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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What Makes Midwestern Paganism Different?

Over the course of our decades-long friendship, writer and activist Macha Nightmare has remarked to me on more than one occasion that paganism here in the Midwest has a more distinctively “regional” feel to it than in most other places.

(Macha, please correct me if I'm misquoting.)

Macha has traveled more widely than I have across the many-colored world of Pagandom, but—from what I've seen—my own experience tends to bear out her observation.

So one New Moon the coven sat down to discuss the matter.

What makes Midwestern Paganism different? Here's what we came up with.

We prefer concise, plain and direct. You'll find fewer thees and thous in Midwest pagan liturgy, fewer adjectives in our invocations, and (thank Goddess) fewer put-on Aleister Cooke accents. Get in, get the job done, and get out: that's how we like to do it.

I find this tendency particularly pronounced among Midwest Old Craft folk. Old Craft style in general tends toward the verbose, the abstruse, and (frankly) the pompous. Old Craft writer and enfant terrible Andrew Chumbley is a classic example, who (as my friend and colleague Sparky T. Rabbit once put it) writes to impress rather than to inform. He'll never say in ten words what he can say in ten thousand, never say “mystery” when he can say arcanum, never say “flying ointment” when he could say unguentum Sabbati. Here in Midwestern Old Craft, we hold to the power of plain-speaking. Here in the Midwest, high school Latin doesn't impress us.

High-falutin' claims and titles don't impress us either. The best way to get yourself laughed out of town around here is to tell us all about your many advanced initiations, and don't expect us to call you Your Divine Grace, even if that's what they call you where back you come from. Here we expect people to act like people. Here we're impressed by people who act like people. Here we know that—although we expect you to walk your talk—what you do matters more than what you say.

We're convinced that the Midwest is the center of world paganism. We look at the Coastal Paganisms and see just more of the same. We know that the real seat of innovation in American paganism is right here in the Midwest, where people know how to think for themselves.

Or so we like to think.

We do things collectively. Since hierarchies don't impress us, we tend to make decisions and do things together. We're more about consensus than about top-down; but, of course, our consensus tends to be pragmatic rather than ideological.

Climate and landscape play more of a role in local paganism there than elsewhere. We're not so much about Long Ago and Far Away as we are about This Place and what's going on Here and Now. When you live in a place where the climate can kill you, you learn to pay close attention. Since pagans are, by definition, the People of Place, we feel really proud of this.

We eat really well. Don't look for chips and brats at the average Midwestern sabbat. Here a feast is a feast, and anything with fewer than 13 dishes is considered a poor showing. This, of course, is exactly what one would expect from the region that feeds the rest of the world—or at least likes to think that it does, anyway.

We do for ourselves. It took the Traditions a long time to get here to Flyover Country, so if we wanted it, we had to take what we had and do for ourselves.

So that's what we did, and the result was so good and so self-authenticating that we've been doing it ever since. This has given us unshakeable confidence in our own creativity, and the sense that we don't need anyone else's permission to do what we do, thank you very much.


After we'd been talking for a while, someone said: “Guys, you do realize that what we've just done here is to describe ourselves, right?”

We all laughed, because she was exactly right. In this, we are one with all of those Peoples whose tribal name means “the Real People.” This is not to imply that all those other people out there are unreal people; we presume that they're all Real People to themselves too, just like we are.

Well, the Apple of Immortality doesn't fall far from the Tree of Life. In these views, Midwest pagans are more or less like Midwest non-pagans.

Deep down, we know that, in fact, we really are better than everyone else.

We're just too polite to say so.


Last modified on
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.


  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    This lines up with my research. :)

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    Anything I've missed?

  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    Well, out of geological necessity, Midwestern Pagans have been incredibly innovative -- not only because of climate adaptation, but because we were flyover country for so long as far as Paganism was concerned, we're bootstrappers and self-taught. (I actually wish more folks embraced this part of our identity instead of running to the past so much.)

    And maybe bullet points under your larger themes. Holy crap, do we eat -- maybe too much. And I cannot for the life of me remember anyone's magical name around here -- we all know each other by our mundane names here.

    I do point out that a pretty common gateway in around here (for better or worse) is the Sci-Fi/fantasy one -- lots of folks meet their first Pagans at a scifi con around here.

