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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Getting a Real Charge

The Charge of the Goddess is Doreen Valiente's masterpiece, incontestably the best of its kind.

In fact, the Charge has single-handedly created its own literary genre. Modern paganism's hodgepodge of gods, few of whom many of us grew up knowing about, has made the charge—a "self-description of a deity"—a liturgical necessity.

Note that the pagan use of the term, though, departs significantly from its original use in Freemasonry, where it means, essentially, "a list of instructions." Although the divine monologue was known in late antiquity—Classicist R. E. Witt would call it an "aretalogy"—Valiente's Charge is the Great Mother of all modern charges.

Think of the other charges that you know.

 The Charge of the Generic Pagan Deity

I am Blah.

I am the blah. I blah the blahs,

and blah the blah blah, 

for I am the blah-er of all blahs.

Every blah blahs my blah,

for I am Blah,

and my blah is blah.

Admit it: if you met someone that talked like this at a party, you'd back away post haste. Certainly a bore. (The classic definition of a bore is "someone who would say the same thing to anyone.") Clearly a narcissist, if not a full-blown solipsist. Lemme outta here.

Now look at Doreen's.

Whenever you have need of anything...

Stop right there. You. She begins by telling us about ourselves, everyone's favorite topic. From the outset, already it's about relationship. The listener is already engaged. Not only that, but this is relationship that gets us something. If you want my attention, Lady, you've got it. The speaker has not yet identified herself; in fact, the entire piece is designed as a build-up in which the identity of the speaker is the climax. ("For behold....") But already we can't wait to hear more.

...once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full...

Valiente based her charge on Leland's Aradia, so there's no mention of the eight sabbats. They have yet to come into the Craft. This is a strictly lunar witchcraft.

...then shall ye assemble in some secret place...

Not just you specifically but ye generally....

...and adore the spirit of me, who am Queen of all Witcheries.

Finally we get to the first person. But by now there's an established relationship: we know something about who she is and what she can do for us. She's made it worth our while to listen, and we want to hear more. Now that's good writing. I particularly love that plural: Queen of all Witcheries. Yes, folks, there's more than one witchery, and She is queen of them all. Who wouldn't want to know this person?

The Mother, preeminently among gods, is about relationship, and this Valiente demonstrates in the very way she uses her language. That's a sign, not just of good, but of great writing. The Charge of the Generic Deity may tell us something, but the Charge of the Goddess both tells and shows us, because it exemplifies the reality of what it says. Folks, that's smoking hot.

An H. P. Lovecraft tells you that something is creepy. A good horror-writer doesn't have to tell you that something is creepy, because she's already creeped you out by what she has told you and how she's told it to you. When it comes to creating a sense of authenticity in the reader (or listener), this distinction is of pivotal importance.

So you who think to craft the rites of Witchdom, mark ye the starry footprints of Aunt Doreen.

Whenever you have need to write a charge.


Last modified on
Tagged in: charge Doreen Valiente
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.


  • tehomet
    tehomet Saturday, 23 May 2015


  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Saturday, 23 May 2015

    Brilliant indeed! As always. A copy is going into the San Quentin Wiccan Circle Binder of Shadows.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 25 May 2015

    Proud to be part of it: thanks!

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