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 Head of the Year

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

The Jewish year 5775 begins at sundown tonight (Wednesday). In Hebrew, “new year” is r'osh ha-shana: literally, “head [of] the year.” Interestingly, the Arabic term for “new year” is the same: r'as as-sana. Clearly this expression goes back a long, long way, possibly even to Proto-Semitic times. In any event, the phrase long predates monotheism. One should probably posit an Arabic—possibly Moorish—origin for the Italian word for “new year,” capodanno. Three guesses what that means literally.

New Moon” in Hebrew is r'osh hodesh, literally (you guessed it) “head of the month.” Why would the head of something come to mean its beginning?

I can think of two possibilities.

Since all quadrupeds walk headfirst, the head leads and is, by extension, the beginning of the animal.

The other is that it's birth imagery. Virtually all viviparous animals bear their young headfirst.

Most of the Jewish holidays are old nature festivals wrapped up in a monotheist cloak. Rosh ha-Shana is no exception. In the Mediterranean world, Summer is the Big Dry, the sterile season of dust and the dead. Ba'al Hadad, with His life-giving rains, lies asleep in the Underworld. When on Wednesday night the ram's horn trumpets sound in synagogues all over the world, they will unwittingly be calling to the Thunderer to awake from His long aestivation and bring His gift of sacred heavenly waters back to us all.

Bull or baby, I hope your New Year's a good one, whenever in the year it begins. 

She-Ba'al Hadad yehadesh aleinu shana tova u-mtuqa.

May Thunder renew upon us a good year and a sweet one.


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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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