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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Meet-Up at the Toad Corral

Here in the Midwestern US, 2015 is a sabbatic year. At the beginning of harvest, the tribe of Witches will once again foregather in immemorial Grand Sabbat.

But while the adults are busy kissing the Devil's ass (makes the herds fertile), having promiscuous sex (makes the crops grow), and eating ragoût de bébé non baptisé (tastes great), what about the kids? Once they've been presented to the Devil but before they're old enough to join in the fun, what to do? Kids and rituals: the perennial problem.

When in doubt, consult ancestral precedent. The Basque witches came up with a neat solution.

As I'm sure I don't need to tell you, after the Devil f**ks the bejesus out of you and nips your shoulder, to seal the deal he gives you your very own toad to be your intimate familiar. You suckle it (blood's OK if you don't happen to be lactating at the time) and sew little outfits for it, and in return it helps out with all your spells.

Naturally, when you go to the Sabbat, you want to bring your toad along with you. But what to do with it while you're dancing back-to-back and need both hands? Truly a dilemma: what Chaucer (circa 1374) would have called (it's a by-name for the two-horned master) a dulcarnon.


Well, at the entry to the dancing-ground you'll notice a little low corral (shown here as a pond). Deposit your toad at arrival, and the kids will watch it for you while you're immersed in the weird glories of the sabbat; that's their responsibility. (But of course it's lots of fun, too: imagine trying to keep 169 toads from hopping the fence.)* (And believe me, you really do not want to find out what happens if you lose one.) Just such a toad-corral is shown in this detail from an engraving (shown above) in Pierre de Lancre's Tableau de l'inconstance des mauvais anges et démons (Jan Zarnko, 1612). Two birds, one bolt. Voilà: an elegant solution to twin dilemmas.

This year's Grand Sabbat isn't for months yet, but it's never too early to start packing. Ooser? Check. Cauldron? Check. Black candles? Check. Chicken-wire?

Damn. I know I've got some around here somewhere.

*Hence "toad-herd," a nickname commonly given to witch children. Truly, the Sabbat is a time and place like no other.






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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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