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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Broom and Shovel

The one thing that I never expected to become was a war correspondent.

During the last five days, I've watched the neighborhood that I've worked to help build for the past 35 years be systematically destroyed around me. In some places, the fires are still burning.

But let me tell you what I'll remember most about these days following the murder of George Floyd—let us speak and remember his name—and their fiery aftermath.

People with brooms and shovels on their shoulders.

They began appearing on the morning after the first looting and burning.

(A curse on the burners, but not of us. May the work of their hands, and hearts, come back on their own heads a hundred-fold, and let us all say: So mote it be.)

By yesterday, four days into the crisis, I'd seen hundreds of them.

Hundreds of people, all colors, all ages, wondering the streets with brooms and snow shovels—everyone in Minnesota has a snow shovel—slung over their shoulders, looking for someone, anyone, who needed help with clean-up. When they found them, they'd help until they'd done what they could. Then they'd head off again, looking for another stranger to help.

It's been, thank Goddess, a quiet night in Minneapolis.

(Those too froward to go home and stay there after repeated warnings, get no pity from me. When you insist on poking your finger into someone's eye, you don't get to complain when he clobbers you with a board.)

Let us make no mistake: this is not the end.

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The Sears of Death: An Urban Witch Story

Nowadays it's called Midtown Exchange and Global Market: a lively and successful gathering of lofts, restaurants, and ethnic specialty shops.

But more than 30 years ago, when I moved into the neighborhood, everyone in the area knew it as the Sears of Death.

A kind of shadow hung over the place. Inside, the light was always dim, the air always felt cold and kind of clammy, and everything, even new things, looked somehow tired, gray, and colorless.

Here's why.

 

Year: 1928. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sears is proudly opening its newest landmark outlet: an Art Deco skyscraper, clad in shining golden limestone, carved in Celtic Revival style.

On opening day, a shabby old woman shambles up to the doughnut counter in the front lobby.

“Give me a dozen doughnuts,” she mumbles, carefully laying out twelve pennies on the counter.

The clerk looks at her a little askance: the woman is dressed in tattered layers of mismatched clothing and smells pretty rank. Nowadays we would assume that she's homeless.

Still, a sale is a sale. The clerk dutifully puts twelve doughnuts into the bag, closes the top, and holds it out to the old woman.

“That's only twelve,” says the old woman, “I want a dozen.”

She's missing a number of teeth, and it's hard to understand what she says.

“Twelve is a dozen,” says the clerk, with opening day primness.

“A dozen is thirteen,” the old woman tells her. “That's what they give at the bakery.”

“Well, this isn't the bakery,” says the clerk. “Here, a dozen is twelve.”

The old woman takes her bag and goes off, muttering.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Gentle Fires of Spring

Back in the early days of Paganistan—known locally as the Paganolithic—four of us got together with the intent of forming a coven. Since the Spring Evenday (equinox) was coming up, we decided to make that our first ritual together.

A few days beforehand, we got together and dyed up a bunch of eggs in the old way, using only natural dyestocks. While the eggs were coloring, we sat in the living room and planned the ritual.

On Equinox Eve we gathered in the backyard. Tanith, who had been studying smithcraft, set up a tall iron tripod that she had hand-forged. On it we impaled the wreath that had been drying on the front door since Yule. The plan was to burn up the last of Winter and make this the fiery center of our ring-dance.

Striking a match, I start the invocation.

“O gentle fires of Spring....” We were using the invocation from William G. Gray's Spring Equinox rite.

(Doreen Valiente once characterized Gray's Solstice and Equinox rituals as “too Pagan for the Christians, too Christian for the Pagans.”)

I hold the match to the wreath. The wreath does not kindle, and the match goes out.

I strike another match and try again.

“O gentle fires of Spring.....”

Nothing. Desiccated as they are, the old fir needles simply will not light.

“Oh f**k the gentle fires of Spring,” I mutter.

Volkhvy goes into the garage, gets a can of charcoal accelerant, and squirts some on.

I light another match.

“Oh gentle fires of Spring.....”

Whoosh!

