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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Bridey's Spring

Bridey's Spring, n. an early February thaw

 

Well, Winter's back, old Winter.

Oh, it was a glorious little Bridey's Spring here in Paganistan, while it lasted: two days of Sun and snowmelt, puddles of water—actual liquid water!—just in time for Imbolc.

Just a foretaste, and now it's back to the dark house of Winter.

Still, we've had our promise.

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The Call of the Horned Serpent

 Wrap your cold coils around the world,

bounding that which Is from what Is Not.

 

As Lord of Beasts, god of red life, the god of witches—him that we call the Horned—takes many forms. Among the least-examined of these in contemporary Witchdom is that of the Great (or Old, or Crooked) Serpent.

One readily understands why. Ophidophobia runs deep in Western culture. I'm afraid of snakes myself, though they fascinate me as well. (They say that fascinate originally referred to “the ability to induce an erection.” Make of that what you will.) The War between the Thunderer and the Earth Serpent is an old, old story, one of humanity's most widespread. It only becomes a danger when the War becomes morally weighted, as it does, most notably, in the Bible, in which the Serpent frequently embodies capital-E Evil: e.g. the polycephalous (many-headed) and polycerate (many-horned) Dragon of the bad acid-trip book of Revelation.

(Pagans, of course, knew—and know—better. Ba'al's adversary, Livyatán—who became the Leviathan of Hebrew mythology—is called náhash 'aqaltón: the “zigzag serpent.” Interestingly, Bible translators have tended to render this as “the crooked serpent.” Compare the two adjectives. One is morally-charged, the other merely descriptive.)

Here we see another reason for Wicca's aversion to the Horned Serpent. Wicca, for entirely understandable reasons, has tended to eschew anything that bears even the slightest taint of Satanism.

Old Craft is less fearful of Biblical imagery although—as Craft historian Mike Howard has observed—when it embraces it, it tends to do so for its own purposes.

One of the few contemporary Craft voices to speak about the Old Serpent is Tony Steele, who in his 1998 Water Witches writes about a purported Fam Trad, supposedly of Frisian origin, preserved among the canal-boatsmen (and -women) of the English Midlands.

Let me say up front that the credibility of his historical claims is gravely damaged by his decision to anchor them in the Oera Linda Book, a notorious late “19th” century forgery claiming to date back to Bronze Age “Atland” (i.e. Atlantis).

Well, for now let us lay historicity to the side. Steele claims as the god of these water-witches the Great Serpent “World”: in Frisian (supposedly) Wr-alda. (My Frisian-English dictionary doesn't turn up such a word.) Steele's ideas are most moving (and convincing) when he writes in a pagan idiom of the Earth Serpent, Whose power flows through the landscape. (Take a thoughtful look at the Great Serpent Mound to understand what he means.) It is less so when it seeks deep Craft meaning in the hallucinatory visions of the book of Revelations, where the Dragon is said to have seven heads and ten horns. Steele suggests that reflection on the uneven horns-to-heads ratio will impart deep insights into the nature of the god of witches.

Call me a skeptic, but I'm not convinced.

Still, Steele does indeed have his share of insights to offer, and I'd recommend a read to those whose ears the Crooked Serpent has tickled with His forkèd tongue.

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The Tale of Tarzan the Sled-Dog

I grew up hearing stories about my father's boyhood dog Tarzan.

Tarzan was big and black, and loved kids. Tarzan also loved to sled.

When the kids went out to sled down Pittsburgh's icy hills, Tarzan always went along. The best part was, after a ride, Tarzan was happy to pull your sled back up to the top of the hill for you.

But Tarzan was no fool. He didn't mind doing the work, but there was a price to be paid.

Tarzan wanted another ride, and he wouldn't let go of the drag rope until you let him back onto the sled.

 

My youngest aunt and oldest cousin were born in the same year. Those two were Tarzan's babies, and he willingly took on the role of nanny. Both of them learned to walk by holding onto Tarzan.

When they were both upstairs, Tarzan would lay at the head of the stairs, and nothing would move him. Those kids were not going to fall down the stairs, and Tarzan made sure of it.

One day my grandfather got home after a long shift at the steel mill. (He operated a crane at J & L for more than 30 years.) Tired and irritable, he trudged up the long, narrow flight of stairs, only to find the dog lying across the top, blocking the way.

