Steven Posch’s Radio Paganistan: Folktales of the Urban Witches

cover art for Radio PaganistanThe stories in Radio Paganistan were “recorded live at the fullness of the Hunter’s Moon 2002, by the enchanted garden, near the waters of Mississippi, West Paganistan.” I think that should tell you pretty much all you need to know to decide whether to continue reading or not.

Now that those who aren’t up for it have left us, here’s the deal on the album. The first two stories, “The Three Gifts” and “Moon, Loon and the Neckring” sound as if they come from the same traditional sources as any of the millions of legends and folktales that explain the origins of things all over the world, but especially in First Nations’ cultures. In the first tale we find out about Minnesota’s 10,000 (or so) lakes, the birch tree, and red pipestone. The latter is clotted “moonbloods.” I’m glad I don’t smoke; I wouldn’t want to put that in my mouth! The second tells us how the loon earned the ring of silvery feathers round his neck.

“The Bride of the Forest” sounds much more European, a tale of a bad bargain that turns out to everyone’s satisfaction after all. To me, “If the People Keep Samhain, Samhain Will Keep the People” sounds like a First Nation’s tale set in Europe. “Witch’s Work is Turning the Wheel” is a short poem about the structure of the universe, where “the only constant is constant change.” As for the witch, she “is the agent of change,” keeping the whole thing wobbling along.

“Descent of Anat: A Hanukashpiel” is a rather different explanation of the origins of Hanukah than the one most people have heard, taking it back to the time of the Canaanite gods and goddesses.

The album ends with a series of songs and tales devoted to Mother Berhta. The first song, “Her Name is Mother Berhta,” has a lovely catchy Israeli-sounding tune, while “Mother Berhta’s Coming to Town” is a jazzy riff on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Posch calls it the lounge version.

The first of the two stories dealing with Mother Berhta tells about her traditional Yuletide arrival, and about the boy who broke a bone of her faithful Gnasher Skeggi, crippling the goat. Mother Berhta is not the forgiving type, and the boy gets what he deserves. Indeed, that is her trademark: she brings you for Yule not what you ask for, but what you deserve. “How Winter Came to Minnesota” has a few temporal paradoxes, telling as it does of a thoroughly modern Minnesota where the temperature never drops below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The only fly in the ointment is the vampire mosquitoes, and guess who is the only deity tough enough to vanquish them? Mother B herself, of course — and again she exacts a price.

The liner notes explain how Minneapolis has come to be the Pagan heartland of the USA, and how Steven Posch came to be there. They also tell how he came to write the stories, songs and poems. The illustrations run from very old woodcuts to photos of a shirtless man in a mask (presumably Posch), and one photo of him with his shirt and without the mask.

Steven Posch uses many traditional storytelling techniques to good effect on this album, especially rhythm and repetition, the best examples of which are in “The Three Gifts” and “Descent of Anat.” The latter also uses the “in-joke aside,” sarcastic comparisons between the behaviour of the Canaanite deities and that of modern residents of the Middle East. All the stories end with: “That is the end of the story. That is the beginning of the story. So let us now all say, ‘So mote it be’.” The audience chimes in on the “So mote it be.”

Steven Posch’s Web site pretty much consists of the liner notes for Radio Paganistan. Omnium can be found here.

So is Radio Paganistan worth a listen? As always, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re a Pagan looking for religious enlightenment, Posch readily admits that his stories are all original to him, not at all something passed down from the Elders, and so they may not be any more enlightening than any other religious fiction. If you’re interested in modern folktales influenced by many cultures, enjoy!

(Omnium Records, 2005)

Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don't always. It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we've done.

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