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 Pagan Response to the Corona Virus?

India being India, there's an entire genre of Bollywood films known as the “theologicals”: religious movies.

Back in the VHS Era, my friend Stephanie and I used to rent theologicals from our local Indian grocery store. Our shared pool of Hindi being pretty limited, it was always quite an experience to watch an unsubtitled 2½ hour film in a language that you don't understand. After a while, we got pretty good at figuring things out.

One of our favorites was a film called Shitala Ma (SHEE-ta-la Mah): “Mother Smallpox.” Shitala Ma is the goddess, not just of smallpox, but of all infectious diseases. (Stephanie, being something of an amateur epidemiologist, found this pretty engaging.) Those infected with disease are considered to be possessed by Shitala Ma, and are actually worshiped as her vehicles (note the donkey in the image shown above); the goddess is given offerings, and asked kindly to depart, leaving the sufferer unharmed.

Now there's something they don't teach you in Med School.

The heroes of the film are a poor family of farmers, pious worshipers of Shitala Ma. While working in the fields one day, they discover a murti (statue) of Shitala Ma buried in the ground. My memory is that the family dog led them to it.

Naturally, they hold a puja (worship) for the statue. Shitala Ma herself appears—this happens during pujas sometimes—and tells them that she wants a temple built for her in the field where the statue was found. The father of the family goes to tell the local rich man who owns the field of the goddess's apparition and of her request.

The rich man, of course, is loathe to lose the field and the income that it brings.

No way,” he says.

(Bollywood being Bollywood, of course, the film is punctuated by mass song-and-dance spectacles, passionate love duets in gardens with fountains, and slapstick comedy routines featuring transvestites, none of which have anything whatsoever to do with the plot. Really, what's not to love?)

Nothing daunted, our pious family sets up a small shrine to Shitala Ma in the field, and soon all the villagers are gathering there to worship the goddess.

Finally the landowner has had enough. He sends his goons to steal the statue, who drop it down a well to get rid of it.

Bad move. Angered, Shitala Ma smites the rich guy's entire family with smallpox.

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Vote Trump 2020

Keep America Stupid

Reelect President Trump

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Putin_20200222-150846_1.jpg

"My nem iz Vladimir Putin, end I approve dees message."

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I'd help Crowdsource that film!
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, Right now I'm reading Book (Chapter) 9 of The Republic, by Plato. By the Gods, he sounds like Nostradamus when he disc

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The New Old Ways

I sit on the foot of the bed, singing the hymn to the rising Sun.

I'm an early riser, he's not. There are worse ways to rouse from sleep than to strains of the sacred.

His eyelids flicker open as I finish.

“Lift up your legs,” I say.

First were the Old Ways.

Then came the New Ways.

Then came the Old New Ways.

Now we have the New Old Ways.

He grins and gets out of bed.

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Voto X

For [god/goddess], because he/she heard my cry.”

 

What would you be willing to give in order to get rid of the Troll-in-Chief?

The ex-voto—the vowed or votive offering—is a fine example of a spiritual technology inherited from the ancestors but sorely underutilized today.

Here's how it works. You're hoping for outcome X. So you make a vow to Deity Y: If you will bring about Outcome X, I will, in return, give you Z.

I will:

Sacrifice a fine bull.

Commission a statue of you.

Throw that beautiful boar's-head torc into the Mississippi.

It's a contingency vow. If X, then Z. No X, no Z.

If it all sounds just a little transactional, bear in mind that this practice is firmly grounded in our divine pagan gifting economy: Do ut des, a gift for a gift.

Be warned: if Deity Y comes through for you, do not fail to follow up with Z. Do not. There are lots of stories about those who didn't*, and—believe me—you don't want to hear any of them, much less become one. As Alexander the Great always used to say, It doesn't pay to be stingy with the gods.

Why do I bring this up now? Well, as you may have heard, there's an election coming up.

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Fairy Flocks: A Kalasha Tale

As in Scotland deer are said to be the fairies' cattle, so in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, wild goats are known as the fairies' flocks.

A certain Kalasha man was once benighted while hunting in the mountains, and decided to spend the night in a particular cave.

In the middle of the night, he was awakened by the sound of many people entering the cave. These were the fairies. When they lit a fire, he saw that they had with them a fine, fat ibex. This they proceeded to slaughter, joint, and roast.

They gave some meat to the man. He ate it, but hid two ribs in his shirt.

When the fairies were finished eating, they reassembled the goat's bones in its hide.

“Where are the two ribs?” they asked, but the man said nothing, so the fairies made two ribs from sticks of juniper, the fairies' tree. When they had laid them in place on the skin, the goat sprang up alive again, hale and hearty.

“We give this ibex to Such-and-so,” they said, naming another Kalasha man known to the hunter.

The man fell asleep, and in the morning found himself alone in the cave.

Going out to resume his hunt, he heard gunfire. Following the sound of the shot, he found the very man that the fairies had named, who had just shot a fine, fat ibex.

“Let me help you,” the first hunter said, and the two of them proceeded to skin and butcher the animal. They found that two of its ribs were wooden.

The wild goats of the mountains, the ibexes and markhors, belong to the fairies. No one successfully hunts them without their permission.

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“Clean!”

 “The gods receive no offerings from dirty hands.”

(Hesiod)

 

So: at Paganicon next month we'll be doing a big, public ritual for the many-named and many-hued Lady of Spring.

Here's the downside: We' ll be doing it in a cowanish and public place, to whit, a hotel.

Here's the resulting problem: Ritual of this sort demands a high state of ritual purity, and public spaces such as hotels are not generally in a ritually clean state.

So what do you do? Obviously we can't expect to maintain the same high degree of ritual cleanliness that one does back home at the temple.

So we do what pagans have always done: we make do.

As the procession bearing the Offerings and the Holy Things proceeds through the hotel to the Place of Offering, it will be preceded—even before the drums—by one bearing the rose water and the leafy spray for sprinkling.

(And surely those who bear the Offerings and the Holy Things will have washed themselves well beforehand, hands and forearms to the elbows.)

As she cleanses, she will cry out in the ancient language of the Tribe of Witches.

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The High Priestess Effect

They call it the “high priestess effect."

You've been there before. It may not have been the worst ritual in the world, but it was somewhere Down There among the Bottom Thirteen. People walk out of the circle feeling bored, irritable, imbalanced.

All but the high priestess, that is. She's giddy with excitement. She thought the ritual was masterful, one of the best ever.

Premise: If you want to know how a ritual really went, don't ask the high priestess.

The sad fact of the matter is that when you're leading a ritual—especially one that you wrote yourself—your perception of the ritual will be both qualitatively and quantitatively different from those of the other folks present. You have a level of investment and engagement that they simply don't. That fact must inevitably shape the experience.

It's not quite fair to put these parallax views down to incompetency: not entirely, anyway. Perhaps it's a matter of experience, really. Experienced priestesses—priests too, of course—know about the High Priestess Effect and understand that they need to temper their own reactions accordingly. The experienced priestess (or priest) knows that, of all the people in the circle, his/her experience of the ritual is the least important. The right to your own experience is one of the sacrifices that you make when you enter the priesthood.

Moral of the Story: From inside and outside, the same ritual looks very different.

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