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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“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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Not a Review of Matthew Lopez's Red, White, and Royal Blue


The son of the American President and the Prince of England—already in love—are coming out to one another.

“I'm bi,” says the American.

“I'm gay as a maypole,” says the Prince.


Back in the 70s, I can remember reading a profoundly essentialist article by a Jungian analyst contrasting the values of matriarchal and patriarchal societies.

The article consisted largely of three side-by-side columns:

Category      Patriarchy     Matriarchy

(That, according to the article itself, patriarchal thinking favors polarized dichotomies while matriarchies prefer to think holistically, was an irony that seems utterly to have escaped the author. Oh well, it was the 70s; I suppose a little self-awareness would be too much to expect.)

At this remove of time, I can remember only one other specific: under the category Major Sexual Taboo, Patriarchy's was listed as Homosexuality, Matriarchy's as Incest.

As a youth figuring out his own sexual identity at the time, it was pretty clear to me on which side of the hedge my ideological sympathies lay.


This is certainly the case in Lopez's new film (based on a novel, which I have yet to read) Red, White, and Royal Blue, set in the New Matriarchy of the fantasy near-future. The US President and the Prime Minister of the UK are both women; so are pretty much all of their functionaries—at least, the ones with any power.

Unsurprisingly, the only push-back against the prince and the president's son comes from the quote-unquote “wrinkled old men” of the Monarchy.

Ho hum. There are plenty of other creaking stereotypes to be found in RWRB as well. The gay guy bottoms, of course. The boorish—or maybe it's ignorant—American's response to the Prince's maypole comment is: “What's a maypole?” Seriously?

Still, it's a romp, if a corny and wholly over-the-top one. The boys are cute (actor Nicholas Galitzine sure looks a lot like Bonny Prince Billy did back in his glory days); the sex (though very delicately handled: the graphically realistic penetration scene is shot entirely facially) is hot, hot, hot.

(No way I am ever going to forgive them, though, for making Minnesota a Red state during the Election Eve scenes. Effing Hollywood: they think Midwest/Flyover Country = Rust Belt. Get a clue, folks; Minnesota is Bluer than California.)

Of course, there's a happy ending, shooting star and all.



Would matriarchy be any kinder to male-male love than patriarchy? With so little (if any) historical information to draw on, I can see little reason—essentialist presumptions aside (v. supra)—for thinking so.

Still, that's not the point here. None of the -archies (including an-) are going to solve the problems of human society. At the corner of thirteenth and last—now there's a sign-post for you—we're all in this together, men, women, and everyone else; working together is what we've got to figure out.

As for the film, this is rom-com: fantasy, folks.

Don't overthink, don't ask the larger questions.

Just laugh, and ride along.


My favorite part of the film remains the maypole comment, which (be warned) I henceforth intend to use at every possible opportunity.

Here too, though, I find myself not entirely sure of what's actually being said. What's so gay about a maypole?

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Beads on a necklace, memory-amber


Call them Northern Songlines.

Some remember by books, but for us the Land itself bears memory. All landscapes are mythic, at least potentially.

I've traveled Route 61 south along the Mississippi to the pagan land-sanctuaries of the Driftless Area for so many decades now that it has become, for me, a pilgrimage-route.

So I've re-cast the journey along the lines of the list of place-names in the Táin that recounts the way taken by Medb's army to fateful Cúailnge.

Each place a bead on a necklace, memory-amber.


Journey to the Driftless


This was their route, east, south and east again from Minneapolis on the Mississippi, Father of Waters:


eastward through Pig's Eye of the Sow, called St. Paul,

southward through Newport of the Red Rock,

through Hastings,

through Red Wing of the Clays, under Barn Bluff,

through Lake City on Pepin, where the water-horse swims,

through Wabasha,

past Trempeleau, Rattlesnake Island, where the Horned came down from Heaven,

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When, on the morning after

the witches' sabbat, the Horned

leads us up out of the woods and,

to the singing of meadowlarks,

mounts the horizon and,

lambent with white flame,

disappears over the edge,

I've always wondered whether

he sinks down into Earth

or walks off into the Sky,

or maybe both;

but now I know.


I, Steven of Prodea,

Steven son of Russell,

with my own eyes have seen

the Gates of Heaven swing

wide to admit him, and lo!

to the sounding of horns

and trumpets he entered in,

and lo! the gates were shut.

This with my own lips I tell you,

and what I tell is true.


Myth meets myth.

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 The Egypt Game - Wikipedia

How many of us can honestly say that we got our start in pagan ritual from a kid's book?

I can. The book was Zilpha Keatley Snyder's 1973 The Egypt Game.

In an unnamed California college town, a disused storage yard becomes, for a small group of kids, the magical Land of Egypt, “a land of mystery and mud.”

There, in imaginative half-play/half-seriousness, they enact rites for the ancient gods of the Nile.

Then unexpected things begin to happen.


Illuminated by Anton Raible's charming drawings, The Egypt Game tells a large-hearted tale of the lived imagination. It has everything: likeable, flawed characters, mystery, even murder. Oh, and Halloween, too: that patronal holiday of children, which no kid's book would be complete without.

In 1973, assembling a diverse cast of White, Black, Asian, and Latino characters, as Snyder does here, was pretty radical for a children's book. Even at the time, I knew it was the Way of the Future.

And then there are the rituals.

Snyder captures, better than any other author that I know, the excitement, the mystery, the sheer joyful exuberance, of creating and enacting ritual.

You read about what the Egypt Gang does, and you know that ritual matters. You think: “I could do this too.”

So you do.


Modesty is not a pagan virtue; truth, though, is. Fifty years on, I can say truthfully that I'm one of Pagandom's ace ritualists.

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A Tale of Sexual Awakening


“I'm soooo horny! I wish you were a girl!”

Two adolescent boys, sleeping in the back of the family station wagon. In retrospect, I realize that that night could potentially have been my first shared sexual experience.

Thank Goddess, it wasn't.


Looking back, I can see that that night in the car wasn't the first time that my cousin had orchestrated the two of us into a potentially sexual situation. Though a year younger than I, he was by far the more sexually precocious of the two.

He was also—even at the time, I knew it—self-centered and immature. He would have been a terrible partner to discover sex with.

Sheltered, trained by my parents to obedient compliance, I would almost certainly have been the loser for the experience.


Instead, my ignorance, and naivete, saved me—at the time, I had no idea that sex between males was even possible—and I didn't respond to my cousin's clumsy overture, if that, indeed, is what it was.

When, years later, my first dorm-room fumblings with another guy finally flowered into sex, transmuted by the alchemy of first love, they came as magical, a revelation.

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 Peppermint Oil | NCCIH

I swear, it's the same every time I get back from a pagan festival.

Next morning, I get out of bed. I go downstairs to put the kettle on.

I get out the teapot and load the tea ball. Then I head for the back door to get a sprig of mint from the garden.

(Nothing says “Summer morning” better than fresh mint in your tea.)

Suddenly, contextual awareness kicks in.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Not so sure about "culty," though. Many--if not most--peoples with a collective sense of identity have a term for the "not-us peo
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Heard and registered. Thanks!
  • Mark Green
    Mark Green says #
    OK, this is funny. But could we [i]please[i] stop using that word (or, worse, "Muggles")? Having a down-putting term for people
  • Katie
    Katie says #
    Been there. Done that. Almost took off the T-shirt.

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