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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Drink Yule

The Old Norse idiom for “celebrate Yule” means literally “to drink Yule.”

Where did you drink Yule this year?

To the ancestors, Yule was synonymous with, and unthinkable without, the special Yule ale that was brewed in quantity for the great Midwinter feasting each year. Most people drank beer throughout the year, but the Yule ale was always distinctive from the day-to-day brew, specially rich, dark, and high in alcohol. Medieval landowners were required by law to brew enough Yule ale to keep their families and retainers well-drunk for the entire Thirteen Days, and woe to the stingy farmer who tried to short his people of their Yuletide due.

 

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On the Sanctity of Drinking Bowls

When you pour out sacred drink, what do you pour it into?

If you're Wiccan, probably a chalice.

If you're heathen, probably a horn.

Now, I've got nothing against horns. (Some of my best friends wear them.) Nor, for that matter, chalices, although it's a matter of history that they derive their current stemmed shape from Christian liturgical necessity: not that there's anything wrong with that.

But when it comes to sacred drinking, as for me, I like to stick with ancestral precedent. Make mine a drinking bowl, please.

Drinking bowls tend to be smaller than bowls that you eat from, but that's the main difference, really. Whether richly carved or elegantly plain, drinking bowls read as “archaic,” ancestral, dating from a time when one single, undifferentiated vessel served all functions. It's interesting to note that while “bowl” is an indigenously Germanic word, “cup” was originally a Latin import.

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Dark Twin/Light Twin

The things warlocks worry about.

I was born at the Summer Solstice of 19xx. My friend and brother warlock Adaron was born at the Winter Solstice of the same year.

Clearly, the two of us embody (in some sense or other) the Dark Twin and the Light, if only to one another. (Life imitating myth imitating life imitating...) But which, may I ask, is which?

(Bear in mind that, being warlocks, we both want to be Dark Twin.)

Well, you might think that, in a bipolar year, it would be the Winter-born Twin who's the Light Twin. So one might think.

But, of course—this is mythology that we're talking about, after all—it's not quite that simple. You're telling me that Him who reigns over July, August, and all the Harvest is the Year's Dark Half? Sorry, I'm just not buying it.

Well, at thirteenth and last, I've got both a light side and a dark, and so does Adaron. We all do. A crow needs two wings to fly with. The paradox of the divided self lies at the very heart of Old Craft theology and psychology: we're all our own opposite, dark and light. When you notice yourself projecting onto someone else, be sure that it's you you're projecting.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    This reminds me of the Bucca in Gemma Gary's "Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish book of Ways" described as a goat headed hermaphro
  • Mike W
    Mike W says #
    Thank you elder brother! I think that you are correct, each contains a part of the other, as in the Yin/Yang symbol, the so-calle

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
That Other Holiday

It happens every year. Really, you'd think that by now I'd know better.

I'm driving home from Sunrise brunch on the morning of Midwinter's Day: fully sated, both physically and emotionally. After nearly a Moon's worth of preparation, Yule is finally here.

The night before, from the city's highest hill, we sang down the Sun, and lighted the New Fire during the year's last Sunset.

Then home again, and the little household rituals; after, out to the coven's firelight hearth-side rite. Afterward, the feast, the dances, the carols by the fire.

All night, we keep the Yule-fire burning.

Then up before dawn and out to the bridge from which we've sung up the Sun out of the river valley on Midwinter's Morning every year for nearly 40 years.

And finally, finally, off to brunch: the food, the friendship, the laughing conversation.

So I'm driving homewards, filled with a sense of consummation, looking forward to a restful nap. After a month of work and worry, finally it's time to sit back and enjoy the stillness, the well-earned Yule-frith, the peace of Yule.

Then I notice the cowans scuttling frantically, and inevitably, every year, I find myself thinking: What are all these people still running around for?

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And What Did the Yule Stag Bring You, My Little Pretty?

There aren't many Yule decorations that would make me consider theft.

In fact, I can only think of one.

My friend Sirius found the Yule Stag years ago, half-price at an after-holiday sale. He's your usual made-in-China, dressed-up Santa maquette of the kind that one sees in the stores by the scores at this time of year: the porcelain head, the red robe trimmed with faux fur, the shouldered sack of toys.

Oh, but he's got the head and hooves of a stag: Santa and Reindeer in one.

Oh my Hornèd God.

The Kalasha of what is now northwestern Pakistan are the only Indo-European-speaking people who have practiced their traditional religion continuously since antiquity. Their most important holiday of the year is—surprise—the Winter Solstice. During the most sacred days of the festival, the rider god Balumáin descends to visit the Kalasha valleys, accompanied by his boon companion, a god named Púshau.

Students of ancient religion have long wondered if the famed Horned God of antiquity finds a reflex in proto-Indo-European religion. Such would, in fact, seem to have been the case.

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Pagan Place, or: There Are No Generic Pagan Rituals

A local festival asked a friend of mine if he would write a ritual for them.

“We can't guarantee that it's going to be in any particular location,” they told him.

“Sorry,” was his reply. “If you can't give me a place, I can't give you a ritual.”

Corollaries:

  • There are no generic pagan rituals.
  • All pagan ritual is place specific.

Take, for example, the kachina religions of the American Southwest. You couldn't really pick these religions up and practice them in, say, Minneapolis. They've evolved as a perfect unity of place, people, and religion: what in Witch we would call Land, Lede (“tribe”) and Lore. This unity constitutes the pagan ideal.

I look at my coven's Wheel of the Year. Nearly every one of our rituals has evolved to fit a specific place. You could, theoretically, enact them elsewhere, but it would require a re-envisioning and a recasting of the rites to fit the new location.

The Paganicon 2020 committee asked if I would be interested in crafting Opening and Closing rituals for the upcoming event. As you'll have gathered, I'm not much one for casting circles and calling corners in ballrooms, but if things were to go as I foresee, our rites would mark the tribal Ingathering with what heathens call a “land-take."

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The Once and Future Holiday

I don't know about where you live, but here in Minneapolis the Winter Solstice is hot stuff.

Every year I'm struck by the ever-increasing number of (non-pagan) Winter Solstice events going on: drum-jams, concerts, performances. This year I was dumbfounded to hear that even the local Episcopal cathedral is getting in on the act, holding a special “Light in Darkness” service for the Solstice.

Christmas' religious origins will always render it problematic in an increasingly secular culture. More and more each year it reads as a once-Christian culture's nostalgia for a now-unretrievable past.

The Solstice, on the other hand, is an event that engages us all, no matter how we see things, or where our ancestors came from. Conveniently, it also comes at a time when most people don't have family obligations.

Once you've embraced the Winter Solstice, of course, it only makes sense to do the same for its bright Summer twin. And then...well, if you're going to do the Solstices, you might as well do the Equinoxes too.

And so we'll go together, step by logical step. That's how we'll take back the West.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    There is a site called Neopets.com. Every year they have a Winter Starlight Festival during the month of December. I've been goi

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