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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Card Tables of the Gods: Paganism, Good and...Not So Good

The festival organizers had chosen the one mostly flat place on the slope between the woods and Turtle Creek on which to lay out their ritual circle. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.

Mistake Number One. They'd designed their Circle using the "Quarter altar" model, with four card tables, one per quarter, each covered with a schmatte in a garishly bright “elemental” color.

On the living body of the valley's natural beauty, the cheap and artificial tables and cloths stood out like an open wound.

Moral Number One. When it comes to the gods, only the real and the beautiful are worthy.

Mistake Number Two. The landscape had a distinct and palpable flow to it, from the forest above to Turtle Creek below, and back again, running roughly ENE by WSW.

Unfortunately, the organizers had decided to lay out their Circle with a compass, thereby placing the Card Tables of the Gods in due East, South, West, and North.

Completely out of rhythm with the land around it, this skewed circle in fact impeded the valley's natural flow rather than augmenting it.

Moral Number Two. Regardless of what the books may say, real sacredness inheres in working with the landscape.

OK, Posch: so how would you have done it any better?

Solution. We lay out our four quarters in accordance with the valley's natural flow, and mark each one with a tall standing post set firmly in the ground.

More work and more expensive than card tables with schmattes, maybe, but consider the payoff.

In my freshman year dorm room discussions about the nature of Art, my friend Scott—certainly the most thoughtful, and arguably the best artist, among us—always used to hold out for a broad definition.

That leaves plenty of room for good Art and bad Art,” he always used to say.

The same, I'd contend, goes for “Paganism.”

A paganism out of the books is all very well but, wrongly used, in the end only gets in the way. At best, Paganism Out of Books is a place to start.

Because, in the end, a living paganism = a living relationship with a living landscape.

After all, a card table—even one that masquerades as an altar—can never be anything but a card table.

Even if it's a Card Table of the Gods.

 

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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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