How do you say that in Witch? An Interview with Culture Builder of Paganistan Steven Posch
Many of us American Pagans have heard of the fabled land of Paganistan, otherwise known as the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota covering thirteen immediate counties. It has a very diverse and active Pagan community. I have been encouraged to interview Steven Posch who seems to wear a variety of hats as scholar, ritualist, poet, philosopher, storyteller, but who personally prefers to be known as Culture Builder. It sounded interesting and he was agreeable to being interviewed!
Christopher: Could you give us a bit of background about your life and where you were raised?
Steven: You mean how I was raised in the forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer?
OK, that’s the mythic narrative. (True, though, so far as it goes.) Generally I’m a strong proponent of keeping mythic history and historic history on their respective sides of the hedge, but as always those interstices where the two overlap are regions of great creative and emotive power. Every life is lived myth. My people came Over the Water, mostly from the Germanies and the old Hwicce tribal territories in the central English Midlands, at the turn of the 20th to work the mills in Pittsburgh, and that’s where I was born and grew up. It’s an amazing landscape, worn old mountains covered with third- and fourth-growth broad-leaf forest, even in the heart of the city itself. Wherever you turn, there’s constantly a new vista opening up before your eyes. Once I started to read, I found that the books said the same things that the hills, woods, and creeks did. I grew up by choice on a steady diet of Rosemary Sutcliff. She knew her Murray and Lethbridge and her novels are rich in the Old Stuff. In addition, nearly all her stories revolve around a strong emotional (and often, between the lines, sexual) bonding between two men. Strong brew for a little pre-gay kid growing up in 1960s Steeltown. I still pour to her every year at Samhain – not all ancestors are the physical kind – and I’d still contend you can learn most of what you need to know about paganism by reading her books.
Then the hormones came to a boil, and I fell in love with the three men who would shape the rest of my life. Fred Adams of Feraferia gave me pagan living. Robert Graves gave me the Goddess. And Tony Kelly of the Pagan Movement in Britain and Ireland taught me how to think in Pagan and how to do ritual.
And by then, of course, I was going out to the woods and Doing.
Christopher: How and when did you came to be Pagan? I recall reading that you were dedicated to ol’ Horny at sixteen in the woods. Care to tell us a bit about that?
Steven: The Old Buck was certainly not what I was expecting. At the time I was entirely in love with Herself (weren’t we all back then?) and he came along as something of an interloper. That’s him all over, horning his way in where he’s neither wanted nor welcome. Not a tame Lion, no.
As regards the blooding itself, let me answer with a poem. The imaginative sitz im leben here is an old man talking to his grandson, but the story’s the same, the classic crossroads scenario.
You go down to the woods,
you give what’s to be given.
You dance, he marks you,
and you’re his.
And he, of course, is yours.
Well, that’s the meat of it, lad:
some things are not for telling.
© Steven Posch
Stigma is Greek for “mark” (as in “…of the Beast”) and so implies the unholy, but it’s also the singular of stigmata, with its associations of sanctity. The which both fit Himself like the proverbial cat-skin glove—left hand and right respectively, I suppose.
Since then I’ve had those initiations where they anoint you with wine and oil, present you to the four walls of the living room, and proclaim you a member of the tribe. That’s all very well, but for my money, there’s nothing like the real thing, down and dirty in the woods. Witching’s gritty business, hoof to horns.
If the standard model holds true, I suppose some stormy night he’ll turn up at the Old Warlocks’ Home on his black stallion (these days maybe it’ll be a black Porsche) and carry me off screaming into the night. Although they say that as an old man Thomas Rhymer was talking with friends one day when someone came rushing in and said “You’ve got to come see this: there’s a big old stag just sauntering down the High Street as if he owns it!” Thomas gets up and says, “Ah, that’ll be for me.” He puts on his cap, bids farewell to his friends, and follows the stag out of town and up to an elf mound. The mound opens up, they both go in, and the mound closes up again. Hail and farewell, Thomas Rhymer.
