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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Summer Dim

I woke up at 5:15 this morning and the sky was already (or still) full of light. We're in the “summer dim.”

It's a standing joke locally that at 44.9833° North, Minneapolis lies at the same latitude as Bordeaux. Sure couldn't tell from the climate. Ha ha. Here in the middle of the continent, our weather is generally closer to that of Moscow than that of French wine country. Even so, we're still too far south to see the famed “White Nights” of the far North, when the Sun literally never sets and everyone goes sleeplessly frantic in the famed “Midsummer madness.” The fact is, too much light makes you crazy. "White lighters" take note.

Our year here divides roughly into thirds. At the winter sunstead (solstice), we see about 8 hours of light and 16 of darkness. At the summer sunstead, the reverse: 16 hours of day, 8 of dark.

Ah, but those twilights: what in Orkney and the Shetlands they call the “simmer dim.” In winter, the Sun goes down and it's dark immediately. You can tell we're going down into winter when we lose our twilights. On Midsummer's Eve, on the other hand, the Sun sets about 9:15, but the sky stays light until 10:30 or so, and even after that there's light to be seen in the west.

Likewise, by 5 a. m. the sky's already getting light. Although we're far enough south to escape the full impact of Midsummer madness, a month after the sunstead, being (in spite of myself) a creature of the light, my sleep patterns are still screwed up. I'm still bouncing out of bed earlier than I'd like. I make the bed, have a cup of tea, and get the day started. I certainly do get a lot done at this time of year. As we enter the Dog Day heat, mornings are a good time to cook. Or write: this, for example.

Insulated we urbanites may be from the rhythms of the natural world, but the light and heat of High Summer still drive us a little crazy. Crime goes up in the summer, a (pagan) police officer was telling me the other day. The gods will have their way, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Nine days to August Eve.

Summer dim.

For a portrait of a community's collective manic state during the White Nights, see Ann Cleeves' stunning novel White Nights (2008). It's part of her Shetland series, which I've just started reading and am enjoying the heck out of.

Photo: Still from the film Midsummer Madness, by Alexander Hahn



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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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