"We Are Not Yet the Pagans We Need to Become": An Interview with Steven Posch

I met my friend and teacher, Steven Posch at a Pagan gathering in 1999.  Steven lives on the bleeding edge of Pagan theological discourse, and is one of the best-kept secrets of our religion.  His revised book, Lost Gods of the Witches, will be in print this Summer.

When did you “become” a Pagan?
Oh, I’ve always been pagan. Your quotation marks capture the idea perfectly: all human beings are born pagan. Whenever we’re left to our own devices, to figure out who we are and how we are in the world, who we are and what we do is by definition pagan. Everyone is born pagan; anything else, one needs to be made into.
What books do you think all Pagans should read?
For years I’ve been telling people, “You can learn everything you need to know about
paganism by reading the novels of Mary Renault and Rosemary Sutcliff.” How to think
like a pagan, how to do good ritual, what paganism looks like from the inside….It’s all right there. Especially Sutcliff. What Mary Renault was to Classical Greece, Rosemary Sutcliff was to ancient Britain. Her Arthurian novel, Sword at Sunset, has the single best literary portrayal of the witches’ sabbat that I know of, recontextualized to Dark Age Britain in an utterly convincing manner. Absolutely amazing. Anyone that loves the Horned One simply must read Nigel Jackson’s Masks of
Misrule, the single best book there is about the god of the witches. And as for Herself, well, you can’t do better than Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. It’s a prophetic book,and I mean that literally. An easy book, no. But if I had to pick 13 books to take with me to the desert island White Goddess would be on the list. Near the top, in fact. As for the rest…well, there shouldn’t be a pagan bookshelf in America—oranywhere else for that matter—without books about the local flora, fauna, and birds. All real paganism is by definition local.

Do you belong to a coven? Tell us more, if you can.
Last autumn evenday (=equinox) my group Prodea celebrated its 30th anniversary. The
three founding members—Magenta Griffith, Kay Schoenwetter, and myself—are still
actively engaged; there are 8 of us altogether. After 30 years together, we’ve basically become our own Fam Trad. We started off way back when as the Brash Young Things in town that shocked the Old Guard traditionalists because we didn’t cast circles, call quarters, or believe in male-female polarity, but we still got our share of grudging respect for the quality of our work. Now we’ve become one of the Grand Old Groups of Paganistan. Ah, life and its little ironies. I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoy showing us off to visitors. After three decades together, we’ve accumulated a vast repertoire of songs, stories, rituals, traditions, foods,
customs. We’re culture-rich, something for which there’s a great hunger in the pagan
community right now. I’ve even started to see the down side of tradition. With so much 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.
How do you think the Paganism of the 80’s compares to paganism of the “Now”?
Sometimes I feel a little nostalgic for those days, I admit. We were completely on fire with it all; it all seemed so new and daring, so world-changing. (Myself, I still feel that way, but collectively I think we’ve come to take things largely for granted.) Back then we were convinced that we were going to transform everything, to take over the world. And lo and behold, 30-odd years on, we actually have taken over the world. The culture-wars have been won, and we’ve won them; the rightist backlash is all rear-guard action now, to be sure. They’ve already lost, and they know it.
Paganism has changed a lot since then; in many ways, we’ve finally started to
grow up, thank the Goddess. Lately the pagan intelligentsia has actually been talking
about issues of “authenticity”; I’m so proud that we’ve reached the point at which we can have an honest conversation on such a topic. Still, it sometimes annoys me that we’ve become so blasted wholesome. Last November a friend sent me Starhawk’s Samhain-for-cowans essay, all meditation and profound spiritual experiences. I thought, Ye gods, whatever happened to schmeering on the dwale, flying off to the Bald Mountain, and (can I say this in a family blog?) s***ing the Devil’s hairy c*** until the rooster crows? Now that’s what I call real witchin’.

Tell me about the Old Gods.
Well, back in the springtime of things, when Earth was a girl, she couldn’t decide which she loved better, Sun or Storm. So she took them both to husband. Twin sons to twin fathers she bore: Plant and Animal, the Green God and the Red, him we call the Horned One. They both fell in love with Moon, and when Old Hornie died (but that’s another story) they say she went down into death after him. Then when she came back she was pregnant, and that’s where our kind comes from, the witches. Oh yeah, and then there’s Sea, of course, and the Winds, and Fire—the old people say he’s the youngest of them all, and—well, that’s just the Really Big Ones. Then there’s River and Mountain and…. Witch mythology is just as rich as any of the other great mythologies: Greek, Hindu, Yoruba. Did you know that the Craft has a sacred mountain, our version of Mt. Olympos or Kailash? Did you know that the witches’ god has green eyes? (“Old Emerald Eyes” they call him.) Why is the traditional witch’s necklace made from amber and jet? Why do athames have black handles? It’s all right there in the Received Tradition: veritable treasure-trove for those willing to hunt it out.You shouldn’t have to read books to know about the gods. In fact, we all already know them; we cannot not know them. The Old Gods are the ones our ancestors used worship, way back when, and that’s true regardless of who your ancestors were or where they came from. Already long ago, the Old Gods had started to be elbowed into the background by Younger Gods—gods of war, goddesses of love—but they’ve never gone away (how could they?), and they’re still there, freely accessible to us all. To be sure, they’re the Greater Powers: they’re wild, they’re scary, and they’ll never be tamed, the witches have held to them all along; that’s one reason why people feared us even back in pagan times. Wild witches, wild gods: baby, lemme at ‘em. The Old Ones hold us all together across tribes, across traditions. The Younger
Gods by their very nature vary from tradition to tradition, but the Old Gods we all have in common. Hey, the Old Gods are so all-pervasive that even the monotheists worship one: Sky. A god you can’t see: go figure.

