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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Mother Night

“Mother Night”: a resonant name. Midwinter's Eve: the night that gives birth to the rest of the year.

To the Hwicce, the Anglo-Saxon tribe ancestral (some say) to today's witches, it was Módraniht: the Night of the Mothers. Anglo-Saxonist Philip A. Shaw relates this to the Germanic cult of the Matronae, attested on the Continent in more than 1000 inscriptions (Shaw 41). Many contemporary heathens accordingly offer to the dísir (female elves) and human foremothers at Midwinter.

The phrase (in the singular) entered modern English by way of Kurt Vonnegut's 1961 novel of the same name, the tale of a Nazi collaborator, which took its title from Goethe's Faust (1:3). “I am part of the part that was everything in the beginning,” Mephistopheles tells Faust, “part of the darkness that gave birth to light: light that in its arrogance challenges Mother Night [Mutternacht] and claims the possession of space” (Fairley 21).

Mother Night: the Void, the Primal Darkness. “Diana was the first created before all creation,” says Charles G. Leland in Aradia: The Gospel of the Witches. “In her were all things; out of herself, the first darkness, she divided herself; into darkness and light she was divided. Lucifer, her brother and son, herself and her other half, was the light” (Leland 18).

Mother Night: mythic time. On Midwinter's Eve, we reenter the space between the stars, the time before time, when Time and Space were one, undifferentiated: “Chaos and Old Night.”

 

The Earth in her might

will give birth to the light

on the year's longest night,

and that hour draws near.

 

(From: The Mother Night Carol)

 

Barker Fairley, tr., Goethe's Faust (1970). University of Toronto.

Charles G. Leland, Aradia: The Gospel of the Witches (1974). C. W. Daniel Ltd. (Originally published 1899).

Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of the Matrons (2011). Bristol Classical Press.

For Paul, who asked

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Comments

  • Paul B. Rucker
    Paul B. Rucker Thursday, 03 December 2015

    Bravo for the further explication... I attended a lecture ("Yuletide-- a Time for Tomten") at the American Swedish Institute last night in which the presenter, Lena Norrman, spent a LOT of time on the pagan roots of Yule, and credited The Wild Hunt, Odin and Mother Night as three strong early influences. I had to come back afterwards to tell her about this synchronicity.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Friday, 04 December 2015

    Let no one doubt that the Asgardsrei ("Asgard's Ride") still rides the skies of the American Midwest during the Thirteen Nights, just as it does those of Norway.

    I've spoken with those who have heard it.

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