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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On second thought, R___, I think that your definition witch = scientist + engineer + poet (which I really, really like) does indeed fit the "hill and holler" crowd. I'm drawing here on Owen Davies' academic study of historic British "cunning folk" (in his book of the same name).

Scientist: Draws conclusions from impartial observation of results.

Engineer: Designs practical applications of conclusions for specific instances.

Poet: Dresses up practical applications to maximalize psychological effect.

That's actually a very good description of how village witches (according to Davies) used to work. It reinforces my sense that it's the cowans that are the believers; the witches may or may not be believers themselves, but the major thrust is to use the belief of others for their own purposes (both for good, and for ill). ("Help when you can, harm when you need to.")

Davies sees this as having been a largely cynical pose on the part of the witches themselves--who, let's face it, were witching largely for gain--but me, I'm not so sure.

Last night my dad was telling me that my niece is having some warts removed today. This led to a discussion of warts generally, and he passed along a folk cure that he'd heard of (I neglected to ask from where, but bear in mind that my hometown Pittsburgh is the northernmost tip of Appalachia) about rubbing warts with stump-water by moonlight. As a practitioner myself, I'd think that one would want stump-water that reflects the full Moon: that way the warts will wane away as the Moon wanes. (And I guess we know which gods one would want to call on; but that's me, thinking in Witch again.)

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It was the afternoon of Midwinter's Eve. The house was clean and decked, full of good smells. All day long, I'd been rushing around: cooking, prepping for the big ritual that evening. But at last everything that needed to be done, was done.

Suddenly, out of the blue shadows of the year's longest night, a voice:

 

And so the shortest day came, and the year died.

 

That's the first time that I ever heard Susan Cooper's iconic poem, The Shortest Day.

 

 

Newberry Medal winner Susan Cooper (b. 1935) understands magic: she authored the well-loved Dark Is Rising series. (Did you pull the eponymous Dark Is Rising off the shelf this year in the lead-up to Yule? I did.)

The voice that I heard in the darkness of that afternoon was that of John Langstaff, Grand Master of the perennial Christmas Revels. Susan Cooper wrote The Shortest Day specifically for the Revels in 1977, and her ode to Yule has opened that event—not to mention innumerable pagan rituals—ever since.

At long last, her jewel of a poem has received the setting that it deserves. Last year it was released as a picture book, illustrated—illuminated, I really should say—by Caldecott Honor winner Carson Ellis.

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Don't get me wrong, I'm all for merriment, and making merry—and let us take a moment to savor that fine old phrase, and consider the implications: “merry” isn't something that you are, it's something that you do—is a fine old Yuletide thew (that's “custom” in Witch).

Still, there's something about the greeting “Merry Yule” that, like a shot of vinegar, sets my teeth on edge.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you why. To my ear, it smacks of keeping up with the cowans, which (in my experience) is rarely the best modus operandi. Yule is Yule, its own thing, not something that you write in, having erased “Christmas.”

So, if not a merry one, then what kind of Yule do we wish one another?

The default adjective for holiday salutations in English is, of course, “happy.” There are worse things than a Happy Yule. Colorful, though, it's not. Likewise, since the greeting is often yoked with “and a Happy New Year,” you've suddenly got a “happy-happy” pairing which is, to say the least, infelicitous. Then there's that clunky BUM-bum-BUM meter to it. “Happy Yule” may do the job, but dance on the tongue it doesn't.

Well, when in doubt, consult the kinfolk. Norwegians wish one another a Gledelig Jul, and Danes a Glaedelig Jul: a Glad Yule. (Icelandic is similar: Gledileg Jól.) Now, a glad Yule certainly beats a sad one, but in English there's something forced about the phrase, almost pretentious. It sounds like Translation-ese, which—of course—is exactly what it is. Cognate-for-cognate isn't necessarily best translation strategy.

For Swedes, though, it's God Jul: a Good Yule. Now that I like. Forceful, firm, terse even. (It's cold up here in the North Country: you don't want to go letting all that cold air in. Hence our proverbial Northron taciturnity.) Metrically, it's got that nice, assertive spondee: BUM-BUM. A Good Yule doesn't mess around. A Good Yule tells you what's what. It goes in, does what needs to be done, and gets out again. A Good Yule is lean, and sinewy, and oh-so honey-sweet on the tongue.

It's worth noting that up in Scotland where Yule's Yule and no one has ever bothered with that newfangled Christmas business, it's still Guid Yule, short and sweet.