    There's also an intellectual and bookish history to us, I think largely because of the influence of Llewelyn Publications and the Gnosticons (book books witches occultists books) and the University.

    Does this ring with you too?...

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 03 October 2018

    Bang on.

    I've emended the post accordingly: thanks!

  • Babette Petiot
    Babette Petiot Wednesday, 03 October 2018

    Looks a lot like french paganism too!
    We like to eat good meals too! :)

  • Mark Green
    Mark Green Wednesday, 03 October 2018

    Frankly. except for the idea that the Midwest is the center of American Paganism, that sounds pretty much like the Pagan circles I move in here on the West Coast. I mean, food and drink? Really?

    I live in Sonoma County, man.

  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Wednesday, 03 October 2018

    Dude, dude, you have not experienced the massiveness of a Minnesota potluck.
    I'm just sayin'....:D

  • Mark Green
    Mark Green Wednesday, 03 October 2018

    I should be clear: I don't care about regional pissing contests.

    But much of the "virtue" advanced in this post is the very same stuff that many, many Pagan communities would express with pride. So be proud, but don't go so far as to congratulate yourself that those qualities are unique.

    Because they aren't.

    Relation to land is as alive on the coasts as it is elsewhere. I speak personally to that fact.

    And I think it's destructive for us to propose competitive comparisons with our fellows in other regions. We are a tiny minority: why should we split more?

  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Thursday, 04 October 2018

    It was intending to be a joke, Mark...
    We all are part of.communities that are.regionally unique, tho - customs, history, food, stories...just like any other community that varies by region. Theres nothing competitive or destructive in our acknowledging that.

  • Mark Green
    Mark Green Thursday, 04 October 2018

    OK, fair enough. I think it's tricky, parsing pride of place vs. thinking our place is "better" than some other place. Because for each of us in real relationship with the land where we live, it's the best place on Earth, right?

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 04 October 2018

    Tony Kelly of the Pagan Movement in Britain and Ireland always used to say that "Mabh [=Earth] is nowhere more beautiful than wherever we are."

  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Thursday, 04 October 2018

    I can get on board with that.
    Steven was also.pointing out, politely, the good things.about Paganistan. Theres plenty about ourselves that drives us nuts too. See my comment about eating too much, etc...we have our stories of frozen mead at sumbels and near yard fires trying to get the Yule fires lit in arctic temperatures...and also why we're cool with indoor rites...

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 04 October 2018

    Part of my intent with this piece (it's a poor writer that needs to speak of intent, but so be it) was to poke some gentle fun at the Midwest community—and Midwesterners in general, I suppose—for our self-satisfied (some might say smug) attitude when, in fact, we're much of a muchness. Who, after all, doesn't like good food?

    And yet. There is a strong regional sense here. Like much pagan writing, this piece is also, in part, aspirational. As pagans, I can think of few things more healthy than the development of strong regional cultures, as part of our growing sense of identity. As pagans, we're nothing if not People of Place.

    Re. inter-communal rivalries: Personally, I'm of the opinion that, if some friendly vying can push us to become stronger and better than we would have been otherwise, so much the better. Isn't every place, after all, the Center?

  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Tuesday, 19 February 2019

    I agree with Mark about the similarities between Paganstani and us Left Coasties. Certainly the primacy of place has increased since we last spoke of this. I think this was not the case in the past, especially in urbanism. I think that may be the case worldwide, Pagan or not. "She changes everything she touches and everything she touches changes."

    "We're convinced that the Midwest is the center of world paganism. We look at the Coastal Paganisms and see just more of the same. We know that the real seat of innovation in American paganism is right here in the Midwest, where people know how to think for themselves."

    Don't you know that the Left Coast is the center of world Paganism? ;-) I think we tend to feel the same way about where we live, an attitude which, frankly, is unbecoming to all of us. Even tho Ron Hutton once described the SF Bay Area as being to Paganism something like Athens was to the ancient word.

    I also think that greater climate change awareness has sharpened people's awareness of place, resources, and interdependence.

    I still see folks ascribe elemental correspondences in what one might consider an orthodox way regardless of where the large body of water is. Of course it works for us because the ocean is in the West.

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