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's Cross

Did you ever wonder why the Devil carries a pitchfork?

Give a quick eye-over to any book of medieval art, and you'll soon know why.

In Hell, it seems like every devil has some sort of tool of torture in hand: meat-hooks are common.

The Afterlife as torture-chamber. Yikes.

The creators of modern Witchery made clever, and creative, use of their sources. Wicca's Fivefold Kiss (“What is the five that is eight?”) originated as the Trial Era's osculum infame. (In plain English, that's “kissing the Devil's bunghole.”)

The witch's ability to “draw down the Moon” originally referred to her unholy power, not to embody a goddess, but to disrupt the course of nature.

Likewise with the Devil's pitchfork. In Old Craft, it became the symbol, and sometimes the embodiment, of the Horned God.

The story goes that in the Old Days, when it wasn't safe to have images of Old Hornie lying around, the pitchfork would be planted horns-up in the ground to serve as his stand-in. After the sabbat, you'd just hang it back up on the wall of the barn, and no one would be any the wiser.

Today we call this a stang, but it started off life as a simple hayfork. And with its obvious relationship to agriculture and animal husbandry, the connection to the Master of Beasts could hardly be more apt.

So no, there's no genetic relationship between the Devil's pitchfork/stang and Shiva's trishul (“three-head”) or Poseidon's trident (“three-tooth”).

As for symbolic affinity, though....

Old Craft chronicler and éminence grise Mike Howard (1948-2015) once observed that when witches make use of ecclesiastical symbolism, it's generally for their own ends.

The stang, for instance. Yes, it's the Devil's pitchfork. But when it in-stands for the Horned Lord at the sabbat, there's generally a skull set out at its foot.

If you'll get out your medieval art book again, you'll see that this is a clear allusion to the Crucifixion.

So the stang is also a cross. In fact, it used to be known as “the Devil's cross”; the cross-bar sometimes strapped to the standing hay-fork (as above) makes this even clearer.

Pitchfork and cross. To witches, apparently, their god is both Christ and the Devil.

As if you needed me to tell you that.


Above: Nigel Jackson


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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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