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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The Blessing o' the Bats

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

So far this fall, we haven't had any bats in the house. Around here, that's unusual.

Most years, in the weeks before Halloween, I find at least one wheeling through the halls. We've got a bat house mounted on the wall outside—bats eat mosquitoes, so they're a valuable asset to have nesting nearby—but come the cold and the end of bug season, naturally they start looking around for a nice, cozy cave to over-winter in.

These days, I'm the household bat-catcher. Old Simmycat is gone now, but in her heyday she did the job masterfully. Like most Manx—in compensation for the lack of tail, I suppose—Simmy had powerful hindquarters and was a noteworthy jumper.

One night I awoke to a strange sound in my room. Ka-fwumpa! Ka-fwumpa! Ka-fwumpa! 

"Ye gods," I thought, "what's that cat up to now?"

I sit up and turn on the light. Sure enough: there's a bat, wheeling around the room, and every time it comes past, there's Simmy, jumping for it. 

I turn off the light and lay back down: Let her do her job, I think. I lay there in the dark, listening. Ka-fwumpa! Ka-fwumpa! Ka-fwumpa! Ka--

The jumps are interrupted by a high-pitched—virtually unhearable—piercing shriek, completely unforgettable. I sit up and turn on the light.

Praise be to Simmy the Huntress. Only she could catch a bat in mid-air. Amazing.

This went on for some years. The first year it was kind of amusing—witch's house, bat, Halloween, har-dee har har—but the next year I finally cottoned to the fact that something was going on here, something deeply seasonal. Winter comes on, bat seeks cave. Of course.

The years went by. Simmy grayed and died, and the task of catching bats fell to me. We've always had a "You kill it, you eat it" policy around here, but myself, I'm strictly a catch-and-release kind of guy.

On May Eve for years now we've gone down to a river meadow on the bluffs above the Mississippi. We garland our coven-tree (a big old white oak, maybe 150 years old), take hands, and dance. (The local Morris folks dance around it at sun-up the next morning, but naturally the witches take the night shift.)

Two years ago, as we were wheeling around the trunk, I tilted my head back and looked up into the branches of the Tree, still golden with sunset light. Lo and behold: the branches were a-flitter with bats, dozens of dozens of them, a whole cave-full. Witches wheeling below, bats wheeling above.

Bealtaine as usual in Paganistan.

Of course we joked about it afterward. Cartoon: Two people stand on a hill, overlooking a campground, crowded with tents. Over one cluster of tents, a cloud of bats hovers. Caption: That must be where Prodea's camped. Har-dee had har.

But this, too, is deeply seasonal. Bats coming out from their hibernacula in the cracks of the river bluffs: a sure sign of spring.

Sleep warm and well in your bluff-caves, bats, and a blessing on your slumber.

We'll see you at Bealtaine, sure.

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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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