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.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 A Paris Guide: The River Seine

When's the last time that you heard an article in praise of a pagan goddess on the radio?

I've always liked NPR's France correspondent Eleanor Beardsley. (Yes, I'll admit to riffing off of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" whenever I hear her byline.) With her quirky voice and delicious sense of irony, she strikes me as something of an American Alistair Cooke during his "Letters from America" days, affectionately explaining the curious ways of France and the French to an American audience.

She lives in Paris, and this morning had a sweet little piece (“France's Seine River is a Place of Solace During Covid-19 Pandemic”) about the River Seine, and how it—perhaps I should say she—has helped her through a dark year of lock-down.

The Seine is a goddess. (In the Celtic world, rivers are female.) In Gallo-Roman times she was called Sequana, which is where her modern name comes from, and was widely known as a goddess of healing. Pilgrims came to her healing shrine at the source of the Seine from as far away as the Mediterranean and the English Channel.

She still heals. Beardsley talks about how walking along the Seine has offered her a welcome encounter with the natural world through a pent-up year of pandemic in an over-built urban environment.

The goddess Sequana, in fact, helped save Notre Dame cathedral during the recent catastrophic fire. Half the water used to extinguish that fire came—via fire-boat—from Dea Sequana Salvatrix, the River Seine, the goddess that flows through Paris.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

Housefly - Wikipedia

 

Here's the odd thing this Yule: I've been experiencing a plague of flies.

What's odd is not the flies themselves, but the timing. Usually about a fortnight or so after I move the outdoor plants inside before Samhain, there's a hatching of flies. I presume that the eggs come in with the plants, and the warmth of the house hatches them out. Hence, flies. It always takes me a few days to hunt them all down. With flies, I've learned, you have to be pretty ruthless. If you don't get them before they breed, you'll be sorry.

This autumn there was no hatching of flies. At the time, I remarked the fact, but can't say that I missed them.

On the first day of Yule, though, I saw the first fly. The next day, there were a couple more. The next, a few more.

You know how it is with the Yuledays: things that happen then somehow take on added significance.

Well, the mistletoe is still hanging, and has been since Midwinter's Eve. Technically, this means that the house is under the bough, i.e. in a state of Yulefrith—the peace of Yule—and that nothing should be killed here for the duration.

I'll admit that this gave me pause, but only briefly. Call me impious, but in my house the Yulefrith extends to fellow humans and—if we're pushing it—to fellow mammals. Yes, flies are kin, too—We be of one blood, you and I—but when it comes to frith, I'm sorry: bugs don't count. As I've said before, sometimes you have to be ruthless.

So, I killed them as I saw them. Every day, through all the first Twelve Days of Yule, there were more flies for me to kill, like some sort of weird sacrificial holiday ritual.

Was this a seasonal anomaly, I wonder: the usual autumn hatching, come late? Did I maybe bring them in with the Yule tree, or with the holly from the yard that I cut and brought in a couple of days before Midwinter's Eve?

A buddy of mine once made the observation that omens imply the out-of-place. To know what's unusual, you first have to know what's usual. (He was dating a Druid at the time who, out walking one day, picked up an oak leaf from the ground and said: Oh, it's an omen of great good luck to find an oak leaf! as if this were some nugget of ancient Druidic wisdom.  My friend thought: Um, it's November, and we're in a stand of oak trees. Needless to say, that relationship didn't last long.) In Minnesota, flies in late December are out of place. So what does it mean that I've had an infestation of flies through all the days of Yule?

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Eek!
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I think of flies as omens of tribulation. Each fly you dealt with per day would mean the number of tribulations you will face eac

 

Minnesota's urban coyote population is growing, but pet attacks remain rare  | MPR News

 

Well, old man Coyote was out hunting one day and, as usual, not having much luck.

Suddenly, a nice fat duck falls down dead out of the sky and whump! lands right at his feet. Sweet, thinks Coyote, and picks up the duck. He hasn't gone very far before he runs into Wolf.

That's my duck you've got there, says Wolf.

It fell at my feet, says Coyote.

Yeah, but that's my arrow through it, says Wolf.

It landed in my territory, says Coyote.

Yeah, but I shot it in mine, says Wolf.

Tell you what, says Coyote. Let's have a contest. We'll kick each other in the nuts, and whoever's still standing at the end, gets the duck.

Fair enough, says Wolf.

Great, I'll go first, says Coyote, and he hauls off and thunk! plants him a good, solid one, right where it hurts.

Well, Wolf, he lets out a howl like you've never heard before. First he turns white, then he turns red, then he turns blue. But he's still standing.

My turn now, says Wolf.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 A Guest Blog by Rudd Rayfield

 

 

Ohmigods!

He's turning blue!

Ohmigods!

He's playing a flute!

Ohmigods!

He's surrounded by cows!

(sings)

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In the Halls of Heaven, the gods are meeting in council to discuss a problem of utmost urgency.

