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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Steven Posch

Steven Posch

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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Thunder to my right hand

Lightning to my left hand


Fire before me

Frost behind me


Heaven above me

Earth below me


Earth to Heaven

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Several decades ago, writer Paul Kingsnorth went to West Papua to document the physical and cultural genocide being perpetrated on the local Indigenous peoples by the Indonesian army.

Traveling with some men of the Lani tribe, he (and they) came to a break in the trees, where they saw

a great sweep of ancient forest rolling off towards the blue horizon. Blue, green: there was nothing else. Everything could have been here at the Creation.

Spears on shoulders, the Lani men turned and sang together, quite matter-of-factly, a song that, Kingsnorth later discovered, was a song of thanks to the forest (Kingsnorth 16).

That Song of the Forest has haunted him ever since.


His life since then—assiduously documented in yearning, visionary prose—has been a search for what those tribesmen had, a state of being which his ancestors also once had, but which has long since been lost: a living community in spiritual relationship with the Living Land.

He left environmental activism, moved his family to a remote farm in western Ireland, hooked up with the local Alexandrians. (I gather that Alexandrians are thick on the ground in Ireland.) Still missing the Song of the Forest, he left the Alexandrians, and was recently baptized into the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Well, Paul, I wish you luck in your journey, and the Sun and Moon on your path. But what would you say if I told you that I could teach you the Song of the Forest? Not the Lani Song of the Forest, but the one that our ancestors used to sing?


In truth, I can't teach that song, to him or to anyone; I don't know it either.

But here's the thing. Kingsnorth seems to have despairingly concluded that, since it's been lost, it's lost forever. But my experience over the past five decades leads me to conclude that, though we may not know the Song now, some day we will.

No, I don't know the Song of the Forest—yet. But let me tell you some of the songs that I do know.

I know the song that you sing when you see an eagle.

I know the song that you sing when you make offerings to the Fire.

I know the song of the Mask that the Horned wears when He dances among His people at the Grand Sabbat.

Fifty years ago, I didn't know any of these songs. Now I do. For this reason, I feel confident that our Song of the Forest is on the horizon, only a matter of time.


Ten years ago, a young woman—now a friend and colleague—came to ask me to be her teacher.

Naturally, I asked the question that you always ask under such circumstances: Why me?

Because what you have is the real thing, and I want it, she replied.

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  • Helga Hedgewalker
    Helga Hedgewalker says #
    So mote it be, and the sooner the better!



Dear Boss Warlock:

I wanted to make some chutney, so I bought some rhubarb at a store, even though as a native Midwesterner I understood that in doing so, I was breaking a major local taboo.

Now I'm afraid of the resultant Curse: that for the rest of the year, I'll be snowed under with gifts of rhubarb from everyone that I know.

Help! Is there any way to escape the Great Midwestern Rhubarb Curse?

Wincing in Winona


Dear Wince,

Whichever gods you honor, my friend, you now owe them big-time. Since the Great Midwestern Rhubarb Curse is a strictly regional phenomenon, there is a way out of your conundrum.

Here's your “Get Out of Hell Free” card, Wince: Local taboos only apply locally.

Before you make your chutney, first cast a circle and, for the duration, declare the entire kitchen to be somewhere else, somewhere that the Curse does not apply—say, California, or Florida.

Good luck, my friend. Let me add that, chutney made, it might very well be politic to send Boss Warlock his own jar by way of thanks for having bailed your sorry Midwestern butt out of this mess in the first place. As it happens, Boss Warlock just loves rhubarb chutney.

My address will be arriving shortly by psychic post.

Boss Warlock




A Note to Readers:

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It's a truism of religious iconography that every detail bears meaning. So let us ask: Why is the Rällinge Frey stroking his beard?

Surely every pagan must be familiar with the Rällinge Frey. This charming little bug-eyed god was discovered, at his eponymous location, in Sweden—big-time Frey Country back in the old days, be it noted—in 1908.

Wearing nothing but a pointed (skin?) cap—or is it a helmet?—the little bronze god sits cross-legged, sporting an noteworthy erection. His left hand—the forearm is now missing—rests on his left knee. With his right—the strong, or dominant, hand—he strokes (or grasps, or tugs) his beard.


One can hardly fail to notice, of course, the beard as analogue to the god's phallus, or to appreciate their mutual, um, stroke-ability. The artist here has deftly created a visual dialectic, stunning in its elegant simplicity. This is a god who specializes in the erotic, with all that that implies, but there's more to him than that, far more.