Suddenly, we're standing around a 20-foot pillar of flame, roaring its heart out into the starry Equinox sky.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    So mote it be.
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    lol. I too, having done rituals with fire, have learned that fire has to be respected first and foremost as fire. Symbolic meaning

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Ley Lady, Ley

They say that Minneapolis has the highest per capita pagan population in the US.

Assuming that that's true (who knows?), then I live in the Most Pagan Neighborhood in the Most Pagan City in the country.

Alas, though: I cannot claim to live on the Most Pagan Street.

Just why there should be so many pagans living on 10th Avenue South is something of a mystery.

As for the neighborhood, that's easy. Thirty-forty years ago, when the local community was first getting to its hooves, this part of South Minneapolis was a marginal area, poised to go down. For this reason, there was lots of early “20th” century architectural character going for reasonable prices, so the Pagan Urban Pioneers moved in. (I was one.) Pagans being a clannish sort of people, once there were a few, others soon followed.

As for just why so many of us ended up buying on 10th Avenue, though...well, that's one for the oracles.

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How 'Brother' Jed, Campus Evangelist, Helped Launch the U of M's First-Ever Student Pagan Organization, and (Indirectly) Paganistan's Oldest Coven

I suppose most campuses have one: the self-appointed, probably slightly psychotic, street-corner evangelist to the (presumed) fallen.

In the late 80s, the University of Minnesota had Brother Jed.

You'd see him around campus, haranguing. No one took him seriously. Some engaged him; some egged him on. Me, I avoided him.

(One day, Brother Jed noticed me walk past, face averted, as he was enlarging on the evils of homosexuality. “Whah, they-ah goes one na-ow!” he denounced, adding, in an uncharacteristic moment of self-doubt, “Ah think.”)

Every (black) pearl starts with an intrusive piece of grit. One day, after the umpteenth encounter with Brother Jed, a graduate student named Magenta Griffith had had enough.

“We need a student pagan organization,” she thought.

She teamed up with some friends, and thus was born Children of the Night, the University of Minnesota's first student pagan organization.

(Yes, the name comes from Dracula. We're of a poetic bent here in the Northland; savoring irony is something of a local sport.)

Here's where yours truly enters the story. I'd come to the Twin Cities the previous year, ostensibly for grad school, but in actuality to find the Pagan Community of my dreams. In those pre-internet days, hooking up with other pagans was hard. Twelve months had gone by, and I still hadn't met any.

Then one day I walked into Lind Hall and saw the mimeograph on the wall.

Are you interested in Wicca? Druidism? Paganism?

Children of the Night: Student Pagan Organization

xxx date and time

xxx location

Interested? Was I ever! My memory is (thank you Mama) that I actually kissed the ground in joy.

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Ian Phanes
    Ian Phanes says #
    Did you notice that Jed wasn't there every day? That's because he, and some others of his ilk, travel a circuit of multiple campus
Tales of Paganistan: Killing the Pumpkin

That year, Coven X had volunteered to lead the big Samhain ritual for the Wiccan Church of Minnesota.

Weeks before Samhain, the winds of controversy had already begun to blow.

The folks in Coven X, the new young coven in town, thought of the WiCoM folks as stodgy and regressive, mired in Wiccan dogma. Clearly, their intent with this ritual was to blow some of the cobwebs out of the attic.

It didn't take a seer to foretell where this was going to go.

The day before the ritual, the priestess told me all about it with a glint in her eye.

“We'll show them,” she concluded.

Well, if she wanted a firestorm, she got it.

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    My view of ritual is heavily influenced by decades of the Runequest and Heroquest role playing games. To me ritual is a dramatic
Five Good Reasons to Live in Pagan Minneapolis

“One would think you lived in Minneapolis.”

(Christopher Isherwood, to the residents of Berlin on their sang-froid following the division of their city in 1945)

 

Ah, fair City of Lakes: scrappy little Minneapolis, small town on steroids.

Minneapolis, where the winters are too cold and the summers too hot.

Minneapolis, where we have laws against everything.

Minneapolis, which routinely pays world-class architects first-rate money for second- (and third-) class work.

Why would anyone live here?

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