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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Thanking Tony Kelly

Last night I finally got to thank the man who gave me the gods.

This might not seem so strange except for the fact that he's been dead for 20 years, and that I never actually met him in person.

But actions taken in dreams signify. You know that they do. When you have an erotic dream about someone, it changes the relationship, whether or not you've ever actually slept together. An initiation received in a dream is a valid initiation, as (incredible, maybe, but true) the courts have determined.

How can I claim as my teacher someone that I never actually met? Well, through Tony Kelly—specifically through his writings—I first came to the gods. From him I learned to think like a pagan. From him I learned to do ritual.

If that doesn't make him my teacher, I don't know what would.

In the dream, Tony sat across a wooden table from me. (There was much between us when he was alive, including the Atlantic Ocean and the fact that he was a mature thinker while I was still a callow youth.) I thanked him for everything that he'd given me, and in particular for teaching me the names of the gods. To hear him pronounce the Sacred Name of Earth was a blessing in itself.

I've never met either of the Grand Old Men of the Craft in dreams—GBG or Bobby Cochrane—but I did once dream about meeting the Regency's George Winter and Ronald “Chalky” White (1921-1998) in an elevator: going down, I think. And now I've dream-met Tony Kelly of the Pagan Movement in Britain and Ireland.

Interestingly, Tony was “off of” the Regency, as the Regency was “off of” Bobby Cochrane's Royal Windsor coven. So I guess (inter alia) that's my lineage, for what it's worth.

Back in the old days, resources were few and hooking up was hard. When in Fate magazine I saw a classified ad for the Pagan Movement in Britain and Ireland, I immediately wrote and, eventually, became (along with Margot Adler and Tom deLong, later known as Gwydion) an overseas member. That's how I learned about Tony Kelly, one of the New Paganisms' deepest thinkers.

That's how my life changed forever.

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Jai Ma Kali

We'd had a good month in Malta and the UK, and the night before our flight out of London's Heathrow airport I spent nearly an hour carefully wrapping and packing my carry-on bag of ceramics and other fragile objects.

Just before boarding—this was back before post-911 air paranoia—they pulled me aside for a baggage inspection.

“Ye gods,” I thought as a young South Asian woman began unwrapping the objects on top. “If I have to repack all of this, half of it will be broken by the time we get home.” I stood there, fuming but powerless.

The clerk gave a little start. “What's this?” she said.

She was holding a little statue of Kali that I'd bought a few days before.

Playing dumb American, I said, “Isn't that a wonderful little Kali?”

“You know Kali?” she said, looking up.

“Oh, sure," I said. This was no more than the truth. Every witch knows the Void, the Dark Mother.

"I got her in a little Hindu religious goods store in Forest Gate," I continued. "Isn't the detailing beautiful?”

The woman looked at me. She looked at Kali.

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What Do You Say When a Non-Pagan Wishes You 'Good Samhain'?

If you're out of the broom closet, and it hasn't happened to you yet, it will.

A non-pagan wishes you “Good Samhain”* (or Beltane, or Yule).

What do you say in response?

It's an act of hospitality to wish someone joy of their holiday. When that holiday is not one's own, the act becomes even more gracious, an act of grith-weaving. (Grith is an old name for “peace between communities,” as distinguished from frith, which means “peace within a community.”) It says: I know you. It says: I accept you for who you are. It says: I care enough to keep informed.

When someone wishes you Good Samhain (or Beltane, or Yule), the automatic instinct is to return the greeting, but of course when the well-wisher is not pagan, it's bootless to wish her joy of a holiday that she doesn't celebrate. It also denies the difference that she has just so graciously acknowledged.

So what do you say in response to a non-pagan "Good Samhain"?

Best, as always, is to answer graciousness with graciousness, hospitality with hospitality, while at the same time acknowledging difference.

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Tales of Paganistan: The Year We Held an Open Samhain at Prince's Favorite Nightclub

This is the City of Witches. Of course strange things happen here.

Although he never actually owned it, downtown Minneapolis nightclub and music venue First Avenue/Seventh Street Station—which featured prominently in the film Purple Rain—has, in the popular mind, become identified with local music icon Prince.

