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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Planting Day

So here's to the plowman and to his left stone,

to plow a fine furrow, the seed for to sow,

the seed for to sow till it's lovely to see:

 with a jolly wassail we'll drink to thee.

From: The Plowman's Wassail


Spring is late here in the North Country this year, about as late as I can remember it. The apples and lilacs are in full burgeon; in old neighborhoods like mine, the air is sweet with their fragrance. It's time to plant the garden.

But first I've got to rototill.

Pretty much every agricultural society understands plowing and sowing as analogous to intercourse. Plow = phallus.

So across the Indo-European cultural world, it's traditional for the plowman to be naked when he plows the first furrow of the season. Hesiod refers to this custom in his Works and Days: “This is the rule of the land...: naked sow and naked drive the oxen...if you want to bring in Demeter's works in all due season” (Hesiod, Op. 388-93, tr. M. L. West).

In the Bronze Age Rock Art of Scandinavia, scenes of plowing appear frequently. When they are shown in enough detail, the plowman—as in this example from Asperget in Bohuslan County, Sweden--is not only naked, but has an erection as well. The fertility symbolism could hardly be more overt: it's sympathetic magic of the most primal sort. Note that the pizzles of the oxen are emphasized too: we've got some intensely male magic going on here.

In virtually all of the petroglyphs, the plowman is holding something in his hand: a stick or branch. In some, it's actually shown as a miniature tree. Are these the first leaves of spring, more sympathetic fertility magic? Or maybe, since the green branch was the white flag of antiquity, a peace offering for penetrating the virgin Earth? Or is it just a nice, whippy twig for switching the oxen along? All of the above? Who can say?

Personally, I'd recommend nude plowing to contemporary farmers as well. Who knows what the long-term impact on yield might be?

Myself, I won't be naked when I rototill my back yard garden this morning. Part of being a good neighbor is respecting other people's sensibilities.

Damn cowans. What's wrong with those people?




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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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