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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A Contract with Death

The island lies at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. To the Dakota, old in the land, it marked the Center of the World.

That's where we gather for Samhain.

In the river valley, the Sun sets early. By late afternoon, people have already begun to gather at the stone-built fire-hall, and kindled a fire in its central hearth. At sunset we close the doors.

A horn sounds. 1000-year words proclaim Summer's End. Another horn passes, widdershins in this season of the dead, the new cider sweet and tart on the tongue.


Fly, fly, fly: the leaves are leaving the branch,

cold are the winds, winter is coming.


Three knocks. The doors open. Crowned with antler and autumn leaf, he smiles sadly as we sing.

You are a stag, lord, greatly to be praised:

worthy of sacrifice, lord of life and death.


Leaving behind warmth and firelight, we follow him out into the night, across the threshold with its guardian jack o' lanterns. Into the river mists, across a wide field, we walk, to another threshold, one that cannot be seen. The pumpkin lanterns of the Unseen Door watch us come.


Between them, also watching, stands a Darkness.

Our horned guide kneels before her.

Old Woman,

gaunt skeleton of the bluffs,

we do not fear you,

for we know you of old.

That which is never born can never die,

and all the rest is yours.


We call out the names of the dead.

We sing the song that asks for another year of life, acknowledging as we do that some year the plea will be denied.

Darkness moves on darkness. The Faceless gives to the Horned and he eats. The apple passes among us; one by one we eat, accepting its twin promises.

The Shadow extends a skeletal hand. He takes it, rises, and receives her kiss.

He crosses the unseen threshold and passes away behind her. We watch as he goes into Darkness, Opening the Way.

But us she sends back. Not this year, thankfully, not yet.

We retrace our path, singing the guisers' cheerily mournful song.

 One for summer, two for fall:

three for Her that bears us all.


Back in the hall, we kindle candles from hearth-fire: many candles to light our feast, our toasts, our songs, our dances, our divination. Within its stone-built walls, it is easy to forget which century we are in. Truly this night we are Between the Times.


But for all our candles, shadows fill the corners, even so.

Life is a contract with death, annually renewed.

At Samhain, we renew the contract.

Dimitri Tsykalov, Apple






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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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