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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Thunderstruck in Reykjavik

The way I heard it, back in 1972 the heathens of Iceland petitioned the Althing—Parliament—for federal recognition. The official state church in Iceland is the Lutheran church, and everyone pays tax dollars to help support it, but there are a few other recognized religious organizations that you can designate to receive your money instead. The heathens, very reasonably, asked to be included on the list.

Parliament thought it was a joke. (Hey, it was 1972.) “Odin? Thor? Come on, this can't be serious. Recognition denied. Jeez.”

That night (almost I want to add: of course) the Parliament building is struck by lightning. Lights go out all over Reykjavik. (I should add that thunderstorms are rare in Iceland.)

Iceland has a long history of religious pragmatism. In the year 1000, when the Icelanders decided to become Christian (largely because the king of Norway was holding hostage the sons of many of the island's most prominent families), they added a proviso: but if you want to offer to the Old Gods in private, that's your business.


Next day Parliament meets again. First item on today's agenda: the heathens. Any discussion? No? Recognition granted. (Stamp.) Next?

When I first heard this story back in the early 70s, I thought: Good story. Maybe a little too good.

Well, I was wrong.

Stories, of course, just want to get better. Turns out it wasn't Parliament that was Thunder-struck after all, but some buildings adjoining the Ministry of Justice and Church Affairs, where the application had been rejected. The timeline was a little more extended than I've presented it above: the application was made in December 1972, and final recognition granted in May 1973.

The timing of the lightning-strike and the power outage, however, was exactly as I'd heard it: the very day the application was denied, December 18, 1972.

Stories just want to get better, yes.

But sometimes the real life stories are the very best stories of all.

Praise to you, O Thunder, terrible in mercy.

Jónína K. Berg, “Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson: A Personal Reminiscence,” in Tyr 3: Myth, Culture, Tradition (2007). Atlanta, pp. 270-1.

Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson 1924-1993

In Memoriam


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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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