Years ago at a national gathering, there was a discussion of sky-clad versus robed in circle. Into this, local leader Burtrand stood up and said that for years in the Twin Cities, we’d had people robed and skyclad in the same circle, and it worked just fine. Those who were there have said that attendees were astounded by this. A couple years later, people on the coasts started to say that it was okay for people to work sky-clad and robed in the same circle, and it hasn’t been much of an issue since then.
This is just one of the many stories about how the Twin Cities’ Pagan community has been ahead of the curve. When people in other communities describe the next step in the growth of Paganism, much of what they describe is what the Twin Cities has right now.
This community comes together to help each other. When community elder Burtrand passed, the community came together. Steven Posch remembers, “Within 5 hours of his death, I’d had nearly 20 phone calls to pass on the news, organize a memorial service, and to make sure that his widow had food delivered, and her sidewalks shoveled. That sure sounds like community to me.”
When Ken Ra had kidney failure, the community came together with a fund raiser to help in a difficult time, and a community member donated a kidney.
When the local Pagan community center had financial problems, the community came together to raise money, and supplied the volunteers and leadership to keep the center going.
Yes, a local Pagan community center; let’s not gloss over that. Paganistan has its own community center. It’s not a back room of a metaphysical shop, or part of someone’s home, or a Pagan-friendly organization which allows local Pagans to also meet there, but a space dedicated full time as a non-profit community center for the Pagan community. At this point, no other Pagan community in the United States (and possibly the world) can make such a claim. Other communities talk about it, and plan for it, but the Twin Cities has it. Paganistanis are the innovators.
The Twin Cities Pagan community has a name; Paganistan. Its residents are therefore Paganistanis. This name actually originated at Pagan Spirit Gathering. A group of Twin Cities Pagans was camped on top of a hill and local linguist Steven Posch referred to it as Paganistan. He then took the name home and used it as a reference to the area around Powderhorn Park, where many Pagans live. In time, it came to mean the city of Minneapolis, then the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Today it is used to refer to the entire metropolitan area. There are even people well outside the metropolitan area who identify as Paganistanis.
It should be noted that not all Pagans in the Twin Cities self identify as Paganistanis or appreciate the name Paganistan. Some argue that it sounds like an immature joke, and honestly there do seem to be very few people who take the name seriously when they first hear it. Some say that it sounds too Arabic to accurately represent the demographics of the local Pagan community. There are also many Pagans in the Twin Cities who just haven’t heard the term. However, the name Paganistan is the reason why the creators of a local Pagan Conference chose the name Paganicon, many local leaders use the term Paganistan, it is a term used by many Pagan leaders around the nation when they refer to the Twin Cities Pagan community, there are many Pagans in other countries who don’t know from Minnesota but have heard of Paganistan, and there was a doctorial dissertation titled, “Paganistan: The emergence and persistence of a contemporary Pagan community in Minnesota’s Twin Cities”.
An tSruith (Reverend) Andrew Jacob from The Temple of the River said, “For all the jabs about drama, and all the various personalities in the community, the fact is that this community has made it a priority to have public meetings that aren’t just for one group or tradition. Aside from Pagan Pride once a year, there are monthly social gatherings such as the Coffee Cauldron, Asatruar moots, meetups, and all sorts of events. Some of these have been running for a very long time.” “There have certainly been times when I’ve seen standoffishness in the community, but for the most part that is overshadowed by a willingness to look beyond one’s own group. That’s a decision people make, and it starts with the leadership of the various groups. It may seem counter-intuitive, but exposing your members to other organizations actually makes your own organization stronger.”
An tSruith Jacob also noted the professionalism of the local groups, “You can run a small organization without much formal training, or structure, or budget. But to see organizations accomplish big things or work well with each other, you need community commitment and structure. People like to say they dislike organized religion, but the truth is there are good ways to organize and bad ways to organize. Being disorganized accomplishes nothing.
“For whatever reason, a fair number of Minnesota groups understand this. We could try to pin it on culture, or the number of colleges in the area, learning from other subcultures, or any other unknowable factor. But the part that’s important–the part that groups in other parts of the world can copy if they’re so inclined–is that we professionalized. Different groups have done this in different ways, and some more than others. But we like our clergy to know what they are talking about. We like our exchanges with other groups to be civil. We don’t tolerate the people who can’t handle that. And within a group, we like to see lots of communication, accountability, and planning.
“Often this means the work is spread across a number of volunteers instead of just a few overworked people. That also contributes to group survival, and the happiness of the people involved. Members feel invested but not burnt out.”
