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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On the Sanctity of Drinking Bowls

When you pour out sacred drink, what do you pour it into?

If you're Wiccan, probably a chalice.

If you're heathen, probably a horn.

Now, I've got nothing against horns. (Some of my best friends wear them.) Nor, for that matter, chalices, although it's a matter of history that they derive their current stemmed shape from Christian liturgical necessity: not that there's anything wrong with that.

But when it comes to sacred drinking, as for me, I like to stick with ancestral precedent. Make mine a drinking bowl, please.

Drinking bowls tend to be smaller than bowls that you eat from, but that's the main difference, really. Whether richly carved or elegantly plain, drinking bowls read as “archaic,” ancestral, dating from a time when one single, undifferentiated vessel served all functions. It's interesting to note that while “bowl” is an indigenously Germanic word, “cup” was originally a Latin import.

In Scandinavia and the Slavic-speaking world, both northern and southern, drinking bowls intended for ritual use often, intriguingly, took (and take) the form of a bird, often a water bird. Water birds, of course, are denizens of all Three Worlds: water, earth, and sky, which says something rather profound about the consumption of ritual—frequently intoxicating—beverages. We drink, we soar, we dive: wassail!

The encircling chevron pattern on the Slovenian birch-wood duck-bowl, shown here, cleverly plays on this theme: duck in water, “water” in duck.

As we toast the end of one solar year and the beginning of a new, I bid you, in the ancient ancestral drinking formula:

Wassail! [“Be hale!”] Drink hale!

Regardless of what you're drinking from.




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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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