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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The New Old Days



Well, now, there's something you don't see every day, Chauncey.”

What's that, Stanley?”

Oh, a bunch of pagans out on the front steps performing a sacrifice.”


Humans are herd animals. When we see a large group of people, all with their attention focused one way, we want to look with them to see what's going on. It's automatic, instinctive.

But, of course, this is Minnesota.


After the Rite of the Gates at Jane Hawkner's funeral yesterday—it's very simple, really: you open the Gates, the departed passes through, you close the Gates—we'd all trouped out onto the front steps of the domed and columned Lake Harriet Spiritual Community building to offer the traditional Fire Sacrifice in honor of the occasion.

(Let's be frank: pagan ritual has, for the most part, rung pretty hollow since the end of the days of animal sacrifice. But, of course, you don't have to kill an animal to offer sacrifice. Even in the old days, animal sacrifice was only one form of sacrifice.)

We'd set up the brazier on the landing between the two flights of stairs leading up to the door. As presiding priest, then, I stood with my back to the street, facing the Fire and the people coming out of the building.

So, unlike the rest of the worshipers there present, I didn't get to see the reactions of the passers-by.


Different places, different customs. Minneapolis having been, in its early days, largely populated by Scandinavians, we have—thanks to the infamous Founder Effect—a local culture of public privacy. You don't stare at other people, especially not at strangers. Really—so long as they're not doing anything harmful—it's best to act as if they're not even there.

(Dysfunctional as this may sound, it's probably the reason why there's such a large, self-assured pagan community here. Here, we could get away with it.)

So that's how it came to be that, on a beautiful early Saturday afternoon in high Summer, there can be a whole tribe of pagans out on the front steps doing something interesting with Fire, and the Minnesotans walking, biking, and driving by are wrestling—wrestling—with themselves not to look.

They'redoingsomethingthey'redoingsomethinginterestingIwannalookIwannalookI'mnotgonnalookI'mnotgonnalook I'm looking I'mnotlookingI'mreallynotlookingI'mjustwalkingjustwalkingby.


In the old days, pagans could be religious in public.

In the old days, public sacrifice was commonplace.

Well, welcome to Paganistan, folks.

Welcome to the New Old Days.




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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.


  • Katie
    Katie Sunday, 18 July 2021

    As the offerings were given to the fire, two people drove by in a fancy convertible with a huge sparkly (I mean unicorns for little girls level of sparkly. Drag queen level of sparkly.) inner tube filling the back seat, taller than the human occupants. I can’t remember if the car or the inner tube was lime green.

    I will say that the ceremony for Jane was beautiful. Singing for her passage and making the offerings matters. It held the focus for those of us who knew why we were there.

    For passers by not participating:

    A crowd of people doing something religious in front of a church? Check.

    Huge sparkly thing and expensive sports convertible? Okaaay..

    Which will draw more attention from the passers by?

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