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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Of Goddesses and Squirrels

Hey, it was the 80s, and we were Gay Urban Pioneers. Of course we over-planted the yard.

If you Google Earth our address (yes, that is a verb: what a language!), you won't see the house at all. The neighbors' houses, yes, but in between them: the magic forest. Think of it as warding: urban invisibility.

Living in a sea of trees as we do, of course we're well populated with squirrels. We've got a whole clan of them living around us; just now in late January, the trees are filled with their drays. (Yes, English actually does have a word referring specifically to a squirrel's nest. When I hear people bemoaning the poverty of our language, I smile and say nothing.)

I call them the White Ears clan. They're standard issue Midwest gray squirrels, Sciurus carolinensis, but unusual in that their outer ears are white, not gray like the rest of their fur. Clearly there's a gene for albinism in this population, and every few years we actually see a white squirrel among them. In fact, there was one just last summer.

White squirrels don't usually last for very long: their hyper-visibility puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to predators. But for me a Year of the White Squirrel is always an opportunity to take a little extra time to appreciate the beauty of squirrels. Living among so many of them as we do, it's easy to forget just what amazing little beings they actually are.

Albinism and melanism are both recessive traits, but they're actually pretty common among the urban squirrel population here; most neighborhoods have at least one black or white squirrel. I'd never given this fact much thought until I heard something that Arvol Looking Horse said in 2009.

Looking Horse is the 19th generation Carrier of the White Buffalo Calf Woman pipe. It was White Buffalo Calf Woman—Ptesanwin—who, more than 300 years ago, brought the Pipe to the Dakota People. She first showed herself to two hunters as a beautiful woman dressed in white buffalo skins. One of the hunters tried to rape her. He was struck dead immediately. The other hunter approached her with the deference due such a Power, and it was to him that she gave the Ptesanwin pipe. In our day, this pipe is carried by Arvol Looking Horse.


This is what he said:

In our prophecy, the White Buffalo Calf Woman told us she would return and stand upon the earth when we are having a hard time. In 1994, this began to happen with the birth of the white buffalo. Not only their nation, but many animal nations began to show their sacred color, which is white.

In fact, a white stag was reported in Scotland in 2002. Increased rates of albinism have been observed in animal populations throughout the world. Including my own back yard.

Albinism is, as I said, a recessive trait. Restricted and inbred animal populations will naturally, in times of environmental stress and habitat loss, show a higher incidence of albinos. What Looking Horse says makes good, sound environmental sense.

When White Buffalo Calf Woman had given the Pipe to the first Pipe Carrier and instructed him in its use, she walked away to the west, singing a song of power as she went. As he watched, she became a white buffalo calf. Then she became a red buffalo calf. Then she became a black buffalo calf. Then she was gone.

White, Red, Black. I think Robert Graves could tell you who she is. And so could any witch worth the wood to burn, if only she would.

Even New Agers have a name for it, although it frightens them, and they don't much talk about it.

The Return of the Goddess.



[Unattributed], “Arvol Looking Horse on the Deaths in Sedona,” in The Circle, Vol. 30, Issue 11, November 2009, p. 7

Photo: Paul B. Rucker














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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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