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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Witches Thole

 “There's more to the Craft, my dear, than is written in your Book of Shadows.”


Witches use a lot of old words that others have long since forgotten (athame, widdershins...), and here's one of them: thole.

In elevated English, one could translate thole as “endure.” Colloquially, we'd say “put up with.”

Believe me, with our history, witches know a lot about tholing.

“What can't be changed, must be tholed.” There's an old witch proverb for you. Thole is close kin to patience, but patience is something that you have (whatever that means) while tholing is something that you do.

Thole differs from endure in that endurance is passive. Tholing, however, is an active response, and I'll leave you to suss for yourself just what that might look like on the ground. But this much let me say.

Thole isn't just a concept; it's a way of life. Some things you can change, and witches have our own ways of effecting change. Witches aren't much for frontal assault. Often there's a way under, or over, or around instead.

But if there isn't, there's no point tearing your heart out over it. Witches don't fret.

We thole.

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Cooking Up a Paganism

So: I wrote a ritual that—due to the covid-related rescheduling of this year's Paganicon—we didn't do.

It's a good ritual (you can read an outline here), as you'll see when we do it eventually. But that's not the point that I want to make here. While discussing the ritual with colleagues both during and after the shaping process, I was struck by how well the ritual and its making mirrors the overall trajectory of modern paganism itself.

Virtually everything in the ritual—the sacrificial procession, the chanted prayers, the libations—ultimately has parallels with ancient religious practice. That said, these are practices drawn from different times and places in the ancient world, including (to mention only some) Hellenic, Roman, and Germanic sources.

There's more. Looking over my decades of formation as a ritualist and as an artist, there are also elements here drawn from Hindu temple ritual, Jewish cantorial practice, and the liturgies of Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism as well.

To give just one example: the ancestors chanted their prayers. We know this, but exactly how they did it has been lost to us with time. In order to learn how one goes about improvisationally setting words to chant tunes, one has to look elsewhere. In my case, I learned how to do this at synagogue.

Here's the thing. From years—decades—of experience with the creation of ritual, I, as a ritualist and artist, have learned to put together elements from diverse sources that, nonetheless, together read and feel “pagan.”

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I like the cooking analogy. Not every recipe I try works out but I do learn from the experience, and sometimes it turns out to be

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Silent, ineluctable, the golden shaft of light streams into the darkness of my room.

Because the street-grid of Minneapolis is laid out East-West, on Evenday mornings the Spring (and Harvest) Sun rising due east shines in through the eastern windows, down the hall, and into my bedroom on the west side of the house.

It's like living in Newgrange, but with heat and running water.

They say that Zeus appeared to Danaë in a Shower of Gold.

They say that Shiva revealed himself as a Lingam of Fire.

I jump out of bed and stand in the Lordly Light. His godly touch gilds my naked skin.

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Mystery Night

It may be that in this time of Plague, tonight, on this Eve of Spring—whether in wisdom or in fear, who shall say?—the Rites of Spring will go uncelebrated.

Or will they?

Hear now my story.


September 27, 480 BCE: Mystery Night, the night on which, since time immemorial, people have gathered in Eleusis in Attica to celebrate the Mysteries of the Barley Mother and her daughter, the Nameless Bride.

But this year Eleusis and its sanctuary lie empty. The plains of Attica have been devastated by the invading Persians, and the people of Attica have evacuated to mountain refuges.

It so happens that on that day, two Greek turncoats in pay of the Persian king—Dikaios, son of Theokydes, and Demaratos of Sparta—see a great cloud of dust on the Attic plain, as if raised by the feet of 30,000, and hear massed voices shouting the holy cry: Iakkhos! Iakkhos!

But in the midst of the cloud they see nothing and no one.

What is this? asks Demaratos, who had not been initiated into the Mother's Mysteries.

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An Invitation from the Temple of the Moon

Here at Temple of the Moon, we offer and pray twice daily to the Moon and the Horned for the health and well-being of pagans everywhere.

In numbers lies efficacy. No matter where you are, you can join your prayers to ours.

Here's how.


(Note: The Threefold Salute is a gesture of reverence and affirmation that takes several forms:

Threefold Salute

Touch heart, lips, and brow


Touch brow, lips, and heart


[if you're really pious and/or spry]

Touch brow, lips, and heart

Bow, touch ground

Rising, touch heart, lips, and brow)


Daily Offering, with Threefold Prayer

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Mother Root

As I'm walking into the store to get more onions and garlic (some hoard toilet paper; hey, we all have our own priorities) I think: While I'm here, I might as well pick up a couple bags of pota—.

I'm halfway into the thought before I realize my mistake.

Of course, there's nary a spud to be had. They've even removed the pallet where the bags of potatoes are usually piled.

Some love pasta, some love bread. I like both, but I'm a witch of the Tribe of Witches, and witches are potato-eaters from way back.

Why witches and potatoes? Well, they're survival food, as hordes of panicked potato-hoarding Americans can readily attest. Easy to store, easy to cook, they're nutritious, delicious, and excellent belly-fillers. But there's more to the story than that.

They say that back when they first brought potatoes into the village, they said: Hey, look at these goofy-ass tubers from the New World. They're called 'potatoes.' You can eat them, really you can: here, see?

The cowans all shrank back. Are you kidding? they said. Those are nightshades; nightshades'll kill you.

The witches, however, who knew their nightshades, came closer, intrigued.

You can eat these, you say? we said. Here, let me see that.

I grew up knowing that there are certain things that you always have to have in the house: bread, salt, onions, garlic, potatoes. Not to have at least a little of each is terrible bad luck.

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Covid Babies

I'm going to make a prediction: Nine months from now, we're going to be seeing a spike in births.

You could call them the Covid babies.

With the coming of this latest iteration of the corona virus, Americans are socially isolating. For the next few weeks, we're all going to be spending a lot more time at home than usual. Even Americans eventually get tired of movies and computer games.

That's how these things work. Back in the 60s my uncle Milton went back to the old family village in Staffordshire, in the old Hwicce tribal hideage, for the celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of its founding.

The Black Plague had swept through the area, decimating the population. What survivors there were burned down the old villages—fire purifies—and banded together to start a new one in a new location, now part of the greater West Midlands conurbation. That's our oldest family story: the memory of a collective trauma. Out of disaster, new beginnings.

Some things you don't need a crystal ball to foresee. Spring Equinox 2020, and Americans are going to be making a lot more love than usual in the days to come, may it be for a blessing.

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