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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Steven Posch

Steven Posch

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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Solstice People

Back in high school, a non-pagan friend and I were discussing the winter holidays.

“But we have Solstice, too,” he contended, meaning non-pagans.

Well, in the sense that the Solstice happens whether or not you pay attention to it, I suppose that they do.

But here's my question. The Sun, the Earth: are these (so to speak) just people that you walk past in the street every day without really noticing, or are they People that you actually know and engage with?

As I write, we're nearing the end of the Samhain Thirtnight. Every morning—I'm awake then, I actually see it—the Sun rises a little later, a little farther South. Every day, he goes a little farther away, and we see that much less of him.

I don't know about you, and I don't know about non-pagans, but personally I feel that that fact somehow involves me.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I remember a time when people would actually say Happy Holidays and nobody got upset about it. Then for some reason I don't under

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Seal Maiden

We're Seal Clan on my mother's side, and we've got the toe-webbing to prove it.

You know the story. One full Moon night, a man sees the Seal Maidens dancing naked on the beach. He steals one of the laid-by skins, so that, when the dancing's done, the youngest (and most beautiful) of the Seal Maidens cannot follow her sisters back to the Sea.

She becomes the man's wife and bears him several fine children. But then one day she finds her old skin in the chest where it's lain hidden for years, and it's back to the Sea for her. That's how these things work.

It's an interesting story, and an old story. You have to think that among the truths that it tells is the trauma routinely experienced by young women in patrilocal societies when, at marriage, they're uprooted from everything that they know to go live with their husband's family.

But that's where Seal Clan comes from, and to this day some of us bear the signs of that ancestry on our bodies.

I didn't know any of this until my nephew was born. That's when I first heard about the toe-webbing from the aunts, the bearers of family memory. Not all of us have it, but my nephew does and, as it turns out, so do I. I'd never noticed it before because, well, that's just what feet look like, right?

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13 Samhain Superstitions

Boy, for a non-believer, I sure do have a lot of superstitions about Samhain; I suppose that any Time that marks an End-Beginning will acquire its due share. Many seem to be of a sympathetic magical nature, on the premise of As you begin, so will you continue. Some are just plain weird.

Forthwith:

 

The rent should be paid.

All bills need to be paid.

The gas tank should be full.

You should have some money in your pocket.

The house should be clean.

There should be a fire on the hearth.

All garbage should be taken out of the house before sunset. (Otherwise, you'll just be dealing with old garbage all year.)

The back door needs to be closed and locked by sundown on Samhain Eve, and needs to stay that way at least until sunrise the next morning.

You need to have these things in the house: bread, salt, potatoes, onions, garlic. (Actually, you should always have these things in the house, anyway; but at Samhain, it's particularly important.)

There should be more food on the table than can be eaten. (This for abundance through the year to come.)

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How 'Brother' Jed, Campus Evangelist, Helped Launch the U of M's First-Ever Student Pagan Organization, and (Indirectly) Paganistan's Oldest Coven

I suppose most campuses have one: the self-appointed, probably slightly psychotic, street-corner evangelist to the (presumed) fallen.

In the late 80s, the University of Minnesota had Brother Jed.

You'd see him around campus, haranguing. No one took him seriously. Some engaged him; some egged him on. Me, I avoided him.

(One day, Brother Jed noticed me walk past, face averted, as he was enlarging on the evils of homosexuality. “Whah, they-ah goes one na-ow!” he denounced, adding, in an uncharacteristic moment of self-doubt, “Ah think.”)

Every (black) pearl starts with an intrusive piece of grit. One day, after the umpteenth encounter with Brother Jed, a graduate student named Magenta Griffith had had enough.

“We need a student pagan organization,” she thought.

She teamed up with some friends, and thus was born Children of the Night, the University of Minnesota's first student pagan organization.

(Yes, the name comes from Dracula. We're of a poetic bent here in the Northland; savoring irony is something of a local sport.)

Here's where yours truly enters the story. I'd come to the Twin Cities the previous year, ostensibly for grad school, but in actuality to find the Pagan Community of my dreams. In those pre-internet days, hooking up with other pagans was hard. Twelve months had gone by, and I still hadn't met any.

Then one day I walked into Lind Hall and saw the mimeograph on the wall.

Are you interested in Wicca? Druidism? Paganism?

Children of the Night: Student Pagan Organization

xxx date and time

xxx location

Interested? Was I ever! My memory is (thank you Mama) that I actually kissed the ground in joy.

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  • Ian Phanes
    Ian Phanes says #
    Did you notice that Jed wasn't there every day? That's because he, and some others of his ilk, travel a circuit of multiple campus

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Breaking Glass, or: Bach with a Skip

At work one morning I'd put Bach's Sixth Brandenburg Concerto—the one without violins—on the sound system. I've always found Bach to pair well with Sunday brunch.

Unfortunately, the disk had a skip in it. The same brief phrase repeated and repeated, playing over and over and over.

As I was crossing the floor to change the disk, the door opened and a customer came in.

When she heard the music, her face lit up. She gave me a radiant smile.

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How Not to Teach a Chant

“Here's the new chant that we're going to be using,” says the high priestess.

She launches in, joined enthusiastically (if not particularly accurately) by the host coven. The result is a muddy blur of sound from which not even a professional musicologist could successfully extract words or a tune.

One painful slog-through later, she smiles and says: “Great! Everybody got that?”

And the ritual begins.

Well, no, we haven't got it, and chances are excellent that—with a start like this—we never will.

So how do you successfully teach a new chant?

 

In an Ideal Pagan World...

Well, the ideal way would be not to teach it at all. Duly start up the new chant in its given place in the ritual and, with a strong leading voice and enough repetitions, we will all soon be singing along.

Alas, not all local communities have a culture of attentive listening and enthusiastic singing. Sometimes knowing even a little something about a new chant beforehand gives people enough of an investment actually to join in.

So....

 

The Law of Three

Three tips for successfully teaching a new chant:

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People of the Deer

Witch-folk. We've pretty much always been a People of the Deer.

Sure, we've hunted larger game, and smaller, but down the years it's ostly deer that have kept the cauldron full and the family fed. Back in the old days, “deer” used to mean pretty much any kind of wild animal, did you know that? But now, a deer is...well, a deer. That tells you something about how important they've always been. To our people, deer are the animal par excellence.

Back in old tribal days, when we called ourselves the Dobunni (and later the Hwicce, which is where we get the name “witch” from), we were, admittedly, a People of the Herd, and our god (and our priests) wore bull's horns mostly.

But even then, just to the north lived the Cornovii, People of the Horn, and for them the god wore antlers. They're still fine hunters, the Cornovii, and being such near neighbors, there's been a lot of marrying back and forth down the years. My father's mother's people come from the old Cornovii hunting runs, in fact.

Well, it just makes sense. Unlike bulls, or elk for that matter—not to mention moose—a deer is human-sized, just about the same weight and volume that we are. There's something human about a deer. It's all a matter of scale.

Up here in the North Country, Samhain marks the time of the rut. Just now, the deer that will feed the People in years to come are being bred.

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