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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Talking Across the Hedge

There were pagans on both sides of the mess in Charlottesville this weekend.

Agree or disagree, they're still our tribe.

As the “Vote No” campaign here in Minnesota—which successfully defeated an anti-marriage equality referendum—proved, the single most effective way to change other people's opinions is by engaging: by getting to know them personally, and by letting them know you.

We're pagans. Whatever our politics, we have certain things in common. We still share a common language.

So here are thirteen questions to ask those pagans on the other side of the hedge.


What's your name?

Where are you from?

What flavor pagan are you?

Are you part of a group?

Do you have a family?

Do you have kids?

Where do you live?

What are your interests?

Who's your favorite author?

What was your first pagan book?

Do you go to festivals?

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?

Wanna grab a bite?






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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.


  • Marc
    Marc Thursday, 17 August 2017

    What kind of mayonnaise-slathered world do you live in?

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Friday, 18 August 2017

    I live in a world, Marc, in which pagans perceive one another as holding something in common.
    I live in a world in which the single most effective way of changing how someone else thinks--certainly more effective than ignoring, screaming at, or clobbering--is by listening and talking.
    If that's mayonnaise, slather away.
    So, what's your favorite movie?

  • Mab Nahash
    Mab Nahash Friday, 25 August 2017

    Because the biggest issue I've seen is Eurocentric paganism's anxiety about people of color, I'd like to offer a few points that specifically engage those of us who live in the South, where we have a greater degree of shared genetic ancestry across racial lines than in other parts of the country, and often closer and more frequent day to day contact across racial and cultural lines as well.
    Any conversation that aims to address racial assumptions within paganism needs to begin with the idea of tribe, which is certainly bandied about in pagan circles frequently enough. But what is it, and what makes it? You've written about this. Is it blood? Initiation? Cultural affiliation? As for blood, we should acknowledge the poetic, cultural, and religious power of ancestry, and we should look to our actual ancestry, and not just our imagined ancestry. What we know and assume from the history of slavery is borne out by genetic studies. Essentially all African Americans whose ancestors were slaves have European ancestry. Given that fact, can Euro-focal pagan groups deny them their rightful place at the hearth of their fathers' gods, in essence assert that the halls of their ancestors are closed to them?
    But most of that European DNA is from men, so can we ethically ignore the prevalence of rape in that dynamic? Science tells that story strongly in this particular instance, but it's always a factor the world over. So should we all favor the motherline in our worship? After all, what is a more spiritually potent image than dream-whispers travelling down the ages from mother to mother to mother? But can milk and blood alone define us? Going back to the American South specifically, can we honor our fatherlines without associating ourselves with the rape of our slave mothers?
    Look, too, to the other side. 10-12% of white Southerners have African ancestry, compared to about 1-3.5% in the rest of the nation. If you speak with a white pagan from the South who has a racial religious ideology (and for the love of the goddess, do NOT assume that's how all/most/many at all of us operate), ask how long their family has been in the South. Have they had personal genetic testing done to determine or verify their ancestry? How did they feel about the results? How would they handle unexpected results? Have they/would they consider exploring West African paganisms and witchcraft if they have that ancestry? In that instance, would/do they mix pantheons and ritual styles or keep them separate? Why?
    The communities, the land, and the people buried here speak, too. In my corner of the world, white people are not the first or most notable magical game in town. Ask someone what their experiences have been with voodoo, hoodoo, conjure, and other African diasporatic magical practices. (I'm talking about real experiences, though, with real people, not just reading some websites because conjure is a fashionable alternative to wicca these days.) If they do have some real contact there, where do those practices/practitioners feel similar to European-focused paganisms, and where do they feel different? Do African American spirits ever show up in their European oriented rituals, whether or not they're invited, and what happens if/when they do?
    Those last questions are curiosities of practice, but are easier than the personal, racial ones. People who are truly racist or white supremacist probably won't engage deeply enough for any of this, but all the rest of us co-create the cultural milieu of white privilege which pervades the pagan community as much as the rest of the country. These are national issues and national problems, but I do want to offer a Southern perspective because we are closer cousins here, are often guilty of racial self-delusion, and it's all so awfully personal. These conversations need to arise from experience and real relationship rather than political platform, so tread lightly if you don't share that experience, and be careful to build relationships first. Don't shout across the hedge. We can be honest about the potential for miscommunication and anxiety in cross-cultural and cross-racial interactions without sanctifying or privileging that anxiety. Put grace before ideology for the sake of a more lasting justice.

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