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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When the New Gods Fail

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

The 1860s in Sweden saw a disastrous series of failed harvests.

The good farmers of Tisselskog, Dalsland repeatedly went to church and pleaded for divine assistance, but none, apparently, was forthcoming. Each subsequent harvest was worse than the one before.

What do you do when the new gods fail you?

Of course, you turn to the old.


Tisselskog is home to one of west Sweden's richest collections of Bronze Age rock art. More than 50 rock panels are covered with thousands of carvings of footprints, warriors, Sun wheels, and ships. Common also is the cupmark, known rather more poetically in Swedish as an älvkvarn, an “elf-quern” or “elf-mill.” Those who wished, in the skald Sighvatr Þórðarson's words, to “offer to the elves” would place their offerings—milk, a coin, a little smeared fat—in one of these elf-querns.

Among Tisselskog's carved rocks is one panel covered with cupmarks. Here, in this time of need, a young man and woman publicly made love while the farmers of the area gathered around them to witness. The youth's semen was collected and mixed with seed in one of the elf-querns (Bojs 295).


An ancient rite, remembered, or a new one, born of need? Likely the latter, but it's impossible to know. One wonders about the social dynamics of such actions in 1860s Sweden. Who were the young man and woman? Were they a couple? Who collected the semen? How did people treat them afterwards? There's a rich story here, just waiting to be told.


This much we can say: from then on, harvests began to improve.


Above: “Great Marriage” (?)

Bohuslän, Sweden

ca. 1000 bce


Karin Bojs, My European Family: The First 54,000 Years (2017). Bloomsbury: Sigma.






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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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