Well, in the pagan world you'll make up your own mind, and glad I am of it. If you wish me a Merry Yule, or a Happy one, or even a Glad one, I'll gladly take it—as witches say—with both hands.

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Papadopoulos claimed Trump phone call and larger campaign role - POLITICO

 

AP, Washington D.C.

It took nearly six weeks, but Donald Trump has finally acknowledged that he did, indeed, lose the election, and has called President-Elect Joe Biden to offer his congratulations.

“Even a big, whiny baby like me has to man up and face reality eventually,” Trump told Biden on Tuesday. “I don't know why it's taken me so long to pull my head out of my own ass. You beat me fair and square, and it's time for me to stop pouting like a spoiled little girl and admit it.”

Trump's unexpected change of heart stunned his opponent and left him momentarily speechless.

Undaunted, Trump continued. “My presidency has been a total disaster from beginning to end. I'm a loser, a moron, and an incompetent. It's time for me to get my ugly, fat ass out of here and make room for someone who can clean up the mess that I've made of this job, and of this nation.”

"I have to admit, Joe, you were right," he told Biden in a moment of uncharacteristic candor. "I really have been the worst president this country has ever had. While Americans are dying at the rate of two per minute, I've been holed up at the White House pitching hissy fits. I've totally mishandled this pandemic from the start, and the blood of more than 300,000 of my fellow-citizens is on my hands. I'll never live down the shame of it. They really should call it the 'Trump virus'."

When asked about his post-White House plans, Trump responded, “I'm finished with politics. Assuming they don't throw me in jail—where, frankly, I deserve to be—I'm going back to Mar-a-Lago and playing golf for the rest of my life. It's the only thing that I'm fit to do,” adding: “Meanwhile, I'm going to order my pathetic staff of lickspittles and toadies to do everything that they can to ease the transition to a real government. I'm delusional, a total loser, I've made a mess of everything I've touched, and it's time for me to get out of the way and let a better man take over.”

Trump's sudden about-face has stunned the Republican establishment.

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Long ago, the Horned looked down from Heaven, and saw that we were cold, and hungry, and in darkness.

Then, in his mighty ruth, he stole the Fire of the Gods, came down, and gave us Fire.

Ever since when, we sing his song at Yule.

 

He Came Down

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“Milk” writes Julie Sahni in the introduction to her chapter on South Asian sweets, frequently dairy-based, “is the divine food of the Aryans.”

For Sahni, of course, “Aryan” means nothing like what it would have meant to Hitler. Sahni uses the term in its original sense: as the endonym (i.e. the name by which a given community knows itself) of the Sanskrit-speaking population that first entered the Indian Subcontinent between 5000 and 4000 years ago.

(A related population, also calling themselves the Ârya, the “Noble Ones,” went west into the Iranian plateau, and in fact the word “Iran” itself comes from the same root: “the Land of the Noble Ones.” According to Indo-Europeanist J. M. Mallory, the term “Aryan” properly describes only this ancient Indo-Iranian population or their descendants. No doubt Hitler would have been furious to discover that he wasn't really an Aryan.)

Milk is a miracle. If you slaughter a cow, you get food to feed the family for maybe a month. If, however, you milk the cow instead, you get enough food to feed the family for years. Divine food, indeed. Small wonder that the cow was the basic unit of value across the entire Indo-European diaspora.

In the Elder Days, human beings lost the ability to digest milk as they grew out of infancy, but with the advent of pastoralism back in the Neolithic, certain human populations acquired what is called “lactase persistence”: the useful genetic mutations that permit continued milk-drinking into adulthood. Julie Sahni's Indo-Aryan ancestors were one such population, and it's possible that this ability was one of the things that distinguished the Ârya from the peoples that they conquered in their travels.

Other populations with lactase persistence arose separately in Central Asia and West Central Africa. (Interestingly, the genetic mutations allowing for adult milk consumption among the world's three main populations of milk-drinkers are different mutations. Clearly, the ability to keep digesting dairy has high survival value.) Milk isn't just the divine food of the Aryans; it's also the divine food of the Mongols, and of the Maasai, and the Fulani.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Myself, I like nut milks, grain milks, and bean milks just fine. But good old mammal milk is the Original.
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, Yeah, I wasn't attempting to harsh on non-dairy milk. I'm sure that some of it's quite delicious. A significant fract
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, I don't give a Gods damn what anyone says. I like milk.

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