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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Milk of the Mother

Taste the milk, the milk of the Mother:

drink from the fountain, the fountain of life.

(Paganistani chant)

Roughly 9000 years ago, some of my ancestors underwent a genetic mutation that enabled them to continue drinking milk into adulthood.

Boy, am I ever glad that they did.

Like so much else, it begins in the heart of winter.

A local witch who raises sheep tells me that hereabouts the yeaning (lambing) can start as early as Yule, but generally reaches its peak in early February, the time of the festival known in Old Irish as Oimelc, which means (some say) “Ewe's Milk.” (You can always count on folk etymology for an entertaining story.) If that seems like an odd name for a holiday, consider: just at the time of year when the stored food is beginning to run out, suddenly there's a stream of good, high-quality protein to drink from. How many lives it must have saved down the centuries!

Then comes the calving, and by May the pastures have greened up and the milk is coming in freshets. The Hwicce—the Anglo-Saxon tribe ancestral (according to some) to today's witches—called May Þrimilce: “three milkings.” By May the cows are producing so much milk that you have to milk them three times a day instead of the usual two. Or so they say.

The old Witch names of the months eventually got elbowed out by the Roman imports that we still use, but if they hadn't, we would today call the month of MayThrimmidge. (Thank you, J. R. R. Tolkien.)

And now it's nearly Midsummer's, and the milk gushes forth. Thank you, Goddess. Bring on the cheese!

The cheeses of late spring and early summer are the soft, fresh cheeses: cottage, cream, and farmer's. Not having had the time to age and ripen, they're often flavored with other agents to give them gustatory interest. In Scandinavia and the Baltics, it wouldn't be Midsummer's without caraway cheese.

The garden is just starting to feed us now: dill, asparagus, peas. By Midsummer's we'll be digging the very first new potatoes. But it will be a while yet before it's producing enough food to sustain us.

In the meantime, though, we've living like royalty on the very milk of the Mother.

Just look at these strawberries. Pass the cream, would you?


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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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