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.
Intimations of Emergence: When Pottery Speaks

The clay bowl on the coffee table could be in a museum, but it isn't.

What the potter who, some 5500 years ago in what is now Ukraine, painted the swirling designs on its surface, meant by them, we do do know. Possibly, nothing at all.

But when you look closely at the patterns, that's hard to believe.

This evocative bowl is an artifact of a remarkable culture known after the “type site” as Trypillian. (Named for the Ukrainian village nearest the original digging site, the word—appropriately enough—means “Three Fields.”) This is one of those glittering Old European cultures made famous in the English-speaking world by Lithuanian archaeologist (and feminist ideologue) Marija Gimbutas.

During the course of her career, Gimbutas handled thousands upon thousands of painted ceramics like this little bowl. She was convinced that the designs not only bore meaning to their makers, but that we can—to some degree, at least—read them today.

Hold this little clay bowl in your hands. Look closely. What do you see? Yonis? Buds? Antlers? Paired chrysalises? A butterfly? A woman, arms upraised?

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Game of Doubles

A few times a month I get an e-mail from an on-line vanity company that tracks names mentioned in academic periodicals. For a mere $95 a month, I too could get specifics every time Steven Posch is mentioned in a scholarly paper.

Well, gee, thanks, I think I'll give it a pass. Still, it's nice to know that academics are noticing. (If you're reading this, Hi!) I happen to think that at least some of what I say is worth paying attention to, and it's gratifying to know that at least some other (presumably thoughtful) people feel the same.

Of course, one can't assume that every Steven Posch mentioned in every academic paper is me. There's more than one Steven Posch out there, for certain: Steven Posch the tennis pro, for example. One wonders what Steven Posch, tennis pro, thinks of his pagan double, assuming he knows he exists. Hey, I've got as much gay narcissism as the next guy.

Even so, I was pretty mystified to find out last week that, in a recent publication, “a member of the Mechanical Engineering department at Technological Educational Institute (TEI) of Piraeus mentions the name 'Steven Posch.'”

Mechanical Engineering? Technological Institute? Piraeus? (Presumably, the one in Greece, yes?) I rather doubt that the Steven Posch mentioned in this particular paper is either Steven Posch the tennis pro or Steven Posch the pagan storyteller.

In this world of doubles it would, admittedly, be amusing to know what the others out there are up to these days.

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Is Paganism an -Ism?

Hey, Pagan Pride: I've got a suggestion.

A web-search for Twin Cities Pagan Pride turned up (in more than one location) the following lead sentence.


"Pagan Pride is a free fall event, open to the public, that offers education about Paganism to the larger community."

With all due praise to the local Pride committee—who work their butts off every year to offer to pagan and cowan alike a beautiful event in a sacred place, an event that we can truly be proud of—I'd like to suggest a gentle rewrite.

Whether or not such a thing as a unified “Paganism” ever existed anywhere but in the minds of those who hated the Old Ways, I very much doubt. It didn't exist then, it doesn't exist now, and (thank gods), it never will exist. This fact is encoded, genetic: the very nature of the “pagan” religions, new and old alike, militates against such a unity.

“Paganism” isn't an “-ism.” “Pagan” is a descriptor, an identity perhaps: a way of talking about something that already exists, not a thing in and of itself.

So here's my suggestion for an opening that's truer to lived Pagan reality:

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza says #
    Depends. I've argued since the start of my research that Paganism isn't about *who* you worship, but *how*. The Pagans I have enco
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    While I was out driving on interstate 95 this morning I was wondering if Christo-Pagans stand out as a separate group when the ide
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    "Has Paganism Gone Mainstream?" Using the singular here because, for one thing, it sounds wrong to use plural here, and two, beca
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Yes, it seems to me that one of the most important things that we have to bring to the table (to invoke a much overworked phrase)
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    We are way more alike than not, and that's why I get so demoralized when I see the internal bullying that's been fracturing our co

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Let's Build a Wheel-Cairn

You know that cairn that we've been talking about building? The one where people can depose the ashes of the dead?

Well, here's an idea: let's build it in the shape of a Wheel.

Check out this wheel-cairn from Sälle in Fröjel on the island of Gotland (Sweden). (It's about 2000 years old.) Let's build one like this, oriented East-West, big. I'd see the spokes and rim as maybe a foot high, the Hub- and Quarter-cairns higher.

It's a Sun Wheel, of course. That makes it a prayer. As the dead go West with the Sun, so too may they be reborn with him in the East.

And it's the Wheel of Time, the Wheel of the Year. As time, as the year, move in a circle, so may those who were be reborn to the People.

The Wheel, of course, is also the Journey. The dead have a journey to make. As our people have followed the Sun, traveling from East to West, so do the dead continue their journey.

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From: Invitation to the Grand Sabbat

This is a tribal gathering; as such, we operate as a tribe, under tribal thew (custom, law). If you attend, you are either a member, or a guest, of the tribe. This fact has certain implications. Everyone is expected to act responsibly at all times.

We police ourselves. If a situation arises, handle it. If you can't handle it, find someone that can.

There are many people in a tribe. Some you will like; some you may not. (Witches, of course, tend to be people with a lot of jagged edges, anyway.) It nonetheless remains everyone's responsibility to maintain the sacred moot-frith, the peace of the gathering, at all times. If you can't treat others with civility and respect, then you don't belong here.

At the heart of tribal democracy lies personal responsibility. If you don't like something that someone else is doing, it's up to you to say: Please stop. If someone asks you to stop what you're doing, please think seriously before continuing.

Note also that our people respect the power of intoxicants and regard them as sacred. If you're going to use, use in a sacred way.

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Ask an Elder

Even in a community as richly endowed with characters as Paganistan, my dear friend “Granny” Ro Nicburne stands out.

At Twin Cities Pagan Pride last fall, she set up a shingle.

Ask an Elder

Free Advice

(And Worth What You Pay)

All day long, she fielded questions.

Some—from wise-asses like me—were joke questions. To these, she replied with the answers they deserved. Nobody does wry like Granny.

But there were real questions, too. If you build the candy cottage, the kiddies will come.

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You Find Community in the Strangest Places

I was seven. We'd never moved before.

Finally my mom kicked me out of the house. “Go and make some new friends,” she said.

I wandered aimlessly through the backyards until I came to a little knot of kids, playing Tarzan. The oldest girl, Debbie S., was Tarzan.

I felt a thrill of homecoming.

We played Tarzan all that afternoon: climbing trees, ape-dancing, chanting the war-chant of the Jujus. I was Jane.

A year later, Debbie and her family moved away. I never saw her again.

Still, I have no doubt whatsoever that some day out there I'll run a dyke named Debbie S.

When we do, I know exactly what I'll say.

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