Here in Minnesota we’ve got more than 10,000 mounds, they say, just like in the Old Country. So we’ll see. All life is lived myth.
One final reflection. Back when the only books were Leek and Holzer, they all said: Thou mayst not do this stuff alone. But of course that never stopped any of us in those days. If anything, it encouraged us, and I’d say we’re the stronger for it. I used to go down to the woods, build the fire, and make the magic; and it was the real thing, sure enough. And now, forty years on, I still go down to the woods, build the fire, and make the magic. And it’s still the real thing. And of course I’ve still got the Mark.
Christopher: So how did you end up in Paganistan? How did it get that name?
Steven: “And to the republic where witches dance….” I left the “hills and hollers” of Pennsylvania for the rolling oak savannas of southern Minnesota in ’77, ostensibly for grad school; in reality, I was emigrating to Pagan Zion, the land of sage and sweetgrass, tobacco and cedar.
Our kind are thick on the ground here. On May Day Sunday 25,000 people dance down Bloomington Avenue to honor the coming of Summer. We’ve got our own Pagan Community Center here, for gods’ sakes (chronically underfunded, of course: pagans are pagans). Not that we haven’t had our share of witch wars and the like over the years, but for a variety of reasons this community has managed to develop and maintain a collective sense of shared identity, endeavor, and momentum. For more on the theory and practice of Paganistan, check out my essay “Witch City, Pagan Nation,” which I wrote originally for my 2001 story album Radio Paganistan: Folktales of the Urban Witches.
As for the name Paganistan, I coined it myself back the the early 90s, a loan-translation of Kafiristan, the pre-jihad name for the wild western region of Afghanistan, which managed to hold on to its ancestral polytheisms well into the 1890s. I initially coined the word as a joke. That the community has taken it up both delights and amuses me. There are actually Paganistan postcards for sale at the local witch stores now. Im tirtsu, ein zo aggada: “If you will it, it’s no fantasy.”
We have it from our mothers,
and they from their mothers’ mothers,
that on the point above where
the Minnesota joins the Mississippi—
Fort Snelling stands there now—
there used to be a fire-ground where
folks would go to dance on nights
when the moon was full: red, white,
black folks all together. Somewhere
beneath the fort, they say (the exact
location is lost) lies the big red rock
where the Bison Man would sit
to watch the dancing when he presided
at these sabbats. Someday we will
find this rock again, and when we do,
we will know it is the right one
by the pair of gently rounded cupmarks
on the top, marking the place
where his testicles used to rest.
© Steven Posch
Christopher: How did Prodea come to be and why did it get the reputation of being the bad Witch group? Why did it get grudging respect over time?
Steven: At 32-going-on-33 years old, Prodea isn’t even the oldest continuously-operating coven in town. (To the best of my knowledge, we’re third-oldest.) Magenta Griffith was the group’s initial founder; I met both her and our other co-founder, Kay Schoenwetter, at the U of M student pagan group, and together we started Prodea in what Rosemary Edghill calls “the glorious autumn of ’79.” (As Terry Pratchett observes, “It takes three witches to make a coven. Two witches is just an argument.”)
We started off as the Brash Young Things that shocked the Old Guard traditionalists because we didn’t cast circles, call quarters, or line up boy-girl-boy-girl. The local white-lighters got their necks up because we burned Jesse Helms in effigy the year he tried to strip all witch organizations of tax-exempt status. “Black magic!” they cried. Well, the Helms amendment went down in flames, the white-lighters have mostly moved on, and here’s Prodea still roiling along as fiercely as ever (only there are eight of us now). But even back then we got our share of grudging respect for our sincerity and the quality of our work. And lo and behold, 30-some years on the former Young Turks have become one of the Grand Old Groups of Paganistan. Irony one can taste.
