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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Do the gods act immorally?

I'm reading a series of essays by a number of pagan writers addressing this topic. Fancy names are bandied—Nietzsche, Schopenhauer—semantics parsed.

(The Christian Fathers frequently used the “immorality” of the pagan gods as a club with which to beat the traditional religions of the Mediterranean world about the head, though to my mind no one espousing the god of the Bible has any club with which to beat anyone on this account. Talk about gods behaving badly.)

It's a old question: Is man [sic] more just than the gods?

Of necessity, here, I find myself asking the question: By whose standards?


Witches have a saying: To each people, its own law.

Witches live by Witch Law. Deer live by Deer Law. Wolves live by Wolf Law.

I'd be a fool to expect a wolf to live by human law.


Permit me the liberty to recast an old story in rather more contemporary language.


The New Ager and the Rattlesnake


A New Ager was meditating on the bank of a river in spate one day when he saw a rattlesnake being swept along on the current. Filled with compassion, he used a fallen branch to fish the snake out of the water.

The snake was stiff with cold, and clearly near death. The New Ager tucked the snake into his shirt, and in a while and a while the snake was warmed, and began to move around.

Then he bites the New Ager.

Stunned by the snake's ingratitude, the New Ager cries out: Why did you bite me? I saved your life!

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, Thanks for referencing one of my favorite of Aesopos' fables, "The Frog And The Scorpion". The Platonist perspective

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Saint Eugene Icon | Etsy


So, a pagan walks into a church: a Russian Orthodox Church, to be specific.

I'm not just visiting or sightseeing. Incredibly, I'm there to venerate the icon of “Passion-bearer” St. Yevgeny Botkin.

Botkin (1865-1918) was personal physician to “Slick Nick” Romanov, the last (well, the last before Putin, anyway) tsar of Russia. He went into Siberian exile along with the royal family, and was executed with them by the Soviets in 1918.

Even in Heaven, there's inequality. The Russian Orthodox Church canonized the tsar and his family in 1981, but didn't get around to sainting the faithful servants who died with them until 2016, more than 30 years later. Jeez.

No, I'm not some sort of Christo-Pagan, or some ghoulish Romanov groupie. I'm here to honor St. Yevgeny the Physician for one reason: because his son was not just a pagan, but the father of American Paganism.

Gleb Botkin (1900-1969) managed to escape the Revolution and came (via Shanghai) to America, where he made a successful career for himself as a novelist and illustrator. He supported the (as it turns out, false) claims of Franziska Schanzkowska—AKA Anna Anderson—to be the tsar's youngest daughter, Anastasia. (Pagans have a quixotic affinity for lost causes, maybe because here in the West there's no bigger Lost Cause than paganism.) Most importantly—to me, anyway—he founded (in 1938, if you can believe it) the Long Island Church of Aphrodite, the US's first legally-recognized pagan temple.

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Posch, My favorite quote from the judge who upheld the Church of Aphrodite's freedom of religion: "I guess it's better than

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 Dear Cowan (that's “non-pagan” in Pagan),


Yes, I'm pagan, and no, I don't want to talk about it.

That may surprise you. Here in the US, we're lousy with people who can't wait to tell you all about their religion, usually in excruciating detail.

Well, I'm not one of them.

I'm not just being froward here; this is an integral part of who we are. For us, religion is tribal; it's ours to us, and—quite frankly—none of your damn business. Think of the religion of Zuñi pueblo. It's not for talking about with non-Zuñi. As a Zuñi elder once remarked about missionaries, “They throw their religion away as if it isn't worth anything, and then they expect us to take it seriously.”

In fact, what seems to you mere friendly curiosity—and we are interesting, I acknowledge that—strikes us as both rude and deeply intrusive.

Oh, I understand that your questions are well-intentioned. What you need to understand is that, as a non-pagan, you're operating out of privilege, and in fact—if you'll pardon me for putting it quite so baldly—a sense of entitlement. You think that you have the right to ask me anything that you bloody well please, and that I somehow owe you an answer.

Well, I'm here to tell you that it just ain't so.

If you really want to know about me, my people, and our ways, there are plenty of resources out there. Go and educate yourself. Then if you come to me with questions, you won't be coming from a place of ignorance, and I may just consider answering.


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I never had a son or a daughter; gay men of my generation mostly didn't. (Talk about a failure of imagination.) But if I had, I have a pretty good idea what I would have wanted to name them, assuming it had been up to me to do so.

What do you want from a good name? Well, you want 1) something unique, but not weird enough to encourage teasing. You want 2) something with some history, some myth, to it: an old name in modern form. And you want 3) something that gives the kid a context, a sense of the culture that he or she is born into.

So, unsurprisingly, I would have wanted to give them names from the old dialect spoken by the Hwicce, the original Tribe of Witches. (Ah, the down-side of having a linguist parent.) This would have been by way of saying to them: Your life is your own, to do with as you wish, but you have a culture that's yours by right of inheritance, and always will be, whatever you may or may not choose to do with it.


