Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Steven Posch

Steven Posch

Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.
What Do You Shout While Leaping a Bonfire?

Most languages have a certain number of words-without-meaning called vocables, words that are all connotation, no denotation.

Hurrah would be one such, along with its variants: hooray, etc. Any native speaker of English can tell you about hurrah. It's a cheer, signifying enthusiasm, but it doesn't really denote anything.

So how do you say “hurrah” in Witch?

No, don't huzza at me. (Huzza is the Elizabethan ancestor of modern hurrah, derivation unknown.) I'm sorry: huzza stinks of Renn Fest. It's affected, hopelessly attainted, and there's simply nothing to be done about it. Next.

Open your Books of Shadows, please. Kindly turn to the Bagabi lacha bachabe chant. Read down to the very end. There.

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500 Years of Theban

2018 marks the 500th anniversary of the first publication of the Theban script, now widely used by modern witches.

Theban first saw light in Johannes Trithemius' 1518 Polygraphia, in which he attributes the script to the legendary magus Honorius of Thebes: hence the name.

Trithemius' student Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1535) later included the alphabet in his De Occulta Philosophia (Book III, ch. 29) in 1531. From Agrippa, Theban made its way into several early 20th century popular books about the occult, and it is through these that it probably entered the the modern Craft.

Certainly it came in early on. Ronald Hutton tells me that he's seen references to Theban among Gardner's papers now in Toronto, and it was in current use in London during the early 60s. I myself became aware of the script in Paul Huson's controversial 1970 Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks, and Covens. For my money, Huson's serifed Theban is still the most elegant version of all.

And Theban does have its own weird, witchy beauty. With all due deference to my colleagues who can read it as fluently as the ABCs, it's not a practical script. The letters are too complicated, too similar in shape for general daily use. But that's all part of its—ahem—charm. And as something that a certain group of people share, it's brilliant in-group strategy. If you can read this, you must be one too.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Some years ago I was looking through an art book of ancient Greek sculpture. One statue of a horse caught my eye. It had Theban
  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer says #
    Fascinating. I hadn't heard of this script before. Just added Huson's book to my AMZN cart.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." That's from Herodotus isn't it?
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I figure that as a storyteller, it's my responsibility to tell the best stories that I can. As a historian, it's my responsibility
Crossing the River: L. M. Boston's 'An Enemy at Green Knowe'

It's a tribute to the evocative nature of the modern Craft that, even as the Craft itself was taking shape, it had already begun to influence contemporary popular literature.

Anthony Gresham has remarked on the thrill that those of us reading our way into the Craft at the time would experience when encountering these literary confirmations of what we were already knew from the “nonfiction” of the time. (I remember this experience with nostalgia myself.) Not to be overlooked, of course, is the confirmational nature offered by this cross-referencing as well. The more wide-spread the information, the more authentic it appeared.

One very early (and frequently-overlooked) example of the modern Craft's influence on contemporary popular literature is L. M. Boston's 1964 An Enemy at Green Knowe.

Boston's acclaimed Green Knowe series of young readers' books revolve around a young boy—Tolly—his great-grandmother, and an 11th-century house in Buckinghamshire called Green Knowe. (Knowe, interestingly, means “barrow” or “burial mound,” although the mound as such does not figure into the books.) The series is beautifully-written, subtle, and filled with magic, featuring the young hero's encounters with previous inhabitants of the house, so delicately drawn that one can hardly call them ghosts.

Although magic figures in all the books, it comes to the forefront in An Enemy at Green Knowe.

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Mother Cairn

Hey, let's build a cairn.

It will be a shrine, a place for the Mother. Everybody honors her. Well, they do if they have any sense.

To seed it, we'll bury her little image beneath where the cairn will rise. It will have to be a beautiful image, precious, enough to hurt. That's what makes it a worthy offering, a foundation.

Then we'll heap on the stones: small stones, each the size of a fist. We'll start with a small cairn, maybe a couple of feet high, but big enough to seed what comes after. And through the years it will grow.

A cairn is the ultimate in democratic architecture. Anyone can bring a stone and leave it. You'll place your stone, and then there will be something of you there forever, part of this thing that we're doing together down the years.

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Heinlein once wrote that the secret to creating a proper English lawn is, "roll it and seed it for 600 years." Reading this stor

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Is There a Witch Culture?

Do contemporary witches have a culture of our own?

I would contend that we do.

Culture: the totality of transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and other products of human work and thought characteristic of a community or population.

I would contend that as witches, we're a people, or at least a people-in-the-making. (Look at the past: these things happen all the time.) As such, we have our own culture, whether or not we're fully aware of it yet.

True, our historic culture has not come down to us intact. That's why it's so important to be willing to learn from other people's wisdom. That's why it's so important, when we're borrowing, not simply to take from someone and somewhere else and plunk it down whole and all in our midst. That's why, when we borrow a story, a trope, or a way of doing from someone else, we need first to translate it into Witch.

That's why it's not enough to say (for instance): Yemayá.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I remember well that frisson, Anthony. Mine came while reading L. M. Boston's Enemy at Green Knowe, from her series of teen novels
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I remember when I first read "The Horned Crown" by Andre Norton. The author used stuff I was reading in the witchcraft books from

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Witches' History Month

If one were to pick a Witches' History Month, which month would it be?

To pose the question is to know the answer.

Obviously, Witches' History Month has to be October, right?

So, there it is. October = National Witches' History Month.

As we will, so mote it be.

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    The cartoon reminds me that Gardner operated a Witchcraft Museum. Maybe someday it will return somewhere.

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Dark Light

There's a phenomenon of pagan ritual that I've noticed again and again down through the years.

I'll call it the “dark light.”

The pagan calendar (day begins at sundown) and pagan schedules (most of us work day jobs) being what they are, we do a lot of our ritual at night. This means that we do much of our ritual by firelight.

Bonfires, candlelight, torchlight. Which is it to say that, by the usual electric-lit 21st century standards, there isn't very much light.

And yet consistently, again and again, as I think back to any given ritual, I find myself remembering more light than could possibly have been there.

But it's not just a matter of memory. In ritual, colors are brighter. Bodies, faces, things seem to glow as if from within, transfigured.

I think of the Grand Sabbat. Cross-legged up there on his altar, the Horned glows, I swear it. I swear it. He's lambent: the light comes from Him.

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Call me old fashioned. The taper candles are to hold for reading text or ritual script. I don't care if the newer members prefer

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