Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

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Children's Song Preserves Early American Hymn to Goddess of Witches, Says Academic

AP: Boston

Was the common American children's song She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain originally a hymn to the Moon Goddess of the Witches?

A new study by historian and ethnomusicologist Stefano Pozzo, current chair of ethnomusicology at Massachusetts' prestigious Miskatonic University, suggests that this may indeed be the case.

“It's one of the great mysteries of American paidomusicology [the study of children's music],” says Pozzo. “Who is this mysterious and powerful female driving six white horses? I think that we can now say confidently that we know exactly who she is.”

In the current issue of Ethnomusicology Today, Pozzo examines the earliest surviving texts of the song to present his case.

She'll be coming' round the mountain when she comes,” he writes, “Could one ask for a clearer image of moonrise?”

According to Pozzo, when 17th century British witches fled to the New World to escape religious persecution, they brought their immemorial devotion to the Moon along with them.

“Who else drives six white horses?” he asks. “The white horse is one of the Moon's most ancient symbols, and of course in Classical art the moon-goddess Luna-Selene is commonly portrayed as a charioteer.”

Pozzo sees the song as a community's hymn in anticipation of moonrise and the subsequent full Moon sabbat.

The line And we'll all go out to meet her when she comes, clearly indicates a community-wide celebration,” he says, adding that the verses We'll kill the old red rooster and We'll all have chicken and dumplings "reference the traditional moonrise sacrifices and sabbat feasting.”

The song's call-and-response format resembles that of other early 18th and 19th century American hymns, and probably formed the basis for impromptu improvisation.

For this reason, Pozzo writes, it's not altogether certain which lines are original to the hymn and which have been added later.

It's possible that the line She'll be carrying six white puppies refers to the well-known ancient association between the Moon and canines. But it may also be a later addition, intended humorously. At the moment, we're unable to say for certain.”

According to Pozzo, even the song's cyclic nature—it generally ends with a repetition of the first stanza—demonstrates its lunar nature. “Form fitting function,” he says.

Similarly, the song derives its "subtextual" nature from its cultural context.

“Witchcraft was a capital offense in Colonial America,” observes Pozzo, “so you had to be discreet about what you said in public. Most early American witch songs are characterized by this 'hiding in plain sight' nature, which turns one, outer, face to non-witches and another, secret, face to those already in the know.”

While one mystery may have been solved, others still remain.

“The song would seem to have originated among the witch-communities of the Appalachians,” Pozzo writes, “but is the mountain in question a specific peak, or is this a mythological mountain, perhaps the legendary Sabbat Mount?”

Clearly, questions remain.


She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain

(American Folk)


She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes,

She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes,

She'll be comin' round the mountain,

She'll be comin' round the mountain,

She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes.


She'll be driving six white horses...


She'll be carrying six white puppies...


And we'll all go out to meet her...


And we'll kill the old red rooster...


And we'll all have chicken and dumplings...


She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes...


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Tagged in: satire
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.


  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Saturday, 09 July 2016

    Coincidentally we sing this song on the ride up the Mountain at Kato Symi on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Now I can introduce it as a Goddess song!

    I grew up in California. We never had the line about the puppies, but we did have:

    She'll be wearin silk pyjamas


    Oh she'll have to sleep with Grandma

    Could silk be the light of the moon and sleepin with grandma be a memory of the power of the wise grandmas in matriarchal cultures?

  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Saturday, 09 July 2016

    Oh and the Mountain Mother is one of the most common images of the Goddess in places where there are visible mountains.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Saturday, 09 July 2016

    Wikipedia has "red" pajamas, but I like "silk" much better.
    And sleeping with Grandma fits right in: it's funny and mythic both.
    I'm delighted to hear that you sing this going up the mountain. So it's a pilgrims' anthem, too!
    This one just keeps getting better and better.

  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Saturday, 09 July 2016

    I've heard red pyjamas too.

    The added line with sleep with grandma is "move over." With chicken n dumplins it's "yum yum." etc.

  • Althea
    Althea Sunday, 10 July 2016

    Miskatonic University, huh?

  • K
    K Tuesday, 12 July 2016

    I wonder if they have an original copy of this song in the Orne Library?

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