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 Devil and His Long Ten

 Puck (folklore) - Wikipedia

12 + 1 = 13.

12 Jurors + 1 Judge = 13.

12 Witches + 1 “Devil” = 13.

Here in Minneapolis, during the lead-up to the Derek Chauvin trial, we've been thinking and talking much about juries. I had never spent much time thinking about the jury as a cultural institution before, but suddenly I'm seeing some interesting parallels with, shall we say, yet another institution.

Think of that next time you get together with the coven.

The twelve-person jury in the US is an inheritance from English Common Law. A deliberative body, the purpose of which is to determine truth—truth, at least, for legal purposes—it ideally constitutes, in effect, a microcosm of the society.

Why twelve to make a microcosm, and not ten, you ask?

Easily told. There's evidence that early Germanic-speaking societies were duodecimal—twelve-based—rather than decimal. That's why to this day we count “...eleven, twelve...” and then get to the teens.

To the Hwicce, the original Anglo-Saxon-speaking Tribe of Witches, twelve was the “long ten,” just as 120 was the “long hundred.”

Think of that next time you get together with the coven.

To those used to reckoning on fingers, a ten-based mathematical system seems more “natural” than a twelve-based one, but of course it's perfectly possible to count to twelve on your fingers as well.


How to Count to Twelve on Your Fingers


Using your thumb as pointer, touch the tip of each of your fingers. That's one through four.

Next, touch the first (at least from the top) joint of each finger. That's five through eight.

Now touch the second joints. That's nine through twelve.

That's how the “Devil” counts to make sure everyone's present.


Ah yes, the thumb: that extra, dexterous, phallic digit that makes us who we are. The thumb's the Devil's finger, sure.

The long ten means completeness, wholeness, the cycle. The anomalous thirteenth, the Devil and his Long Ten, then, means continuity, new beginning, recurrence of the cycle.

Think of that next time you meet up with the coven.












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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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