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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Was 'Eko Eko Azarak' Originally an Arabic Chant to the Devil?

Over the years, amateur philologists have done their share of (frequently amusing and rarely lasting) damage to Craft history.

So indulge me while I spin my tale.

Eko eko Azarak,

eko eko Zamilak.

Various versions of this mysterious little rhyme (often sporting the variant Zomelak) occur in most recensions of the Book of Shadows. Doreen Valiente appended it to her chant The Witches' Rune some time during the 1950s, and Wiccans have been using it to raise power ever since.

Craft historian Ron Hutton traces these lines to an article published in 1926 by 'Uncle' Al Crowley's erstwhile buddy J. F. C. Fuller. There he claimed it as 'a sorcerer's cry in the Middle Ages.' Of this claim, Hutton wryly observes that Fuller 'did not cite any source for it, and none has since been discovered' (Hutton 232).

But what if it's Arabic?

As a student of Semitic languages ancient and modern, I've long been struck by the Semitic look and 'feel' of this chant, especially by its phonology and (apparent) triliteral roots. While lying awake one night (such are the mental habits of logophiles), it occurred to me that Azarak looks very much like an Arabic noun with prefixed definite article. Al means 'the' in Arabic; when prefixed to nouns beginning with certain letters (Z among them), the L assimilates to the following letter.

I eventually managed to get back to sleep, but first thing next morning I pulled my dictionary of Arabic roots off of the shelf. Bingo! Zaraq: 'blue, blueness, the color blue.' 'The Blue One' would be al-Zaraq, which becomes az-Zaraq. Hence Azarak.

Close kin to black, blue is a color long associated with the Devil in both Christian and Muslim lore. (Many accounts of Continental witch trials described the Devil as dressed in blue.) In the Muslim world, ash-Shaitan (note initial sound-assimilation) is strongly associated with the peacock, for his overweening pride in his own beauty. The Yazidis of Iraq, recently targeted for genocide by Da'ish on account of their reputation as Devil-worshippers, reckon blue as the sacred color of their patronal god Mal'ak Tawus, the Peacock Angel, and are hence forbidden to wear it themselves.

It may be worth noting in this context that, as a title for the Devil, 'the Blue One' neatly parallels al-Khidr, 'the Green One,' the undying Green Man of Islamic lore. Likewise, al-Aswad, literally 'the Black [One],' is the Arabic term for what the Tribe of Witches calls the 'Man-in-Black.'

There's no tri-consonantal root ZML in Arabic, but the root ZhML is familiar to every Arabic 101 student; it means 'beauty.' If we read -ak as the second person masculine singular possessive suffix, we have zhamâl-uka: 'your beauty.' Even the mullahs admit that Iblis (from the Greek Diabolos) is the most beautiful of angels (Azhmâl al-Mal'âkûn).

Eko has no clear parallel in Arabic, but sonically proximate is Iqwa, 'most strong, most powerful.'

Iqwa, iqwa, az-Zaraq,

iqwa, iqwa Zhamâl-uka.

Most strong, most strong, O Blue One:

most strong, most strong, your beauty.

There's a long-standing story in Old Craft circles that the indigenous cultuses of the Horned in Europe were reenforced during the Middle Ages by an influx of North African—mostly Berber—devotees of dhu'l-Qarnain, the Qur'anic 'Two-Horned,' who were wont to raise power by dancing widdershins around a forked pole while chanting (Muslim) prayers backwards. (Sound familiar?) When the two cultural streams made common cause, Old Craft was born.

So say the stories.

One might add, of course, that modern witches have long felt kinship with the above-mentioned Yazidis of the Fertile Crescent, whose Peacock Angel has now become the Blue God of Victor Anderson's Feri tradition.

Please note that I'm not seriously suggesting this derivation as historical. In many ways, I'm satirizing the various linguistic claims made to buttress so many wild stories down the years.

But it's not quite that simple.

I'm a storyteller, not a philologist. The storyteller's job, besides making us laugh, is to articulate mythic history. At thirteenth and last, our People's story contains everything, everything that there is.

Everything (so to speak) from Azarak to Zamilak.


Ronald Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (1999). Oxford.


For AE

Bwa ha ha 


So strong, so strong, o Blue One:

your beauty, oh so strong.



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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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