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Tales of Paganistan: Earth is a Woman, Too, or How Not to Take Back the Night

Remember Take Back the Night?

Back in the 80s, there would be a big rally and march here in Minneapolis every summer. The organizing committee, notoriously dysfunctional, was a seething cauldron of in-fighting and ideological purism. The general tone of the marches was outrage, anger.

Except for the pagans.

Hel, we figured we had as much right to be there as anyone. We opposed violence against women. (We still do.) We were staunchly feminist. (We still are.) We hated rape. (We still do.)

But we weren't interested in rage or ideological purity.

We wanted the night back.

So we took it.

We danced, we drummed, we satirized. We chanted the praises of our Goddess through the streets.

The organizers hated us.

At the very last march—just before the organizing committee (irony of ironies) finally tore itself to shreds in a maelstrom of self-directed, woman-on-woman violence—we were consigned to being literally the very last group in the march.

Since we were last, everyone else left the park before we did. That was the moment of horror.

The hillside where people had sat listening to speeches and music, now empty of occupants, was blanketed with garbage: papers, soda cans, water bottles.

That year, the pagans were irate, too.

Talk about not getting it, we said.

Don't they see that everything is connected? we said.

Earth is a Woman, too, we said.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Bags in hand, some of us went back the next morning to Take Back the Day.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Would I be right in guessing that you pulled out trash bags, picked up trash and turned it into a ritual to take back the night?

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Two Flags of Paganistan

Unlike most other nation-states, Paganistan has two national flags.

(Paganistan being, of course, not so much a state as a state of mind.)

No doubt you've seen it: Tower, gray, on a field of (from the top down) blue, yellow, green.

The tower, of course, references Paganistan's iconic “Witch's Hat” tower, which graces the Water City's highest point. Witch hat aside, Dion Fortune once remarked that “the standing tower is one of the symbols of the Old Gods.”

For this reason, of course, the flag is proudly known to Paganistanis as the “Witchtower.”

As for the field, well, no pagan needs to have that explained. Blue, yellow, green: Sky, Sun, Earth.

That's the Summer Witchtower, which flies from Beltane to Samhain.

Then, of course, there's the Winter flag, flown from Samhain to Beltane: Standing tower, gray, on a field of blue, yellow, and white.

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Tales of Paganistan: The Cancer Birthday Party

Back in the day when (assuming you were foolhardy enough to try) you could have fit all the pagans of Paganistan into one large room, the community ran into its first collective problem.

Most of us were Cancers.

What this may say about the nature of this community, I'm not sufficiently well-versed, astrologically speaking, to know. (Cancers don't believe in pseudo-science, anyway.) What I can say is that by the end of the sign, folks were all partied out—even pagans get there—and those whose birthdays fell toward the Leo end of things felt deprived.

Hence the Cancer Birthday Party.

On some Saturday night after Midsummer's—usually in July—the pagans would foregather in collective natal celebration. And if it just so happened that this was the Saturday closest to the birthday of whoever was hosting the party, well, who could find fault with that?

The Cancer Birthday Party was thus the functional equivalent of the only other community-wide gathering at the time, the Saturnalia party, which usually happened on the Saturday of finals week in December. (A lot of us were students at the time, so you wanted to catch everyone before they headed off for winter break.) The 80s being the 80s, these were (naturally) Toga Parties. I have fond memories of watching a wine-soused friend fall simultaneously off the couch, out of her toga, and into Uncle Wolf's lap.

Well, the day is long since past when you could fit all the pagans in town—even assuming you wanted to—into one room, even a large one. Nowadays you would need a stadium at least, not to mention (probably) gladiators. It's long and long indeed since we knew one another well enough to fight over irrelevancies.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Golden Cattail

It is said that when first our people came to the fair land of Paganistan, having crossed the waters of the Father of Waters—him that is called the Mississippi—they were met by the fair Lady of the Land herself.

They say that she gave them fair greeting and set into the hands of him who led them these two things: a cattail and an apple.

...
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Where Witches Dance: Some Thoughts on the Name 'Paganistan'

 “...and to the republic where witches dance...”

 

When, back in the mid-80s, I coined the name “Paganistan” as a term for the Twin Cities pagan community, it was with tongue firmly in cheek. No one is more surprised than I am that it actually seems to have caught on.

The word itself is a partial loan-translation of the hybrid Arabic-Persian Kafiristan, “land of the pagans,” the name given to the wild mountainous region of northeastern Afghanistan (“land of the Afghans”), which as late as the 1890s was still home to some of history's very last Indo-European-speakers to practice their ancient polytheist tribal religions.

(In a major land-grab in 1896, the Emir of Kabul declared jihad against the fierce mountain Kafirs, and in the end rifles and bullets won out over spears and arrows: the area was forcibly Islamized and renamed Nuristan, “land of light.” Saved by the Durand line, however, the Kalasha, the last culturally-intact Kafiristanis, numbering some 4000, still—in what is now northwestern Pakistan—worship their ancient gods with wine, dance, and animal sacrifice. Long may they live and flourish.)

The name Paganistan first saw print in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune a year later when Jim "Moon Dog" Runnels was quoted as referring to the Twin Cities as the “capital of Paganistan.”

That's how we became the first named community of modern pagan times.

The name spread with the rise of internet paganism, notably through the publication of our resident anthropologist Murphy Pizza's 1994 Paganistan: Contemporary Pagan Community in Minnesota's Twin Cities, and—latterly—through the present blog.

After thirty-some years of Paganistan, it remains a sorrow to me that the name's derivation from us, and not from the Land, marks it as a non-Indigenous—and, in this sense, an imposed—name.

But this would be valid grounds for critique only if the term were to be used in a triumphalist, or supercessionist, manner: which, of course, it never is. No one, much less myself, would propose that we replace an Indigenous name, Minnesota (“sky water”) with a non-Indigenous Paganistan. Paganistan is the pagan name for this place as home to the local community. It's the Twin Cities' Craft name. That's all.

Of course, we do have our own flag (Witch's Hat Tower, gray, on a blue, yellow and green field) and our own “national” anthem (no, I didn't pen it myself). But that's all by the by, offspring of the infinitely playful cauldron of creativity that is local Paganry.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Doing the Minnesota Shuffle

First, and most importantly, keep your elbows tucked in tight against your body.

Now wave your hands and forearms helplessly around. Think flippers or penguin wings, but keep those elbows pressed in. Good!

Now you're ready for the feet. Pull them close together. Now slide one forward: not too far. Now the other. Now the other. Now the other. Now the other.

There you go: you're got it! You're doing our sacred dance: the Minnesota shuffle, also known as the Minnesota Duck-Walk. You want to look like you're penguin-stepping along on smooth ice, afraid to fall down.

In fact, that's exactly what you are doing.

But wait, we're not done yet. The exciting part is yet to come.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Pagan Prayer

Broom in hand, my neighbor stands looking mournfully at his snow-mounded car.

"Another lovely day in sunny Minneapolis," I deadpan.

(This is irony: we haven't seen the Sun for days.)

Steve shakes his head. "I just got home from ten days in Jamaica, and this is what I come back to."

"Welcome home," I say, wryly, then add: "More coming, I hear."

He begins to sweep the snow off of the car.

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