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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A friend's high priestess sent her a beautifully crafted wooden wheel for Yule. An apt gift, certainly.

(Witches are big into wheels. Life, Time, Space: for us, it's all Wheels.)

Naturally, my friend called her up to thank her.

My friend: What's the symbolism of the ten spokes?

(The Witches' Wheel usually has eight.)

High Priestess: No, it has eight spokes.

MF: No, it has ten.

HPss: (Changes subject.)

Myself, I was pretty disappointed to hear this story.

(Talk about a teachable moment. When your student asks you a question that you can't answer, what should be the first words out of your mouth? Obviously, "Well, what do you think?" As a teacher, you don't teach stuff; you teach thinking.)

First off, I was disappointed that woman hadn't looked carefully enough at the wheel—it was a gift, after all—to realize that it had ten spokes rather than the canonical eight.

Second, I was disappointed that she didn't know the symbolism of the ten-spoked wheel.

Third, I was disappointed that she didn't try to bullshit her way out of it.

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Time: 800 years ago

Place: Latvia

In the Hall of Perkons—Thunder—the Old Gods of Latvia have gathered to discuss a terrible danger that threatens their beloved land and people.

It is this: the Pope of Rome has declared a crusade against the “pagans” of the Baltic Lands, and sent evil and rapacious men called the Teutonic Knights to enslave all of Latvia.

This would be Europe's first genocide.

The Old Gods—Earth, Sun, Thunder, Moon, the Winds, the Rivers, the Gods of Field and Forest—all swear to stand by their people, to guard and nurture them, each in his or her own way. Thunder himself swears to send the people a mighty hero who, with Thunder's own protection, will lead them against their foes.

So begins the story of the Bearslayer (Láchplesis), the Latvian national epic.

There is much here to tell; I will soon be reviewing Arthur Cropley's 2006 translation of the work. But for now, let us observe how this story addresses an important question which surely every thoughtful contemporary pagan must ask herself: Where were the pagan gods during the Christian centuries?

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One of the things that astounds me about the human animal is our stubborn will to believe, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Case in point: the Turin “Shroud.”

Dating to the mid-14th century, the so-called shroud is a 14-foot piece of linen displaying what appears to be the imprint of a man's naked body, fore and aft. As a quick web search will show you, many, many people continue to believe that this is the actual burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth.

They continue to believe this in spite of the fact that three separate C-14 tests performed in three different laboratories in 1988 proved the cloth to be of medieval origin.

They continue to believe this in spite of the fact that, counter to all historical likelihood, the figure shown on the cloth looks exactly like conventional Western representations of Jesus.

They continue to believe this despite the fact that an actual human body laid out on a cloth wouldn't produce an imprint looking anything like what we see on the “shroud.”



Take a look at the image's “butt,” (lower right). Looks like a (skinny) butt, right?

(“I've seen Jesus' butt. Now I can die happy,” a Christian friend recently quipped.)



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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Here it is:
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    ...who, as he was burning at the stake, turned his face toward the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, beneath which (as we now know
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    In "The Second Messiah" by Christopher Knight & Robert Lomas the authors argue that the figure on the shroud is actually Jacques d
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Love it!

The Roman ((Lituus ))..a question out of curiosity...

Joe Biden's presidential inauguration yesterday sure did have a lot of religion in it.

Too bad it was all Christian religion.

Christian scriptures, Christian saints, a Christian hymn that we were all supposed to join in on; even a Christian ending (“amen”) to the silent prayer for the 400,000.

Am I surprised? No. This is, after all, the United States. Am I disappointed? Yes, especially considering the fact that Vice President Harris's family, in its religious diversity (father's family Christian, mother's family Hindu, husband Jewish) looks a lot more like the face of—increasingly—the real America.

In practice, of course, public displays of religious diversity in the US usually involve trotting out a token rabbi and/or mullah in addition to whatever Christian clergy is already presiding. As the rest of us could tell you, yet another demonstration of Abrahamic exceptionalism hardly constitutes a display of religious diversity.

Well, there are lots of religions represented here in America, and there's no way that you can fit all of them into a ceremony gracefully. Adding the stray Hindu or Buddhist now and again wouldn't really help. At thirteenth and last, Big Box religious exceptionalism is no more attractive, or desirable, than Abrahamic exceptionalism.

