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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A New Yule Book That You Won't Want to Miss

It was the afternoon of Midwinter's Eve. The house was clean and decked, full of good smells. All day long, I'd been rushing around: cooking, prepping for the big ritual that evening. But at last everything that needed to be done, was done.

Suddenly, out of the blue shadows of the year's longest night, a voice:


And so the shortest day came, and the year died.


That's the first time that I ever heard Susan Cooper's iconic poem, The Shortest Day.



Newberry Medal winner Susan Cooper (b. 1935) understands magic: she authored the well-loved Dark Is Rising series. (Did you pull the eponymous Dark Is Rising off the shelf this year in the lead-up to Yule? I did.)

The voice that I heard in the darkness of that afternoon was that of John Langstaff, Grand Master of the perennial Christmas Revels. Susan Cooper wrote The Shortest Day specifically for the Revels in 1977, and her ode to Yule has opened that event—not to mention innumerable pagan rituals—ever since.

At long last, her jewel of a poem has received the setting that it deserves. Last year it was released as a picture book, illustrated—illuminated, I really should say—by Caldecott Honor winner Carson Ellis.



Ellis' luminous watercolors are worthy of Cooper's poem. Reminiscent of Bruegel, they translate Cooper's words into images so well that you can't help but feel that if the words, by some mischance, were to be lost, you could actually reconstruct them from her images.

Note the horizontality of each image. In this book, profundity meets profundity: image embodying word. Ellis' understanding of Yule is very deep, and here is its deepest depth: that the Land itself is the heart of every meaning.

For gods' sakes, don't miss the Cooper-Ellis Shortest Day. It may well be the best gift that you give yourself this year.

This year, and every year. And so do you, and so do we...



Welcome Yule!


Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis (2019) The Shortest Day, Candlewick Press






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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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