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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Can You Still Be a Heathen If You Don't Like Mead?

So: I'd like your opinion on a theological matter of some importance.

I know it sounds like a joke, but it isn't really.

I don't like mead. I've never met a mead I liked.

I'd rather drink bad beer than drink good mead.

I'd rather drink water than drink mead.

Hell: I'd rather drink goat piss than drink mead.

(Insofar there's any appreciable difference between the two, anyway.)

So, can I still be heathen?

A while back I told my friend Volkhvy that he couldn't be a Slavic Reconstructionist and not like beets.

(Fortunately, it's no longer an issue. Once he'd had real beets, he found that he liked them just fine. What those hairy red things in cans are, I really don't know.)

Well, I'll stand by that assertion. There are some lines that just can't be crossed, or words cease to mean anything at all.

Identity formation is a complex business. We're still learning how to be the pagans that our time and place need us to be. (To this necessary process of becoming pagan, heathen theorist Swain Wodening has given the felicitous name worthing, from Old English weorðan, “become.”)

In our collective worthing, it's true that we do need to draw at least some lines. (Whether or not liking beets is properly one such remains to be seen.)

But establishing an identity doesn't necessarily mean uniformity or party lines. Sometimes we belong most in our not-belonging.

After all, isn't being a heathen who doesn't like mead already something of its own identity?







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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.


  • Chris Moore
    Chris Moore Sunday, 08 January 2017

    Snorri states in the Gylfaginning that Odin only drinks red wine! To your larger point, I wonder how to complete the following: "I don't ___, can I still be a witch?"

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 08 January 2017

    Gods, ya gotta love the Lore. "Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it."
    Well, that's quite a conundrum you pose there, sir, witches not being big on prohibitions (except, possibly, in the breaking thereof).
    Interestingly, the formulations of this question that I can think of all seem to involve active doing rather than not-doing. "Can I go to church and still be....?" "Can I worship Ganesha and still be....?"
    If it weren't paradoxical, it wouldn't be witching.

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Monday, 09 January 2017

    From my personnel perspective I hate being told "You've got to do this if you want to be that" or "You can't do that if you want to be this". Personally I loath beer. I like apple cider, and I enjoy a glass of lassi when I eat at an Indian restaurant. I say find the beverage that you enjoy and if it's locally produced or you make it yourself so much the better. Whatever you choose I'm sure someone among your friends and family will agree that it tastes good.

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Thursday, 12 January 2017

    Lots of Asatru kindreds provide an alternative beverage for non-drinkers. Sometimes there are two horns, with with alcohol and one with an alternative, for example, hard and non-alcoholic ciders, or wine and sparkling grape juice.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Friday, 13 January 2017

    I like to think that flexibility is inherent in polytheism: a world in which there's nearly always another option!

  • Mab Nahash
    Mab Nahash Saturday, 14 January 2017

    I'm interested in the question Chris raised. Each time I try to fill in that blank of the sine qua non of a witch, I find someone whom I immediately know to be a witch who doesn't do that. I've tried worship a horned god, worship a goddess, work with lunar cycles, practice magic, work with spirits, etc. It's so much more ephemeral than anything easily pinpointed, because I also know people who do all those things, and yet, they do not strike me as witches at all. I think it's more an issue of patterns or kinship. Patterns in that we don't all do x, y, z, but most of us do some of these things, and kinship in that we just know each other. When I see traditional African practices, they bear little relationship to my own, they feel very familiar to me anyway. I also notice and recognize people who strike me as witches, and people who don't despite aggressive posturing. Think of the coming festival season- witches find each other sooner or later, and the cultural pagans are usually oblivious to our presence.

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