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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The Golden God

I hear that if you go into a supermarket in Latvia and take a box of cereal off the shelf, you'll find that it's marked with the sign of the Grain God: Jumis.

I say God of Grain, but Jumis (you-miss) is much more than that. His name means “double” or “twin” (it's the same as Sanskrit jama, “twin,” or Latin Gemini, for that matter), and doubled things are his: twins, double fruits and nuts, eggs with two yolks. Abundance, fertility, marriage, all the good things: these are his gifts. His sign, shown above, represents two crossed grain stalks, heavy heads hanging: it is, one might say, shorthand for “sheaf.” (The motif has been used continuously in Latvian art since the Bronze Age.) He is the Baltic John Barleycorn, the Latvian Frey, the merry big-dicked god of bread and beer and other good things.

The harvest is, of course, his special feast, and lots of hymns to him survive. Many of them, like harvest songs everywhere, tend towards the bawdy. A stanza from one of my favorites:


If only every grain of barley

were big as the harvester's dick,

we'd always have plenty of beer to drink,

winter, spring, summer, and fall.

Those earthy pagans.

Some friends of mine own a Baltic imports store here in Minneapolis. One Saturday their daughter was working the afternoon shift; she had a date with a new guy that night after work.

In between customers, she started unpacking new stock. One of the boxes held enamel pins marked with the signs of the different gods: Sun, Thunder, Earth, Moon, Fire. The Jumis pin was silver with green enamel and went with her outfit beautifully. She'd always been welcome to borrow things from the store, so long as she returned them in good condition. So she pinned on Jumis for the evening.

Her father came in to relieve her. Just as she was going out the door, he said, “Stop.” Then he went over and removed the Jumis pin. It's not exactly the kind of thing you want your daughter to be wearing on a first date. “Have a good time,” he said.

Apparently they did. At any rate, they're married now.

Praise to You, Golden Sheaf, god of bread and beer.






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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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