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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Well, it could have been a game that Indo-European children played 6000 years ago as they rode out in wagons with their families to conquer most of the known world.

Although I doubt it.

“Why don't you two 'count cows'?” my father would say to my sister and I in the car. He'd played the game himself as a child.

Whoever ends up with the most cows wins, of course. All cows on your side of the road belong to you. With herds, this can mean some quick tabulation. You have to count out loud, and you can only keep counting while the cows are still in sight. Don't even think of cheating: there are other eyes on your cows as well.

As for the bad news: whenever you pass a graveyard on your side, you lose all your cows, and have to start over again from nothing. Like most games, it enacts the story of life itself.

By its very nature, this game can hardly have preceded the automobile. I strongly suspect that my grandparents made it up to keep fractious children distracted during long road trips.

And yet. And yet: those primal, primal images. Cows and graveyards, life and death: prima materia indeed.

Since ever our people came riding out of the East, the cow has been our major unit of wealth. A good spear is worth a cow, a copper cauldron three. “Fee,” first of all runes, originally meant “cattle”: hence its priority.

It's easy to see why. A good milker can make the difference between life and death. Many cows = much wealth.

In the dawn of days, they say, the Great Mother herself gave our people cattle to be our food, and indeed, their milk and their meat are the very best of all foods.

To others, she gave other foods, but to us she gave cattle.

So it is that when others have cattle in their keeping, it can only be that they have stolen them from their rightful owners, which is to say, from us.

And, as everyone knows, you cannot steal what already belongs to you.

So that, Your Honor, is why I ask you to find my client: Not Guilty.


Above: Nigel Jackson, Feoh-Cattle








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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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