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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Intimations of Emergence: When Pottery Speaks

The clay bowl on the coffee table could be in a museum, but it isn't.

What the potter in what is now Ukraine who, some 5500 years ago, painted the swirling designs on its surface, meant by them, we do do know. Possibly, nothing at all.

But when you look closely at the patterns, that's hard to believe.

This evocative bowl is an artifact of a remarkable culture known after the “type site” as Trypillian. (Named for the Ukrainian village nearest the original digging site, the word—appropriately enough—means “Three Fields.”) This is one of those glittering Old European cultures made famous in the English-speaking world by Lithuanian archaeologist (and feminist ideologue) Marija Gimbutas.

During the course of her career, Gimbutas handled thousands upon thousands of painted ceramics like this little bowl. She was convinced that the designs not only bore meaning to their makers, but that we can—to some degree, at least—read them today.

Hold this little clay bowl in your hands. Look closely. What do you see? Yonis? Buds? Antlers? Paired chrysalises? A butterfly? A woman, arms upraised?

Perhaps. Certainly, the curvilinearity of the lines produces a powerful sense of motion, motion paradoxically paired with stillness. (These are, after all, painted lines on a ceramic surface.) The moving lines contrast with the central unpainted circle. Are the lines, existence, emerging from this nothingness, or returning to it? Or both, simultaneously, cyclically, round as the paradoxical central boss that both exists and does not exist, round as the bowl itself, as the design painted on it, a circle as existence itself is a circle?




Turn the bowl over. The swirling movement of emergence continues beneath: roots, perhaps, reaching down. As above, so below.

Even if these designs meant, and mean, nothing, they look as if they bear meaning. Being human, of course, we search within ourselves to find what that meaning might be.

And that fact, in itself, bears meaning.

The ancestors are not silent. The ancestors are speaking to us today. They are speaking to you now, as you read this.

Only listen.






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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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