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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Why Did We Lose in the First Place?

Once everyone was pagan.

Today we're not.

So: if paganism was so great in the first place, why did we lose out?

It's a question that every thoughtful contemporary pagan wrestles with. Most often, our answers present us as having been victims, of coercion or of out-maneuvering.

These are stories of agency from without.

The Kalasha—the last remaining pagans of the Hindu Kush—tell a different story.

A story of broken taboos and failed leadership.

A story from within.


 The Last King of the Kalasha


In the old days, the kings of the Kalasha ruled over all of Chitral.

That was until one king committed incest with his daughter.

He went to the court dehár (shaman) and said: I have committed incest with my daughter. What can I do to be clean of this?

And this is what the dehár told him.

There is nothing that you can do to be clean of this. Of this, you will never be clean.

Moreover, your crime will harm not only yourself and your children, but all the Kalasha people.

Shortly thereafter, in 1570, the Rais Mehtar of Gilgit invaded. The Kalasha army was defeated, and the king and all his sons were killed. Many Kalasha were also killed, or forcibly converted to Islam.

Those who remained true to the Old Ways were forced out of their territory and into the three valleys which they inhabit to this day.

Since then, the Kalasha have had no kings.


So, why did we lose in the first place?

Maybe it isn't all on someone else after all.

Maybe we weren't true to our own ways. Maybe we messed up, too.

It's a truism of pagan thought that what leaders do in private affects everyone.

Let those of us in leadership reflect on this, and act accordingly.


Above: Kalasha women celebrate the feast of Joshi








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Tagged in: Kalasha
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.


  • Jamie
    Jamie Saturday, 20 May 2017

    Mr. Posch,

    Honestly, I think that most people generally give less thought to spiritual matters than they give to more pressing daily concerns. These folk, of every creed, are what the Divine Iamblichus called, "The herd of men who are subject to fate". They spend their lives eating, fucking, and hoarding as much wealth as they can...until they die and reincarnate at some point. It's more a matter of appearing to care than actually caring, for lots of them.

    I don't think that most nominally Pagan people from thousands of years ago loved the Deathless Ones any more than nominally Christian/Muslim/Jewish people heart Jesus/Allah/Yahweh today. Besides, the ruling elites love monotheism because it gives them even more control over the common people. It's all about the Big Man and the One True God who put him in charge and made him rich, not the far more decentralized and inclusive Pagan belief in regional deities and household gods.

    It was only a matter of convincing would-be Big Men that the One True God was right for them.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 22 May 2017

    Thanks, Jamie. We've both made some pretty big generalizations here, and vastly oversimplified a complex situation. Realistically, one should expect many, many answers to the question "Why did we lose?" (assuming, that is, that one considers it a legitimate question in the first place).

    My intent here was not to point a finger, but to say that we need to ask the question, and that in our answering we need to consider what our stories-from-within might look like.

    And to show how one pagan society went about answering that most difficult question in a way that reinforces the culture itself.

  • Jamie
    Jamie Monday, 22 May 2017

    Mr. Posch,

    You are totally correct about the sweeping generalizations and oversimplification. I was very tired.

    I still believe that my basic premise has legs, though.

  • Mab Nahash
    Mab Nahash Monday, 29 May 2017

    I think the failure from within is more complicated than leadership. What I see in my own religious communities is failure of identity. I'm also a Unitarian Universalist as well as pagan, and as a church, most of our members are converts to being UU, but most of the children raised in the church leave, not because what we have isn't worthwhile (or we wouldn't have converts), but because we fail to offer meaningful indoctrination into identity within the adult religious community.
    I hear a lot of pagan parents explicitly not raising their kids in a religious way, because they want their kids to choose for themselves when they're older. I think their dead wrong. My children are welcome to walk away from paganism (and Unitarian Universalism), but they're going to know which gods they don't believe in!
    Within the craft, I'm always clear with new people about how we do things in our tradition, and in our coven. Sometimes we innovate and do creative, different things. But we always know what tradition we're working from. With our first few students, my partner and I did a lot of answering questions with, "we were raised to ____, but other people ____, and I've heard that there are people who ____, and we usually ____ but we used to ____," and while that's all true, and worth talking about at the right time, we were then surprised that our first few students didn't find the tradition very coherent, seemed to think that anything goes, and no longer practice it. It was our fault as leaders, but the failure was identity, not integrity.

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