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.
Card Tables of the Gods: Paganism, Good and...Not So Good

The festival organizers had chosen the one mostly flat place on the slope between the woods and Turtle Creek on which to lay out their ritual circle. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.

Mistake Number One. They'd designed their Circle using the "Quarter altar" model, with four card tables, one per quarter, each covered with a schmatte in a garishly bright “elemental” color.

On the living body of the valley's natural beauty, the cheap and artificial tables and cloths stood out like an open wound.

Moral Number One. When it comes to the gods, only the real and the beautiful are worthy.

Mistake Number Two. The landscape had a distinct and palpable flow to it, from the forest above to Turtle Creek below, and back again, running roughly ENE by WSW.

Unfortunately, the organizers had decided to lay out their Circle with a compass, thereby placing the Card Tables of the Gods in due East, South, West, and North.

Completely out of rhythm with the land around it, this skewed circle in fact impeded the valley's natural flow rather than augmenting it.

Moral Number Two. Regardless of what the books may say, real sacredness inheres in working with the landscape.

OK, Posch: so how would you have done it any better?

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Tales of Paganistan: Killing the Pumpkin

That year, Coven X had volunteered to lead the big Samhain ritual for the Wiccan Church of Minnesota.

Weeks before Samhain, the winds of controversy had already begun to blow.

The folks in Coven X, the new young coven in town, thought of the WiCoM folks as stodgy and regressive, mired in Wiccan dogma. Clearly, their intent with this ritual was to blow some of the cobwebs out of the attic.

It didn't take a seer to foretell where this was going to go.

The day before the ritual, the priestess told me all about it with a glint in her eye.

“We'll show them,” she concluded.

Well, if she wanted a firestorm, she got it.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    My view of ritual is heavily influenced by decades of the Runequest and Heroquest role playing games. To me ritual is a dramatic

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Year of the Wild Hunt

Minneapolis: Samhain 1986

For the big public Samhain that year, we wanted to avoid the usual cliches: the skulls, the jack o' lanterns.

So we threw a Wild Hunt instead.

300 people crowded—probably in contravention of fire regulations—into a park building in South Minneapolis.

The drums come up. We're dancing.

Suddenly, the Deer is among us: tall, lean, naked in antlers and paint, he dances with a cervine grace.

The drums change. Enter the Hunters, men and women, pounding the butts of their spears on the ground.

The Hunt ensues. We become the trees of the forest: the Deer dodges among us. The Hunters pursue.

(With the eye of years, I see the potential danger here. I like to think that we saw it then, too. In fact, no one was injured.)

The Hunters surround the Deer. Then comes the moment of grace. Seeing that he can't escape, he gives himself to it.

The Deer crouches, then springs straight up into the air. The Hunters' spears track him as he rises and falls. As he lands, the spears thud home.

The Hunters kneel: first silent, heads bowed, then keening. People mourn with them. Real tears rain down. Everyone has some private grief; public mourning heals.

The Hunters hoist the Deer onto their shoulders. Exit Hunters, with Deer.

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Charter: A Carmen Figuratum

 

St. Mark's Cathedral, Minneapolis.

Looking up from the hymnal,

I see him, sitting

cross-legged on the altar:

buck naked

(oh baby!),

antlers out to here,

grinning like a jack o' lantern.

I blink, and he is gone.

I stand there, thunder-struck;

though he spoke no words,

my heart is riven, riven through.

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Habitual Libators: A Mystery of 'Old Europe' Solved? (or, Why Archeology Needs More Pagans)

Admittedly, it's one of the lesser mysteries of the Copper Age Central European cultures that archeologist (and feminist ideologue) Marija Gimbutas called “Old European,” but no less intriguing for all that.

What the heck is the “binocular” vessel: two conjoined, mirror image ceramic vessels, lacking—interestingly—both tops and bottoms.

Well, nobody knows, and chances are that we never will know. Still, so-called "binocular" vessels are not an uncommon find at Old European sites, so clearly they had a cultural function of some sort, if only a symbolic one.

But I'll tell you what I think.

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Seer, What Do You Want?

Hey, I'm a storyteller. Ask me a question, and I'll tell you a story.

My students keep telling me: Posch, you can never die.

Well, thanks, I accept the compliment. I've been around the maypole more than a few times, I'm good at what I do, and I know my stuff.

But I keep thinking about the poor seer who, when granted a boon by the gods, made the mistake of asking for eternal life. Unfortunately for her, they granted her request.

Alas, not even the wisest can see all ends.

Eternal life without eternal youth: who would want it?

Down the long years, she just got older and older, but she could never die. Eventually, she shriveled up like a cricket. Finally they hung her in a jug from the ceiling, and the little shits from the local village would come to the temple to taunt her.

“Seer, what do you want?” they would ask. “Seer, what do you want?”

Her answer was always the same.

“I just want to die,” she'd tell them.

So when they ask me (not entirely jestingly), How could we ever replace you? here's the story that I tell.

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Ye Gods!

“Ye gods!” I hear myself say. “That's terrible!”

A neighbor had been telling me about a stabbing that had just taken place on the block. Such is life in urban America.

What she thought of my involuntary expostulation, I don't know. Probably nothing. If it registered at all, she probably thought I was just being precious.

But I wasn't, really. “Ye gods” has become my oath-of-choice.

The nice thing about “Ye gods” is that—unlike most pagan oaths—it's remained in current English usage for the past 400 years or so, so it doesn't have the “trying too hard” quality that mars modern pagan oaths of the “By Thor's hairy balls!” variety.

How that came to be so makes an interesting story. Back in Shakespeare's time, new anti-blasphemy legislation made it legally punishable to use the name of the Christian god(s) on stage. Playwrights responded by using the names of pagan gods instead. (That's when “by Jove!” entered the English lexicon.) Ah, the good old Renaissance: when the old paganisms saved Christian Europe from itself.

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, When I'm around my friends, I'll usually say, "Gods!" When I'm alone and confronting some greater or lesser unpleasan

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