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 Tale of Two Seasons

Rating: PI (Contains Politically Incorrect Language)

There's a whole genre of Minnesota jokes that begin: “Minnesota has two seasons: Winter and....” Winter and Road Repair. Winter and Winter-is-Coming. Occasionally there are variations: “...two seasons: Shovel and Swat.” Whatever one calls its partner, though, Winter is the central fact of existence here in Lake Country. Spring and Fall aren't really seasons in the North; they're occasional delightful visitors, all the more beloved for their poignantly brief stay. Our year really is a bi-seasonal one.

This would have been utterly familiar to the ancestors. The ancient Germanic speakers knew a two-season, Winter-Summer year: etymologically, the “windy” and “sunny” seasons respectively. The great holidays of Proto-Germanic culture were apparently Midwinter and Midsummer, associated even then—between 3000 and 4000 years ago—with the winter and summer sunsteads (solstices). We know that this goes back to the time before the Germanic languages branched off from one another because the terms are preserved in all surviving daughter languages.

Since the names Midwinter and Midsummer make it clear that the sunsteads mark the middle of their respective seasons, those seasons must have begun at the time of the evendays (equinoxes). I have yet to see this self-evident deduction referenced in the scholarly literature, although admittedly my knowledge of this vast field is not exhaustive. Yet another reason why academia needs more pagans.

The terms “spring” and “fall” were coined during the “Little Renaissance” of the 14th century—around the time of Jeff Chaucer (d. 1400)—under the influence of Latin literature. They were originally, charmingly, “leaf-spring” and “leaf-fall.” The word “autumn” was borrowed from Latin at about the same time. The original English word for Spring was “Lent,” the time when the days lengthen. There's a wonderful Middle English poem that begins: “Lenten is comë with lovë to toun.” Had history gone otherwise, our four seasons today might be Winter, Lent, Summer, and Harvest.

We've just had a few delicious days of Indian—err, “Native American”—Summer. (The local term for the period of cold that sometimes immediately precedes Indian Summer is “Squaw Winter,” but don't say I told you so. We know Old Lady Winter all too well around here; we just generally call her by another name.) The ash and locusts are in full gold, and the maples beginning to blaze like torches. There's one down the street that's green on one side and red on the other, like the tree in Welsh mythology that's half leaves and half fire. I'm picking Haralsons (one of our local varieties of apple) and golden autumn raspberries right now, and hoping for another few weeks of tomatoes before the frosts come. The geese haven't left yet, but they're taking practice flights between lakes to get the youngsters ready. (They flew over, calling, during our Harvest Supper last week.) The cabbages are fattening, the winter squash rolling in. Five months from now, I'll be thoroughly sick of apples, cabbage, and squash, but right now they still taste really good.

Now the falling of the leaves, 

now the short'ning day:

for Summer is a-going out,

and Winter's on the way.


(The Kipper Family, From Time Immoral)


 Graphic: Anne Marie Forrester, Four Seasons © 2014




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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.


  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Wednesday, 01 October 2014

    Good rant. Every year our media insists that Midwinter Night is "The beginning of winter." That is completely wrong as anyone who looks out his window or reads any history can plainly see. For some years I have been looking for documentation as to who and when was it decided that seasons were going to "begin" on the solar cross days, equinoxes and solstices. If you have any information on that change I would be interested.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 02 October 2014

    Hmm, I've wondered about that myself. Ah well, more research to do. My friend Volkhvy always says, "There's no rest for the Wicca."

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Thursday, 02 October 2014

    Love the quote.

  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Friday, 24 October 2014

    It's always irritated me when I hear, "Today is the first day of Summer" on Midsummer.

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