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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Know Your Enemy: How the Quick-Thinking Pagans of Harran Outwitted the Caliph's Army

It's probably an apocryphal story.

Even so, it's so delicious that you really do have to relish it.

The people of Harran in Mesopotamia had managed to hold on to the Old Worship long after all the other cities in the area had been baptized.

But then, in late 639 or early 640, the Muslim army of 'Iyadh ibn Ghanam approached the city.

According to the Qur'an, all pagans are to be be given a choice between conversion to Islam or death. People of the Book, however, are permitted to retain their religion and live, under Islam, as second-class citizens.

Who, then, are the Peoples of the Book? Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, says the Qur'an. And in one passage it adds: “...and the Sabaeans.”

Who were the Sabaeans? Nobody knows. To this day, there's no scholarly consensus.

As 'Iyadh neared Harran, the gates opened and the city elders rode out to greet the caliph and his army.

“Welcome to Harran,” they told him. “Nice to meet you. We're the Sabaeans.”

In this way, the wily pagans kept their religious freedom, and the Old Worship lived on in Harran for more than 600 years.


Tamara M. Green, The City of the Moon God: Religious Traditions of Harran (1992). E. J. Brill










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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.


  • Jamie
    Jamie Monday, 08 May 2017

    I love the story of Harran, the last haven of Pagan religious freedom in the Middle East...ruled by a dynasty of liberal Muslims!

    It saddens me when when I read latter-day Islamists crowing with triumph about its fall.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 09 May 2017

    There are always precedents for Living Together, always.
    In these days of deep division, it's important to remember.

  • Ian Phanes
    Ian Phanes Thursday, 11 May 2017

    To qualify, a community needs a book revealed by a prophet.

    "Um, yeah, our prophet is Hermes Trismegistos. And our book is anything with him as the author."

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Friday, 12 May 2017

    Um...M. L. West's Indo-European Poetry and Myth counts, right?

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