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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Thirteen Nights of Samhain

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Halloween is over and gone. The last of the soul candles have burnt out; the candy (thank Goddess) is all handed out; the squirrels have reduced the jack o' lanterns on the doorstep to piles of orange shreds. (“May squirrels eat his/her face” is one of my favorite curses, but obviously nothing to toss around lightly. Shudder.) But this, after all, is Paganistan. Don't go putting up those Yule lights quite yet. Around here, Samhain is just beginning.

Americans tend to do their celebrating in advance (Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends December 24th), but that's not the witch's way. Tony Kelly of the Pagan Movement in Britain and Ireland always used to say that the firedays aren't neat, tidy little dates on a calendar; they're extended tides of intensive change during the year. Like Yule, they all have their thirtnights, their witch's dozen of days.

Today's the Fifth of November. (“Remember, remember the Fifth of November: gunpowder, treason, and...what? There must be some reason to remember the season, but whatever it is, I forgot,” says the Kipper family.) Guy Fawkes' Day fell out of favor in America back around the Revolution, but did you ever wonder why Election Day is the first Tuesday in November? Back in the day, Election Day was a bonfire holiday. The harvest is in, but the winter weather hasn't closed in yet, so the tribe gets together to do its necessary politicking. The more things change....

For years now this has been when we get together to do our political magic. We'll be doing it tonight. During the Reagan years down at the River we burned the Teflon President in effigy every year. (“That's black magic!” sputtered one of the local white lighters one year. Said white lighter moved on long ago, destination unknown; we, on the other hoof, are still going strong. This year was our 35th Samhain together.*) We actually made a wax poppet of Michelle Bachman (may squirrels eat her face) one year and roasted it over the fire. Look what happened to her: she's a national laughingstock. I don't know whether our magic had anything to do with it (I doubt it), but at least it gave us the feeling that we were doing something. There's a lot to be said for emotional catharsis, and magic has always been the preserve of the politically powerless.


This coming Friday will be astronomical Samhain, the exact midpoint between the autumn evenday and winter sunstead. That's the night I'll go down to the River valley and do my own personal stuff. Back in my teens I used to go down to the woods, light the fire, and make the magic, and it was always the real thing. After 35 years with Paganistan's oldest continuously-operating coven, I still make a point of maintaining my solo practice as well; I get stale without it. I'd recommend the same to anyone.

Saturday's the big public Samhain here. Covenant of the Goddess' Northern Dawn Council has been holding public rituals for more than 30 years. This year we'll be over in Newell Park in St. Paul again, set in its wonderful grove of white oaks: 900 North Fairview Ave. Ritual starts at 6; feast at 8. See you there.

Veteran's Day on the 11th; old warriors never die. Just in time for Old Samhain two days later, Samhain as it fell on the Old Calendar. Time to take down the orange lights and settle in for winter. Time for what my friend and colleague Magenta Griffith calls “the Fallows”: the Time Between.

Time between is Fallows called,

which, fallow, lies between

Midwinter's and the hinder end

of harvest, Halloween.


*"The coven that hexes together...." What? "...visits Texas together"? Not bloody likely. "...sexes together"? Not if they want to stay together for 35 years, they don't. "...waxes together"? Oh, please.


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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.


  • susan
    susan Thursday, 13 November 2014

    Thanks for this entry! My Samhain was filled with stress, a major event, and no time for personal reflection. I read this and realized that I still had time to perform my own private observance. Again, thanks for throwing a spiritual life preserver!

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Friday, 14 November 2014

    If ever I entertained any doubts about why I do this, Susan (and occasionally I do), you've settled them all. Thanks. I'm sure Tony Kelly would have been delighted to hear what you say.

    What you've described has been my experience time and again, and I've become convinced of the wisdom of extended celebration. The holidays are profoundly culturally important to who and what we are--they are certainly major vectors of cultural transmission in any culture of oral tradition--and they deserve to be savored, for all that they have to offer.

    I find this experience impressed upon me even more so as (here in the States, anyway) we slowly begin our descent into the collective madness that is December. Almost I've come to love the end of Yule more than the beginning: when the echoes of the frenzy and busy-ness have finally faded away so that one can finally hear in the stillness the singing of the stars.

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