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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The Guy in the Red Suit: Pagans and Santa

A local coven just sent around the invitation to their big public Yule this year. So far as I can divine, the heart of the ritual will be an encounter with the “Guy in the Red Suit.”

Now, historically speaking, Santa is entirely a creation of Christian folklore, with no known connections to the pre-Christian world. Contemporary pagans differ in their attitudes towards this most popular—and vapid—of American folk figures.

Some pagans wholeheartedly embrace Santa, name and all, along with Yule trees, wreaths, and the rest of the (secular) Christmas package. I suspect that there's a strong element of nostalgia here. As pagans, we're so often entirely out-of-step with the overculture that, come Yule, it can come as something of a relief just to relax and go with the flow for once.

Some see Santa as a figure with pagan roots, and hence acceptable, if perhaps rechristened [sic] with a new pagan name. This is untrue, historically speaking: like the Yule tree, Santa grows out of folk Christianity. Granted this historical datum, whether or not—like the Yule tree—Santa is ultimately paganizable (now there's an adjective for you) remains a matter of opinion.

Some would reject Santa as hopelessly tainted by his Christian connections, often in favor of some other Yuletide gift-bringer: Mother Berchta, Befana, or the Yule Goat inter alia. With Brom's recent novel of the same name, Krampus has gained something of an enthusiastic following.

(In fact, all of these figures originally emerged out of Christian folklore as did Santa himself, and none of them have any traceable connection to any known pagan tradition.)

So the truly purist among us, who wish to eschew anything with a Christian taint, will probably want to reject any Yuletide Bringer of Gifts whatsoever. As I always say, purism is its own punishment.

As for the rest of us, I suspect that we'll probably opt for one of the above options instead. Myself, I live in Berchta/Yule Goat territory.

So, as for that encounter with the Guy in the Red Suit: well, thanks for doing the work—at this time of year, pagans need public things to do—and thanks for the invitation.

But I think I'll probably give it a pass.


Above: Brom, Krampus








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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.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Tuesday, 19 November 2019

    According to "Psychedelic Mystery Traditions" by Thomas Hatsis Santa didn't get stuck in a red suit until Coke used him in and advertising campaign. Before that his suites were all kinds of colors.

    I don't know where I read it but I once came across a story that the oldest version of Father Christmas was of a naked, hairy fat-man riding on a goat. This sounds like a description of Silenus to me. It seems that in some parts of the world Santa Claus is associated with drunkenness as well as gift giving. I have somehow gotten the notion that he is the spirit of the full larder in wintertime.

  • Jamie
    Jamie Tuesday, 19 November 2019

    Mr. Posch,

    Hooray for Krampus!

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