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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Every culture needs an opening phrase that says: This story is set in mythic time.

“Once upon a time” says: folktale, not myth.

“In the beginning” is the wrong world, and (moreover) a mistranslation.

“In the Dreamtime” is profound, but it's someone else's profundity.

So lately I've settled upon “When Earth was young....”

It's a resonant phrase, this. Few are older than Earth, and surely none that we know (or love) so well. “Old as Earth,” we say. Surely when Earth was young means long ago, before things were as they are today, which is always a good way to begin a story.

I love that the phrase makes Earth a character in our story. We're the pagans; for us, Earth is a character in every story. Even if the story isn't directly about her, she's still a necessary character. If the story were directly about her, I would probably start off with a variation: Back when Earth was a girl....

I've even heard myself use the phrase in satire, as a way of making fun: In the early days of Paganistan, back when Earth was young....

Here's the best part of all, and the part that makes it mythic: we all know that time ourselves. We know it because we've seen it. In fact, we see it every year.

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 Full Moon reflected in Water, Normandy, Slow motion 4K ⬇ Video by ©  slowmotiongli Stock Footage #156700990

 

“Oh, I'm sure we'll manage to muggle through one way or other,” says my friend.

I love in-group humor. She's riffing, of course, off of the phrase “to muddle through,” but the Harry Potter allusion appeals, rather poignantly, to our shared paganism. I suspect that "struggle" is somewhere in the mix as well.

One way or another, she's saying, we're going to get through this.

“Muggle,” of course, is J. K. Rowling's name for those who live—truly a shudder-inducing prospect to some of us—without benefit of magic. The precise etymology of the word is unclear—to me, anyway—but clearly “muddle” is somewhere in the mix, with its connotations of imprecision and the slapdash.

I've never much been one for spells myself but, after nearly 50 years in the Craft, I'm so accustomed to living magically that the prospect of living in any other way seems grim indeed.

What does it mean, to live magically?

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“Do you not feel that somehow everything would be alright if you could just have a little bit of cabbage?”

(Jane Smiley, The Greenlanders)

 

I love it when old friends surprise you.

It's Spring in good earnest here in Lake Country. I'm already picking chives and sorrel, but it's going to be a while before we'll be seeing much in the way of new vegetables from the garden. So for the time being, we stick with those reliable old friends that have got us through the Winter, for just a little longer.

Well, cabbage is the witchiest of vegetables, anyway: potentially nasty and always surprising, with those undeniable grace notes of sulfur. What's not to love?

Here in the North Country, we eat lots of cabbage—it grows when nothing else will—and it's always good to meet that beloved old shape-shifter in a new and unexpected preparation.

Cabbage schnitzel are schnitzel only by courtesy—think potato pancakes made with cabbage instead of potato—but they're light, elegantly simple, and absolutely delicious.

 

Old Warlock's Cabbage Schnitzel

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Time: The night of Holy Saturday

Place: A village in rural Greece

 

In the plaza outside the village church, the folklorist waits, along with the gathered villagers, for midnight, when the priest will come to the door and announce the resurrection of Christ.

The folklorist turns to the old, black-shawled yiayia (grandma) standing beside him.

Soon Christ will have risen, he says.

I hope so, she replies earnestly. Otherwise, we'll have no bread to eat this year.

 

Several things strike me about this story, which is a true story or, at least, was told to me as true.

First, the (one gathers, distinct) possibility that this year Christ might not rise.

Second, the conviction that the god's rising, or lack thereof, will affect the health of the crops.

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Sniper Rifle Cross Hairs Isolated On White Background. Stock Photo, Picture  And Royalty Free Image. Image 5243212.

 

Well, the proverbial journey of a thousand miles begins.

For the last eleven months, Paganistan has been in the cross-hairs of history. Blocks from where I write this, George Floyd died at the hands of then-policeman Derek Chauvin. The coven met that night; we were dancing for the New Moon in the back yard when it happened.

Since then, the attention of the entire world has been focused on this most pagan of neighborhoods, in this most pagan of cities.

For four nights last May and June, this neighborhood burned. For four nights, the arsonists and looters wreaked havoc here while the authorities dithered and did nothing. We were the bride that they threw to the wolves in order to buy themselves time.

Well, the verdict's finally in, and the jury came through.

The wave of relief washing across the city was almost palpable: a collective exhalation of breath held for nearly a year. Now we take up the tools and set to work. There's much to be done, and change comes from the center.

Welcome to the New Paganistan.

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Dear Boss Warlock:

When I heard about the conviction of killer cop Derek Chauvin, I wanted to dance in the streets and sing “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead.” As a triumph song, it's hard to beat.

But now I'm wondering: is it OK for witches to sing that song?

Munchkinning in Madison

 

Dear MM:

My friend, you're golden to go, and here's why:

By virtue of the fact that we're insane enough to call ourselves witches, anything with the word “witch” on it ipso facto (as Professor Marvel would say) automatically belongs to us.

So: when it comes to “Ding Dong,” feel free to dance, sing, and ring the bells out. It's our song, and we'll sing if we want to.

To be sure, I would recommend a certain amount of situational editing. Boss Warlock can fondly recall hearing the dulcet strains of “Ding Dong the Nazz Is Dead” ("Which old nazz? the nazzty nazz!") on the streets of Paganistan after the unlamented demise of the late Jerry Falwell,

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, One major thing I can't forgive Falwell for, is his response to 9/11. We Pagans were the first people he blamed. "Y

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