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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Paganism with Its Hooves on the Ground

 Lot Detail - Blatz Beer Flat Top 39-3

Like most tribal elders, I worry about my people. Is there a future for pagans?

In a group of, say, 50 pagans, one could make a case that, arguably, there are actually 50 different religions represented. How can so fragmented (not to mention self-obsessed) a group possibly have a future together? How can we possibly achieve anything lasting?

Well, something that I heard at a workshop at Paganicon 2024 gives me hope.


Hero Tales

His great-grandfather was a drunk.

He had recently moved back to the old family farm, land in-taken by said great-grandfather. According to family tradition, the old man had liked his booze, and then some.

So at Samhain, he'd take down the treasured bottle of 40-year old Scotch from the shelf and pour a dram or two for his ancestor-in-the-land.

After a year or two of this, one Samhain night, great-grandpa himself turns up in a dream and slaps him up side the head.

“What's this shit?” he says. “I want Blatz!”

(Blatz is a local beer that could charitably be described as a “beer-drinker's beer.”)

The man who told this story on himself was a respected local elder, founder of one of our regional pagan land sanctuaries.* When he told his tale, my heart leapt up and I thought: Ye gods, maybe there's hope for us after all.


When I began my journey on the Old Ways back at the end of the 60s, pagan elders were few and far between on the ground. Most were de facto elders. Even if you've only been doing this for six months, you're still senior to us who have been doing it for six weeks.

The stories they told about themselves in those days were all hero tales. “Then I...[did something that saved the day].” “But then I said...[the exactly-right thing that confounded the would-be oppressor].” We all know someone who's the hero of all his own stories.

We need our hero stories. Cuchulain's war-cry was so terrifying that when he uttered it, 500 enemy warriors would fall down dead, and the rest would beshit themselves with fear.

Well, I can't do that. I'm not even a warrior: just a scrawny, aging gay guy from Minneapolis.

But even I can lift my voice against an injustice that needs to be righted in a way that can be heard.

I, too—like Cuchulain—can speak heroically.


Screw-Up Tales

As I matured in my paganism, though, I began to hear another kind of elder tale, especially among Indigenous elders.

This was the tale told on oneself: the story in which one is not so much the story's hero as its clown. You could call it the screw-up tale. Hey, listen to the stupid thing I did one time.

We need our screw-up tales, too. Hero tales give us something to aspire to. But when we hear screw-up tales, we think: Well, I could do better than that.

And so we do.


Elder Voices

That's why, when the man at the workshop told his story about great-grandpa and his Blatz, I felt so hopeful: because as pagans we finally have elder voices with the confidence to tell stories on themselves.

Those old young elders of Pagandom, in their inexperience, had to present themselves as the wise and the strong. It takes confidence to present yourself as weak and foolish.

Confidence is exactly what, as a people, we need if we're to walk together into an uncertain future.

Sounds to me like, just maybe, we're beginning to get it.


Heroes and Fools

I listen to the kinds of stories that I tell about myself. They're mostly about the stupid things that I've done, told to make people laugh. If anyone remembers me 200 years from now, they'll probably think: Boy, was that guy ever a f*ck-up.

You know what? That's just fine with me. If anyone remembers me two centuries from now, it will mean that I will have succeeded in my life-long dearest dream of all.

It will mean that there will still be an us to remember.

I'd rather be a remembered fool than a forgotten hero.




*So, Posch, why do you live in Minneapolis?

Here's why: because here I can begin a sentence with the phrase like “...founder of one of our regional pagan land sanctuaries...” and have it be true.






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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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