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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Two Old Warlocks

Gods: how did I get so lucky?

I was talking last night with a dear friend of many years when, unsurprisingly, one of us happened to bring up the Black Book of the Yezidis, a book bound—it is said—in deerskin. (Some say, written in fire on deerskin.)

Not only did the subject need no introduction, but each of us had a favorite verse from the Black Book of the Yezidis: verses, we agreed, that sound just like the Him that we know.

If that's not enough, we could each recite our favorite verse from memory.

 

His: I am present immediately for those that confide in me, and invoke me in time of need.

Mine: I guide without need of scripture, for my words are written on the hearts of my people.

We laughed in mutual appreciation, two old warlocks. How often in a life is one so privileged, to have such a conversation?

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    "...ringing like the sound of the pipes playing on the black mountain at midnight..."
  • Mike W
    Mike W says #
    Yes, two old warlocks do speak of many things that come from years of research, study and practice. But the joy and laughter of f
We Gather in the Midst of Gods: An Address on the Occasion of the Ninth Annual Offering to the Falls

 Twin Cities Pagan Pride 2019

 We gather in the midst of gods.

People of the Waters, my brothers and sisters:

Today we, a sacred people, are gathered here in this sacred place, on this sacred day, to accomplish a sacred work, and this is the nature of that work: to pray for the well-being of pagans, here and throughout the world.

Shortly now we will begin our Procession to that sacred Being, that concentration of Power, known to the First People of this Land, the Dakota, as Minnehaha: the Water That Falls.

There we will make our traditional Threefold Offering to the Falls, and to our offerings we will add our prayers. From here, Minnehaha's sacred waters will bear our offerings and our prayers to Minnehaha Creek, and so to the Mississippi, and so to the Ocean, and to all the rest of the world.

It is the immemorial Pagan Way that offering bears prayer. Today, we make three.

With the offering of water, we pray for Life for the People.

With the offering of meal, we pray for Food for the People.

With the offering of flowers, we pray for Beauty for the People.

For without these three things—life, sustenance, and inspiration—no People can live and thrive.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Honor and offerings to the Poudre and all our waterways! I'm convinced that part of the ongoing importance of this ritual is that
  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    When I was talking at the Fort Collins, Colorado, Pagan Pride Day on August 24th, I had a similar idea. Then I read that you all i

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How Do You Say 'Sabbat' in Witch?

“Sabbat,” of course, is an imported word: from Hebrew, via Latin.

If it seems peculiar that the name for a gathering of witches should ultimately derive from the vocabulary of Judaism, bear in mind that an alternate name for the witch's sabbat was once the “synagogue of Satan.” To the witch-hunting eye, all non-Christians look alike.

(Aunt Margaret's derivation from medieval French s'ébattre, “to frolic, disport oneself” is a delightful jeu d'esprit, but not to be taken seriously as etymology.)

So, if we were looking for a natively English word for what would later be called the witch's sabbat, what would it be?

Well, in Scandinavia, at the rise of the Great Persecution, before the international term “sabbat” caught on, a meeting of witches was known as a witch-thing.

This, of course, is not thing as in “whatchamacallit,” but thing as in the Norse term althing, “meeting, assembly.”

Among Germanic-speaking populations in early medieval times, every area had a local thing, or folk-moot, which met periodically (often quarterly) to deal with regional business, while the tribe as a whole held its general assembly annually. This was known known as the all-thing.

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Avi—Dude—You're Gay; Figure It Out

 Reading Avi Steinberg's The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri

(In Which Our Intrepid Blogger Proposes Marriage—Well, Kind Of—to a Man He's Never Met)

 

Avi Steinberg is on a quest. He's in search of his identity.

Well, there's nothing more American than that. Jewish, born in Israel, grew up in Cleveland...oh, an intellectual, and a writer. Of course he's in search of an identity.

Where better than to look than among the Mormons, right?

Avi's marriage (to a woman) isn't working, and he's running away from it by going on his quest. The good news: in the end Avi actually does manage to find his identity. The bad: I'm not quite sure that he realizes that he's found it.

I love Avi (me, I'd marry him any day), I love his writing, and I love his book. The book's central (really rather belabored) metaphor: writer as prophet, book as scripture. Who better to act as Dantean guide than that all-American prophet/shyster-cum-novelist Joseph Smith himself, with his fake Bible of gold plates, the Book of Mormon?

It's a quest, it's a romp, it's a meditation on the re-enchantment of landscape. Avi signs up with a Mormon tour group to see the “original” locations of the Book of Mormon events in Central America and Mexico. Then he travels to Palmyra, New York for an abortive appearance in the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant. Last of all he ends up in the Mormon Eden of Kansas City, Missouri.

I started to wonder during his account of the casting of the pageant, with its breathless descriptions of beefcake.

I kept wondering through his description about stripping down to his briefs along with his fellow actors.

But I was sure when I got to the epilogue.

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Krishna's Anus

Good old Hinduism.

Among worshipers of Krishna, it's said that the Braj Mandal, the landscape around the holy city of Vrindavana—site of Krishna's childhood and youthful escapades with the gopis—is a physical incarnation of the god himself.

A god incarnate in a landscape. Surely there's something that any pagan can understand.

In his Vraja Bhakti Vilasa, Narayan Bhatt gets even more specific. Such-and-so a place is Krishna's nose, over here his left eye. And so on and so on.

Karhela and Kamai have the good fortune to be the god's two buttocks. (And how many times haven't I said, “That guy has the butt of a god”?)

His penis is Kurnabam. (Lucky Kurnabam.) Oddly enough, no testicles are reported, which—for a highly-sexed god like Krishna—seems pretty unlikely.

But, of all places, Krishnakshipana has the honor of being Krishna's anus.

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The People of the Knife

How do you say “athame” in Old Witch?

“Athame”—the standard modern name for the witch's ritual knife—is a word of French origin, from Old French atamer, “to cut.”

(Variously pronounced across contemporary Witchdom, around here the word rhymes with “Hathaway.”)

As such, mythically speaking, it will have entered the vocabulary of English-speaking witchery along with the Norman Craft at some point after 1066.

So what did the Hwicce—the original Anglo-Saxon Tribe of Witches—call their ritual knives?

The dialect of Old English spoken by the Hwicce distinguished between two kinds of knife: cníf (K'NEEF), ancestral to modern “knife,” and seax, defined variously as a knife, hip-knife, short sword, dirk, or dagger.

Deriving ultimately from a proto-Indo-European root meaning “to cut”—the same root also gave rise to “scythe,” “saw,” and “sedge” (originally “sword”)—seax is also said to have given rise to the ethnonym Saxon as well: the “People of the Knife.”

Although seax fell out of general usage, it has survived to modern times with specific application as a name for a “slater's ax” used to cut (and pierce) roof-slates: variously sax, saxe, or zax.

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In Which Our Intrepid Blogger Hopes that He's Wrong

The Romans (of course) had a phrase for it.

Absit omen: “May it not be an omen.”

As resident priest here at the Temple of the Moon, I make offerings twice daily—mornings and evenings—and pray for the well-being of pagan peoples everywhere. As one might expect of a pagan temple, the prayers take different forms depending on what time of year it is.

The prayers, of course, are recited from memory. Twice now during the last few days, I've slipped up and started prayers in their Winter form. Both times, thankfully, I've managed to catch myself before I'd got very far, and corrected the prayers to the proper Summer form instead.

But now I'm starting to worry. Even though, here in the North, Winter is the general default setting, somehow (whether rightly or wrongly) when things go wrong in ritual, they seem to take on a super-charged significance.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Well it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I did read a magazine article about climatologists watching three of Antarctica's i

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