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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Wearing the Hat

Now where is that Witch-English dictionary? I know I left it here somewhere.

Copintank, n. A sugar-loaf hat.

On the off chance that you've ever wondered what the technical name for a witch's hat is, well: now you know.

I'll take Witch Words for a thousand, Alex.

Also known (mostly by cowans) as a “steeple hat” (!), the copintank has been associated with English witches since some of the earliest woodcuts of them were made during the 16th and 17th centuries. Not surprisingly, this was also the period during which the copintank was considered fashionable. We witches have always been dressers.

Don't ask etymology; even the experts don't agree. It seems likely that the first syllable reflects the archaic word cop, “head” (= German kopf), but the rest is a mystery. One thing we can be sure of: it has nothing to do with either vats or vehicles. That word comes from the Subcontinent, and didn't enter English until centuries after witches were already sporting our signature headgear with its distinctive name.

If ever you've wondered why we wear them (no, Virginia, it doesn't have anything to do with the cone of power), well: let me tell you a story.

For years the local festival was held a little south of here in a beautiful grove of mature white oaks. Unfortunately, this was during mid-August, just at the time when the oaks are dropping their acorns.

If ever you've been beaned by an acorn falling from 50 feet, you'll know why you mustn't forget your copintank.

Here in the Midwest, of course, no self-respecting witch would dream of leaving the covenstead without her steel-reinforced copintank, especially during tornado season.

Why not? you ask. Not hard, my little pretty.

Black Mountain Brand Steel-Reinforced Copintanks

Guaranteed to Repel 98% of Falling Farmhouses

And always remember that old saying of the Sisterhood:

You have to wear the hat. You can't let the hat wear 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, 20 July 2016

    Over at colonial Williamsburg they sell sugar cones and tell the tourists that that is the way sugar was sold in colonial times. The copintank looks like one of those cones with a hat brim stuck on it. I think you had to grate the sugar cone to get sugar for your recipes.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 21 July 2016

    During the Yule baking last year, I ended up grating a block of old dry brown sugar. I guess there's something to be said for making us work for our sugar.

    And as my grandmother used to say when one of the grandchildren would nick a knuckle while grating: "Everything tastes better with a little blood in it."

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