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 Male Nipple in Myth and Ritual (!)


Gentlemen, why does Pickering's Moon go around in reverse?

Gentlemen, there are nipples on your breasts: do you give milk?

And what, pray tell, Gentlemen, is to be done about Heisenberg's Law?

Somebody had to put all of this confusion here!


Thus did the goddess Chaos reveal herself, with acid-etched revelatory clarity, to two young Californians in the 1960s (Younger 1968).


“About as useful as tits on a bull,” goes the folk expression, but—as any cattleman can tell you—bulls actually do have nipples. All male mammals, including humans, begin our existence as females. It is to this fact, gentlemen, that we owe our nipples.


In the language of symbolism, the nipple—from its basic biological function—means nurturance.


The nurturing male is a presence little addressed in the modern paganisms, but the ancestors, of course, knew better. So I'd like to explore the surprising role that the male nipple, that paradoxical female presence in the male body, plays in ritual and lore.


Among certain Keltic tribes, a warrior swearing allegiance to his chief, or king, would take the lord's nipple in his mouth before witnesses. This tender, intimate act clearly demonstrates both the warrior's dependence on his chief, and the chief's responsibility towards his warriors: the responsibility to care for and support them. A bog body found in Ireland in 2003, Croghan Man, may shed interesting light on this custom. Both nipples of the man's well-preserved body had been mutilated. Eamon Kelly of the National Museum of Ireland suggests that the body may be that of a drighten (chief) who failed in his responsibility of support to his dright (war-band).


Unsurprisingly, ritual suckling occurs in various folk rituals of adoption. The symbolism could hardly be clearer.

At the other end of the Indo-European diaspora, a similar ritual is preserved among the Kalasha, the last surviving pagans of the Hindu Kush. Like the ancient Kelts, the Kalasha are a transhumant society. During the summer, the boys and young men take the goats up into the high mountain pastures and live there in male society. Here, as one would expect, intimate friendships develop between young men, and it is not unusual for two boys to become sworn bond-partners (dâri). They sacrifice a goat, and roast and eat its kidneys together. They seal the bond by sucking each other's nipples. It is, in effect, an act of mutual adoption. These bonds are lifelong, and act to bind Kalasha society together across lineages (Parkes 646). Although same-sex marriage is a creation of modern Western societies, the ancestors had their own rites acknowledging (and honoring) same-sex bonding. No society can afford not to.

British explorer G. S. Robertson encountered a similar ritual when, in the 1890s, he swore blood-brotherhood with a warrior among the Kafirs of Afghanistan, cultural kin to the Kalasha, who still, at the time, practiced their old religion. I give his account in full:

A goat was procured, quickly killed, and its kidneys were removed. These were cooked at a fire and cut into morsels by an officiating Kafir, who then placed Shermalik and me side by side, and alternately fed us both with the fragments on the point of a knife. At short intervals we had to turn our heads to one another and go through the motion of kissing....But the surprise was in reserve. My coat and shirt were opened and some butter was applied to my left breast, to which Shermalik applied his lips with the greatest energy and earnestness. I jumped as if shot, but the thing was over (Robertson 1999, 30-31).

Let me also add that suckling at the Horned One's breast also figures in certain contemporary Old Craft initiation rituals. (One thinks of Baphomet's breasts.) Ritual is articulate action, in this case expressing mutual relationship: “I take you as my nurturer” and “I take you as my child.” And being “suckled at the Devil's teat,” of course, is a traditional byword for the, shall we say, creatively mischievous.

In this context, it would be deeply remiss of me not to mention the male nipple's much under-appreciated erotic capability.

The story goes that at a summit of queer pagan leaders back in the early 80s, Z. Budapest announced that women are obviously the superior sex because, alone among all the animals, only they have an organ the sole purpose of which is to give pleasure.

In response to this, Herman Slater laughed, opened his shirt, and fondled both nipples lasciviously.

Of course, it may just be a story.

I, for one, could believe it, though.

Peter Parkes, “Livestock Symbolism and Pastoral Ideology among the Kafirs of the Hindu Kush,” in Man 12, 1987.

George Scott Robertson, The Kafirs of the Hindu Kush (1896). London: Lawrence and Ballon. (Reprinted 1999, Manshiram Manhanlal)

Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia (1979). Loompanics.


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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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