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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60-some miles south of the Twin Cities, the Mississippi River widens into a large body of water that has come to be known as Lake Pepin. (Readers of Laura Ingalls Wilder may recall her girlhood crossing of the river ice there, just before its thunderous spring break-up, in Little House on the Prairie.) Two miles wide and 22 long, with a total surface area of about 40 miles, it's about the same size (and shape) as the famed Loch Ness.

Like Loch Ness, it has its own water-horse, they say.

“Pepie,” they call him, predictably. (Her? It? Them?)

Keep an eye on any sufficiently large body of water for long enough, and you'll be bound to see some strange things, for sure. Just how long folks have been seeing Pepie isn't entirely clear.

Predictably, there are stories ascribed to “Native American” times. Since a number of the local Indigenous peoples knew of “water panthers” that lived in lakes of a sufficient size, that's maybe not surprising.

(Water panthers are water-spirits who have an ongoing feud with the Thunderbirds. A number of 1000-year old effigy mounds in the area apparently represent these water panthers, powers of the Great Below.)

Some have dismissed Pepie as a “20th”-century publicity stunt to draw tourists. Well, people do love monsters, and monster tourism does indeed bring in money. Ask anyone in Roswell, New Mexico.

Admittedly, on the face of it, the prospect seems zoologically dubious. You can't, of course, have just one Pepie, since not even monsters are immortal. You need a breeding population of Pepies, which is another matter entirely. Pepin's a big lake, but it's not that big.

Publicity stunt or not, I suspect something deeper going on here. There's a witch in every woods, a monster in every lake. The language of the Good Folk, of those Others with whom we share the Land, gives us a very real, if nonliteral, way to talk about our relationship with the Great nonhuman Out There.

If you're looking for naturalistic explanations here—leaving aside wakes and floating logs—I'd personally suspect sturgeon. There used to be so many sturgeon in the Mississippi that there was actually a thriving domestic caviar industry, until—predictably—overfishing put paid to it. Sturgeon, which in the Mississippi sometimes grow to a length of nearly three feet, have been around since the Upper Cretaceous period—about 100 million years ago. So maybe, just maybe, there are prehistoric monsters in Lake Pepin after all.

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 The Perils of Mirror-Magic


Never get between two mirrors.”


In his 1991 novel Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett warns of the dangers of getting trapped between mirrors.

The danger he writes of is real, especially for witch-kind.

Let me tell you a story.


Stepping out of the hotel-room shower, I catch an unexpected glimpse of myself from behind in the mirror on the wall in front of me, vertiginously reflecting back from the mirror on the bathroom door behind me. It's disorienting, seeing your own back, right there in front of you: an out-of-body experience, almost.

Like many gay guys, I'm probably over-engaged with graceful aging. As always, the territory manages to look simultaneously familiar, and alluringly mysterious.

Damn, boy,” I think approvingly, “Looking pretty good.”


As it happens, I'm prepping for an event later this summer at which I need to look my lean and rangy best, so it's reassuring to know that the regimen is paying off.

A day or two later, back at home, I find myself—uncharacteristically—checking out the rear view again with the aid of a hand mirror.

Next day, I'm at it again. Now, I've got as much gay narcissism as the next guy (f*ck you, Sigmund Freud), but—as the saying goes—third time makes the charm.

“No,” I think firmly, and lay down the mirror.

Forewarned is forearmed. Thank you, Terry Pratchett.


Our own hinder regions being something that we don't much see, they readily become for us a liminal territory: us/not-us; familiar/mysterious.

The Self as Other: one of the Horned's deeper mysteries.

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 The Witchiest Little Shrine at PSG

Twin Horns of the Stang


Being social beings,

we humans,


when something goes wrong,

by nature, look for

someone to aid;


when something goes wrong,

by nature, look for

someone to blame.


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 PIE cattle raiding myth ...


Me, I'm a man of peace, but the more I think about it, the more it starts to look like prophecy.

Across the Indo-European-speaking world, and beyond, they tell the story of Thunder and the (variously-named) Three-Headed Monster.

In a nutshell: the three-headed monster arises and oppresses the people. Thunder arises, arms himself, and after a terrible battle, slays him, freeing all the people.

