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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The Cat That Didn't Like to Be Held

Miss Squeak grew up in a house of many cats, and all of them picked on her. When she first came to live with me, you could see the incredulity on her face: You mean I can just lay down anywhere, and nobody will try to jump me?

With such a background, Squeak didn't like to be held. That was OK with me; she was plenty affectionate in other ways.

Then, about a year and a half ago, as I was laying on my bed one day, reading—the sleep hygienists all say you shouldn't, I know—she hopped up on the bed and stretched out on my chest.

Here I am, she said, looking me in the eye.

And that was that. Since then, she's even taken to climbing up on my lap, the ultimate act of feline trust: Squeak, the cat that didn't like to be held.

On her last night, when I got home from work I found that she'd curled up on the pillow on my bed. Well, everyone has the right to die where they want to.

Although by that point moving was difficult for her, when I woke in the middle of the night I found that she had crawled under the covers and snugged up to me: the primal mammalian comfort of skin-to-skin contact that, in the end, is maybe the best giving that we have to offer one another.

So the cat that everyone picked on managed to find a territory of her own, and someone to snug up to. There are worse lives to be had.

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  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    awwww kitttyyyyyy

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The Devil Is a Nice Guy

The cow is sick.

The baby is sick.

Your man has run off with another woman.

If the stories tell true, these are the times when the Devil would come and say: Come with me, join us.

And you would join.

There's no time when it's good to be poor, but early modern Europe was as bad as any. In a time without social safety nets, lacking kin, in times of need there was only the cold charity of the priests, and, later, the kirk. Under such circumstances, the death of a cow could spell ruin.

So let us say that the “Devil” was indeed (as they say) the local “cult leader,” the Man-in-Black, him that wore the Horns on the old fire-days.

Let us say that what he was offering you, in your time of need, was membership in a society of mutual aid beyond the kin-group.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Thunder Cakes

Let me ask you a theological question.

It really is true that you can find just about anything on the internet. What I was fortunate enough to find was a cookie cutter in the shape of what witches call the Melner: Mjöllnir, Þór's Thunder Hammer.

Clearly—now that the Summer heat seems to be over, at least for the time being—it's time to bake some Thunder cakes.

So here's my question:

What kind of cookies would the Thunderer like best?

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  • Katie
    Katie says #
    I’m thinking... thunder comes with rain, so something warm. Thunder comes with lightning, so something with a bite. I’d say, reall
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thor is married to Sif so anything made of wheat. Like literally anything made of wheat lol.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Not rye?
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Any grain really, and my gnosis is she enjoys corn, but the story about her hair is a metaphor for wheat harvest so wheat specific
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Lightning is known to strike oak trees a lot, so I'm guessing something with nuts in it. Homemade pecan sandies to start with, th

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Hexit

First there was Brexit: the departure of Britain from the European Union.

Then there was Grexit: the proposed departure of Greece from the EU.

So what would you call it if all the witches of Europe threatened to hop broom and fly?

What else but Hexit?

Now, why would the witches of Europe threaten to leave Eurostan, for the first time in human history, witchless?

(Witchless. Now there's an adjective for you.)

Well, not being a European witch myself, I couldn't say. EU-wide recognition as an indigenous people with a right to our own ways and religious practice? Return of all properties historically associated with witches?

Whatever the reason, the results could, of course, only be catastrophic. With no witches left to turn the Wheel, the climate-change-induced meteorological extremes that we're currently experiencing would look like a picnic in the park by comparison. Certainly agricultural output could be expected to plummet disastrously.

So look out Europe. If you think Brexit is a mess, just wait till Hexit.

And just where would all those hundreds of thousands of European witches go if Hexit were indeed to become a reality?

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The Pagan Paradox

You and I are both standing in the temple, gazing upon the face of the god.

You are really tuned in. For you, the god is entirely present. You're seeing the god himself.

Me, though, not so much. For me, I'm just seeing the statue: a masterwork, true, but still only a statue.

Two worshipers, standing side by side: for one, the god is present; for the other, not.

Call it the Pagan Paradox: in the same image, at the same time, the god is both present and not present simultaneously.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I'm reminded of a story I once heard about Orthodox Icons. Most of the time they are just painted wood, but sometimes there is th
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, It's my belief that a tiny bit of divine essence is refracted through the agalma (holy image). Failing to sense that g
Why Pagan Naturalism is Better Than Non-Pagan Naturalism

I caught the tail end of an interview with a non-pagan naturalist this morning. Much of what he had to say sounded, to my ear, very pagan.

(Note: The term “Nature” is profoundly conceptually problematic; I use it here for convenience only.)

  • Humanity comes out of “Nature.”
  • Because of this, humanity harbors a deep nostalgia for “Nature.”
  • Humanity's environmental destructiveness arises out of our disregard for—or unlove of—“Nature.”
  • Instilling a sense of love for “Nature” is the most effective way to undo humanity's current trajectory of eco-suicide.

In this Age of Covid, many non-religious people have been rediscovering what pagans have always known: the consolation of “Nature.” “Nature” heals.

The religions called “pagan” have always known this and, in their fullest realization—be it acknowledged that revival paganism in particular often falls far short of this mark—still do.

Unsurprisingly, I would contend that pagan naturalists have a number of advantages over non-religious naturalists. Of the top, I can think of three.

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, Hear, hear!

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What Was Your First Witch Book?

It's almost like asking: Who was your first sexual partner?

What was your first witch book?

I love to ask people this question. It's a good way to open the gates of memory, and the ensuing conversation is always both interesting and informative. Our firsts also neatly divide us into generations.

First Generation: Margaret Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe and God of the Witches.

Second Generation: Gerald Gardner, Witchcraft Today.

Third Generation: Sybil Leek, Diary of a Witch.

Fourth Generation: Starhawk, Spiral Dance.

Fifth Generation: MZB, The Mists of Avalon.

Etc. (There are, of course, other options.)

By this metric, I'm solidly Third Generation. My first witch book was Sybil Leek's Diary of a Witch. One read—the first of many—and I was hooked. I knew that that's what I wanted. I still have my (very battered) paperback 1968 Signet Mystic copy, with its startling red cover and a wild-haired Sybil on the cover, looking very witchy—in the Brothers Grimm sense of “hideous and scary”—indeed.

Good old Sybil. She doesn't give away a thing, but she sure does tell a good story. Probably that's what caught me in the first place. Early witch books tend to be short on story; at that point, as a people, we hadn't been around long enough to have accumulated very many. Witch books still tend to be long on practice, middling on theory, and short on story. Writers of future witch books, take heed: the story is what really gets 'em, every time.

The one thing that has always puzzled me about Diary is its talk of a Supreme Being. I'm not sure quite what Sybil was aiming at with this. In her first book, the 1964 A Fool and a Tree, she writes about the Goddess of Witches by Name (= Aradia), so what's with this “Supreme Being” shite four years later? (In her 1971 The Complete Art of Witchcraft, she's writing--quite creatively, actually--about the Goddess again.)  Is this just a polite euphemism for Herself? Is she afraid that talk of goddesses and horned gods will make the “Old Religion” too foreign in the eyes of the average non-witch reader? Is it some monotheizing phase that she was going through at the time? Your guess is as good as mine.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I think it was a Grosset & Dunlap book. I know it was mostly about witches but I do remember a page on werewolves as well. It ha
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Nema, nema, nema.
  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    Paul Huson's "Mastering Witchcraft." The "Our Father" backwards always did put the scares into me.

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