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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Which Came First, the Marshmallow or the Peep?

I can remember my first theological debate. I was 7.

It was spring. My friend Mary Chris contended that Lent is called Lent because that's when you eat lentils. The Stepanoviches were Serbian Orthodox, and ate lots of lentils during Lent.

Clearly, there was a larger principle at stake here. To me, it seemed ridiculous that the larger thing should be named for the smaller. My automatic contrarian position was that lentils are named for Lent because that's when you eat them. (Not that anyone in my family ate lentils during—or even observed—Lent, mind you. But growing up in Pittsburgh, everyone knows what Lent is.)

Lent derives from the Old English word for “spring,” when the days lengthen. Had Harold won at Hastings, our four seasons today might be Winter, Lent, Summer, and Harvest.

Lentil is the diminutive of Latin lens, which meant “lentil.” (A lens, of course, is named for its lentil-like shape.) As we've been eating lentils for the last 12,000 years or so—since the end of the last Ice Age—it's not surprising that they should have their own name.

The words are unrelated. As in so many theological debates, it turns out that we were both wrong.


So, how do you tell the Pagans from the Christians?


Not hard: for Christians, first comes Lent, then Easter.

For Pagans, it's the other way around.

Happy Lent, folks. It's a fine old pagan season.






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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.


  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Monday, 23 March 2015

    Growing up in a Xtian household, albeit both Roman Catholic and Methodist, we did observe Lent for my Catholic dad, and I never even heard of a lentil when I was a kid. We ate a lot of fish, eggs, and cheese during Lent.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 24 March 2015

    My parents were both children of the Great Depression, so I never discovered the Joy of Legumes until I became vegetarian at 18. Now I eat them every day. And 'round the Wheel doth turn.

    It does strike me that Fasting is a tool/technique/discipline much under-utilized in contemporary pagan practice. How fortunate we are--unlike the vast majority of humanity throughout history--to be the Children of Plenty.

  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Tuesday, 24 March 2015

    My parents were Great Depression survivors as well, and they never let us forget it. My dad was a farmer, specializing in tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. During the recession of the 1950s, we had those three veggies in every conceivable form. Every single night, one or more of those three veggies, plus other fresh things like corn traded with other growers. Today I can rarely find good Jersey tomatoes or any other tasty tomato, and unfortunately I don't live in a place where I can grow our own. I dislike bell peppers from over-exposure at that time, but still love good tomatoes, 'good' being the operative word. Not dry and cardboardy, not with skin as tough as leather. Rather, like the ones I used to plant and pick in the fields, warm from the sun, juices running down my face.

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