With so much shared experience under our, ahh, cinctures, we’ve accumulated a vast corpus of songs, dances, stories, rituals, food-ways, natural dye-stocks for Ostara eggs. Our very best work together is characterized by structural leanness and textural density. We’re culture-rich, something for which there’s great hunger in the pagan community. I’ve even started to see the down side of tradition. With all that history behind us, it’s always easier to go with something we’ve done before that we know will work, than to take a chance on something new that may or may not work.
That doesn’t stop us, though. Now we’re the Brash Old Things.
Christopher: How did you end up getting into those areas that seem to define you now as a scholar, ritualist, poet, philosopher, and storyteller?
Steven: I’ve always been a word-guy. My academic background is all in languages and linguistics. Etymology fascinates me: every word is a story. I’ve studied enough languages to be in awe of the degree to which the language that we speak shapes our thought-world. And I’m enough a child of the 60s to think that by consciously crafting the shape of our language, we can bring new—and old—things into being.
Hence poetry, language at its most willed, its most intentional. Stylistically, I’m a lyric poet: lean, sinewy, every word just so, is the way I like it best. That’s my preferred style of ritual as well. So much contemporary pagan ritual drowns its participants in torrents of verbiage: telling us what to feel, what to think, instead of offering us an experience and letting us do our own thinking and feeling. In ritual I prefer to keep the words to a minimum. Then what words you do use have maximal impact.
I tend to think of religion as language, a vocabulary of metaphors by which we describe to ourselves this many-colored world we’re part of. Myself, I’m fluent in several dialects of Wiccan, and can get by in a number of varieties of Pagan and Heathen as well. Here at home, though, it’s Old Craft that’s nearest the heart and tongue.
When you’re learning a language there’s a breakthrough point at which you begin to be able to think in the new language instead of just translating everything piecemeal from your mother tongue. That’s what I mean by speaking (and thinking) in Pagan. Much of what passes for Pagan these days is actually a bad translation into Pagan of some variety of Natal Monotheism or, worse, Pop Culture. The words may be Pagan, but the ideas aren’t.
That’s where philosophy comes in: what does it mean to think in Pagan? To speak from a worldview that’s pagan from the ground up, not pagan-by-contrast-with-something-else? A worldview whose very premises are pagan? After doing this stuff for 40-odd years now, I feel that I’m finally beginning to have some grasp of First Principles, the theoretical physics of pagan practice. The paganisms have always been grounded in experience, and that’s the way it should be. But if we stop at experience instead of proceeding to analysis as well, what right do we have to call ourselves “wise”? As usual, Sokrates had the right of it with his quip about the unexamined life.
Christopher: Yet you prefer to be known as a Culture Builder. How do you define that term and why does the Pagan community need one, or more?
Steven: I wouldn’t say that I “prefer” the term; it’s just a useful catch-all in which to carry much of what I do. It’s certainly not my most felicitous metaphor. So let me invoke another, maybe better, metaphor.
The way they tell it around here, two brothers fell in love with the same woman. She favored the younger, and in a fit of rage the elder brother killed him, hacked his body into pieces, and threw them into the river. It so happens that this woman was a witch, so she paddled up and down the Mississippi singing her spells, and in the end she managed to find his whole body. Well, not quite the whole body, since his dick got eaten by a catfish. (If you’ve ever wondered why people eat catfish at Beltane, that’s why.) So she carved him a new dick from a cottonwood root, and then she put all the pieces back together. She breathed the life back into him long enough for one last loving. Then she buried him. But out of that one last loving she got a child and they say that’s where this whole line of river-witches comes from.
You know the story, of course. It’s an anthropological truism that when people travel they take their mythologies with them, and in time those mythologies naturalize. That’s the job of our generation of new pagans. What D. H. Lawrence calls Isis in Search is the perfect metaphor for us, because the old ways that we love were broken and scattered, and so we’ve got to patiently, patiently gather up all their sundered pieces and, with the very greatest magic we can muster, breath life back into them. But of course, as always, the part that gives union, the part that gives ecstasy and sires new life: that part we have to craft for ourselves from what we’ve got to hand. And it’s not just lore-meisters like me that have got to do this. It’s something required of us all, each of us doing the detail work for our own lives.
