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 Only Worthwhile Mythology is a Literal Mythology

Back east last weekend for the non-pagan holidays with family, I was met with a dilemma. As the family writer, I'd been asked to speak at the Easter table. Me, the pagan.

Religiously, we're all over the board (= table—e.g. "bed and board"—from the time when they set up trestles and boards for meals; the boardroom, of course, is the room with the table). The Passover seder at my cousin's had been the night before. In this, we're no more than a microcosm of the American demographic. In a generation or two, there will probably be Muslim family members at the table too. Good old America. The separation of covenstead and state is one of the best ideas anyone's had in the last 500 years. Secular governance has probably done more than any other factor to break down old ethnic and religious tensions, and I say: Gods bless it.

I decided that in this instance discretion constituted the better part of valor, so I read aloud John Updike's Seven Stanzas at Easter  (you can read it here). Although it ends weakly, the poem addresses, from within its own Christian context, the same larger issues of science, religion, and language with which every living tradition must wrestle in our day. Updike's conclusion: The only mythology worth having is a literal mythology.

As a pagan, this makes sense to me. What (as it says in the Hermetica) is more visible than the gods? The Old Gods are the gods you can see, and maybe even touch: Earth, Sun, Thunder, Moon, Fire. What's to believe? There They are: we're surrounded by Them, embedded within Them, living out our every moment in full, immersive relation with Them. The work of the pagan is to do so consciously.

I gave the poem the reading it deserved, but I'd misjudged my audience, and it fell flat. To the kids, mythology is a non-issue, and it had never even occurred to most of the elders to take mythology any way but literally.

Well, I'm a storyteller, and you can't end on a down note. So I improvised an ecumenical ending:

Highest Heaven bless us this day,

and the food that we eat. Amen.

That was more enthusiastically received, and we ate.

Sorry John; I tried. I  think it's a fine poem.

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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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