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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People of the Deer

Witch-folk. We've pretty much always been a People of the Deer.

Sure, we've hunted larger game, and smaller, but down the years it's ostly deer that have kept the cauldron full and the family fed. Back in the old days, “deer” used to mean pretty much any kind of wild animal, did you know that? But now, a deer is...well, a deer. That tells you something about how important they've always been. To our people, deer are the animal par excellence.

Back in old tribal days, when we called ourselves the Dobunni (and later the Hwicce, which is where we get the name “witch” from), we were, admittedly, a People of the Herd, and our god (and our priests) wore bull's horns mostly.

But even then, just to the north lived the Cornovii, People of the Horn, and for them the god wore antlers. They're still fine hunters, the Cornovii, and being such near neighbors, there's been a lot of marrying back and forth down the years. My father's mother's people come from the old Cornovii hunting runs, in fact.

Well, it just makes sense. Unlike bulls, or elk for that matter—not to mention moose—a deer is human-sized, just about the same weight and volume that we are. There's something human about a deer. It's all a matter of scale.

Up here in the North Country, Samhain marks the time of the rut. Just now, the deer that will feed the People in years to come are being bred.

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A Promise to the Ferryman, or: How I Ended Up Sitting (Literally) Bare-Assed in the Snow One Midwinter's Eve

At the big public Samhain that year, everybody had paid a coin to the Ferryman to cross the River.

Obviously, money collected under such circumstances can't be put to just any use. After the ritual, we donated the bulk of it to the local AIDS hospice. (That seemed appropriate.) But the foreign coins and the gaming arcade tokens (talk about cheap) called for a different—if still respectful—disposal.

As it happens, one of the great rivers of the world flows through our city, so I volunteered to take the coins down to the Mississippi and throw them in.

Well, I put it off and I put it off. (It was a snowy year, if you want my lame-ass excuse.) Suddenly it was Midwinter's Eve, and I still hadn't disposed of the coins.

“This can't wait,” I thought. “It really has to be done tonight; tomorrow will be too late.”

So after our Mother Night ritual and feast, I drove down to the site where, 1000 years ago, a summer village once stood on the East Bank of the River. Like the ancient Egyptians, the Old People who lived there buried their dead across the River on the West Bank.

Being a warmish Yule that year, I was wearing my kilt: commando, of course. (You know what they say: With underwear, it's just a skirt.)

The warm weather had given the snow a slick crust. Just as I was negotiating the last snowbank down to the River....

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks, Erin. I think of it as ham on wry.
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    lol. I really enjoy your sense of humor.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
I'll Be Home for Sam Hane

From the liner notes of my 2005 spoken word album, Radio Paganistan: Folktales of the Urban Witches. 

Really, one has to wonder just who the speaker is.

Good Samhain, all!

I'll Be Home for Sam Hane

 


I'll be home for Sam Hane,

you can count on me.

Pumpkins glow on dancing bones

beneath the naked trees.

 

Hallows Eve will find me

where the hearth-fire's red:

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Contracting Spiral

I noticed a pattern this morning while sweeping out the Underworld.

(Being resident priest here at Temple of the Moon, I get to say such things. )

Yes, two nights hence we'll descend into the cave beneath the Temple of the Moon for our major November Eve working. Even in the Underworld, you have to clean before the guests arrive.

So, sweeping up limestone dust, I realized that I was sweeping spirally: in a contracting spiral, to be precise.

It's the most efficient way to sweep a floor, really. You pick a center point. Then you go around the first time, sweeping in, toward the center. You go around again, sweeping in. Around and around you go, until finally there's one central pile of detritus.

Sleek. Efficient. Pregnant with meaning.

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'Witch' Originally Meant 'Too Busy,' Suggests Philologist

AP: Minneapolis MN

You may have heard that the word “witch” originally meant “wise one,” or “bender [of reality]”, or “waker [of the dead].”

But if Stefano Pozzo, Doctor of Philology at the University of Paganistan is correct, the word derives instead from an Anglo-Saxon adjective meaning “too busy.”

“Students of Old English, the parent language of Modern English spoken more than 1000 years ago, have long suspected the existence of an I-stem adjective wicca” said Pozzo, who pronounces the word WITCH-ah, “but until recently we had no manuscript evidence to prove it. Newly-available palimpsest studies, however, make it clear, not only that the word existed, but that its original meaning, as we had long suspected, was 'too busy.'”

