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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When Things Are People Too

Ticia Verveer on Twitter: "ca. 2,600 year old Duenos inscription is one of  the earliest known Old Latin texts #archaeology Quirinal Hill #Rome" 

Students of Archaic and early Classical art will be familiar with the inscriptions found on many statues:

I am [name].

To the modern viewer, this makes a certain amount of sense. The statue stands in for the person that it represents.

More disquieting to the modern eye are inscriptions found on other items as well—swords, mirrors, pots—in which the item itself addresses the viewer in the first person.

[Name] made me.


I belong to [name].

The Old Latin inscription on a kernos (7th-5th century BCE) found in Rome in 1880 reads, in part:

A good man made me for a good man. Let no bad man steal me.

One wonders: is this voice—even self-awareness—of the non-human a mere literary conceit, or do we see here intimations of an older, and also (let it be said) richer and deeper, way of understanding?


If not my first memory, it's at least among my very oldest. I'm standing in front of the house, looking up at the big blue spruce.

(I had been wondering—such is the inner life of a three-, maybe four-, year old—if my toys felt hurt when they heard me say that I didn't want to play with them.)

Suddenly I'm aware that through that spruce tree throbs a coursing, distinct life, just as there does in me. It's utterly clear to me that this shared life irrevocably links us both.

In recognition of what we share, I reach out my hand and touch the tree.

Call it an instinctive animism.


The nature of personhood, of individuality, is surely one of philosophy's deeper mysteries. What does it mean to be a person? Does personhood imply self-awareness, or not? Is personhood exclusive to human beings, or is it a state of being that we share with others?

To the ancestors, a river, a mountain, a standing stone all had their own distinct individuality, just as we do. Certainly this is true for animals and plants as well. Is this nothing more than the characteristically human act of extrapolating ourselves onto those around us? Or does this sense tell us something about the nature of those other beings as well?


This boulder seems, to my way of seeing, a discreet individual, with a character of its own. I take a sledge and break it into two. Is it now two individuals, or one, broken?

With the sledge, I break the halves into smaller and smaller pieces, and eventually reduce them to gravel. Is each of those pieces of gravel, then, now its own discreet individual?

How far does being-ness go?


I'm uncomfortable with the term “animism.” The implied separability of body and spirit just doesn't match with my experience.

The mountain doesn't have rights because there's a “spirit” within it. The mountain has rights because it's a mountain.


For the most part, contemporary philosophical definitions of “person” don't fit with pagan experience. Really, what are the implications for how we are in the world when beings non-human also become “thou”?

Does it not change absolutely everything?




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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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