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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Checking Dicks at the Door

It was the year of the great Transsexual Panic at Pantheacon. The politics of sex, gender, and identity were very much in the air.

That summer Sparky T. Rabbit, Frebur Moore, and I finally decided to put together for PSG the men's ritual we'd always wanted to attend. From this was born the Rite of the God-Pole, an adoration of the Divine Masculine.

And of course, in that atmosphere, the issue arose: who's invited, who isn't?

Men-born-men only, or self-identified men? Pre-op, post-op, no op, what? Why bar someone who has chosen maleness? Who better to truly appreciate this ritual than someone who has had to work hard for his maleness? Is manhood not always, in the end, something achieved? “Boys are born, men are made,” says the truism.

We went back and forth. Eventually we reached a pragmatic Midwestern conclusion. The three of us were already in full agreement that ultimately the men's and women's mysteries are biological at heart, and hence, by definition, necessarily restricted; but the God-Pole Rite is a men's ritual, not an enactment of men's mysteries. The secret things are never revealed. (As if we would even consider doing such a thing at a public festival.) By restricting participation in this ritual, we'd be opening a big bag of snakes, wholly unnecessarily.

I sum up the conversation. “So we're not going to make an issue out of this, one way or the other?”


“The ritual is open to everyone who self-identifies as a man?”


“The program will say: 'Open to all men, period'?”


“So we won't be checking dicks at the door?”

There's a pause.

“If we do,” says Sparky, “I volunteer.”

In the overculture at large—at least in the public forum—there seems to be a presumption that discrimination is always and everywhere a societal wrong.

It seems to me that as pagans, for the most part, we see things differently. Maybe this is one of the things that sets us apart.

Initiates only. Women only. Men only. Tribe only. It seems to me that among our people there's a shared understanding that, at certain times and in certain places, discrimination is not only acceptable, but something actually to be desired: in fact, a societal good.

If someone at a festival wanted to restrict attendance at a workshop to African-Americans only, could I get behind that? Yes, I suppose I could. A ritual for those of Northern European descent only? I guess I'd be behind that too.

I'm not quite sure yet how far the parameters of this acceptable discrimination extend. Certainly clear definitions are, here as elsewhere, a sine qua non. I suspect that the key will turn out to be specific and temporary designation of boundaries, i. e. discrimination bound by certain times and places.

But that's a discussion for another night.

Me, I don't believe in an afterlife, beyond the Eternal Sabbat of the atoms.

But if I'm wrong, and I do somehow manage to find myself in the men-only section of the Island of Apple-Trees, who knows? Maybe I might just run into Sparky there after all.

Probably checking dicks at the door, just like he said.


A public memorial service for Sparky T. Rabbit will be held in Minneapolis on Sunday, August 31, 2014 (the Sunday of Labor Day weekend). Specifics forthcoming soon. Watch this space.

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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.


  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Sunday, 17 August 2014

    I agree that the Men's Mysteries should be MEN only. And you are right that biology is destiny in this situation. I kind of wish I could have been there, if only it weren't such a long way. I led the first PSG Men's Mysteries that had Warrior Women guarding the gateway. But the Warrior Women didn't check men coming in to see who was male and who wasn't. We trusted the men to figure it out for themselves.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 19 August 2014

    For me, one of the best moments during the God Pole Rite was (as so often seems to be the case) entirely unplanned. The chanting procession of men bearing the God-Pole passed a hillside where a circle of women were celebrating a girl's Coming-of-Age. Spontaneously the women paused in their rite, turned, cheered, and ululated to honor the God Pole and its bearers. The men responded in kind, blessing the New Woman.

    It was a best moment. "This is what a culture of respect looks like," I thought. "This is what we're making together."

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Tuesday, 19 August 2014

    Good times, Steven. A similar thing happened to me one time when I led the Men's ritual at PSG. One night the women heard our chant and saw our procession. About 1/3 of the women got up and left the women's ritual to join our parade, much to the disappointment of the women leading their event. Those are special times.

  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler Tuesday, 19 August 2014

    Just asking a question..... what do you think of women born women groups? It seems like such an explosive subject. Greybeard?

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 20 August 2014

    A powderkeg issue for sure, Constance! My opinion (for what it's worth) is that private groups have (and ought to have) a right to be self-defining and self-limiting. Good old "freedom of association."

  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler Friday, 22 August 2014

    I agree. But as a solitary, what was all the ruckus about Z having just women is her circle? Was it because it was a public space? Here you are singing the praises of all men circles, and I thinks that's great. But I haven't notice any women complaining that you won't let them in, or your being misogynist. Any time this comes up it's a big fight, and the name calling of Z is just caddy, backbiting and immature. Many of these all women's group where very important for women during the early days because we had nowhere to go without men's voices drowning us out. I have grown more inclusive as I get older, but there was a time when I needed just women's groups. And, I'm glad you have all men groups, I think it's important.!! But, women are not the enemy. Don't mean to open a can of worms, but can we talk about this without anger ? Oh, I alway like your post, great sence of humor!!

  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis Friday, 22 August 2014

    From what I understand the controversy over Z's circle has more to do with her opposition to letting transwomen participate in Dianic Wicca, and less her objection to cismen.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 24 August 2014

    I think that the laws of hospitality, that immemorial pagan virtue, apply to ritual as well as any other situation. If you're throwing the ritual and I'm attending, you are my host and I am your guest, and the rules that govern those roles apply. I don't hold with crashing rituals, disrupting rituals, or coopting rituals.

    The controversy is (understandably) a heated one, as issues of identity so often are, and I doubt very much that I have anything original to contribute to it. I guess what I'm arguing for is that ultimately the price I need to expect to pay for being with mine (however defined) is that I need to be willing to let other folks be with theirs (however defined). And then let's have the big party we can all go to.

    Respect is another old pagan virtue, and I'm all for it. In the long run, it sure does seem to be a less painful way to get things done.

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