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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So, a Pagan Walks Into a Church....


Saint Eugene Icon | Etsy


So, a pagan walks into a church: a Russian Orthodox Church, to be specific.

I'm not just visiting or sightseeing. Incredibly, I'm there to venerate the icon of “Passion-bearer” St. Yevgeny Botkin.

Botkin (1865-1918) was personal physician to “Slick Nick” Romanov, the last (well, the last before Putin, anyway) tsar of Russia. He went into Siberian exile along with the royal family, and was executed with them by the Soviets in 1918.

Even in Heaven, there's inequality. The Russian Orthodox Church canonized the tsar and his family in 1981, but didn't get around to sainting the faithful servants who died with them until 2016, more than 30 years later. Jeez.

No, I'm not some sort of Christo-Pagan, or some ghoulish Romanov groupie. I'm here to honor St. Yevgeny the Physician for one reason: because his son was not just a pagan, but the father of American Paganism.

Gleb Botkin (1900-1969) managed to escape the Revolution and came (via Shanghai) to America, where he made a successful career for himself as a novelist and illustrator. He supported the (as it turns out, false) claims of Franziska Schanzkowska—AKA Anna Anderson—to be the tsar's youngest daughter, Anastasia. (Pagans have a quixotic affinity for lost causes, maybe because here in the West there's no bigger Lost Cause than paganism.) Most importantly—to me, anyway—he founded (in 1938, if you can believe it) the Long Island Church of Aphrodite, the US's first legally-recognized pagan temple.

Freshly-painted, the icon glimmers in the candlelight. The iconographer has managed to convey Botkin faithfully within the idiom of the Byzantine (both literally and figuratively) canons of stylization that govern Eastern Orthodox iconography. St. Yevgeny's face is long and serious, but a little will o' the wisp smile plays about his lips and eyes, as if he's in on the joke; his cranium bulges like an onion-dome, just as the medieval saints of Russia are usually depicted. In his right hand, he holds a spoon with which to administer medicine from the three vials in the coffered casket that he holds in his left hand: the traditional attributes and gesture of a physician in late Classical art.

They say that the dead speak all languages. I Hammer-sign myself—you can call it a cross if you want to—and bend to kiss the icon on its velvet-hung stand. Then I light my honey-wax candle and place it before the painting of the man who is, in a sense, my spiritual grandfather, or one of them at least. I kneel.

Spasiba, dyedushka,” I say. “Thanks, grandpa.”















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Tagged in: american paganism
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.


  • Jamie
    Jamie Monday, 25 October 2021

    Mr. Posch,

    My favorite quote from the judge who upheld the Church of Aphrodite's freedom of religion:

    "I guess it's better than worshipping Mary Baker Eddy." (Founder of Christian Science).

    I'd read this story before, but you're an awesome storyteller.

  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton Thursday, 28 October 2021

    Very cool. Young Gleb was lucky that the trains did not run on time in 1918, for he was on his way to join his father and the Royal Family, and had he arrived when he planned, he would have been stood up against the wall at the Ipatiev house with the rest of them. But he got away to Vladivostok, Tokyo, and New York City -- and the eventually Charlottesville, Va. A Pagan frien there whose father used to attend "Anatasia's" house parties took me on a Botkin sites tour there once.

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