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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'For Frith and Year': The Story of Grandfather Sheaf

Listen well, now, for this is the story of Grandfather Sheaf.

Long ago our people lived on the shores of the Northern Sea, and we knew neither bread nor beer, neither brewing nor baking. We hunted and fished and gathered, as our people had always done, since the time of the Great Ice and before.

One day in spring, with the ice newly broken, a ship came slowly to shore: a long ship, with a high, antlered prow. The strange thing was that this ship was completely empty. But going down to meet it, we saw that indeed the ship was not empty, for in it lay a babe, a man-child asleep and naked, and cradled in a shield, and under his head a barley sheaf.

We took this boy to our people and so brought him up, and he was called Shield Sheaving, Shield son of Sheaf. When he came to manhood and his beard was fully grown, he was accounted the wisest and most capable of men, and so together we raised him on the shield and made him king.

The Sheaf-son led our people wisely and well. He taught us the arts of plowing and sowing, of reaping and threshing. From him we learned to brew and to bake.

He was good to look upon as well; he loved many women and fathered many children. But his chiefest love he kept always for the men of his people, as of course is only right.

One year after harvest Shield Sheaving died, old and full of years, and we laid him again in the Sea Stag, with his shield beside him and a barley sheaf beneath his head. We pushed him out onto the water, and the sea took him. 'No one knows,' says the poet, 'who in the end received that ship and its treasures.'

Here the story ends. But my heart tells me that there on the sea Shield Sheaving changed his life, so that on some other spring morning, with the ice newly broken, who is to say that he did not come again, renewed and full of youth, to yet another shore, to teach yet another people the arts of peace and harvest.

So this is the tale of Shield Sheaving, who is also called Yngvi, Grandfather Sheaf, Seed-Frey, and even Father Christmas. He is the fruitful father, oldest and youngest, giver of good gifts, and himself the best gift of all.

To this day at Yule the men of our kindred gather together to pour to him 'for frith and year,' as it is said, for peace and good harvest.

For we the men are seed-bearers, like Grandfather Sheaf, and our seed and its sowing are holy to him.

That is the story, and this is the stave:

Who is the suckling in the ship,

and why is his pillow a sheaf?

He is called Shield Sheaving,

sea-barrowed and sea-born.

© Steven Posch 2006


The Rite of Grandfather Sheaf was first enacted in modern times in 2006.


In memory of

Sparky T. Rabbit











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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.


  • Paul B. Rucker
    Paul B. Rucker Monday, 11 January 2016

    What a beautiful story. A very fine contribution to male mythos. Knowing some of your earliest literary influences as I do, I also enjoy seeing how they influence the shape and flavor of the story. I am sure that Sparky is pleased!

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 11 January 2016

    When I set up the Sheaf altar at Yule this year, I decked the Sheaf with Sparky's amber, hammer, and phalli. If the dead can know, he will indeed have been glad.

    Paul, I think that you should add an image of infant Shield to your new line of Yule-cards!

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Monday, 11 January 2016

    I think there is a story in Longfellow's Hiawatha were Hiawatha meets a young man in green feathers who wrestles with him. The young man dies, it buried and the first maize plants grow from his grave.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 13 January 2016

    A religious connection to our food sources sure does pop up in tradition after tradition. Where Longfellow might have got his story from, and how accurately it reflects Indigenous sources I don't know, but it's got verisimilitude if nothing else.

  • Paul B. Rucker
    Paul B. Rucker Monday, 11 January 2016

    I will definitely keep this image in mind. I have a few others that have been incubating, or will be. Is this story Baltic or Nordic in its roots?

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 13 January 2016

    Germanic all the way: Norse and Old English. The story of Shield (OE Scyld) opens Beowulf, in fact.

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 13 January 2016

    It's my understanding that even though Hiawatha is an Iroquois folk hero Longfellow borrowed from an ethnographer who was writing about the Ojibwa.

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