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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'Swim, Perun, Swim!'



Incredible as it may seem, there's a carving of Perun, the Slavic God of Thunder, in the Catholic cathedral in “St.” Paul.

I can't remember why a priestess friend and I had decided to go across the River to attend a service at the cathedral that night. (It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.) After the ritual—the church had otherwise emptied out quickly—the two of us wandered around playing tourist.

In the apse behind the altar are the so-called Chapels of Nations, each one dedicated to the patron saint of one of the constituent demographic groups that originally settled the city formerly known as Pig's Eye. (How the city got its first name is a funny, and very pagan, story. Remind me to tell you some time.) It's above the altar dedicated to the brothers Cyril and Methodius, missionaries to the Slavs, that you'll find the carving of Perun.

In 988, Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided to cement his political alliance with the Byzantine emperor by accepting baptism. In a move reminiscent of the mass Moonie weddings of the 80s, he had the entire population of Kiev herded down to the River Dnieper to undergo forcible assembly-line style mass baptism.

In an act of blatant hypocrisy, Vladimir also had his soldiers throw down the sacred god-poles of the city's main sanctuary, images which he himself had caused to be raised some years before.

Pro forma baptism notwithstanding, the people of Kiev were distraught to see the images of their old gods cast down. When Perun's image was pitched into the waters of the Dnieper—it had golden mustaches and a silver beard, a chronicler remembers—the people lined the riverbank.

“Swim, Perun, swim!” they cried.

And he did. The place downstream where He came to shore is still called Perun's Landing.

In the “St.” Paul carving, Perun lies on his side: cast down, but not yet drowned. It's a fine likeness, crisply rendered, based on the four-faced figure of the god Svantovit discovered at Zbruch in Poland in 1848. In His right hand—liquor-loving god that He is—He holds a drinking horn. It seems a telling touch, intimate.

Well, we're pagans, and pagans don't go to see a god empty-handed. Unfortunately, until that moment unaware of Perun's presence, neither of us had thought to bring a proper offering.

So I keep watch while my friend “liberates” some flowers from another altar, and Perun, giver of rain to pagan and non-pagan alike, receives His offering.

In our day, 1000 years since the baptism of the Rus', wooden god-poles of Perun, and the other Old Gods of Slavdom, rise once again across the Russian land.

Cyril and Methodius are dead, increasingly irrelevant in a church collapsing beneath the weight of its own arrogance and hypocrisy, in a city whose new immigrants are Central American, Hmong, and Somali.

And still, the living Thunder strides across Land and Sky, magnificent, giving his good gift of rain to all, speaking the Primal Word.








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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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