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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On Asafetida

Mention asafetida among a group of pagans, and someone—probably the newbie who's still trying to establish credibility—will be sure to wrinkle up her nose and say: “Ooo, that really stinks!”

She's referencing, of course, asafetida's long-standing reputation as a demonofuge. If you want to get rid of that pesky demon that you've (for whatever reason) conjured up, toss some asafetida on the coals in the censer, and just watch it dematerialize. Or whatever it is that they do.

(Now, to me, this seems counter-intuitive. One would think that demons, of all critters, would like stinky. Just goes to show how much I know about Ceremonial Magic. Or demons, for that matter.)

Even the name is stinky: Latin asa, 'gum,' + fetida, 'smelly' (cp. fetid).

In fact, asafetida is no stinkier than onions or garlic. I know because I eat it all the time.

Like most witches, I have a strong affinity for Indian food. (This makes a roundabout kind of sense; after all, what's the national food of Britain? Curry, of course.) Once used in medieval medicine, asafetida is now primarily a seasoning used in South Asian cooking.

In India, really pure vegetarians avoid—for Ayurvedic reasons—onions and garlic in their cooking, but some preparations really do require that certain foetor: hence asafetida, or hing as it's known in Hindi.

More than 20 years ago, a coven-sib gave me a pound-weight bag of asafetida that he'd bought and realized he had no use for. (Just why he bought it in the first place, I've never thought to ask.) Anyway, these decades later, I'm finally coming to the end of it. Thanks, Robin, why-ever you bought it, for the gift that has kept on giving.

I'm not sure how many grams a year that comes out to, but I suppose this fact goes some way to explaining why I smell the way I do. And—presumably—why I've had so few problems with demons down the years.

Fortunately—unlike demons—witches don't mind stinky.

 

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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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