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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Breakfast of Giantesses

The year's first favas are in, thank Goddess. It really must be spring.

Vicia faba. Broad beans. Horse beans. Windsor beans. Under their many names, they are the Original Bean, one of humanity's very oldest cultigens; we've been eating them for the past 12,000 years or so, since the end of the last Ice Age. They're the Old World's only true beans, the ones Jack sold the cow for; all the rest, incredibly, come from the New World. Fava beans.

Once long ago, they say, on the southern Mediterranean island of Gozo there lived a Giantess. One day she decided to build two houses: one for herself, and one for her daughter. She carried her daughter on her hip and the stones—I've seen them myself, and many are as big as automobiles—on her head. From these she built two beautiful big houses, one for herself, and one for her daughter. How did she manage to heft such massive stones? Well, she ate magical fava beans, of course, which gave her magical strength.

Then there came a terrible drought, and the crop of favas failed. The hungry Giantess (and presumably her daughter as well) sank down into the Earth. They are there still.

I have seen the Giantess' houses myself. Dating from circa 3600 BCE, they are among the oldest megalithic stone structures in the world, antedating the pyramids by centuries. Consisting of huge limestone slabs laid on end, the two temples—one larger, one smaller—stand side-by-side, surrounded by a massive retaining wall. The temple complex is known in the local dialect—Maltese is essentially a form of North African Arabic, but don't tell anyone from Gozo that I said so—as the Ggantija (J'gan-tee-ya), “the Giantess.”




Unlike the famous temples of Gozo's sister island, Malta, which were rediscovered only during the 19th century, Ggantija was never fully buried, and so is the only one of the old temples to have any folklore associated with it. Viewed from above, the twin temples of Ggantija do indeed bear a certain resemblance to stylized women's bodies, and it is easy to see how they might have sparked the evocative story I've told above. It seems unlikely that any real lore concerning an ancient goddess and her daughter could have survived for more than 5000 years. But one thinks of the Mother-Daughter goddesses of the ancient Mediterranean world—and, to judge by the surviving art, of the very cultures of ancient Malta and Gozo that raised the Ggantija complex—and one wonders.

The curved bays of the Ggantija temples do indeed have a feminine curve to them; in some ways, they resemble giant fava beans.* When my friend Zoa and I went to Gozo in late March of 1989, sitting on the floor of the Ggantija, we shelled and ate the season's first fava beans: delicious, earthy, and full of strength-giving protein.

We call to you, O Giantess: arise, rise up from the earth.

For lo, the favas have returned: the breakfast of giantesses.


*One ponders some sort of paradigm of gender complimentarity in the beans-and-grain protein complementarity of the Neolithic (not to mention the Frances Moore Lappé) diet. But we'll never know for sure.


For more on Ggantija:

Godwin Vella, ed., Ggantija: The Oldest Free-Standing Building in the World (2014). Valleta, Heritage Malta.

Günther Zuntz, “The Ancient Goddess: Malta and Gozo,” in Persephone: Three Essays on Religion and Thought in Magna Graecia (1971). Oxford, Clarendon.


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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.


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