“Move, Tarzan,” he said.

The dog looked at him, but didn't move.

“Dog, get out of the way,” said my grandfather.

Tarzan didn't move.

“Dammit, dog, move!” said my grandfather, and kicked him.

I can remember the look on my grandfather's face as he told this story. He was a gentle man, really, and—I think—ashamed of having lost his temper.

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Witches Stink

Such a smell of sulfur!”

(Glinda the Good)

 

Witches stink.

No, that's not some sort of paganophobic slur. Seriously, take a whiff. Can you smell it? That little hint of sulfur?

Yes, sulfur. Like god, like people, you might think. Well, yes, that's true, and in a bit I'll tell you the story. (There's a story for everything in the Craft.) But what it really comes down to is the old saw: you are what you eat.

What witches eat are lots (and lots and lots) of the king and queen of sulfurousness: onions and garlic. They're our favorite vegetables.

Food has to get flavor from somewhere. The gentry use meat; well, they can afford to. As for the rest of us, meat is expensive and mostly only for firedays. Most of the time, our food gets its savor grâce à that Royal Couple of the Underworld: you know who I mean.

When the Horned our god came down from heaven (but that's another story for another night), they say that where His left Hoof struck ground, garlic sprang up. (Old Hornie being Old Hornie, of course he landed Left-Hoof first.) Where His right Hoof hit, onions grew. To this day, you'll note that each clove of garlic still looks like half a miniature cloven hoof. Now you know why.

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  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    OMGs, that sounds delicious! Wish I were able to celebrate with Prodea. xo
The White, the Red, and the Black: An Indo-European Tale, ca. 4000 BCE

There were once two brothers who had a falling-out.

If the stories once told why, they no longer do. Perhaps it was over a woman.

(Probably it was over a woman. Why else do brothers fall out?)

The end of it was, that one brother killed the other. This was the first kin-slaying that ever there was in the world.

Well, but hear what came of it.

From his head he made the priest-kind: those that remember, and counsel, and guide. Their gods are gods of Sky, and their color is white, the white of snow, and purity.

From his torso and arms, he made the warriors: those that lead, and fight, and protect. Their gods are gods of War, and their color is red, the true warrior scarlet.

From his hips and legs, his buttocks and loins, he made the peasants: those that raise, and grow, and make. Our gods are gods of Earth, and magic, and our color is black: the deep, rich black of good, tilled loam.

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Ley Lady, Ley

They say that Minneapolis has the highest per capita pagan population in the US.

Assuming that that's true (who knows?), then I live in the Most Pagan Neighborhood in the Most Pagan City in the country.

Alas, though: I cannot claim to live on the Most Pagan Street.

Just why there should be so many pagans living on 10th Avenue South is something of a mystery.

As for the neighborhood, that's easy. Thirty-forty years ago, when the local community was first getting to its hooves, this part of South Minneapolis was a marginal area, poised to go down. For this reason, there was lots of early “20th” century architectural character going for reasonable prices, so the Pagan Urban Pioneers moved in. (I was one.) Pagans being a clannish sort of people, once there were a few, others soon followed.

As for just why so many of us ended up buying on 10th Avenue, though...well, that's one for the oracles.

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The True and the Free

To the pagan eye, the main difference between our religions and the Abraham ones isn't the difference between One or Many.

It's the difference between Slave and Free.

With the spread of the Slave Religions across the world, loss of spiritual freedom has invariably gone hand in hand with loss of political freedom: spiritual imperialism with political imperialism. Pagan peoples everywhere have fought to preserve our political, cultural, and intellectual freedom. Sometimes we've won, most often we've lost, but in our hearts, even when shackled, we have never submitted, and we never will.

Unlike some, the pagan gods don't want slaves, and they don't want eternal children. They expect us to grow up, to stand on our own two feet, and to do for ourselves. If you raise your children to be dependent on you, you've failed as a parent.

We, the Pagans, have been here since the beginning; we've never gone away, and we never will. We dare to dream of a day when the Slavers and their ways will vanish from the Earth, when once again we will all live as our gods want us to live: as Free peoples, everywhere.

We are the Pagans, but “pagan” is a name from without. What do we call ourselves from within?

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