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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How Much Ground Would a Groundhog Hog...

Winter's halfway over. In my book, that means: holiday.

Whatever you call it.

Imbolc (various spellings).What, you didn't grow up speaking Irish?

Despite what you've heard, Imbolc probably doesn't mean “In the Belly” (which, when you think about it, is a pretty stupid name for a holiday anyway). What does it mean then?

Nobody knows. Possibly it's a pre-Keltic name. Anyway, it's exotic (pagans like that) and really, really old.

Oimelc (various spellings). What, you didn't grow up speaking Scots Gaelic?

Despite what you've heard, Oimelc probably doesn't mean “Ewe's Milk.” Yes, it's lambing time, and yes, our much-diminished larders are (gratefully) being replenished by a welcome freshet of new milk right now. But “Ewe's Milk” is probably best regarded as folk etymology.

What does it mean then?

Nobody knows. Possibly it's a pre-Keltic name. Anyway, it's exotic (pagans like that) and really, really old.

Candlemas. This is how they name the holiday in Cowan. (That telltale -mas on the end gives it away every time.) Some Old Craft purists, who wouldn't be caught dead using a neo-peg name like Imbolc or Oimelc, still call it this: a habit of protective coloration left over from the Bad Old Days, I guess.

Well, la-de-da-da.

Brigid. Come February, the Pagan Channel these days seems to be All-Brigid-All-the-Time, and frankly, I'm over it. (Besides being ecologically unsustainable, monocultures are boring.) Even people who don't “do” Brigid at any other time of year tend to pull her out and dust her off for the occasion. That's no way to treat a goddess.

Well, whatever floats your coracle.

Ewesmilk (or Ewe's Milk). I've heard some heathens call the holiday this. Me, I don't have a problem with using Keltic names—the tribe of Witches first arose out of a union of Kelt and Saxon, anyway; we've always been a mixed people, both ethnically and culturally—but personally, I find “Ewesmilk” charming. That it's folk etymology, who cares? Whether it will catch on or not, who knows? For the time being, I say: the more names, the richer.

February Eve. This descriptor at least has the advantage of being clear and non-culturally-specific. (Well, not counting the ancient Romans. For the purist, how pure is pure?) Colorful, it ain't, though.

Groundhog's Day. This is the traditional American name for the holiday, which is good enough for me. That this seemingly throwaway “holiday” has managed to preserve a memory of the old pre-Reformation Candlemas (if not, judging from the orientation of certain megalithic monuments, an ancient pre-Keltic festival) is, by any standard, a pretty impressive feat of folk-memory.

Also, you've got to love the naturalization to the New Land and its fauna. How much ground would a groundhog hog, if a groundhog did hog ground?

Grannog. In Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin's Masters of Solitude novels, America's post-collapse Circle (i.e. witches) know the February cross-quarter by this charmingly-elided name. I use it sometimes myself, usually with a glint in the eye.

Yeaning. In the old Witch language, a yean was a lamb (or kid), and, sure enough, now is the time of the lambing. Like it or don't, you have to admit: as a holiday name, it sure beats In-the-Belly.

Anyway, here's wishing you and yours a fine, warm Imbolc-Oimelc-Candlemas-Brigid-Ewesmilk-In-the-Belly-February Eve-Groundhog's Day-Grannog-Yeaning.

By whatever name you call it.


Groundhog, groundhog, What makes your back so brown?

I been livin' in the ground fer so dern long,

I'm lucky I don't drown, drown, lucky I don't drown.


(Appalachian Traditional)







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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.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Friday, 01 February 2019

    What exactly is Candlemas supposed to be about? It sounds like someone is blessing candles. Chapter 4 of "Christianity the origins of a Pagan Religion" by Philippe Walter talks about Saint Brigid and Saint Blaise but doesn't say anything about Candlemas itself.

    I like the word Grannog I will have to see if I can find those Master of Solitude stories.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Saturday, 02 February 2019

    My understanding (I'm certainly no expert on the various Christianities) is that "Candlemas" is an English folk-name for the feast of the Presentation on February 2, which commemorates the offering of the baby Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem.

    Masters of Solitude is a fine series; I hope that you enjoy it. There's reputedly a third volume called Singer Among the Nightingales out there, which alas, since author Godwin's death has been floating around in publisher's limbo. May our eyes soon see it.

  • Tyger
    Tyger Saturday, 02 February 2019

    I like this. Magic is not complicated. Ritual doesn't need to be either. Name it what you want, and just celebrate. Life is short. :)

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Saturday, 02 February 2019

    Presentation at a temple huh. Okay, so the pagan version of Groundhog day would be presenting children 11 and under to the gods, the ancestors and the Master of Groundhogs for blessing and protection right. I can work with that.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 03 February 2019

    Around here we tend to present the children to the Master at Grand Sabbat.

    Just like the witch-hunters said we did.

    "Suffer the little children to come unto me."


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