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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Mystic Sun

The Great Mask of the God of Witches lives in a closed shrine in the Temple of the Moon.

Twice daily it receives incense, song, and prayer.

Weekly it receives offerings of food and water.

A light burns continuously before it.

But though the Mask dwells in mystic darkness, in these days and weeks following Grand Sabbat, I who have seen it tell you that a light shines forth from that shrine, a mystic light, a light as though there were a Sun within.

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God-Paint

“Most painted dick in the Midwest.”

If I never accomplish anything else in this long and varied life of mine, I suspect that I can safely claim that distinction at least with little fear of competition.

Such is the life of a priest of the Horned.

At the Grand Sabbat, the priest wears a mask, a collar of fresh green leaves, and a coat of paint.

The god wears the priest.

Eight days on from Mystery Night, I've just about scrubbed off the last of the god-paint. Well, there's still a little around the edges of the toenails, and my navel (being too ticklish to scrub). Such things are neither lightly taken on, nor easily shed.

Do you know why the god's glans is painted red at the Sabbat? The way I heard it, it's because He's the Opener of the Way.

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“Just Like the Woodcuts”

We don't know whether or not the “orgiastic” witch's sabbat of the witch-hunters ever existed anywhere but in their sordid, sex-starved imaginations. But this much we do know: it exists now.

It exists because we made it.

In our day, the Grand Old-Time Witch's Sabbat, with all its blood, grit, and semen, rises again. Those old medieval tropes retrovert very nicely into Pagan, we've found. Anyone who has ever been there can tell you that's it's the real thing.

“Just like the woodcuts,” I was once told, the morning after.

But the Sabbat is not for everyone.

At the Midwest Grand Sabbat just past, a friend was telling me about some folks that she'd spoken with who had attended a previous Sabbat and found it not to their taste.

“Too intense,” they told her. “Too culturally immersive.”

Well, you can't fault their conclusions. Those of us who have been there know full well its unremitting, gut-wrenching emotionality, and the four days of the Sabbat weekend constitute a crash course in deep Witch culture. To those accustomed to the undemanding eclecticism of most pagan festivals, the Real Deal might well seem overwhelming.

For the witch-hunters were right about this much at least: the Sabbat demands everything. The Sabbat demands your soul.

For those of us of the Tribe of Witches, it's a price joyfully paid.

No, the Sabbat is not for everyone. But I couldn't help but grin when I heard my friend's words.

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A Function of Focus

On the last morning of this year's Grand Sabbat gathering, a friend—a priestess of many years' experience—came to me, distraught.

“The campers!” she said. “They have to be moved! They'll ruin the sightlines!”

The campers and caravans were parked on the edge of the meadow through which the Horned departs in the final rite of farewell. We follow him up out of the woods and watch as he walks up the hill and off into the sky.

I could readily understand my friend's concern. The sight of the Antlered disappearing over the horizon is an image of such searing purity and beauty that nothing must interfere with it, nothing.

“Don't worry,” I tell her. “The god will make the campers disappear. You won't even see them.”

And so, indeed, it was.

When the rite was ended, and the tears dried, my friend came to me, wondering.

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How Was Grand Sabbat This Year?

“So, how was Grand Sabbat this year?” asked my friend.

Funny. I organized the event (Thursday through Monday, with the Sabbat itself on Saturday night), also acting as chief priest and thus, in effect, host of the gathering. At the Sabbat itself, I served as personifying priest.

All of which makes me the least qualified person to tell you how things went.

I've seen inexperienced priests go into a ritual expecting (and sometimes achieving) profound states of spiritual ecstasis. They think that it's all about what they're feeling. If they can manage to get themselves into the zone, presumably the rest of us will groove along with them.

They've got it all wrong.

Of all the people at any given ritual, the one whose experience is the least important is the priest.

So, as to the Sabbat, I can only tell you what other people said.

(Several said, “Best yet.” But, of course, people always say that. Which is the best Grand Sabbat? The one we're at, of course.)

As for the Sabbat itself, as personifying priest, I'm not qualified to judge because (in a sense) I wasn't even there—at least, not in propria persona.

Here's what I can tell you. The Sabbat reembodies the creation of the Tribe of Witches. It doesn't just reenact the Primal Sacrifice out of which the world arose, it makes present the Sacrifice. So it did this year, and did it well.

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  • Kile Martz
    Kile Martz says #
    I'll tell you how "good" it was. I went to lunch today with my partner and a dear friend. We happened to run into another friend

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What the Bones Said

The last official action of each Grand Sabbat is to throw the bones to determine when the next Sabbat will take place.

The Midwest Grand Sabbat has convened regularly, at intervals of one to three years, for the last 30 years. "Regularly, at irregular intervals," I always say.

Here is the logic of the irregular intervals. If the Sabbat took place every year, wonderful as it is, people would eventually begin to take it for granted. (The Sabbat is always a gift, the True Gift of the Horned to his True People, his to him.) It is, nonetheless, the tribal gathering of the Tribe of Witches which, by its power, recreates the tribe ab initio; therefore, it needs to be repeated with relative frequency lest the tribe should suffer for it. The uncertainly beforehand about when the next will be keeps keen the hunger for the Sabbat, which is indeed—as Jeanne Dibasson said in 1678, and which anyone who has ever been there can tell you—the “witch's true paradise."

This year, a young priestess-in-training (12 years old) asked me how I read the bones.

So I'll tell you.

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  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    What a great method, and it takes a burden off the planners too, in a way.
Grand Sabbat (Opening Night): Kindling the Fire

Call to the Horned

(priest)

 

My brothers and sisters:

it is said that long ago, the Horned our god lived on high in the House of Thunder,

but that looking down from Heaven upon his people, he saw us cold, and hungry, and in darkness,

and so, in his mighty love, he stole the Fire of the Gods from the Hearth of Thunder

and came down to Earth to give it to us here.

For this, he was to pay a terrible price,

but his brave deed was the making of us;

since when the sacred Witch-Fire has burned at the heart of our people's history.

People of the Red Thread, my sisters and brothers:

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    And lo! He hears, and comes.
  • Kile Martz
    Kile Martz says #
    I call out. I call out to the horned one. I call out to the horned one for his blessing!

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