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.
Is Beltane 'Bright Fire' or 'Bel's Fire'?

Is the festival Beltane named for an Irish god Bel?

Short answer: probably not.

The Keltic peoples of the Continent knew of a god Belenos (attested in various spellings) who, during the Roman period, was identified with Apollo.

Belenos clearly = *bel-, “shining, bright” + infixed -n-, (denotes lordship, mastery, or preeminence) + -os, (masculine singular ending). The “mastery infix,” interestingly, features in the names of a number of Keltic deities: among them Cernunnos, “Horned Lord” or “Preeminently Horned” and Epona, “Lady Horse” or “Preeminent Horse.” So Belenos is “Bright Lord” or “the Preeminently Bright.”

Did the Keltic-speaking peoples of Britain know such a god?

If so, the evidence is minimal, and there's none whatsoever that the Irish knew him. ('Beltane' is an Irish word in origin.) We cannot assume that the Insular Kelts worshiped every god that their Continental kin did.

So alas, Beltane is probably not “Bel's fire.”

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Overheard in April

Officer, hel-lo. Welcome to Paganistan.

How was your flight?

I can't tell you how delighted we are to have you here with us for our Beltane celebrations this year.

Absolutely delighted.

Care for some cider? Paganistan's finest.

If you'll just come with me, you really must see this year's Wicker Man. He's taken our artists more than a month to construct. I really do believe he's our most impressive yet.

Yes, indeed. So massive, yet so beautiful. Just look at those antlers.

A closer look? Certainly, certainly.

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Maypole or Bonfire?

The Maypole and the Bonfire have long been the two ritual foci of Beltane celebration.

The logistical problem being that a ritual can't have two centers.

I remember running into this difficulty decades back while planning the community Beltane down at the old River Circle by the Mississippi. We wanted both a Maypole and a Bonfire, but (unless you want to burn the Maypole, which is wrong) they're mutually exclusive options and only one of them can be in the middle of the circle.

In the end we settled for a central bonfire with the Maypole off to the side of the circle. After the Maypole dance, as darkness drew in, people (of course) clustered around the Bonfire, leaving the poor Maypole deserted.

I.e. not really a satisfactory solution.

Historically speaking, the Maypole is a relative newcomer to the Beltane celebrations (there's no documentary evidence for it until the early modern period), while the Mayfire is clearly prehistoric (the name Beltane itself originally meant “bright fire”).

But the tension between Fire and Tree is more apparent than real. Our problem is trying to cram both hands into the same catskin glove.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    A bat needs two wings to fly. Bwa ha ha.
  • john stitely
    john stitely says #
    Kudos. You are the only person (group -since you have one) that celebrated May Eve as well as May Day. It has long seemed to

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
I Love the Doorposts of Your House

You're entering a sacred place. What do you do?

You can't just saunter in, doing nothing, as if it were (say) some big box store. It's a sacred place; going in means something.

So what do you do?

Some reach down and touch the ground. (If you're reading this, I probably don't need to tell you why you would do this.) In practice, this often means that you touch the threshold of the temple.

What comes next is up to you. Some people touch their hearts, some (with a kiss) their lips. Some touch their brows. I usually touch all three: In my heart, on my lips, in my thoughts.

Or some variation thereof. The deeply pious may bow down and kiss the Earth. Those of us who aren't as spry as we used to be may settle for kissing the doorposts of the temple. (I love the doorposts of your house, goes the old song.)

So much for entering. How do you leave a sacred place?

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Old Lady Hawthorn

Damn that old lady Hawthorn.

There she goes, knocking my hat off.

Again.

I don't know how old she is. Being a Siberian hawthorn, it could be hundreds of years. Judging by how gnarled and ornery she is, I'd say probably pretty old. Older than me, anyway.

And did I say attitudinous? Old lady Hawthorn is the undisputed ruler of this lawn, and you'd better not forget it.

Before you mow, you'd better tip your hat to her. You'd just better. Likes that, she does.

Otherwise, she'll knock it clean off your head.

Like she just did.

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A Little Samhain in Every Bealtaine

Posch, you pervert.

May Eve is days away, and you're writing about Samhain?

What are you trying to do, wreck us?

Au contraire. (And let me point out that our Southside friends and family are preparing for Samhain as I write this).

It's just that this new (to me) idea is so elegant, so true, that it simply won't wait.

I'm just now back from a warlocks' work weekend at Witch Country's Sweetwood sanctuary. We're building a shrine there in the woods below the circle.

This time around we began site preparation, and removed the standing stone that will be the centerpiece of the shrine, from its immemorial bed in the coulee (ravine) wall. The Bull Stone has now begun its long journey across the coulee and up the side of the hill.

But that's another story for another day. (Stay tuned.) In the process, we chopped down a number of young trees, both to clear the site and to provide us with rails and rollers.

You can't move a 1000-pound stone through the forest without doing some damage. Iacchus, Sweetwood's priest-in-residence and caretaker, remarked offhandedly that it's the custom there to offer at Samhain on behalf of all the lives that one has taken during the course of the year.

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Great Rite-athon

A beloved community elder had fallen gravely ill and was in need of healing.

Word went around that on such-and-so a day, at such-and-so a time, people should cast their circles and make love within them to this end.

And so it was.

“I love this religion,” said one.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Sorry James, sometimes my love of stylistic terseness results in the cryptic, especially with a high-context post like this one. I
  • James Bulls
    James Bulls says #
    Ha! Well, thanks for the response - that's certainly illuminating. See you around!
  • James Bulls
    James Bulls says #
    I don't get it - is there an essay here? I can't find anything more than: --------------------------------------- A community elde

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