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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Did you know that there's a specific name for a statue of the Horned God?

Neither did I, until I read Dorothy Edward's 1981 children's novel, The Witches and the Grinnygog.

Back during the Troubles, goes the story (the Witch Troubles, not the Irish ones), the three appointed Keepers of the most sacred image of the Master just barely manage to escape (on brooms) with their lives and the Lord. They hide Him away in a safe place, and go into a deep, deep sleep until such a time as they shall be needed again.

That time is our day. Where's the best place to hide a Grinnygog? Well, of course, precisely where no one would ever think to look for Him: among the carvings of the local church.

But now the historic church is being dismantled stone by stone, preparatory to being moved to a new location, and the Lord is once more in danger. (Or is He?) His guardians awake, and their magic along with them.

The Witches and the Grinnygog is a charming little novel, filled with resonant insights and memorable characters. My personal favorite is, of course, Twebele Alabaster MA, of Ibadan University, academic and man-in-black, who suddenly appears in England to oversee the Return of the Grinnygog. “In English witchcraft,” he says, “they used to set great store by the Black Man! Would you believe it—some of our witches found the presence of the White Man imperative for their more impressive ceremonies? In the remote past it was probably a matter of paint. I suppose nowadays, though, with speedy air-travel it could be arranged to suit all parties, eh?”


The Grinnygog as Edwards describes Him (and as He appears in the 1983 television miniseries adaptation The Witches and the Grinnygog) seems to be based on the image of the Lincoln Imp, but with antlers. The term, apparently Edwards' own coinage, would seem to be a portmanteau of “green god” and “grinning god” (both of which certainly fit the bill), with distant echoes of Gog/Magog. It's a wonderful word: mysterious, witchy, but nonetheless vaguely familiar.

It's certainly a useful word. My home is filled with Green Men and Grinnygogs, in lots of different shapes and sizes. The word even inspired its own Old Time Religion verse:

Our Judaeo-Pagan synagogue

looks like any other synagogue,

but with gargoyles and with Grinnygogs:

that's good enough for me!


One of the wonderful things about the modern Craft is the way that non-witches do so much of our work for us. At the end of the novel, the group of kids who are the main characters are looking at a postcard from Mr. Alabaster which shows the Grinnygog next to an image of an African Horned God.


“It's an African Grinnygog!” says one of the kids.

But Jimmy, who has understood the Grinnygog from the very beginning, puts them right. “It's not two grinnygogs,” he says. “They're really the same one. It's just two ways of saying what He looks like.”


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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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