Let me tell you the tale of how we held a public Samhain observance there.

Samhain 1985. First Avenue's program director at the time, Jeffrey, who'd been interested in paganism for some time, decided to hold a public event in honor of the holiday. Through friends in the local music scene, he contacted a woman in our sister/daughter coven with the idea.

It was a terrific opportunity. We'd have use of the club's stage, dance floor, lighting, and sound system. Best of all, legendary local Keltic punk band Boiled in Lead would be providing live music.

Gleefully, we dove in.

Times being what they were, a group of us from the two covens sat in a circle on the living room floor to plan—by consensus, of course—the ritual.

What we wanted was to tell a story without use of words, a Samhain story that avoided the cliches but still managed to plumb the depths.

Here's what we came up with.

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'Horned God, with Animals': A Call to Pagan Artists

The Horned, seated among animals.

This iconographic type—long familiar from the Gundestrup Cauldron and the famous “Pashupati” seal from the Indus Valley—is surely known to nearly every modern pagan.

All paganism is, of course, local. What horns the god wears, naturally, vary from place to place. So, too, do the animals gathered around him: stag, wolf, snake (in Denmark), rhinocerous, elephant, and tiger (in Pakistan), beaver, eel, and bear (in Siberia).

If I could paint in pigments, instead of just in words, I would paint a Minnesota “Cernunnos”: antlered, cross-legged, among bison, bear, deer, beaver, cougar, wolf, and loon.

What would a Rocky Mountain Horned look like? What horns would he wear? What animals would attend him?

A Florida Horned? Saskatchewan?

As pagans of the New Pagan Era, it cannot suffice merely to copy Old Pagan art. Rather, it is our responsibility to create a New Pagan Art specific to our own environments.

In days to come, I foresee a temple adorned with a series of canvases or murals depicting the Horned in all his varied environments: Lord of the Broadleaf Forest, of the Boreal Forest, of the Prairie, of the Tundra, of the Mountain, of the Wetland.

What would the Horned of your place look like? What horns does he wear, what beasts would he gather to him?

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Domestic and wild: that's Him. He's all about the Divided Self. Hence the two horns.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    The horned is lord of the animals both domestic and wild. Around here he would have both the horns of cattle and the antlers of a

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Gayboy's Revenge

When's the last time you attended a good, old-time public shaming?

Jeff Douglas, longtime co-host of CBC Radio's evening news show As It Happens retired on Friday. I'll miss his velvety, sexy voice and wacky sense of humor.

What I won't miss:

  • His hammy, over-the-top acting.
  • His truly bad French accent.
  • His twee affection for naughty words like “pooh.”
  • His affected and condescending insistence on attempting to pronounce Third World names like a native. (Why, Jeff, does Carrrrracas get a rolled R, but not Madrid, or Rome?)
  • His unthinking straightboy arrogance.

Well, we've had our revenge. Some months back, one of CBC's day presenters hosted an “Ask Anything” live interview with Jeff Douglas and his AIH co-host Carol Off. I could tell that something was afoot from the very beginning.

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Why Does the God of the Witches Wear Antlers?

 “...for witchcraft is as the sin of rebellion....”


Why does the god of the witches wear antlers?

Well, there are reasons, and reasons. Here's one.

In the a-borning days of the Younger Witchery, soon after Billy the bastard came with his accursed Franks, he made it known that all deer in the realm belonged to the nobles, the Nor-men, and only to them, and that it was now forbidden for anyone else to hunt them. (For this reason, for deer meat, we say, to this day, venison: a Norman word.)

For a yeoman to “poach” a deer, then, meant blinding, or the loss of a hand. You need good eyes to hunt, and two hands to draw a bow.

Let no one think that this stopped us. Since the dawning of days, the Horned gave us deer, which run free and cannot be tamed, to be our food forever.

Like the deer, we People of the Deer run free, and cannot be tamed.

In the old days, the god of the witches, our champion, wore horns of many kinds—bull, goat, ram—and sometimes he still does.

But mostly in our day he wears the antlers of a buck.

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