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 Witches, Polymastia, and Artemis of Ephesus


Scene: Department store, Women's Wear

Brassiere display, two racks side-by-side.

Sign on first rack:

Bras for Cowans

(Shows regular two-cup brassieres.)

Sign on second rack:

Bras for Witches

(Shows bras with three, four, and five cups.)


You know about witches' nipples: we've got extra. All the better to feed our familiars with, they say.

Polymastia: the condition of having extra breasts. Some years back, I gave a workshop on the subject at a local festival. My plan was to discuss the lore from the trials. I hadn't expected the workshop to turn into a show-and-tell. Turns out, some witches actually do have extras. That's just how some bodies are made, although of course in this particular instance we do have to factor in a certain self-selecting demographic.

In the minds of the Hunters, of course, a witch's polymastia made her something less than human. Humans have two nipples; animals have many. The witch's extra nipples demonstrate her essentially bestial nature.

Still, I can't quite help but think of Many-Breasted Artemis of Ephesus: Goddess of Witches, She Who Feeds the World. Like Goddess, apparently, like votary.




I've always admired the achievement of the artists that established the highly-recognizable iconography of the Ephesian Goddess in all her polymastate glory. As with the gods of Egypt, with their blended animal and human forms, or the gods of India with their multiple heads and limbs, the artist here has taken something conceptual and given it visual reality, not to mention a certain wyrd beauty.

Of course, not all scholars are convinced that these are indeed breasts with which our Goddess is so plentifully endowed. Citing their lack of nipples, some have posited that they are actually the severed testicles of sacrificial bulls, with which (so they claim) the Goddess's xoanon (wooden image) would have been hung at festivals. That—atypically for the Hellenic world, which eschewed such barbarian crimes against the human body—Ephesian Artemis was served by a eunuch priesthood perhaps lends extra credibility to the sacrificial bull theory.

While I can't explain the lack of nipples on the Lady's breasts, I find myself not entirely convinced. Though I see the resemblance, I note that the “breasts” are not paired, as one would expect testicles to be. Whichever underlying explanation we choose, we're clearly seeing a certain degree of stylization here. In some ways, the two theories could be read together—after all, if these are testicles, they're testicles hung where one would expect breasts—thus making Artemis of Ephesus simultaneously a goddess of both fertility and sterility.

Praise to Many-Breasted Earth, She Who Feeds the World. Though there's no known historic link between the polymastic goddess of Classical Antiquity and the witch-tales of Early Modern Europe, one can't help but savor the latter-day aptness of the shared attribute.

Like goddess, like votary.




Giulio Aristide Sartorio, Diana of Ephesus and the Slaves


If there's a story underlying Sartorio's beautiful but mysterious 1895 painting—it certainly looks as if there must be, though maybe that's just part of the artist's skill—I have yet to unearth it. Still, remember your Aradia, or: The Gospel of the Witches.

All witchcraft begins with a slave revolt.


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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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