I’ve come across an interesting trope among elders of the Elder Paganries, those who have never lost their ancestral ways. What intrigues me most is that I hear the same idea from different elders in different places: Africa, North and South America, Australia. They all agree that if the Old Ways were (gods forbid) to come to an end, the world would die. (Read ecologically, I actually find this idea very convincing.) That’s why it’s so important to maintain the ancestral ways.
The clincher is that all it takes is one. As long as there’s even one person left who holds true to the Old Ways, that will be enough. Just one. And who is that one person? Well, of course, it’s you. It’s me. It’s each of us, acting on our own behalf for the life of what we love. For the life of the world. OK, end of sermon.
Christopher: Do you consider that most of witches’ chosen gods are bit too civilized and far too human-like? What do you mean by the Elder Gods?
Steven: “Civilized,” hmm. Let me say “safe.” Let me say “sanitized.” We’ve gotten so accustomed to our comfortable man-sized, man-shaped gods and goddesses, all neatly paired off in nice suburban heterosexual couples, that we bid hither and thither like domestic staff whenever it suits us. We think of them as parts of ourselves. “I work with such-and-so,” we say, thus reducing our gods to the status of co-workers. We’ve forgotten what Rosemary Sutcliff calls “the Splendor and the Terror.” (Or maybe—the black shame and sorrow of it—we’ve never even known it.) Look at the old pantheons, look at nature. It’s all so much deeper, so much darker, so much more interesting.
Enter the Old Gods, the Elder Gods, the permanent gods of the witches. Of humanity, really. These are the nature powers: wild, untamed and untamable. The far-side-of-the hedge ones.
Unlike what I would call the Younger Gods, they’re not anthropomorphic, they’re not archetypes, they don’t take birth from our minds.
As Bruner Soderberg has observed, they were here before we were, they gave rise to us, and they’ll be here long after we’re gone. Every single one of us knows them and lives in real relationship with them, whether we pay attention to it or not. We cannot not know them.
By their nature the Younger Gods vary from pantheon to pantheon, but the Old Gods turn up pretty much everywhere, and they’re everywhere busily engaged in their own very real relationships with one another, and with us.
We can describe these beings and their relationships scientifically, but we can also articulate them in story, and that’s mythology. Their presence gives a depth coherence and an internal consistency to the otherwise pastiche nature of much modern paganism, and they are the rightful inheritance of all of us, regardless of who we are, where we live, or where our people come from.
The Old Ones may well have been elbowed into the background by Younger, made-in-our-own-image Gods, but there they are: real existing beings, full of power, wisdom, and presence. Who are they?
Each of us knows them intimately
already, being the ground of every birth:
Earth, mighty mother of us all;
Sun, splendid in royal self-immolation;
Moon, queen of witches,
threefold mistress of fate;
Storm, called Thunder by the ancestors;
Sea, the fish-tailed lady of the deep;
the winged Winds, wide-faring;
Fire, youngest elder, fallen from heaven;
the Horned One, master of animals
—ourselves among them
—and the Green his firstborn brother,
lord of leaf and tendril.
These themselves are they,
© Steven Posch
These, of course, are the Greater Powers among them. Look around you and you’ll see plenty of others: river and mountain, waterfall, spring, and lake. This boulder, that tree. They neither need nor want our belief, but they’re real as real, and we cannot live without them. We are all already in relationship with them; the witch’s duty is to make it a mindful relationship. It’s truly, as John Michael Greer has said, “a world full of gods.”
Christopher: In “How Do You Say That in Witch?” The Much-Vexed Problem of Cultural Appropriation you compare what Witches often do and what they might do instead in learning from other cultures’ views of the gods. Could you give us an explanation about how you see it and what we might gain by this?
