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.
Does Modern Skyclad Actually Derive from Christianity?

Posch, you've lost it. Are you actually saying that skyclad in the modern Craft derives from Christianity?

Well, yes: yes I am. At least in part.

Modern ritual nudity is a cord plaited from many strands, among them Christian thought and iconography. Among these strands, we may number the following:

Naturism. The period between the First and Second World Wars saw a massive rise in movements advocating cultural alternatives, the logic being: obviously the old ways aren't working; let's try something new. Modern Nudism/Naturism first arose in Germany, and spread rapidly.

The Heroic Nudity of Antiquity. The art of antiquity is replete with naked gods and heroes, which of course reentered European consciousness in a big way during the Renaissance. It's fully possible that the heroic nudity of Classical antiquity has its ultimate roots in the martial nudity of the ancient Indo-Europeans, and that the tradition of Greco-Roman heroic nudity is thus genetically akin both to the naked warriors of the Keltic world, and to the ascetic nudity of the jinas and gymnosophers of the Indian Subcontinent (as “spirit warriors”), from which, of course, the term “skyclad” itself derives.

Folk Magic. As Ron Hutton discusses in his seminal essay “A Modest Look at Ritual Nudity,” nakedness figures prominently in European folk magic, a function, essentially, of inversion: raising power by doing things backwards. Witches being quintessential magic workers, ergo naked witches.

Renaissance Art. The iconography of the naked witch first arose among Renaissance print-makers. The Renaissance saw the rise of print-making, the first modern art-form that regular people could afford and, as we all know, nudity sells. Classically-derived nudity was already big in Renaissance art, and it was the Renaissance, not the Middle Ages, which saw the worst of the Great Persecution. If the witch is popular, and nudity is popular, the naked witch has got to be a winning combination.

The Renaissance's naked witch has deeper roots, however. With the rise of the concept of the Witch's Sabbat in the 15th and 16th centuries, print-makers quickly adopted the inverted world of the Sabbat, in which nudity figured prominently, as a favorite motif. Although there is as of yet no definitive study of the development of the Sabbat motif in art, to my eyes it clearly derives from Medieval precedents: the Last Judgment and the fate of the Damned in Hell.

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  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    The idea of "Edenic" nudity carried forward into some heretical Christian movements, such as the Brethren of the Free Spirit and o

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The Inner Life of Gods

At the heart of the paganisms lies the grand drama of the seasons.*

In the unfolding of the year, before our eyes, the gods live out their eternal stories.

In ritual, we encounter these gods.

In ritual, we participate in these stories.

In ritual, we enter into the inner life of the gods.

This is what ritual can do for us.

This is what ritual should be doing for us.

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My First Skyclad Wedding

I'd been to my share of skyclad rituals before, but this was to be my first among non-pagans.

Both the bride and the groom had grown up in the naturist movement, and wanted to get married at their naturist club.

“What about your parents?” I asked, curious.

Their parents were members, too.

“Grandparents?”

Turns out Grandma also belonged.

Together the three of us planned a nice, tight little ceremony. Finally I popped the obvious question.

“Uh—did you want me to be naked too?”

“That's up to you,” they say.

The day of the wedding came: beautiful, sunny. What the heck? I thought. When at home, do as the homos do. I stripped off with the rest, and the ceremony went swimmingly.

(Feeling that, naked or not, I needed something to mark me off as the officiant, I settled for my biggest, showiest torque. It did the job very nicely.)

Afterward, I stood around with the rest having a cocktail. The groom sidled up to me and slipped an envelope into my hand.

“Hey, we're going to start taking photos,” he says. “Would you like to be in them?”

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The Thrice-Bent God

Do you know what torques me off most* in contemporary depictions of the Horned God?

When the artist gets the legs wrong.

He's called the Thrice-Bent for a reason. In the arms, one bend. In the legs, two.

Check out the picture of the goat leg shown above. Note that the hind legs feature two bends: one pointing forward, one pointing back.

The forward bend is called the knee. The backward bend is called the hock.

When the Horned is shown with the rear legs of an animal (he isn't always), he should have both.

If you love the Horned well enough to depict him, you should love him well enough to look.

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To the Antlered: A Prayer

O thou

Betorqued Betined,

that sittest cross-legged

on the altar:

in thy broad lap, O lord,

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A Pagan Revival in 13th Century France

What happens when you turn loose a bunch of over-educated, under-employed intellectuals on a prosperous society in the throes of social ferment?

Apparently, you get a Pagan Renaissance.

It happened in 20th century America. It also happened in 13th century France, during what—ironically enough—is known as the Age of Cathedrals.

The parallels between the two periods are striking. In both, new agricultural techniques produced a burgeoning population, a thriving mercantile class, and unprecedented prosperity. This, in medieval France and elsewhere, was what financed the building of the great cathedrals such as Notre Dame de Paris. Students from all over Europe flooded to the University of Paris.

There they learned Latin and read the Classics. There they learned about the old paganisms.

Alas, there were no suitable jobs for most of these sons of lesser houses. The system produced far more educated people than it could employ.

So a rising tide of clerici vagrantes, “wandering clerics,” washed across Europe: getting drunk (when they could afford it), getting laid (when they could manage it), and writing rhyming hymns in Latin to the old gods of the pagan world, especially (as one would expect) to Venus and Bacchus.

(Several collections of poetry and hymns from this medieval pagan renaissance have survived to inspire and delight us today, notably the famous Carmina Burana (that's CAR-min-ah, not car-MEE-nah), which in turn inspired German composer Carl Orff's pagan oratorio of the same name, one of the landmarks of 20th century pagan art.)

According to British historian Elliot Rose, these literary New Pagans—whatever the seriousness of their paganism—hooked up with the Old Pagan witch-wives of Europe to create a newly reinvigorated Witch Cult which, a hundred years later, would give rise to, and fall prey to, the horrors of the Great Persecution. Well, maybe.

Eight hundred years later, here we are again.

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A Medieval Latin Hymn to the Goddess of Love

A few posts back, I posted the text of a medieval Latin hymn to the Goddess of Love from the 13th century “Little Renaissance.” At the time, I included a literal translation, but declined to translate it into poetry on the grounds that I couldn't do it justice.

What I had unwittingly done, of course, was to set myself a challenge.

(In the unlikely event that you've ever wondered what poets do while lying awake at night, you now know.)

So here's the best that I can do with it. You can even sing it to the same tune.

Well, kind of.

Ave Formosissima

 

Ave formosissima,

gemma pretiosa;

ave decus virginum,

virgo gloriosa.

 

Ave lumen luminum,

ave mundi rosa:

Blanziflor et Helena,

Venus generosa!

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