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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My next-door neighbor stands in his front yard, garden hose in hand.

Welcome to the Long, Hot Summer of '23. We haven't seen Drop One of rain in weeks.

“Fifty percent chance of rain tonight,” I say over the fence.

He casts his eyes up to the sky: Here's hoping.

“Maybe we need to start thinking about killing the black goat,” I say: my standard in-group joke during rainless times like this.

(Black for dark rain-clouds. Thunder likes goats, they say. A bull, of course, would be even better, but these days, who can afford one?)

“Any chance they'd take squirrel instead?” he asks. Drought notwithstanding, it's been a bumper year for mast; there are even more squirrels frisking around than usual, which in this neighborhood is saying something.

“Not a chance,” I say. “It has to be something you value.”

He shakes his head. Damn gods. “Well, here's hoping,” he says.

“Here's hoping,” I say, and move along.

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Is Alexander the Great Actually Buried in Wisconsin?


In the dream, I'm attending a pagan festival, the main claim to fame of which is that the body of Alexander the Great—yes, that Alexander the Great—is buried on grounds.

Now, the ultimate fate of the sôma, body, of Alexander the Great, Talisman of Alexandria, remains one of history's enduring mysteries.

Said festival being held in Wisconsin, then, this strikes me—even in dream-logic—as unlikely in the extreme, to say the very least.

How he got there, the stories don't tell. A likely enough scenario readily presents itself, though: late Antiquity, the rising power of the Church, hostile to a rival Savior, an epic journey westward of the faithful across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, and thence (presumably) up the Mississippi: fodder for a C-grade popular novel, one might think, with scenes switching back-and-forth between the ancient world, and an incredulous archaeological present.

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 What is fire? A science-backed guide to flames, and how we've made them. -  Vox


I gaze into the heart of the fire. I can't say I'm not feeling a little nervous.

It's my first conversation with N since, under my direction, we enacted the Men's Mysteries, the secret rites of initiation by which the tribe's boys become the tribe's men.

From my perspective, things went well. To judge from the shine that's been on this year's initiate ever since, they went very well indeed.

Still, N is something of a senior statesman among us: a man of unquestionable integrity, my elder in age, experience, and wisdom. He never speaks anything less than the truth, and what he thinks, matters.

Slowly, he nods his head.

“Well, I'd say that was a good one,” he says, “Just the way we've always done it.”

He pauses.

“And if it wasn't, it's how we always should have been doing it.”

Somehow, the fire seems to burn a little more brightly.

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 Up To 57% Off on Umbro Men's Jock Strap Athlet... | Groupon Goods

In the dream, half real life and half Broadway show, I'm literally laying in the middle of the street, kicked and beaten.

(How I got there, I have no idea.)

Suddenly, they're looming over me: a shoulder-to-shoulder chorus line of men in army boots and black jock straps, rainbow flags hanging like breastplates over their bare chests.

My friend M, one of the line, tosses me a black jock strap of my own, and extends a hand. I take both, and climb to my feet beside him.

The army boots, I'm already wearing. I fumble with the waist button to my trousers. Time for a little on-stage costume change.

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 Centuries-old gravestones returned to Rhode Island cemetery | WPRO

 Halloween Guy



My neighbor looks deeply troubled. I go over to see what's wrong.

He's been up all night. His wife of 60-some years has just died.

I listen to his story, and say the things that one says.

My neighbor is a good man. His life has been one of undeserved tragedy.

Years ago, a motorcycle accident reduced his son to a permanent vegetative state. His daughter struggled with cancer and eventually overcame it, only to die recently of a sudden heart attack. Now, with his wife's death, everything that this man has ever loved has been taken from him, everything.

It's mid-October, and the guy next door—every block seems to have one—is the Halloween Guy. His front yard is mocked up as a faux cemetery: gray styro tombstones spiked into the crisp autumn lawn with glib little ha-ha inscriptions, skeleton hands erupting from the soil, plastic bones strewn between.

I'm struck by the gap between this silly cartoon of death and the immensity of the real thing. It seems, simultaneously, a mockery and, in its sheer fatuousness, utterly beneath notice.

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Get to Know the Manx: A Mighty Hunter and Sweet Companion - Catster


"Isn't two years an awfully long time for a cat to be at a shelter without being 'adopted'?" I ask.

My question seems to nonplus the director.

"There's nothing wrong with her," she hastens to assure me, misreading my question.

I hadn't really thought that there was; actually, I was just curious.

It's been three years now since Squeak the Fearless died, in the autumn of the first covid year, and it's time: a house needs a cat.

Besides, witches love the anomalous. With my special affinity for Manx—the stubby-tailed ("stumpies") and tailless ("rumpies") cats of the Isle of Witches—Bunny would have to be a drooling psycho-kitty for me not to like her.

All is explained when we enter the cat room.

Immediately, I'm engulfed in a rising tide of cats: cats rubbing against my ankles, cats head-butting me; cats making nice.

Meanwhile, alone in the center of the room, identified by her eponymous gray stumpy tail, lies Miss Bunny: dignified, aloof. I think of aloof's original meaning: facing into the wind.

Well, there's all the explanation those two years will ever need. Ain't that just like life? The friendly (read: needy) ones always get 'adopted' first.

Ugh. Dogs trapped in the bodies of cats, I call them. Independence requires boundaries. Give me aloof any day of the lunar month.

I crouch and extend a finger. Bunny sniffs at it delicately, then permits me to stroke her fur and rub her ears. She does not get up. Not unfriendly: just a cat with a life very much her own.

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“Now, there's something you don't see every day, Chauncey.”

My friend is alluding to a running gag from Jay Ward's brilliant 1960s series, Rocky and Bullwinkle, a show that we both grew up watching: two old guys, sitting on a park bench, commenting wryly on the weird ways of the world.

Catching her reference, I toss her back the feeder line: “What's that, Edgar?”

“A troupe of girls raising a cloud of dust as they dance the maypole,” she says.


Indeed. We're out at the Minnesota Renn Fest, watching the students of a local dance school go through their paces.

At Beltane, when these dances are usually performed, the grass would be green from the Spring Rains, but this is the ash-end of dry August. We won't be seeing the Autumn Rains for half a moon yet, and the girls weave and duck enhaloed in a golden sphere of dust.

Yesterday, I saw the year's first skein of geese fly low overheard, clearly a family group from a nearby lake: parents and their clutch of grown-up youngsters, taking a test flight for the Great Migration yet to come.

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