Steven: If there had indeed been pagans of our ilk in Europe during the Hidden Years, and if those old paganisms had managed to survive in backwaters here and there, and if they had undergone the usual kinds of culture loss and internal innovation, and if the old ways had been influenced as one would expect by the new religion, and if those ways had managed to survive into modern times, and if our ancestors had brought those ways with them to the New World in their heads, hearts, and steamer trunks, and if those ways had become naturalized to the local weather patterns, vegetation and wildlife, and if those ways had been influenced by the lore of the indigenous peoples, and of other incomers, and if those ways had survived industrialization and the Wars, and if they had managed to come down intact to us today in the second decade of the so-called twenty-first century: then what would our paganism look like?
That, ideally, is what we’re aiming for. It’s a colossal work of collective imagination and heroic research, but that’s what we need to be doing, folks, and we all need to be doing it. As the proverb goes, a witch’s work is never done.
Macha Nightmare has remarked to me numerous times that Midwestern paganism has a “regional” feel to it that she finds lacking elsewhere. She’s far more widely-traveled in the pagan world than I am, but this tallies with my own experience. In the various on-line pagan lists I’ve been part of over the years, I’ve noticed that one can rarely tell from people’s posts where they live; it doesn’t seem to have any influence whatsoever on their paganism. That’s not right. All real paganism is by definition local, and it’s our job to make it more so.
None of the old traditions have come down to us in their entirety. None. That means that in order to flesh out what we’ve inherited, we need to look at other people’s ways and have the wisdom to learn from them.
What this does not mean is stealing other people’s stuff and plunking it down lock, stock, and bicycle into what we’re doing. This is what Paganistani anthropologist Murphy Pizza refers to as the “Ooo, Shiny!” approach: the Way of the Magpie, one might say. It is precisely this that gives so much neo-paganism—I use the term advisedly—its superficial, adolescent, “unfinished” feel. When we learn something from another culture, we need to ask instead: how does this translate into Pagan? How do I say that in Witch?
Let me embody these generalizations in a specific example. One of the great sacred places of this part of the world is the Black Hills, in what’s now South Dakota. Is it cultural appropriation for the Hills to enter our pagan lore? Gods, no; if we’re to become the pagans that we need to be, it’s got to happen. The Black Hills are sacred to all the indigenous local peoples: the Kiowa, Arapaho, Ute, Commanche—there are plenty of others—as well as the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota. They all tell different stories about why the Hills are sacred, but they all go there to do their sacred work. Pagans need to step into the circle. But we can’t do so honestly by stealing the Lakota stories, or anyone else’s, although we do need to know them, respect them, and be informed by them. We need to tell our own stories, just like everyone else, so we look for analogies in our own Received Tradition.
For witches, the answer is quite clear. Back in Europe virtually every area had its local Sabbat Mount (many, interestingly, known as the Black Mountain) where the witches are said to go for their broomstick jamborees. America is no different. Where there are witches, there are Sabbat Mounts. OK, so that’s where you go if you want to meet up with the God of Witches, great. (He’ll probably have the head of a buffalo when you do meet him but hey, local coloration is him all over.) Then we need to start having sabbats there, real ones. And the new stories will grow from there, and in their turn become part of the Received Tradition.
Near Baraboo, Wisconsin, there’s a 1000-year-old effigy mound in the shape of—hang onto your broomsticks—a giant man with horns. (I’m proud to say that my poem “The Long Man of Baraboo” is on the website of the county park he’s located in. At Bealtaine, he’s carpeted, literally carpeted, with white violets.
No translation necessary.
Christopher: To create a solid future for our various forms of Witchcraft, what do we need to do now and in the future in your opinion?
Steven: First, we need to set hoof to ground, and I mean this both literally and figuratively. Like other predators, a witch is by definition a territorial animal, and like all territorial animals, as Gemma Gary has observed, a witch needs to patrol her territory regularly. So we need to set down the book, turn off the computer, and go take a walk in the woods. Can you identify your local birds by their songs? Can you point to the place on the horizon where the Sun rises on the shortest day? Where is your nearest local holy place? The genius of the paganisms has always been to understand that the only way to touch the universal is through the specific. What we do needs to naturalize: it needs to put down local roots and take on local coloration.
