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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Tales of Paganistan: The Year We Held an Open Samhain at Prince's Favorite Nightclub

This is the City of Witches. Of course strange things happen here.

Although he never actually owned it, downtown Minneapolis nightclub and music venue First Avenue/Seventh Street Station—which featured prominently in the film Purple Rain—has, in the popular mind, become identified with local music icon Prince.

Let me tell you the tale of how we held a public Samhain observance there.

Samhain 1985. First Avenue's program director at the time, Jeffrey, who'd been interested in paganism for some time, decided to hold a public event in honor of the holiday. Through friends in the local music scene, he contacted a woman in our sister/daughter coven with the idea.

It was a terrific opportunity. We'd have use of the club's stage, dance floor, lighting, and sound system. Best of all, legendary local Keltic punk band Boiled in Lead would be providing live music.

Gleefully, we dove in.

Times being what they were, a group of us from the two covens sat in a circle on the living room floor to plan—by consensus, of course—the ritual.

What we wanted was to tell a story without use of words, a Samhain story that avoided the cliches but still managed to plumb the depths.

Here's what we came up with.

Dramatis personae: The Corps de Ballet. The Deer. The Hunter. The Lady of the Forest.

Lights up.

In the center of the dance floor, a inward-facing circle of bodies, bent to the ground.

Music up. As it mounts, the bodies writhe, and begin to rise. Frenzied, they dance out a birth. From our midst rises the Deer, long-legged and lean, in antlers and tights.

In the beginning was the Deer.

The Deer dances, alive and free, but soon the music turns threatening. Enter the Hunter with bow and arrow: studly Jeffrey, in fact, looking fetching indeed in his hunting leathers.

Wild music. The Deer leaps the circle and runs. Wild chase. The Hunter shoots: the Deer falls dead.

The music changes. On the stage appears the Lady of the Forest, distraught. The Hunter has killed one of her deer.

She descends to the dance floor and cradles the dead Deer, mourning.

The Hunter has watched all this from the side. Now she rises and meets his eye.

Unexpectedly, the Lady smiles. Taking the Deer's antlers, she crowns the Hunter new Lord of the Forest. She kisses him.

There's a moment of stillness, an tableau of adoration: the Lady of the Forest, hand-in-hand with the horn-crowned Hunter.

They begin to dance, a dance of courtship. Around them dance the rest of us, honoring them.

The music becomes frenzied, the movements of the dancers wild, disjoint.

The Lady of the Forest remounts the stage. We surround the Hunter.

The Lady watches, arms raised, exulting.

As the music builds to a crescendo, we pull the Hunter down, and begin to tear him limb from limb.

Cut lights, music.

Out of the darkness, one high, piercing wail of terror and despair.


Nos Calan Gaeaf 1985, Pagan Minneapolis








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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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