Surviving Old English texts, he explained, were largely written on parchment, which at the time was a valuable resource, far too valuable simply to throw away. It was common practice to reuse old parchment by scraping off the original ink and writing a new text on the erased surface.

Pozzo noted that new computer technology has now made it possible to read erased texts, known as palimpsests, which had heretofore been inaccessible to scholars.

In a recent article, Hebrew University's Dr. Tzemakh Posner amplifies Pozzo's contention.

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Prince William and Kate Middleton Visit Pakistani Pagans

During their recent trip to Pakistan, eventual heir to the British throne prince William and his wife Kate Middleton paid a special visit to Bumboret Valley, home to Pakistan's famed pagan tribe, the Kalasha.

Sometimes called the “last pagans of the Hindu Kush,” the Kalasha, numbering some 4000, live in three remote valleys in what is now NW Pakistan. They are widely known for the freedom (and beauty) of their women, their wine-drinking, and their polytheistic religion.

Of all the Indo-European-speaking peoples, only the Kalasha have practiced their ancient and traditional religion continuously since antiquity. Characterized by sacred dances, outdoor sanctuaries, and animal sacrifice, the religion of the Kalasha offers an unparalleled window of insight into the practices and thought-ways of the pagan ancestors. More than anything else, it resembles an archaic form of pre-Hindu Vedic religion.

You can see unedited footage from the October 16th royal visit to Kalashastan here, courtesy of Ishpata News, the local Kalasha news outlet. (Ishpáta is the most common greeting in the Kalasha language: "Hello!".) You will recognize the Kalasha women by their distinctive and colorful clothing and headgear, and the men by the feathers in their Chitrali caps. During the long centuries of Muslim oppression, Kalasha were forced to identify themselves in public by wearing feathers in their headgear. Pagans being pagans, they took it up as a distinctive sign of pride, and unapologetically sport feathers to this very day.

The coverage of the royal visit is well worth watching (and doesn't Bonny Prince Billy look fetching in his feathered Kalasha cap?). After centuries of being despised as ignorant unbelievers, the Kalasha are currently undergoing something of a cultural renaissance. (Part of this new confidence in Kalasha identity derives from the knowledge that people of the West [i.e. us] are embracing, by choice, what the Kalasha already have by inheritance.) As several of the spokespersons interviewed toward the end of the clip discuss, the highest levels of Pakistani government, including Prime Minister Imrat Khan, have recently awoken to the knowledge of the living cultural treasure that the Kalasha represent, and moved to enshrine their rights by protective legislation. In a culturally homogenized world increasingly flattened by unthinking monotheization, pagans are the guarantors of freedom and eco-cultural health.

Don't be put off by the lack of subtitles, or the 26 minutes of narration in Kalashagrom, a profoundly archaic language closely related to Sanskrit. Here is your opportunity to hear the voices of the pagan ancestors, vibrantly alive in our hour and day.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    The headgear being such a prime marker of Kalasha identity, I found the Presentation a graceful and moving gesture: conferring, in
  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    I just watched up through the Presentation of the Hats, but that was fun.

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Into the Dark

Gods, it's dark.

These mornings I'm mostly up by 5: dark outside, dark inside. We've already lost Summer's long twilights. Now the Sun goes down and wham! it's dark, with nary a time between.

In a moon's time, paradoxically, I'll be able to navigate in here at this hour without turning on lights, what with all the ambient urban light reflected from the snow.

But for now, with the leaves still on the trees, and the creeper on the side of the house, I'm moving by feel.

Every few years, we hold our Samhain on an island at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. In the stone-built WPA hall with its central hearth, it's easy to forget what century you're in.

What I always notice most is how dark it is.

Last time, we must have had 50 candles burning on the tables to light our feast: a spendthrift extravagance of light for this most festive of feasts. Even so, it's dark. I think about the ancestors, who viscerally understood this annual descent into darkness in a way that we, with our electric-lit lives, hardly can.

Walking up the street this morning, the beauty of the waning Moon in the southeastern sky pierced my heart like a spear, the pearly, opalescent colors of crescent and disc precisely mirroring those of the pre-dawn sky. Only early-risers truly appreciate the Wane.

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