Perkons, god of thunder, tells the gods the ill tidings. Evil, power-hungry men, called “Christians,” have enslaved all the world; now they are coming to enslave Latvia as well.

As the gods weigh what actions to take to protect their people from this terrible threat, the goddess of the Daugava River arrives. She tells them of a handsome youth with the ears of a bear whom she wishes to take into her crystal palace at the bottom of the river.

“This is the youth himself!” cries Thunder. “He is the very hero who will protect our people from the slavers!”

 

So begins the tale of Láchplesis, the Bearslayer, Latvia's national epic. Folklorist Andrejs Pumpurs (1841-1902) wove together—à la Kalevala—old Latvian folk tales that tell of the time, 800 years ago, that the Teutonic Knights, in a crusade against Europe's last pagans, conquered the Baltic states with fire and sword.

The Bearslayer is a fine, romping tale of love, friendship, and treachery, filled with monsters, evil enchantresses, and magicians. Characters include the Bearslayer's true love, daughter of Fate the beautiful Laimdota, his best friend the hero Koknesis, and Kangars, the traitorous pagan priest who seeks to betray his people to the Christians.

The Bearslayer rallies the people and fights the good fight, protecting Latvia from enslavement for many years, but in the end he himself is betrayed.

Through the treachery of Kangars, the renegade pagan priest, the Black Knight learns the secret of the Bearslayer's strength: his furry bear's ears.

In a sword fight, he lops off both ears. As they grapple, locked together, they topple from a cliff into the waters of the mighty Daugava, and are never seen again.

So begins Latvia's 700 years of enslavement to a foreign people and a foreign creed.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Well, I was wrong: there is an English translation: https://www.amazon.com/Bearslayer-translation-unrhymed-TREDITION-CLASSICS/dp/3
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I wish that my Latvian were up to the task, alas. Let me consult with a Dievturiba (= Latvian pagan) friend of mine. Stay tuned.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    If that story Lachpleshis gets translated please let us know. I for one would like to read it.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

 

All right, I'm just going to say it.

If you think that your paganism is just a matter of your personal relationship with the gods, you're wrong.

Or, at least, you're only partially right.

All realized paganisms are tribal. They're the religions of a particular group. If in the old days you had asked someone “What's your religion?”, they would (assuming that they understood what you meant by “religion”) have answered you: “My religion is the [Name of Tribe or People] religion.”

That's the way that the Kalasha—the last remaining Indo-European-speaking people who have practiced their traditional religion continuously since antiquity—talk about their religion to this day.

Let me give you an example. I'm a Witch. My religion is the Witch religion.

The ancestors, of course, didn't know that they were pagan. Now we do. It's a situation analogous to that of American First Nations. Before Columbus, they didn't think of themselves as a collective group. They thought of themselves in terms of their own people: Dakota, Anishinabe, Ho-Chunk, etc. It wasn't until later that they began to see themselves as Indigenous Americans, a group sharing a common identity.

It's like that with us, too. Now we see that, beyond our immediate tribal affiliations, we've got shared concerns with others that we perceive as being unlike ourselves: that, in fact, we share a common identity.

 

 

The old Hwicce (Witch) language had two words that dictionaries define as “tribe, people, nation”: thede and lede.

(1000 years ago, that would have been þéod and léod, but of course, that was 1000 years ago, and language changes just like everything else.)

Here's the difference between the two terms: your thede is your immediate tribe; your lede is your tribe's tribe.

So as for me, I'm Witch by thede, Pagan by lede. The Kalasha girls shown above dancing at the Joshi (Spring) festival are Pagan by lede, Kalasha by thede.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

 

A year without a Yule log. Gods, what a grim prospect.

The Yule Log is the holiday's oldest thew (custom), and by all accounts brings luck to the household for the year to come. Surely anyone can see that a fireless hearth at Yule bodes ill. If you have the wherewithal to uphold this thew, it well behooves you to do so.

The logical time for the burning of the Yule Log would be Midwinter's Eve, but Mother Night is one night of the year when I'm certain not to be at home, since our ritual is always over at R___'s house, where the coven Yule Log crackles merrily on the hearth throughout the festivities.

So in practice, I've tended to light the household Log on the night of the 24th: what's usually the Fourth or Fifth Night of Yule. It's a nice, quiet night when I don't generally have a lot of other things going on and, after all the hurly-burly of the lead-up to, and beginning of, Yule it's nice to spend a quiet, contemplative evening with the Fire.

Well, but this year I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Lows that night were in the double digits below zero, and the prospect of opening the damper and having all the warmth in the house go up the chimney on the coldest night of the Winter so far was just not a relishable prospect.

I remind myself that Yule begins, not ends, with the Sunstead (Solstice). Thirteen Nights we've got, for the burning of the Yule Log.

So now I'm thinking New Year's Eve, or possibly Thirteenth Night. We'll see what the weather looks like when we get there.

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