How do you think Pagan families fit in to the current Pagan culture?
Things sure have changed for the better since the old days, when there were no pagan
families and nobody raised their kids pagan. Whatever were we thinking? That said, there sure is a lot of room for improvement. The “Sunday school” model of teaching paganism doesn’t work. The best way to learn this stuff is by immersion. One doesn’t learn the Old Stuff by being lectured at in class; one learns by watching and asking questions, by participating and by taking it for granted until you meet someone else that does things differently. I hate condescending, dumbed-down “kid’s rituals.” We should be bringing the kids to the grown-up rituals. So what if they don’t understand everything they see? Maybe it will spark something in them, get them asking questions. And if our rituals are so dull that the kids are bored, then the grown-ups are probably bored, too. And if the grown-ups are bored, then the gods are probably bored too. And that means we need to rethink how we’re doing ritual and start doing something better. We need the kids to keep us honest. If we really love the Old Religions and want them to continue after us, we’ve got to engage the kids. And the very best way we can do that is to make for ourselves a pagan culture that covers all of life, and that’s so vibrant, so engaging, and so desirable that the kids will come to it and take ownership of their own accord.

Any tips for Pagan parents?
You gotta live it yourself. Pagan can’t just be what you do in circle at full Moon; it needs to be full time, 24/7/365, because you can’t gull kids. They’ll see the gap between what you say and what you do every time. Authentic paganism isn’t just a religion; it’s a culture. Kids need to grow up with the songs, the stories, the foods, the holidays. All this gives texture, richness, a sense of identity: just what everyone in America longs for. To give it to our kids, we have to have it ourselves, and if we don’t have it, it’s time to talk to someone that does. As they say, there’s no rest for the Wicca.

What do you think is the function of Pagan festivals?
Festivals are the seedbeds of the pagan cultures of the future. They’re our opportunity here-and-now to live full-time in pagan culture, and we need to take the lessons that we learn there and bring them back home with us to help us build our own local communities. On a historical note, I want to add that pagan festivals got their start right here in the Midwest. Let’s face it, America is the center of world Pagandom, and the center of American Pagandom is right here in the Midwest. The Pagan Heartland: that’s us.
What do you see in the Pagan future?
Hallmark sabbat cards. PNN. (Nobody said it was all going to be good.) In the cities,
pagan neighborhoods. Public shrines. We’re going to have holy places again, just like
they did in the Old Days. (If you don’t know where your local holy places are, it’s time to start looking.) We’re going to start raising standing stones again. I contend that pagans are actually an emergent ethnic group in the US. We won’t be a majority for the foreseeable future, but we’ll continue to exercise cultural clout in excess of our numbers because what we bring to the conversation is so different, so compelling, and so self- authenticating.
The past was pagan. Modern human beings have been around for how long? 250,000 years or so? From available evidence, we’ve been pagan that whole time. By comparison, anything else is the merest blip. Folks, the future is pagan, and the paganisms of the future are going to be based on what we do right now. That’s why we’ve got to work our butts off to get it right, and why only the very best that we can achieve is good enough. As Socrates said: If you want to understand the gods, look at
Steven Posch is the keeper of the Minnesota Ooser, and one of the Twin Cities’ foremost men-in-black.

Author: thewitchmama

Melanie Elizabeth Hexen is a midwife, regionally famous bellydancer, homeschooling mother and matriarch of the Many Hands House. She has been a witch for 25 years, and her belief system is currently based on the writings of Terry Pratchett and the teachings of Steven Posch. With her coven, the Prärie Hexen, she is creating the Hexen Tradition of Witchcraft.

9 thoughts on “"We Are Not Yet the Pagans We Need to Become": An Interview with Steven Posch”

  1. Michelle, if it helps, Steven can make even pagan heads spin! I love listening to him, and I think this is the first I've read of his writing. And my head is spinning! I love what he has to say, it's making me think again, instead of taking for granted!


  2. I love Steven! I think I get to see him this weekend too! 🙂
    I am also like Melanie, a Pagan Atheist. The gods and goddesses are characteristics of humanity that we deify (to me.) I honor them as I honor humanity.
    I love Steven's view of our future! Makes me excited to erect my shrine in my yard at my new home as the ground softens again. Seems whoever had this home before may have been Pagan as well…the energies are so lovely and the shrines that seem to exist already outside are amazing…Thanks for this post! I miss you guys!!

    p.s. (for Steven) I still haven't burned the sweetgrass you gave me last year at SHF…I treasure it and just can't bear to burn it yet!


  3. I want to know how you folks are claiming to be Pagans and Atheists when Atheists don't believe in anything at all, except Science.. Paganism isn't a religion, there is no doctrine or anything. It's an umbrella term for different pathways.. This man explained his, don't attack his words because he believes in something you don't. That is precisely what Paganism is about, being your spiritual self. And if you cant accept people being different than you, then how can you possibly call yourself a Pagan? A real Pagan is someone who overlook differences, but all share the same basic spiritual connections. Seems to me that you people cannot overlook anything and are very arrogant.


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