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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Goddesses in the News

Since Kilauea began its most recent eruption a fortnight ago, we've been hearing a lot in the news about Madame Pele, Lady of Kilauea.

Every pagan should sit up and take notice.

Even from here in Minnesota, I've heard Hawaiians of many different ethnic backgrounds talking about Her. It's well worth listening closely to what they say.

No one tries to explain Her away as a metaphor or an archetype. No one mounts a defense of Traditional Hawaiian religion. They simply speak of Pele as an indisputable datum, as real as the old lady next door.

In fact, people do see Her in human form all the time. “With great regularity Pele stories appear, usually on Page One, of every Hawai'i newspaper from Hilo to Hanalei,” writes Rick Carroll, editor of the anthology Madame Pele: True Encounters with Hawai'i's Fire Goddess. “Over the years, I clipped Pele tales from Time magazine, the New Yorker, National Geographic, and mainland newspapers” (Caroll xiii-ix).

I've noticed that people usually (although not always) give enough qualifying explanation for us non-Hawaiians to understand what they're saying: “the goddess Pele,” “Pele the volcano goddess.” Information needs to be contextualized, after all; your hearer needs to know enough to be able to understand what you're saying.

I doubt that most of the folks that I've heard speaking of the Red Lady to reporters would describe themselves as practicing Traditional Hawaiian religion.

But that's how it is with the Old Gods, the gods of “Nature.” We're all in relationship with Them all the time, whether or not we regard it as religious.

Here's where we of the Old Ways have a leg up on our non-pagan neighbors. We've inherited from the ancestors a technology of articulation. The language of the Old Religions—the language of gods and goddesses, of offerings, hymns, and prayers—gives us a very subtle way of talking about our relationship with the non-human world that other people simply don't have.

In an age of climate change—as in every age—this is something important that we bring to the conversation. If we are willing to speak our own language in public, soon others will take it up as well, because it enables us—pagan and non-pagan alike—to say things that simply can't be said in any other way.

These days, Hawaiians of many different ethnicities and religions are talking about the goddess Pele.

Somehow, that's not surprising.


Rick Carroll, ed. (2003) Madame Pele: True Encounters with Hawai'i's Fire Goddess. Honolulu: Bess Press.


Above: Herb Kane, Pele: Goddess of Hawai'i's Volcanoes






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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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