Like every other part of the human (or divine) body, beards bear symbolic meaning. Beards mean: male. They mean: maturity, experience. Thus, in an extended sense, they also mean: wisdom.

Now that the wearing of beards has become culturally fashionable again, I've had occasion over the last few years to watch men interacting with their beards. (Unlike interacting with one's phallus—though, as noted above, certainly analogous to it—it's something that you can acceptably do in public.)

Again and again I've watched men stroke their beards while thinking something over. Stroking the beard means reflection. It means deliberation.

What the artist is showing here is Frey's other side. He's not just the handsome fertility guy with the big toothsome cock, though he's that too. To consult one's beard is to consult one's wisdom. ("Let me consult my beard on that," goes the old Russian proverb. One could even view the beard as a symbol of the Received Tradition, making the Bearded the repository of the Lore.) This is a god who thinks. This is a god who considers. This is a god who reflects before he decides. He's not just cute and good in the sack, but smart and thoughtful, too.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Oh, that dangerous male body. It's so dangerous that there are parts of it that you shouldn't show, or touch, or even talk about
  • Kile Martz
    Kile Martz says #
    Beard play has been on my mind lately. For mysterious reasons to me, I become somewhat self conscious about it in the last couple

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 Rällinge statuette - Wikipedia

Chances are, you've seen pictures of the Rällinge Frey many times before.

But how often have you seen His back?


 Rällinge statuette - Wikipedia

Note the complex, swirling patterns worked in gold. Whoever it was that took the time and care to make them clearly felt that the god's back was important, perhaps just as important as his front.

What are they? Vegetation? A tree, maybe? If so, this tells us something important about this god that we would never have guessed if we'd only seen him from in front.

Across Pagandom these days, gods tend to get shoved onto altars, and there's an end to it, but that's not how the ancestors saw it. To them, the god's back was as important as his front, and they took care to lavish attention—and craftsmanship—on both.

It's intriguing that this should be so regardless of the perspective from which the image was intended to be seen. This makes sense, of course: who would leave a god's likeness incomplete? Such would hardly be a worthy vessel for the divine.

A major way to venerate a statue—or, rather, the god present in the statue—was to circumambulate: to walk around the statue. Anyone that knows gods knows that there's more to any given god than what you can see from the front alone. Much, much more.

One of the pleasures of traveling to Greece was finally being able to see what famous statues looked like from behind; for some curious reason, rear views rarely tend to make it into books. There I was quickly disabused of the notion that I knew these works well. How can you claim to know a work of art when you've only seen half of it?

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Help! I need an answer to a theological question, and I need it quick.

As I write this, the little terracotta goddess lies sleeping, wrapped in silk, on a shelf in the pantry.

But soon she'll be standing out in the corner of the garden, plunged to her thighs in the ground. Through the summer to come—night and day, rain and shine—she will watch over the growth of this year's tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, beans, herbs, and greens.

So here's the question. Does the Garden Goddess go into the ground:

  1. when I till, or
  2. when I plant, and
  3. why?
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  • Katie
    Katie says #
    I am in favor of having her in place for the planting... although I can see the benefit of either. On a purely practical note, t
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks, Anthony. It occurs to me to wonder to what degree the question that I've posed here is not so much a question of theology
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    After you've turned over the dirt and before you start planting. Turning over the dirt is like putting fresh sheets on the bed.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    That I have lived to see the day, Jamie, when someone can use a word like agalma in a sentence without having to define it, I than
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, Purely as a fellow Pagan offering my two cents, I would say that the best time to put the agalma in the ground would b

 Pin by Jessica Leigh X3 on trees | Hansel and gretel house, Fairy tales,  Grimm

It's become a truism in Craft circles that organizing witches is like herding cats.

Writer John Michael Greer suggested some years back, though, that this question approaches the problem from the wrong direction.

“Cats aren't herd animals,” he said. “If what you want is cats, what you need to do is to open a can of tuna fish.


Students of the pagan community have not infrequently commented on the problem of the “disappearing pagan male,” and the resulting gender imbalance in our population. The long-term implications of such a demographic hemorrhage are, of course, dire: a community without men will not long survive.

Fortunately, I think that there's a solution to hand.


In June, the Warlocks of the Driftless will finally—after a year's hiatus for the plague—be raising the Bull Stone at Sweetwood Sanctuary in southwestern Witchconsin's Driftless Area.

Suddenly, there are men converging from all directions who have heard about the project and can't wait to help.

Clearly, men just want to raise standing stones.

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