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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Cicada Song

Well, it's almost here: the time of year that they named the Summerland for.

The apples ripe and fragrant on the branches, and overhead in the trees, that unmistakable, piercing, electric drone.

Welcome to the Season of the Cicada.

Around here they say that the cicadas call only when it's 80° or warmer: clothing-optional weather. To judge from my own experience, this may well be true.

The name comes from the Romans, by way of the French. Before that, say the etymologists, it was a “Mediterranean” word. Who knows? It may even be Minoan.

Because cicadas, like snakes, shed their skins as they grow, and because their nymphs incubate in the earth and pop forth whole and all, they're associated in the Received Tradition with rebirth and immortality. Fittingly do they sing to the dead in the orchards of that Other World.

They say that Cicada was the son of a chief and a water-maiden. Dawn fell in love with him because he was so beautiful, and took him to her bed.

Oh, but those mortal-Immortal matches never end well. Unable to bear the thought of losing him to death, she asked Thunder to give him eternal life instead.

You can see where this is going.

Eternal life without eternal youth. An object lesson in Be Careful What You Ask For.

They tell a similar story about the Sibyl of Cumae. Unable ever to die, eventually she shriveled down into a bent, old insect of a woman. In Petronius' Satyricon, Trimalchio—he of the famous grande bouffe—tells how in his youth he saw her himself, hanging in a jug from the ceiling of the shrine.

And when the little boys would say to her [in Greek]: Síbulla, ti théleis? [Sibyl, what do you want?], she would answer: Apóthanein thélô [I want to die].”

My students keep telling me, Posch, you can never die.

Gods. There I'll be, hanging from the ceiling in my jug, and people will come to me for advice on ritual.

Don't expect a good mood.

Of course you pour the libation first, you dolt. Gods, who trains these people these days?”

No, thanks very much, I think I'd rather opt for the Summerland instead, where it's always a lazy, late summer afternoon, and the apples ripe and fragrant in the branches.

And high overhead in the trees, the summer-song of the cicada.


Snuff-flask in the form of a cicada (Japan, ca. 1900)









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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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