Nor, frankly, would a generic pagan invocation by Lady Moonwhistle have satisfied me either, although—to be quite honest—the very term “Inauguration” has quite specific cultural roots, and they're certainly not Christian ones.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs : Pampa Long Grain Rice 32oz Bag (Brown) : Grocery & Gourmet Food

My boyfriend that summer was also named Steve, so naturally we became “the Steves” to everyone that knew us.

Ah, the things straight people never have to put up with.

That was a Rocky Horror summer. At his favorite consignment shop, Steve had found a wedding gown and veil that he couldn't wait to wear in public, so I rented a tux and we got ready to run down the aisle during the Midnight Showing. We even handed out rice in the lobby before the doors opened.

It so happened that a local news outlet was there that night, doing a local-interest piece on the Rocky Horror phenomenon. Of course they wanted to film the happy couple running hand-in-hand down the aisle amid cascades of rice. For that they needed our permission.

“Are you out to your parents?” Steve asked me, sidelong. Having your family find out that you're gay via the local news is probably not the best way to go about it.

“Not yet,” I said, grimacing. “Are you?”

He shook his head.

Our eyes met.

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January is a series of farewells.

Yule: the year's greatest feasting. Through the dark nights of December, we progressively prepare for and welcome its coming. Throughout the Thirteen Nights, we feast our beloved guest. Through the dark days of January, we bid our repeated farewells.

(In this we are like the Old Pagans, the Kalasha of Pakistan, who alone of all the peoples of the Indo-Euorpean diaspora have held to their traditional religion continuously since antiquity.)

We bid a first farewell at Thirteenth Night, thirteen days after the Solstice, as the Merry Monarch of Misrule presides over the feast's last feast.

We bid another farewell on King Day, when the Yule greens come down.

(This is a local household tradition that started years ago because my then-housemate had the day off work and I myself off school. Taking Yule down is just as much work as putting it up. Interestingly, though, it's not a mere marriage of convenience: the realia of MLK's life, death, and legacy interlaces surprisingly well with end-of-Yule lore as well.)

We bid yet another farewell on Twenty-Sixth Night, 2 x 13.

We bid a final farewell to Yule on Thirty-Ninth Night, 3 x 13. Technically, this year that would be Thursday, January 29, but in practice (in this house at least), we observe it on the last Tuesday in January, in sororal solidarity with Europe's greatest fire festival, Shetland's Up Helly Aa (lit. “Up Holiday All”: i.e. “the holiday's completely over”).


Old Yuletide is past:

Thirteenth Night is the last.


So begins the last verse of the most famous of the many carols for Yulesend. Why “Old Yule,” you ask?

Not hard: Yule, the solar New Year, is the microcosm of the solar year. Its Thirteen Days constitute a Year-in-Little, one day for each moon. Like the Sun, like the Year, Yule comes in as a Babe and goes out an Old Man.

Some years back, though, I overheard a friend singing a variant:


Bold Yuletide is past:

Thirteenth Night is the last.


“Bold Yuletide.” I like that. It echoes, of course, the name of Bold Slasher, one of the characters of the traditional death-and-rebirth Yuletide Mummer's Play.

It's more than that, though. There's something audacious, something in-your-face about Yule: its affirmation of light in a time of dark, its affirmation of plenty in a time of dearth.

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Mabh, bring us together;

Mabh, bring us through.


Here at Temple of the Moon, we offer twice daily the old tribal prayers for the welfare of the People: that we may have well-being, that we may prosper, that our numbers may increase.

The first and last prayers of each offering are addressed, of course, to Earth: for us, the beginning and end of all things.

In this time of brokenness, when so much that we know and love is overturned, as we walk a long, Dark Way, I find myself adding to the customary prayers, two more:


Mabh, bring us together;

Mabh, bring us through.


Naturally, they address Earth, our beloved Earth. Who better to call on than the Mother, out of our deepest need?

They call to her by her sacred love name, her name of power, voiced as MAHV: a name of Birth, close-open-close, and the Breath of Life within. This name I had from my teacher, Tony Kelly, many years ago. Call her by this name, and give her your kiss of love—Love to you, my Mabh—and she will take you into her secrets.

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