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 Psalm to Ba'al: For Hanuka

Forget the Maccabees.

This time of year, the press goes into overdrive about the Temple in Jerusalem, miracles, and trick oil cruets.

Don't believe them.

Hanuka, like so many Jewish festivals, is in origin an old nature holiday, Canaanite through and through. The oil-lamps of Hanuka have, in all likelihood, flickered around the Middle Sea at this time of year for millennia. Probably we should envision the temple-palaces of Minoan Crete and the other cities of the eastern Mediterranean littoral burning with rows of lamps à la Diwali, with bonfires in the courtyards. The olive harvest and pressing are over and done, and the fresh new oil all ready to go. Fire up those oil lamps, folks.


The dark of the moon closest to the Winter Solstice: dark of the Sun, dark of the Moon. It doesn't get any darker than this. So what do you do? (You have to do something.) Well, you do candle magic. Every night for eight nights, you light one more. You make more light every night and, by the immemorial power of sympathetic magic, the light does come back: first the Moon, then the Sun. Whew.

In the Mediterranean world, this is the time of the winter rains. Ba'al the Thunderer, Who slept in She'ol through all the long, parched Summer, has risen and taken up His Seven Lightnings again. A pagan friend of mine who lived in Haifa said it's amazing and terrifying to watch the thunderstorms out over the Mediterranean. It's easy to believe that the Sea will rise up and drown the land, that primal Unbeing will arise and overwhelm Being. The Canaanites mythologized this as Ba'al's annual struggle against the Livyatán (anglice Leviathan), the Sea Dragon. Californians will recognize this story.

In this year of drought-breaking winter rains, it may be no bad idea to light to Thunder with especial assiduousness.

Lest California slide into the sea.

A Psalm: for Hanuka

The Sea has swallowed Sun and Moon;

the light of the world has failed.

Arise, O Ba'al, fight for us:

take up your seven lightnings.

Seven days battle, eight nights strive,

eight nights against the Dragon.

Break his heads, O outstretched arm:

shatter the skulls of the Deep.

We kindle these lights for you, our god,

to strengthen your mighty arm:

break the darkness, O Ba'al Hadad,

without which, life must fail.


Steven Posch


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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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