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 Witch Who Walked Through Walls

My friend and mentor Tanith died 9 years ago. I still think of her virtually every day.

Physically prepossessing, she was not: maybe five six, and can't have weighed more than 100 pounds. Whipcord lean, but this is a steel whipcord we're talking about. (How many other 95-pound blacksmiths have you known?) With a will to match, a will like a whip.

She came by that will honestly. (But honestly was the only way Tanith knew how to do anything.) She came from Tennessee hill folks, ruled with an iron fist by Tanith's grandmother, the clan matriarch.

This grandmother was apparently something of a force of nature. Cross her and be cut out of the will: literally, with scissors.

There were some family problems back in the early 70s when Tanith first got involved with the Craft.

But grandma was a hill woman, and she'd grown up knowing root workers and granny doctors all her life.

“That girl's too smart to get involved with anything that'll hurt her,” she told them. “You leave her alone.”

And they did.

One day Tanith went to an elementary school to talk about witchcraft.

The kids in first period were fascinated, and wanted to know all about magic.

“It's all in the will,” she told them. “If you will it hard enough, you can do anything.”

“Even walk through walls?” someone asked.

“If you will it hard enough, you could even walk through a wall,” Tanith told them.

By third period, of course, there were already stories circulating about the witch who could walk through walls. Some of the kids had even seen her do it.

Well, stories just want to get better. But if anyone I've ever known actually could walk through a wall, it would have been Tanith.

By the time I blew into town in the late 70s, Tanith had the behind-the-back reputation as the Most Feared Woman in the pagan community. That she was also, in her own way, one of the Most Fiercely-Loved Women in the pagan community tells you quite a bit.

The tight, insular community here didn't really know what to make of the out-there gayboy from Back East, with his passionate stories and wild enthusiasm. At first folks kept their distance, but Tanith soon set them straight.

“He's OK because I say he's OK,” she told them.

And that's how I became the first openly-gay man to be accepted as “one of ours” on the local Wiccan scene.

When Tanith and her partner Ro got married in one of the big mansions on Summit Avenue, she bought a case of crystal so we could all drink a toast and smash the glasses afterward. We broke every single one of them that night.

Tanith's iron will betrayed her in the end. She lay dying slowly of MS for almost 14 years. Even at the last when consciousness had faded, there was something in her that just would not let go. When death finally came, I think we all felt relief along with the sorrow.

Even at the end, though, she was not alone. All through the long, long years of her dying, Tanith's then husband Ro came and sat with her virtually every night after work: the single most heroic act of love I think I've ever seen. Fierce love for a fierce woman.

Christopher Wren, who rebuilt the city of London after the Great Fire of 1666, is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, the iconic landmark of which he was the architect. His tomb is simple: a plain slab of marble set in the floor, bearing the inscription Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. “If you need a monument, look around you.”

The Twin Cities pagan community is one of the largest, most confident, and most vibrant pagan communities in the world. One reason why we are so is because we've been that way all along. It's known as the “Founder Effect”: the sociological likelihood that the attitudes, personalities, and quirks of a community's founders will tend to have an inordinate amount of influence on those that come after them.

So we're deeply fortunate to number among the founding mothers of our community someone like Tanith, the Most Feared (and Fiercely Loved) Woman in the Pagan Community, the Witch Who Walked Through Walls.

Hail and farewell, Tanith. Reborn to the 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.


  • Christopher Odegard
    Christopher Odegard Sunday, 25 May 2014

    My dear brother, Steven. Many of us remember Tanith fondly. I knew Ro and Tanith, and Uncle Wolf and others too, from those days in the Paganistan of the late 1970s. (Do we call that era the founding time?) I knew them first in a non-magical context: I gamed with them. Some board games, but especially role playing games. Tanith was a powerful force in that context, as well.

    It wasn't until the early 1990s when I met them again as a part of WiCoM. By that time—I now have contextualized from reading your perspective on the story—Tanith had rather become the image of her own grandmother for our community in Paganistan. She was a strong, quiet authority to whom others (all others) deferred.

    Your tribute is fitting and very dear. It is lovely to see her smile in my mind's eye because of it. Thank you for demonstrating the benevolent way witches can raise the dead.

    ElvisOmar ben Tof
    South Paganistan

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