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The Dobunni: The Tribe of Witches ...


Did the original Celtic Tribe of Witches originate with the merger of two boy-bands?

Likely, we'll never know for sure.

Listen as I weave my tale.


2000 years ago, a Celtic-speaking people known as the Dobunni, the “[People of] Two Bands”, lived in the Severn basin of what is now England.

(600-some years later, they morphed—maybe I should say shape-shifted—into an Anglo-Saxon-speaking people called the Hwicce, the origin and namesake—so say some—of today's Witches. But that's another story for another night.)

Though the origin of the Dobunni's name is disputed, if indeed it does mean the People of the Two Bands, there are parallels with the ethnonyms of other Celtic-speaking peoples: the Continental Tricorii and Petrucorii clearly mean “Three [War-] Bands” and “Four [War-] Bands” respectively.

But the koryos—war-band—for which these peoples were named was not just any kind of war-band.


How, you may have wondered, did the Indo-European-speaking ancestors manage to conquer, populate, and bequeath their languages to virtually all of Europe and much of Western Asia?

On current evidence, it would appear to have been a kind of franchise operation.


The traditional pantheons of most Indo-European peoples featured, not one, but two gods of war. (In current terms, we would denote these Thunder and the Horned.) These were respectively the patrons of two different fighting forces: the teutâ (in Witch English, this would be thede, “tribe”), the initiated, adult men of the tribe, and the koryos (WE here), the uninitiated youths still in training for full adulthood. Each of these fighting forces had its own patronal god: Thunder to the thede, the Horned to the here.

(Ah, just savor that alliteration. Sometimes the language seems to be expressing an opinion of its own, doesn't it?)

This explains why, to this day, it is the Horned who presides both at initiations and at the rites of man-making of the latter-day Tribe of Witches.


According to Kris Kershaw in his 2000 monograph The One-Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-) Germanic Männerbünde, the boys of the koryos/here lived together in the wild—often the forest—while they learned the skills and lore necessary to adult men of the People. Set apart by their unkempt dress and hair—think dreads*—and wild behavior, they had a reputation for being the fiercest, most fearless, most unrestrained fighters of all. Unmarried, owning nothing, testosterone-fueled, they had nothing to lose. It was they who reived the cattle of neighboring tribes, and terrified the Red Crests by charging into battle stark naked, wearing nothing but a neck-ring and a belt.

(Easy, when you don't own armor or a helmet to don anyway. Say what you will, though, that's bravado!)

Since it was only after full initiation into tribal manhood that one could marry and acquire land and property, it was these bands of uninitiated youths who spearheaded the Indo-European expansion. Once the thede had settled down for a while, available land and goods would become scarce.

In search of new territory and herds of their own, it was the boy-bands who led the charge.

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I was recently astounded to read in Richard Rudgley's 2018 book The Return of Odin that

Today in both American and British pagan circles, practitioners generally divide themselves into three basic groups: Wiccans; Druids, and those who follow some kind of Celtic religion; and Heathens, those who follow Germanic and Norse traditions [231].

Admittedly, the book was originally published in 2006; maybe things were simpler in those days.

Still, if I knew Rudgley well enough to tease him, or if I weren't a Midwesterner, and hence constitutionally incapable of public rudeness, I would really have to suggest that maybe, just maybe, he needs to get out a bit more often.

I don't know about Britain—although I have my doubts—but here in the US, I can assure you from personal experience that pagans come in lots more flavors than Wiccan, Celtic, or Germanic.

Lots more.

So I can't help but find it a jest for the gods that, in fact, I can recognize something of myself in all three of Rudgley's categories.

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 Home - The Old Irish Goat

...Well, if I say it who made it myself: that was one kick-ass Man-Making ceremony. They'll still be talking about that one a hundred years from now.

So I figure you owe me, what, something in the neighborhood of...say...nine cows. Good milch cows, too, mind you, nothing old and milked-out.

A nine-cow coming-of-age ceremony: now there's something you'll be able to tell your grandchildren about.

(“My family paid nine fine milch cows for my man-making,” you'll tell them, and they'll say, “Oh, grandpa, you're such a bull-shitter....”)

Hey, our people's cattle have always been our pride. You know what they say about us, that every word in our language means three things: something good, something bad, and something to do with a cow.

What? What? You can't be serious. You've got to be kidding.

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In the Forest of the Hwicce


Place-names have a long memory.

Six surviving place-names in modern Britain preserve the memory of the Hwicce, the original Anglo-Saxon Tribe of Witches, who for some 225 years inhabited a territory in the Cotswolds and Severn Basin of what is now southwestern England: Whichford (Warwickshire), Wichenford, Wychbury Hill, Wyche, and Droitwich (Worcestershire), and Wychwood (Oxfordshire). Unsurprisingly, with one exception, all of them lie within the boundaries of the original Kingdom (or occasionally—witches being witches—Queendom) of the Witches.

Wychwood, the “forest of the Hwicce,” is the anomalous outlier.

Not all witches, of course, are witches. With trees, in particular, you have to be careful. Both the witch elm and witch hazel originally had nothing to do with witches of our sort, but derive instead from yet another Anglo-Saxon root (wice) meaning “bendable, pliable.” (The same root survives in “wicker.”)

Flexible as we may be, though, historical data makes it clear that the witches of Wychwood were originally the H-and-Two-C, and not the No-H-and-One-C, kind.

So how did Hwicce end up in non-Hwicce territory?

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Victoria
    Victoria says #
    I would say as neopagans we are constructing our futures rather than reconstructing THE future. I'm not sure if we are in the proc
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks, Victoria: good eye. I praise your thoroughness. My friend and colleague Volkhvy always says, "We're not reconstructing th
  • Victoria
    Victoria says #
    You are conflating the OE wicce/wicca with the tribal name Hwicce,. The tribal name Hwicce is attested in Latin and OE sources as

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