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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William Penn and the Witch of Ridley Creek

February 1684: Pennsylvania's first witch trial.

A woman named Margaret Mattson stands before Governor William Penn, accused of witchcraft.

The evidence is flimsy. Mattson is said to have bewitched the cattle of two neighbors, and a third neighbor testifies that she appeared spectrally at the foot of his bed and threatened him with a knife.

Mattson denies the charges.

Penn asks a test question. “Have you ever flown through the air on a broom?”

To everyone's amazement, Mattson answers: “Yes.”

Mattson was an immigrant from Sweden, originally part of the failed New Sweden colony that had preceded Penn's venture on the Delaware River. It's unclear how well she spoke English, if at all. Perhaps she simply misunderstood the question.

“I, for one, know of no law against it,” says Penn. “Case dismissed.”

This was eight years before the murderous hysteria in Salem.


Thomas White (2013) Witches of Pennsylvania: Occult History and Lore. The History Press.






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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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