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Culture Blogs

Popular subjects in contemporary Pagan culture and practice.

Category contains 2 blog entries contributed to teamblogs

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The Magical Month of Hawthorn

Following the wheel of the year through the Celtic tree calendar, May 13th begins the time of the hawthorn tree and its ogham character Huath. While the tree calendar is a modern construct, it holds meaning because of the concepts it has come to symbolize and the significance it has for twenty-first century magic, ritual, and everyday life.

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  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    I love Hawthorn, and the one in my backyard is a good 30 feet tall. This year I harvested blossoms and leaves that I'm busy tinctu

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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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Cherry Tree Carol

It's May, but I'm tasting July.

The cherry tree on the corner is blooming. Soon the hard little fruits will begin to set, no bigger than the pit of a cherry. Through May and June, they'll swell with succulence. In the White Nights of Midsummer, a cherry-ripe blush will spread across their maiden flesh, and by July we'll be picking, the first stone fruits of the year.

These, of course, are tart (“pie”) cherries. Minnesota's too cold to raise table cherries, but that doesn't stop us. Here in the North, we know that you need some piquancy to give sweetness character. Without an acid edge, mere sweetness is insipid.

The tree is not mine, but I do have gathering rights. Some years back I noticed that the fruit seemed to be going unharvested, which seemed a shame. My knock at the door went unanswered. “If someone objects, they'll let me know,” I thought, and began to fill my baskets.

Three years ago, a new couple bought Cherry Tree House. I went over and introduced myself.

“Hi, I'm the guy that's been stealing your cherries for years,” I said.

The woman laughed. “You're the third person that's said that,” she said. “Go ahead, pick all you want.”

So I do. Usually I drop off a pint or two of cherry vodka by way of thanks, but that's by the by.

Spring means time to eat up the last of last year's harvest, to make way for what's to come. This morning, I opened the last of the pippy black raspberry jam from the canes out back.

Soon I'll take the last of the cherries out of the freezer. For May Full Moon, I'll bake us up a nice, tart cherry crisp: the last of the old, making way for the first of the new.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    This year I bought a pawpaw tree and a persimmon tree from Edible Landscaping. I've planted them and they are both still alive.

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The Nazi Who Came to Beltane

Anyone who's been around the pagan community for very long can tell you that we have our share of the broken and the damaged, and then some. Hai mai, it's a hard world.

But every now and then there's one that's just too broken, even for us. Eventually even the largest of heart realizes that this one's needs are just too great, and we send him or her off into the outgarth. Well, you can't heal everyone. We're a small community; we simply don't have the resources.

In 40+ years in Paganistan, I've seen a handful of these folks come and go: too weird even for the pagans. Now that's saying something.

From across the yard, I pegged this guy as one immediately: a taker. He's not here for what he can give, I thought, he's here for what he can get. So I avoided him. My time is too valuable to waste on those who don't know how to listen.

He'd followed someone in from the Heart of the Beast May Day Parade. The black eye he got fighting with antifa folks. (Another crowd for whom I have no respect.) One after another, he leeched onto people and wouldn't shut up.

Well, we may look like a group of (mostly) white, (mostly) middle class Minnesotans. Do not be fooled.

It's a credit to us that we didn't let it be about him. Around him, Beltane went on: the dancing, the song, the laughter. The food was good, and the conversation was good.

Finally, the witches decided: enough. As he seated himself at the fire and launched into a harangue, the witches began to sing. They sang the nazi up from his chair and out of the yard. Call it levitation.

Then the host took him by the elbow, led him to the curb, and übered him into oblivion. Sieg heil!

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Gently Johnny

Gently Johnny is a Beltane classic. (You can hear Paul Giovanni's setting from The Wicker Man here.) What follows is my male-male version, singable (of course) to the same tune. If we're true to the Old Ways, we will invariably find that the Lore can expand to include the entire range of human experience.


Gently Johnny


I put my hand upon his shoulder,

and he said: Be a little bolder.

I put my hand upon his knee,

and he said: Do you want to see?


Gently, gently, gently Johnny,

gently Johnny, my jingolo;

gently, gently, gently Johnny,

gently Johnny, my jingolo.


I put my hand upon his chest,

and he said: Do you want the rest?

I put my hand upon his waist,

and he said: Do you want a taste?


Gently, gently, gently Johnny,

gently Johnny, my jingolo;

gently, gently, gently Johnny,

gently Johnny, my jingolo.

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Milk-White Pony: A May Game

Here's one of my favorite May-games: a kind of ritualized mock orgy. It's called “Milk-White Pony.”

(I got it from a local Wiccan priest who claims to have learned it at Boy Scout camp. To judge from the stories I've heard, I could well believe this.)

The dance takes place in a circle, with everyone singing and clapping. Here's the verse:


I saw N on his/her pony

riding on a milk-pony

I saw N on his/her pony

and this is what he/she told me


During the singing of the verse, N “rides” around the circle on an imaginary pony. At the end of the verse, the rider stops to face someone in the circle.

Then you sing the chorus:


Front, front, front

O baby

Back, back, back

O baby

Side, side, side

O baby

This is what he/she told me.


Both dancers thrust their pelvises at each other as they do this, front-to-front, back-to-back, or side-to-side as the lyrics call for.

Then N rejoins the circle, whoever he or she danced with hops into the middle, and the game continues.

No doubt the tune is out there somewhere—everything's on Youtube—but if so, I haven't been able to find it yet. I promise to keep looking. Meanwhile, consult your favorite ex-Scout.

Every coven should have one.

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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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