So. You saw it. Maybe you shared it. You had a feeling something was odd. Why is the image of a stamp from the UK, you wondered? Why are no major news outlets covering this story? Why can’t I find anything on Snopes?
The Witches and Pagans website shared a short article from their website on Facebook, entitled “Postmaster Announces New Pagan Holiday Stamps.” The accompanying image was of a stamp that had been issued in the UK a few years ago, with harvest ritual imagery and the word “Lammastide” (I recall sharing the stamp image on my own Facebook page a while back). Those who had not been aware of the stamp, or did not notice the UK price (22p) might have easily believed this was a new pagan stamp design. But the article had one glaring bit of information that, to pagans of a certain age and possessed of a certain amount of media savvy, should have been a red flag that the piece was satire.
It was this sentence: “Pagans have been an integral part of this nation since its founding and before,” said Postmaster Tamar Penrose, acting head of the US Postal Service. “It’s time and high time for such a public acknowledgement.”
Now first of all, the statement itself is odd. I mean, pagans were part of our nation before its founding? How so? But leaving that strangeness aside, note the name of the “Postmaster.” Tamar Penrose is the name of the Postmistress in the Thomas Tryon novel Harvest Home, about a small town in Connecticut discovered by a contemporary New York City couple in the 1970s, where they keep the “old ways.” The novel was made into a television miniseries (“The Dark Secret of Harvest Home”) starring Bette Davis as the village matriarch who presides over strange rites, culminating in Harvest Home, a rite of sacrifice.
So, yeah, HA HA! Good one! Except the majority of people who saw the story didn’t know it was joke. The piece was shared widely on Facebook (partly due to its appearance on the popular Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans page), and slowly the excitement spread. OMG! So cool! We’re finally getting pagan stamps! Wow, I wonder if the Beltane stamps will have a maypole! WHERE CAN I GET SOME!?! Are the Lammas stamps available RIGHT NOW???
But, no. Word began to spread, and some debunking occurred (or people like me just went around bursting everyone’s bubble overtime the story appeared on my feed). Sheepish grins occurred. Some folks got real bent out of shape. I saw one post where someone was very upset and vowed to never again post any pagan-related story not from a major news site without fact-checking it first.
Okay about that…yes, fact-checking is good. But just because a story does not appear first via a major news outlet doesn’t mean it’s not legitimate, or that it won’t take on a grassroots energy by being shared. So don’t be afraid to look more deeply into something that comes from an unlikely source.
The bigger issue for me is the lack of familiarity with a book and a series that I had thought many pagans would already know and love. I mean, Harvest Home! My own coven has a series of rituals they perform every year which were partly inspired by it. (the Provider Cycle, which I have written about in a scholarly context in several books). But then, I am an elder in the community (well, not THAT old!) and came into the net-pagan movement when it was very common for people to read everything they could get their hands on, and many people had viewed the same films and loved to discuss them (The Wicker Man, for example). The mini-series was on TV when I was a kid, and once I learned there was novel I bought a copy and devoured it. It’s beautifully written and is still one of my favorite books (which is why I immediately recognized that character’s name). Go read it!
Another question we ought to be asking: why don’t we have pagan holiday stamps? At the very least, some Yuletide alternatives would be nice, for those of us who like to send cards during the winter holidays. Despite so many new stamp designs being introduced every year, the fact is that most of us simply don’t send letters or even cards as often as we used to. Would we do this more, if we had cool pagan stamps? I know I would. Maybe we can start a campaign to petition the US Post Office to design stamps along these lines for real?
In the meantime, if you do a Google search for “Pagan postage stamps,” you will find that Zazzle.com has quite a few available!