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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Of Oosers, Stangs, and Garlands

The stang is the standing forked pole that represents the Horned in Old (“Traditional”) Craft practice. I've written elsewhere about the custom of “dressing” the stang with seasonal garlands, and theorized about the meaning of this practice. It now occurs to me that the garlanding of the stang has an even deeper resonance.

It is universally acknowledged in Old Craft circles that the stang in-stands for the Master Himself. By Robert Cochrane's time (1931-1966), the personification of the “Devil” by the “devil” (i.e. of the god by the priest) had as a practice become moribund, so that the lore associated with it has been passed down only in fragmentary form.

That does not mean, however, that it has not been passed down. The ooser* (rhymes with “bosser,” not “boozer”) is the horned wooden mask worn by the priest when he personifies at the sabbat. Here in the American Midwest, as elsewhere, it has become customary for the ooser, when worn, to be accompanied with a “ruff” or collar of live greenery around the neck which, of course, varies in make-up with the season, just as the stang's wreath does.



The symbolism of this collar is deep, and I won't go into it here. One will better understand the visual purpose of the leaf-ruff by looking at the art of ancient Egypt, with its animal-headed gods, and the masked kachina personifiers of the American Southwest, who also wear ruffs of spruce. Here too the ruff (or, in Egyptian art, wig and beaded collar) serves to cover and visually unify the joining of non-human head with human body.


As I have said, the greenery used for the Horned One's wreath, whether as stang or as Upright Man, varies, as one would expect, with the season. Evan John Jones speaks of yew at Samhain and Imbolc, hazel, willow, and hawthorn at Bealtaine, and wheat and barley at Lunasa.

Jones also speaks, though, of the priority of the local. Our upcoming Midwest Grand Sabbat takes place at a pagan land sanctuary named Sweetwood for its sacred grove of sugar maples, so when the Master appears among us as summer begins to wane this year he'll be wearing, as he has before, his usual ruff of maple leaves.

Did she ever see the Devil Himself? Witch-people often select one of themselves to be, as it were, high priest in their infernal synagogue. Him they call devil. Such a one she often saw. He was young and lusty and dressed in green leaves. When they danced their sarabands, no one jumped as high as he. He was a pretty man and women loved him. It was only on Black Sabbath he had such power over men and women. At other times he was a cordwainer.

Esther Forbes, A Mirror for Witches


*The etymology of the Dorset dialectal word ooser is thoroughly unclear. Some have posited a source in Old English ôs, “[pagan] god,” otherwise preserved only in names such as Oswald, “god-power,” Oscar, “god-spear,” and Osborn, “god-child.” (The word is perhaps more familiar as Old Norse áss, the singular of aesir.) For historical reasons, this seems to me unlikely. (Personally, I suspect it's related to wose, the standard Middle English name for the homo silvaticus of Medieval lore, the “wild man of the woods.”) But it sure does make a good story.


And, as we know, the culture with the best stories usually wins in the end.
















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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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