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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How to Make a Paganism

Gods, there really are pagans everywhere.

Urglaawe (pronounced OOR-glaw-veh) means “Primal Faith” in Pennsylvania “Dutch.” It's a New World Heathenry from the land of hex signs and powwowing.

Between 1683 and the War of 1812, tens of thousands of German-speaking migrants from the Palatinate and Switzerland, along with significant numbers of Silesians, Moravians, and Swabians, settled in the New World. Initially spearheaded by Mennonites and Amish seeking religious freedom, later waves consisted primarily of economic migrants. These are the Deitsch, who through the following 300 years have managed to maintain their own distinctive language and culture.

Die Deitscherei—literally, “Dutchery”—is their name for Pennsylvania Dutch Country in what is now eastern Pennsylvania and contiguous parts of Maryland and Delaware, but die Breet-Deitscherei (“Greater Dutchery”) includes those non-contiguous areas of Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ontario with significant enclaves that self-identify as Deitsch.

Well folks, there's Heide—heathens—in Deitschland.

When the algorithms started telling me that I should read Robert L. Schreiwer and Ammerili Eckhart's A Dictionary of Urglaawe Terminology, my initial response was: F**k the algorithms. But (for once) I should have listened, and eventually I came around. Schreiwer and Eckhart could hardly have chosen a less enticing title, but don't be fooled. Their book is a gem, a textbook example of what a New World paganism can—and, frankly, should—look like.

 

Urglaawe is a heathenry like other heathenries, with Wodan, Frigg, and Dunner (to give Them Their Deitsch names), thews, and the Nine-plus Noble Virtues. But this is not just your drinking buddy's heathenism, rewarmed Snorri, Old Norse religion with a Pennsylvania German accent. Oh, no.

This is a real, old-time tribal paganism with a land, a people, and a culture: what in Witch we would call Land, Lede, and Lore.

They've got an eightfold Wheel of the Year, with Yuul, Grundsaudaag (that's Groundhog Day to us Englisch), Oschdre, Walpurgisnacht, and the rest. They've got an indigenous magical system, known variously as Braucherei, Hexerei, and Powwowing, which retroverts into Heathen very nicely. They've got local animal and plant lore, all drawn from an ongoing 300+-year relationship between a people and their environment. And, interestingly, they've got gods of their own, rooted in the tradition but uniquely understood.

There's Holle, she of Brothers Grimm fame, patron goddess of Urglaawe, with her holy wells and passion for industriousness. There's the Ewicher Yeeger, the Eternal Hunter, Who to this day hunts the skies of Eastern Pennsylvania. It was He Who saved the first starving immigrants by driving game before Him over the Blue Mountain-Kittattiny Ridge. Edred Thorsson, in his flawed little masterpiece of revisionist witch history, Witchdom of the True, equates the Lord and Lady of Wicca with Frey and Freyja. Well, maybe.

Best of all, Urglaawe has a homeland, a tribal territory. Did you know that Deitscherei has Nine Sacred Mountains, including the American Brocken, the famed Hexenkopf (“witch's head”), legendary site of wild Walpurgisnacht revels? It's enough to make me wonder about the Nine Sacred Mountains of the Driftless Area. (“Witchery: the land, the craft, the people.”)

To dip into the entries of Dictionary is to enter into a fully-conceived pagan world which, because it is rooted in its own culture and landscape, has a cogency and a depth coherence to it that a “one-from-pantheon-A, one-from-pantheon-B” ecclecticism can never hope to achieve, a paganism with its own land, lede, and lore.

Don't miss this one, folks. It will make you a wiser and a stronger pagan.

Whatever your tradition.

 

Robert L. Schreiwer and Ammerili Eckhardt, A Dictionary of Urglaawe Terminology (2012). Urglaawe.

 

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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.

Comments

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Sunday, 11 October 2015

    I've been interested in Pennsylvania hexcraft since my dad drove us from Massachusetts to North Carolina to visit relatives back in the 60's. Pennsylvania was always the logical place to stop, and I found the hex signs enticing. I finally got a copy of "Pow-wows or, the long-lost friend" off of e-bay. It was paired with a copy of "Hawaiian Magic" by Clark Wilkerson which made no sense to me until I read that there was a fad for Hawaiian magic among American practitioners back in the 70's.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 12 October 2015

    Magical systems just want to cross-pollinate.

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