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 Call of the Horned Serpent

 Wrap your cold coils around the world,

bounding that which Is from what Is Not.


As Lord of Beasts, god of red life, the god of witches—him that we call the Horned—takes many forms. Among the least-examined of these in contemporary Witchdom is that of the Great (or Old, or Crooked) Serpent.

One readily understands why. Ophidophobia runs deep in Western culture. I'm afraid of snakes myself, though they fascinate me as well. (They say that fascinate originally referred to “the ability to induce an erection.” Make of that what you will.) The War between the Thunderer and the Earth Serpent is an old, old story, one of humanity's most widespread. It only becomes a danger when the War becomes morally weighted, as it does, most notably, in the Bible, in which the Serpent frequently embodies capital-E Evil: e.g. the polycephalous (many-headed) and polycerate (many-horned) Dragon of the bad acid-trip book of Revelation.

(Pagans, of course, knew—and know—better. Ba'al's adversary, Livyatán—who became the Leviathan of Hebrew mythology—is called náhash 'aqaltón: the “zigzag serpent.” Interestingly, Bible translators have tended to render this as “the crooked serpent.” Compare the two adjectives. One is morally-charged, the other merely descriptive.)

Here we see another reason for Wicca's aversion to the Horned Serpent. Wicca, for entirely understandable reasons, has tended to eschew anything that bears even the slightest taint of Satanism.

Old Craft is less fearful of Biblical imagery although—as Craft historian Mike Howard has observed—when it embraces it, it tends to do so for its own purposes.

One of the few contemporary Craft voices to speak about the Old Serpent is Tony Steele, who in his 1998 Water Witches writes about a purported Fam Trad, supposedly of Frisian origin, preserved among the canal-boatsmen (and -women) of the English Midlands.

Let me say up front that the credibility of his historical claims is gravely damaged by his decision to anchor them in the Oera Linda Book, a notorious late “19th” century forgery claiming to date back to Bronze Age “Atland” (i.e. Atlantis).

Well, for now let us lay historicity to the side. Steele claims as the god of these water-witches the Great Serpent “World”: in Frisian (supposedly) Wr-alda. (My Frisian-English dictionary doesn't turn up such a word.) Steele's ideas are most moving (and convincing) when he writes in a pagan idiom of the Earth Serpent, Whose power flows through the landscape. (Take a thoughtful look at the Great Serpent Mound to understand what he means.) It is less so when it seeks deep Craft meaning in the hallucinatory visions of the book of Revelations, where the Dragon is said to have seven heads and ten horns. Steele suggests that reflection on the uneven horns-to-heads ratio will impart deep insights into the nature of the god of witches.

Call me a skeptic, but I'm not convinced.

Still, Steele does indeed have his share of insights to offer, and I'd recommend a read to those whose ears the Crooked Serpent has tickled with His forkèd tongue.

(Come on, admit it: you've felt that tickling, haven't you?)

Quite otherwise, alas, is Shani Oates' unreadable 2012 The Star-Crossed Serpent. Oates is a student of Evan John Jones, himself off of Robert Cochrane, the Father of contemporary Old Craft, and during the Era of Old Craft Succession Wars claimed to have unilaterally inherited the “virtue” (whatever that means)* of Cochrane's old Royal Windsor Coven. As one might guess from the title, Oates is yet another with the courage to examine the image of the Old God as Old Serpent. Unfortunately, her prose is utterly impenetrable. Clearly an autodidact, Oates never met a big word that she didn't like. Unfortunately, she uses them more or less without regard to precise meaning. To back-translate what she writes into what she actually means, but lacks either the will or the ability to articulate, is—for me at least—an exhausting mental exercise, and frankly—given what she has to impart—not worth the effort.

(Take, for example, her title, the Star-Crossed Serpent: Adam and Eve meet Romeo and Juliet. The phrase is her own; it sounds impressive but, really, what does it mean? By “star-crossed lovers” Shakespeare meant “fated to tragedy”; does that meaning really apply here? If not, what does it mean?)

The Starry Serpent, now, I understand. Earth Serpent, Sky Serpent. As above, so below (or, as witches say: The Goat above, the Goat below). But star-crossed? Really?

Well, books can guide, but in the end they cannot lead. (That's the prime mistake of all those bloody Book religions.)

So next time you're out walking your territory, as witches do, muse on the Earmengand, the Great Horned Serpent, whose image is written on rock around the World.

Feel the embrace of his coils, and see if His forked tongue doesn't just tickle your ear.


*Certain Old Craft writers use the term "virtue" to mean approximately what Christians mean when they talk about "apostolic succession."

"Virtue," of course, is Norman French, a johnny-come-lately kind of word. In the old Saxon Witch (Hwicce) language, the concept would better have been expressed as ethel: "estate" or "inheritance."



Evan John Jones and Shani Oates (2012) The Star Crossed Serpent Volume I – Origins: Evan John Jones 1966-1998, The Legend of Tubal Cain. Oxford; Mandrake Press.

Tony Steele (1998) Water Witches. Chieveley, Berkshire, Capall Bann Publishing.


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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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