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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Driftless

Posted by on in Culture Blogs


Beads on a necklace, memory-amber


Call them Northern Songlines.

Some remember by books, but for us the Land itself bears memory. All landscapes are mythic, at least potentially.

I've traveled Route 61 south along the Mississippi to the pagan land-sanctuaries of the Driftless Area for so many decades now that it has become, for me, a pilgrimage-route.

So I've re-cast the journey along the lines of the list of place-names in the Táin that recounts the way taken by Medb's army to fateful Cúailnge.

Each place a bead on a necklace, memory-amber.


Journey to the Driftless


This was their route, east, south and east again from Minneapolis on the Mississippi, Father of Waters:


eastward through Pig's Eye of the Sow, called St. Paul,

southward through Newport of the Red Rock,

through Hastings,

through Red Wing of the Clays, under Barn Bluff,

through Lake City on Pepin, where the water-horse swims,

through Wabasha,

past Trempeleau, Rattlesnake Island, where the Horned came down from Heaven,

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Last modified on

Posted by on in Culture Blogs


 The Old Covenant


The settlers called this anomalous outcropping of pre-Cambrian limestone the Three Chimneys, but the local Indigenous people—the Ho-Chunk—knew them as Where the Thunderbirds Nest. Here the youth and seers of the People would come in search of a vision.

Sometimes, by its very Selfness, a place proclaims itself sacred. The Three Chimneys are one such place.

Where the Thunderbirds Nest remains inviolate. A farmhouse stands nearby, but the rocks themselves, in their sacred grove, have never been altered by the hand of humanity, nor will they never will be.

A few miles away (as the crone flies) lies the quarry where this very same pre-Cambrian limestone is quarried. Many local structures are built from this stone.

This is why we need the sacred stones, inviolate. They are the price of the quarry. To use some stone, we must be willing to let other stone remain forever untouched. This is the pagan way.

So say the ancestors: Use, but never all. Where the Thunderbirds Nest remind us that all stone is sacred: that of the quarry as much as that of the Three Chimneys.

In pagan times—probably in Spring, at the beginning of quarrying season—we would have sacrificed a bull in the quarry every year, as offering and propitiation for what we take away and use. (Imagine the prayers for safety through the coming year, the voices raised in a hymn of thanks, the brows of the stone-workers painted red with blood.) I am bold to proclaim that some day we will do so again: and let us all say, So Mote It Be.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Enough, or Wouldst Thou Know More?

Why are there so many witches in the Driftless?

Not hard.

Here, long ago, in ages of ages, and yesterday, the Horned, god of witches, fell like a star from Heaven.

Here he fell to Earth.

Bearing the Fire of the Gods, he landed here on the Mountain that stands in the River Mississippi: one of the Nine Sacred Mountains of the Driftless, the mountain-island known as Black Mountain, Rattlesnake Island, and Trempealeau; called by the Dakota, First People, Bluff-in-the-Water.

There, on top, you may see the imprint of his Hoof to this day, deep-scored in the rock.

There we still gather in immemorial sabbat. Here, in our day, was reborn the legendary witches' sabbat, in all its old terror and weird beauty.

Since when is this Inland Island, the Driftless Land, Witch Country forever.

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Witch Island, or: Stands-in-the-Water

The way they tell it, Him that we call the Horned came down from heaven. Like a star he came down.

He came down to bring us Fire.

They say he looked down and saw that the People were cold and hungry, and in darkness, so he brought us the Fire of the gods. Like lightning he fell from heaven, or a star.

And that's where he landed: the Mountain that stands in the Mississippi.

Hay-nee-ah-chah, the Indians called it (that would be the Ho-Chunk): “soaking mountain,” and Pah-hah-dah, “moved mountain” (that's the Dakota). Trempealeau, the Frenchies named it, le montagne qui trempe à l'eau: the mountain that wades in the water.

Stands-in-the-Water, they call it, or the Black Mountain, because it's dark with oaks and maples.

(There's rattlesnakes out there, they say, to guard it.)

They call it the Sabbat Mount.

Nobody goes out there much, except for kids. Well, Indians too. There's mounds out there, if you know where to look for them, old mounds, some of them shaped like birds, or deer.

Well, and witches, of course.

Ever since he came down, that's been Witch Country down there, the Driftless. Witches all over. That's where they go for their jamborees, the witches, out to the Mountain that stands in the River.

You've seen the fires burning out there at night, and heard the drums. So have I.

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The Silver Beaker: An American Faerie Story

Up around Westby, they say, there was a wedding one day, and the bride, she steps out for a breath of air, being a touch winded from the dancing and all.

Out she goes in her finery and her wedding crown and, it being a fair day, she walks a bit, and doesn't she hear more music, coming from over the fields, so she walks on over, and sees that it's coming from a little green hill.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Of Hill-Fog and Gold Nuggets

The truly surprising thing about most "Witchsploitation" is that, buried under all the sewage of misinformation, you'll often find one gleaming nugget of pure gold.

In Howard Richardson and William Berney's popular 1944 stageplay Dark of the Moon, Witch-boy meets Cowan-girl. For Cowan-girl, Witch-boy gives up the Craft, or tries to.

In the end, of course, things don't work out. If your partner wanted you to give up the Craft for him or her, would you do it? Could you do it?

Witches, you see, aren't like “humans.” We don't have souls. We live for 300 years, but then we turn into “nothin' but mountain fog,” and hover around the hills forever.

On a recent trip down into the “hills and hollows” of the Midwest's Driftless Area, I had occasion to watch the little hill-fogs among the changing leaves.

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