And there was much rejoicing.

It's an old story, with reflexes across Europe and Western Asia. We see it in the East (Indra v. Vritra), the uttermost West (Thor v. Midgard Serpent), and in between (Zeus v. Typhon). Italian anthropologist Augusto Cacopardo has even suggested that the story underlies the great Winter Solstice festival of the Kalasha of what is now Pakistan, the sole remaining Indo-European-speaking people who have continuously practiced their traditional religion since ancient times (Cacopardo 116-118).

At this point, the astute mythographer will be asking: Why three heads? That's where the prophecy comes in.

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 Nalateswari - Lord Bhairav Aarti Cost ...



Every morning, a man stands in front of the Indian Parliament building, waving a lighted oil lamp.

As the flames make their mystic circles, he sings a song that is sung daily in tens of thousands of temples across India, the song that accompanies the rite of puja—offering—to the gods, but with new, nontraditional, lyrics.

He's worshiping India's newly-reelected prime minister, Narendra Modi.


Welcome to Hindu India.

Oh, I know: in some ways, this act of worship is not so distant from the fawning adoration received by a certain convicted felon from his admiring Evangelical electorate.

Me, I'm a pagan. I understand the grain of incense offered to the emperor's spirit. I understand the mystique of the Sacred King.

Still, presidents and prime ministers are not sacred kings. Neither of these men has made the Sacred Marriage with the Land. Neither—I feel quite certain—would ultimately be willing to lay down his life for the People, especially not the latter.

The cynic in me can't help but wonder if the pujari in front of the Parliament building in Delhi isn't getting paid for his act of political religiosity. Still, I'm sorry: deep down, I can't help but feel—as I do about American Evangelicals and their Orange Calf—that something foul, something deeply, deeply unclean is going on here.

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 What IS a Yoke? – HOOK SPLINT


“What is the best yoga?”

My next-door neighbor studied yoga with the Himalayan Institute's Dr. Arya for decades. I'm not sure what answer he was expecting when he asked him this question, but—not for the first time in a relationship of more than 40 years—Dr. Arya surprised him.

“Putting-on-your-shoes yoga,” he replied.


What is the best kind of exercise regimen? It's the exercise that you get in the course of everyday life. It's arranging your life in such a way that living it gives you the exercise that you need to stay in health.

Think of the different parts of your body that you exercise when putting on your shoes standing. Pretty much the entire body, and balance to boot.

Yes, it's easier to put your shoes on while sitting down.

That's precisely the point.


Yoga is a discipline to train both body and spirit.

The word is cognate to English “yoke.” Consider the metaphor.

A yoga/yoke is a burden that you voluntarily undertake for larger ends.


People don't want to hear it, but the Craft is a discipline.

You may have the gifts, all the talent in the world, but you'll never be a great athlete, or a great musician, without practice. It's the same with the Craft.

If you don't have the discipline to practice, to exercise, to keep yourself limber, you'll never go anywhere with the Craft. Yes, it's hard. You'll have to do things that you don't want to do, learn things that you're not interested in learning, for the Craft to take you anywhere.

Is it easy? No. You want easy, look elsewhere.

There's more. The Craft isn't just what you do in the circle at full Moon. The Craft is every day: every moment of every day of your life.

The Craft is how you live. The Craft is how you think. Hell, the Craft is how you shit.


What is the best kind of Craft?

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Deep in an Icelandic Archive, the ...

A Rede to the Bookish

There was once a certain dwarf named All-wise—in the Norse tongue, all-víss—and aptly so, for he did indeed wish to know all things. To this end, he studied day and night, nor was he ever to be found without a book in his hand.

One night, so sunken was he in his studies, that he forgot to look for the coming of the Sun.

When its first light struck him, in the way of those sons of Earth, he was turned to stone, and so exploded. Such was the end of All-wise the dwarf.

Let this be a rede to the bookish. Books are good, but they are not the world.

The name of All-wise the dwarf lived on in the memory of the Northmen. In time, they brought it with them to the kingdom of England where, having undergone the softening of years, we know it now as Elvis.

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