Another aspect of that professionalism, is that Twin Cities area Pagans tend to show up on time for events, something which other communities have complained is not happening. After the open house for the new location of Keys of Paradise, owner Cameron Cegelske said, “We had about 175 people show up, like 60 people in the first hour. It was packed. Kinda blew away the Pagan standard time concept”
There’s also an astounding number of active elders in Paganistan. Joseph from Magus, noted, “Here in the Twin Cities we have 4 to 5 generations of experience” Every Thursday, there is a meeting called, “Mentoring Elders.” Several groups in Paganistan have been around for over 30 years, and many more for over 20 years, with many of the founding members still holding leadership positions.
There are many theories as to why this area is so special, most of which are linked with the nature of the location.
This area has four distinct seasons, and the people who live here are extremely aware of how this impacts our lives. Noted folklorist and Volva, Kari Tauring explains, “Yes, the weather extremes in Minnesota have always contributed to the sense of community, tolerance and inter-dependence of the population here. We do not have time for ‘huppala’ as my grandmother would say. Our spiritual actions tend to be utilitarian, full of intention, and to the point. While there is in-fighting and growing pains in every community, here in Minnesota we really don’t have time to fester in these things. Our weather patterns are demanding and our spiritual purpose must be equally as disciplined. It takes incredible dedication to assemble large community at Juletide in Minnesota!
The land itself. The lakes, rivers, streams, Cold Water Spring, the convergence of ley lines, dedication to green space and environmental issues, all of these things attract and keep people whose spiritual paths are earth based. Every Minnesotan has access to nature.”
Steven Posch said, “Somehow or other the landscape here matters spiritually more than it does elsewhere, and our Paganism is more engaged with it.” He offered as proof of this, “What I have noticed over the years in my participation in numerous Pagan internet lists is that people very rarely talk about where they live, and that they very rarely mention examples or specifics from their own landscape. The founder and moderator of one of the big on-line Traditional Craft lists lives in Louisiana, but you’d never guess it from what he writes. It’s all British this and Devonshire that; he seems to be ignoring where he really lives. He’s living in diaspora. Whereas I note that Minnesotans, and Paganistanis in particular, are always talking about local stuff—often, but not always, the weather.”
Kari Tauring also credits it partly to, “A living folk soul.” She explains, “Our immigrant ancestors who collected here in the Midwest maintained many of the old ways now lost in their countries of origin. Paganism and especially Heathenry have evolved naturally out of this living folk soul. There are many more ‘Heathen oriented’ folk in the Sons of Norway groups throughout Minnesota today than are even counted. We think of ourselves not as ‘Asatru’ or ‘Heathen’ so much as just old school. In other areas of the country, these old traditions have had to be applied as academic and experimental exercises rather than a deepening of what our grandparents left us.”
Reverend Jack Green credits it to, “because we are embedded in the largest population concentration (the Twin Cities) near the Uiesnach of North America, the Omphalos of the Continent. The Center of this vast land. The power of a land radiates out from the center.”
This is an opinion mirrored by many who talk about how the Twin Cities is the closest major metropolitan area to the geographic center of the continent, has the Mississippi River (the central river of the continent) running through its center, and is on the 45th parallel which is central to the hemisphere. For whatever reason, this community has gelled in a way which few contemporary Pagan communities have, and has distinguished itself with the development of traditions.
Innovation has become one of the traditions in Paganistan. As an example, it is very rare for rituals to be repeated. Instead, rituals are constantly re-examined and approached from fresh perspectives. With this, many innovations are born such as calling elements rather than directions, Pagan prayer beads, or the two-handed pentagram.
One of the oldest traditions in the Twin Cities is that Minnesota Church of Wicca (MCoW) and the Wiccan Church of Minnesota (WiCoM) choose their leadership yearly in a lottery. With this, the organizations are constantly experiencing new leadership, which helps the organizations break out of old patterns. MnCoW andWiCoM experienced a legendary schism in 1989. But in 2009, after 20 years apart, both organizations happened to be having their meetings at the same time at the Sacred Paths Center, which led to them coming together to perform a public ritual.
As do most public rituals in Paganistan, that historic ritual ended with a potluck. Everyone brought a hotdish, and sat down to eat together after the ritual. Potlucks are part of the Paganistan tradition.
While other places are having community building seminars, Paganistanis are calling each other on speed dial to come to potlucks at their very own community center.
In most communities, event organizers feel lucky if 8 people show up for an event. In Paganistan, if 8 people show up, it’s barely worth mentioning. I remember in my travels, event organizers being thrilled if 25 people show up. In Paganistan you see at least that many at a slow Coffee Cauldron.
While other Pagans are actively rejecting the trappings of organized religion, Paganistanis are organized enough to build a Celtic temple, maintain a community center, host public gatherings consistently for decades, and even adopt a stretch of highway.
It’s clear that Paganistan is a great Pagan community.