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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Retson Retap, or: A Spell Against the Power of the Book

My next-door neighbor's husband is losing it.

A retired Baptist minister, his mental decline expresses itself in the form of public preaching to no one in particular. Sunday afternoon, while sitting on the front porch pitting cherries (pagan hands are never still), I listened with half an ear as he circled the block haranguing an unlistening and uncaring world about Sin, Salvation, and the Bible.

Generally I find public preaching noisome, but in this case what witches call ruth—compassion—wins out. He's not hurting anyone, and we all need to feel like we're doing something important in the world.

Besides, 20 years from now, that could be me out there, haranguing an uncaring and unlistening world about the Craft, the Horned One, and what it means to be a real pagan.

In some ways, the two of us—deeply religious people in a culture increasingly non-religious—have a lot in common.


The Deitsch people of Eastern Pennsylvania recognize a state of being that they call being “read fast.”

To be read fast is to become so obsessed with a particular book that one is driven to read and quote from it constantly, to the neglect of other aspects of one's life.

Among the Deitsch, the danger of becoming read fast is frequently associated with the classic grimoire the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, but experience readily suggests the term's potential for a wider applicability. Part of the danger of books—and, in particular, of book-driven ideologies—is their potential to possess—utterly and destructively—a soul.

Fortunately, there's an out.

When you find yourself read fast, what you need to do is to read the entire book, from end to end, in reverse. Only in this way can one “read oneself out” of the book's unholy power to obsess.

I think of the traditional—if much-maligned—rite of cleansing long known to those leaving the Church for the Craft: the recitation of the Retson Retap, or reverse Pater Noster. By the logic of Reading Out, I would posit that the RR signifies here as the epitome of the so-called “good news”: the “gospel” in microcosm.

(As traditional cultures all over the world can readily attest, the so-called “good news” is, in reality, anything but. The Witch word for “gospel” is laspel: literally, the “loathly news” [< OE lað-spel]).

So there you have it, to use as needed: a spell for breaking the power of the Book, whether Bible, Qur'an, The Spiral Dance, Lord of the Rings, or Das Kapital. (Don't we all know at least one person who needs this spell?) Alas, it's probably too late for my neighbor's husband.

Hopefully, it's not too late for you.



Thomas White (2013) Witches of Pennsylvania: Occult History and Lore. Charleston, The History Press, p 32.


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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.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Tuesday, 30 June 2020

    Is that why pagans accumulate their own libraries? So that no single book has a chance to take them over?

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