Frytha. My daughter I would have wanted to name Frytha ("soft" -th, as in “breathe”): “peace.” Unlike speakers of modern English, who make do (or, just as often, don't make do) with only one kind of peace, the ancestors had different names for different kinds of peace; frith (“hard” -th, as in “breath”), the base-word from which the name derives, means “peace within a given community.”

Girls were still named Frith in East Anglia well into the early “20th” century. Frytha is a variant used—perhaps created—by one of my favorite (and formative) writers, novelist Rosemary Sutcliff; it's the name given to the bow-maid viewpoint character of her 1956 teen novel The Shield Ring. It's not a form that would have made sense to the Anglian-speaking ancestors, for whom -a was a masculine ending, but that's surely acceptable. As Mordechai Kaplan says, the ancestors get a vote, but not a veto.

So, welcome Frytha.


Siffrith. My son, I would name for a hero: a dragon-slaying hero, in fact.

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Footage of Burning a Three Candles on on a Yellow Background of Colored  Blurred Bokeh by AndriyASD


The homophobia down at the little jazz club where I worked had finally got to the point that I decided to do something about it. No one should have to hear "fag" this and "puto" that every day of his working life.

Demographics lay at the root of the problem. The kitchen crew were all straight guys; the floor staff mostly women and gay men. Since even the most pathetic cook still held out some hope of getting laid, that meant that it was the gay guys that bore the main brunt of the assholery.

At the time, Luis was the kitchen's alpha male—I won't dignify him with the name “head chef,” it wasn't that kind of place—and the other guys mostly followed his lead. So, clearly, I needed to make him the target of my working.

As for timing—timing is important in magic—in every well-run restaurant, there's always a brief window of time between when the prep work is done and when the doors open, during which everyone takes a moment to breathe and center before the evening's work gets underway. So naturally, that was the time that I chose.

I go into the kitchen and take up my stance just in front of the door. Every painting needs a worthy frame.

“Listen, Luis...” I call across the floor in my best pissed-off-bitch-with-attitude voice. I pause to make sure that I have his attention, and the attention of every single person in the kitchen. (These things must be done delicately, or you hurt the spell....)

"...Just because we've screwed a few times, doesn't mean I want to be your boyfriend, OK?”

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I remember the first time that I ever saw Orion.

I grew up in big cities, where one didn't look at stars because there was so little to see. (Cursed be light pollution.) That's why I never actually saw Orion—or, at least, never knowingly saw him—until, incredibly, the age of 18.

My parents were driving me, by night, to my freshman year of college. Sleepily, I rested my head on the back of the back seat and looked up.

Suddenly, there he was, shining. Like some naked warrior from ancient legend, he strode across the sky wearing only a sword-belt and sword.

It was love at first sight.

We have, of course, evidence from the Classical writers that certain Celtic warriors were wont to go into battle in a state of what is called “heroic nudity.” From iconographic evidence, we can tell that the practice, in fact, extends back into Proto-Indo-European times, about 5000 years ago. On the memorial stones that stood atop the kurgans (barrows) that mark the expansion of PIE-speakers into Europe, warriors are depicted in a state of heroic undress, wearing only a belt, and sometimes a helmet. One suspects an association here with the naked gods of Classical art, as well as with the Mediterranean world's long tradition of athletic nudity. At the other end of Indo-Eurostan, one ponders a kinship with the naked Jaina tirthankaras, those warriors of the spirit, as well.

I renewed my friendship-by-night with Orion recently at our autumn Warlocks' Weekend down at Sweetwood sanctuary in southwestern Witchconsin, among the hollow hills of the Driftless Area's Witch Country. Since that first sight at 18, I have grown gray, but Orion, in his ever-youthful beauty, is one with the deathless stars.

Star Warrior, Son of Three Fathers, to you I pour.


It so happened one night that Hyrieus of Boeotia, who was at the time childless, invited three gods to a feast: Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes. He killed a fine fatted ox to feed them. Having dined well, the three gods thanked him for his hospitality, and asked him what his heart most desired.

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"He is the life is in all living things: in corn, and horses, and men."

(Rosemary Sutcliff)



We are priests to a Horned, and Horny, God. Let me now tell you something that they probably didn't teach you—though they should have—in Witch School.

As priests to this god, it's our duty—our joy—to offer to him daily. What, then, is the nature of the offering due the Horns?

There are offerings and offerings. But to Him, god of all red life, the best and most fitting is the life-offering: the seed-pour, the male libation. This is the nature of our priesthood.

You know how magic works: you raise power, and direct it.

Daily you do this: you do it for Him. This is our obligation, the price of our priesthood.

How you fulfill this is yours to you, and not for me to say. But let me tell you this much.

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