One of my own personal touchstones for this is Hubert Davis’ amazing The Silver Bullet and Other American Witch Stories. Back in the 30s the WPA sent out-of-work writers to gather Appalachian folklore, and in this collection you can see the witch-lore of the Old Country—Scottish, mostly—naturalizing to a new landscape, new plants, new animals: in short, the creation of a genuinely American witchery. We have the opportunity to self-consciously aid and abet this process, and what we do now will shape what our people’s paganism looks like in centuries to come. How good is that? So we need to strive for excellence and teach our students to do the same.
Excellence, aret?, needs to become our highest cultural ideal, as it was for the ancients. To do this, we need to hone our critical skills, we need to be honest with ourselves, and we always need to be asking “why.” If the ritual was great, it’s not enough just to sit back and preen; we need to ask why it worked so well. Once we know why, we can put this knowledge to use to make the next ritual we do even better. And if it didn’t work so well, we need to figure out why not, so we can avoid the same pitfalls in the future. From this kind of systematic analysis, we’ll develop the art and science of rite-craft.
If I could add one cultural norm to what I see as the emergent New Pagan culture, it would be this: that nobody has a right to bitch about anything unless he’s got a suggestion about how to change the perceived problem for the better. Bruner Soderberg has created an effective critique model for use after public ritual that is based on this premise, which he was the first to articulate. How much more functional our community would be if only we could write this precept into our collective script. Recreational complaining achieves nothing if it fails to lead to discussion of alternatives. Our automatic response to bitchery needs to become: so what would you do to improve the situation?
Probably the single most important thing we can do to bring about a sustainable pagan future for those that come after us is to do the small, pragmatic, difficult work of building real, workable local communities for ourselves. This means helping people out. This means helping to support our own needy. This means making sure that our elders get their walks shoveled, their lawns mowed, and a weekly ride to the farmer’s market. It means behaving with honor, responsibility, and maturity. “Do mindfully, and own what you do.” It means being willing to work with people we don’t necessarily like towards the larger goal.
It may mean—perish the thought—laying down the witch-wars and instead learning the art of creative conflict. The good guys/bad guys scenario, omnipresent as it is in the Western world, is simply not our paradigm. Look at the Iliad, or the Mahabharata, or the Táin; who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? The question is irrelevant. Conflict is inevitable. We have to be wise enough to harness it for the collective good instead. The fine art of creative conflict is one of our people’s oldest tropes. It’s not until flint and steel strike together that they spark fire.
More tangibly, we’ve got to start dancing our prayers. When the ancestors wanted to speak to the gods, they didn’t just stand there jabbering, they danced. Who do you make your dance-prayers to? The centrality of dance to authentic pagan experience is one of GBG’s profoundest insights; that paganism is of necessity danced religion. Of course, although our dance begins with the Mill—the standard power-raising wheel-dance—it mustn’t end there. (I’ll leave out the dreaded “pagan shuffle” as unworthy of the name dance.) We need to recover our sacred dance traditions, we need this like we need air to breathe or water to drink, and as always, the Received Tradition is a good place to start: the folk-dances of Europe and America. There’s a thriving Morris Dance community here in Paganistan. (Astounds Brits no end.)
Our artists have much to say here as well, of course. After decades of work, dance historian Millicent Hodson—health and long life to her—has reconstructed that long-lost prophetic masterpiece of modern pagan dance, Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring . It’s a work of breathtaking depth, wisdom, and possibility, probably (IMNSHO) the single most important piece of new pagan art, now available to all comers on YouTube. Watch it, then get up and dance for Somebody. Then go get your friends.
