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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The Adoration of the Animal God

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

The Ghent Altarpiece: Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, detail of the Lamb with  kneeling Angels - Hubert and Jan Van Eyck — Google Arts & Culture


If I told you that one of the greatest masterpieces of Christian art is actually at heart a depiction of the Witches' Sabbat, would you believe me?

While the imagery of the central and focal panel of Hubert and Jan van Eyck's monumental polyptych the Ghent Altarpiece (completed 1432), known to art historians as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, is impeccably Biblical and orthodox, the painting has a haunting and frankly disturbing quality that reads as anything but.

It depicts the worship of the Animal God.

In an idealized landscape, worshipers converge from all directions on a central altar. The altar is encircled by kneeling winged adorants. On the altar itself stands a hornless Ram, white and shining. The god himself gazes outwards, meeting the eyes of the viewer. From his head shines light.

(By the way, that's not actually an extremely pendulous scrotum hanging between his legs, though it sure does look like one: it's his tail.)

Yeah, yeah, the Lamb of God. Yeah, yeah, angels, virgin martyrs, confessors, knights of Christ. Yeah, sure.

They're worshiping a Ram.

Any witch that's ever been to the Sabbat recognizes this scene, though she may not tell you so. The Horned on the altar, surrounded by his coven, with every witchly eye turned towards him. This is the Eternal Sabbat, the witch's true Paradise. We know, because we've been there.

No, I'm not suggesting that van Eyck was a secret member of what Margaret Murray called the “Witch cult.” (It sure would make an interesting story, though, if not a novel.) It is interesting to note, though, that in fact Adoration of the Mystic Lamb was painted at exactly the time—and near to the geographic locus from which—the concept of the Witches' Sabbat, as an iconic counter-worship, first emerged.

No, I'm suggesting something deeper: that van Eyck's mystic painting embodies, under the guise of Christian orthodoxy, an atavistic longing of the human heart, something that will never change because it is intrinsic to who we are.

As humans, as animals ourselves, our truest gods will always be Animal Gods.

 As witch could tell you.






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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 Wednesday, 23 December 2020

    I know it's flippant of me and betrays my degree in Art History but I wonder if anyone has made a Jigsaw puzzle version of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb?

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 24 December 2020

    If so, sign me up for one!

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