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.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Of Arrows and Garlands

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

One of the signature symbols of the modern Old Craft movement is the crossed arrows and garland. It is a striking and evocative image which I find, as I peruse the literature, to have occasioned much discussion but little articulation. The symbol, however, has much to tell, to those who care to ask.

These days the garlanded arrow-cross receives attention mostly as an adornment for the stang, the standing forked pole that is the unembodied image of the Horned. Most discussion seems to center around the composition of the garland (what vegetation, at what season) and its presence or absence. Rarely do I find discussion of meaning.*

In its first appearance on the public stage, though, the symbol—though associated with the stang—is freestanding. I myself first saw it in a photograph in Justine Glass' 1973 book Witchcraft, the Sixth Sense—and You. There a rather sloppily-made mixed garland of leaves, flowers, and feathers is pierced by two diagonally-crossed arrows, one with black fletching and one with white. They would seem to be mounted on a wall above what is described as a “keppen rod.” This is clearly what would later be called a “stang,” in this case not a hayfork but a pole with a curved metal end-prong, probably used for removing pots from an oven.

The source of this evocative image—which receives no discussion in the text—was clearly Robert Cochrane, “devil” (= priest) of the Clan of Tubal Cain and father of the modern Old Craft movement.

Cochrane himself does not discuss the symbol in any of his surviving writings, but we know enough about his thinking to situate the Garlanded Arrows within their proper mythological context. It is, in effect, both an image of the Goddess and Twin Gods of Old Craft mythology, and of the Great Marriage. The image both implies and embodies a story.

The garland as a symbol of the female, and in particular of female sexuality, will come as no novelty to anyone likely to be reading this. Likewise, the arrow as a male—and specifically phallic--symbol will surprise no one. Arrows, of course, fly, flight being proverbial symbolic shorthand for sexual intercourse. (Note the inclusion of feathers in the garland described above.) That we see here two arrows, crossed, articulates the twofold nature of the Old Master, the dark and the light, both creative and destructive. The arrow kills, but it also gives life because it feeds: the well-known trope of the fruitful death. (Not to mention the “little death” of orgasm.) The sibling rivalry of the Dark Twin and the Light for the Lady's favor is a social and seasonal trope familiar from Robert Graves' White Goddess, of which Cochrane described himself as being both an admirer and a critic.

Cochrane, in his conscious crafting of a modern witchcraft, was wont to draw on folkloric sources, which is one of the things that gives Old Craft its sense of gritty authenticity, and one has only to turn to the Robin Hood ballads to trace the traditional association of arrow with garland. Shooting through a garland is an immemorial proof of skill (and implied virility) in folk archery. One may also read here yet another insight into the nature of the Old One. The arrow is used in hunting, competition, and war. It is not what one uses to slaughter a domestic animal. The arrow is a liminal symbol in a way that the knife is not, and of course its association with the lunar bow—the arrow is, in effect, born from the bow—defines yet another dimension of relationship between Themselves.

There are other meanings to be found in this articulate symbol as well. The Arrow Cross with Garland may be read as a calque for the skull and crossbones, claimed as an ancient symbol of the witches' god as Lord of Death and Resurrection. It is certainly an image of the Lord of the Sabbat, who sits cross-legged on the altars of our groves and our hearts to this very day.

One might add that together the crossed arrows and garland also form a Sun Wheel, which writer and Old Craft expositor Michael Howard has described as the true symbol of Traditional Witchery.

Symbols are wells, and there is no end to the meaning we may draw from them. What I write here in no way exhausts the riches of this potent symbol.

Me, I'm not one for garlanding the stang. (The phrase "gilding the lily" comes to mind.) I hang the garland on the front door of my house instead. Though the composition of the garland varies from season to season--flowers at Bealtaine, oak at Midsummer's, wheat at Harvest--the wreath invariably sports twin cross-arrows, the White and the Black, pointing upwards in summer and downwards in winter.

One wonders what the mailman makes of it.

Two, two, the Two-Horn God

in shining gold and green-O:

One is all and everywhere,

and evermore shall be-O.


 *The incuriousity of so many modern witches about their own ways remains a source of unending surprise and puzzlement to me. Why does the athame have a black handle? Not only do we have no stories to explain this (in a traditional culture, there would be several, probably mutually contradictory, explanations) but it seems rarely to have occurred to anyone even to ask the question.






Last modified on
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.


Additional information