Oh, and we need to start raising standing stones. Everywhere. I’m entirely serious. We need pagan facts on the ground. We need to get out of our damn living rooms and do our holy work at the local shrines, the neighborhood holy places. The ancestors had shrines everywhere, and that needs to be our goal too.
Over the years I’ve spoken with those bold pagan visionaries who want to transform society, even the whole world. Kudos to them for dreaming big. Me, I’ll be satisfied if we can manage to grow for ourselves some healthy, sustainable pagan communities to carry on the ways that we love into the future.
And if we do our jobs well here and now—although, of course, there’s no guarantee—that may well be so. Our own hard work will make it more likely.
Christopher: Where can people learn more about these subjects?
Steven: The woods. The hills. The lake. The river. The prairie. If we’re not listening to the rest of world, we’re lost.
From each other, i.e. from our peers. I’m a fool if I think I’ve got all the answers, and the best way to get out of my own head and my own habitual modes of thought is by listening to others, by thinking about what they say, and by asking questions. This means, inter alia, that I need to be willing to shut up long enough to actually hear what other people are saying. My friend Volkhvy, one of our preeminent local elders, has made the observation that what most pagans need is not so much a talking stick as a shut up now stick.
And gods know there’s a Golden Age of pagan publishing going on out there. Capall Bann, Xoanon, Three Hands Press…there’s stuff coming out now that I would literally have peddled tail to have got access to when I was first coming in. And let us not be too inward-looking: as always, non-pagans have many insights to offer. (Considering the Outsider’s view is necessary for every healthy culture; that’s what makes the witch—by definition the institutionalized outsider—such a brilliant cultural creation.)
Although in my opinion methodologically flawed, archaeologist Stephen Yeates’ work on the Tribe of the Witches has much to offer, and historian Emma Wilby’s work on familiars, and most recently on Isobel Gowdie—she’s discovered the original transcripts of the depositions—are literally ground-breaking. And don’t let’s forget the work of the ancestors. If you haven’t revisited Witch-Cult or White Goddess lately, I can guarantee you that they will richly repay time spent. As I’ve said before, we need our mythic history.
And for gods’ sakes, let’s be paying attention to what our artists are doing and saying. The gods are whispering in their ears. Let us be wise enough to listen.
Christopher: You’re the current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser. What is the ooser and what does being its keeper entail?
Steven: Talk about heritage. One of the ways in which the Old Gods interact with us is through the hallows: the sacra, the sacred objects. There’s a whole theology of the hallows, and by their very nature they require regular care and feeding. You can’t just keep them on a shelf and dust them off when you need them. It’s a matter of ongoing relationship—one could say, friendship—which, like all relationships, requires regular and careful tending, cultivation. Like its famous equivalent in Dorset, the Minnesota Ooser (rhymes with bosser, not boozer) is a carved wooden mask that the Old ‘Un wears among us, at the Grand Sabbat in particular (the sabbat, of course, being his ritual par excellence). Which horns he wears generally depends on where he is, so—Dorset being cattle country—theirs is a bull ooser; ours is stag.
It lives in a shrine here in my home, and it’s my responsibility to tend it with daily offerings and, eventually, to pass it on to my successor. It both awes and humbles me to think that if I do my job worthily, a hundred years from now he’ll likely still be here among us, wearing some other man’s body, standing up there on the altar with the constellations revolving between his antlers.
Christopher: Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know?
Steven: Let me end by extending an invitation to a ritual.
The Ancestors Had an Idiom
Last night, November Eve,
the Stag that walks on two legs
came from the woods
and stood before us,
looked us each in the eye
and no word said,
reached into his chest
and took the heart
and tore it.
He gave us and we ate.
The juice rilled down his belly
and dripped from the tip
of his cock.
Later, after the dancing,
he turned, and raising a final hand,
went back to the woods.
The ancestors had an idiom,
put your heart,
meaning to love, to trust,
believe, put faith in.
Where do you put your heart?
was musky sweet.
© Steven Posch
Artist: Steven Posch