asses in snow, when the cold between the stars descends to Earth, when night is loud with the gunshot report of cracking trees.

Here in the North Country, we love Imbolc too, but we love it because it means that Winter's halfway over, and that we may just—if we're lucky—have a chance of living to see Spring again.

Truly, all paganism is local.

“Shut the f*ck up,” I tell her, laughing.

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45 days from now, on the Vernal Equinox, Saturday March 20, 2021, Spring will begin in the Northern Hemisphere at 4:27 a.m. PST (Paganistani Standard Time).

Therefore, all witches, pagans, and heathens should now—if they have not already done so—begin to save their onion skins so that, by then, you will have sufficient dyestock amassed with which to dye the requisite number of eggs.

(Authorities agree that every egg dyed, and eaten, brings Spring just a little closer.)

Note that non-cooking households may apply to the Ministry of Pagan Affairs for their annual allotment of onion skins. Please apply early, as supplies may be limited.

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