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.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Those Wacky Non-Pagans


Who you callin' 'cowan'?”  (Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin, Masters of Solitude) 

Every community has one: a name for Them. You know, those “Not Us” People. In this, pagans are just like everyone else. Who are they, those mysterious non-pagans?

Non-Pagans. A term for when you need to sound neutral (or polite). Most non-pagans that I know are pretty amused to learn that they're non-pagans. Long-time resident in the pagan ghetto that I am, I appreciate the educative value of “non-pagan.” (Let's hear it for paganonormativity.) Mostly, though, this is an “inside-looking-out” term; I don't generally use it when speaking with fellow normos.

Mundanes. Generally used in implied contrast with magical. I'm told that this one comes from Society for Creative Anachronism patois. I can't quite manage to make this term sound other than condescending, so I myself don't use it. I mean, they may not be pagan, but do we really have to strip them of everything?


Muggles. Well, it's good if you're going for a laugh. The advantage is that you can use it on both sides of the hedge, with magical and muggle alike, and they'll all laugh. Call me an elitist (you wouldn't be the first), though, but somehow I can't quite manage to take this one seriously. Pop culture needs to be used delicately, or you hurt the spell.

Cowans. According to several Cowans that I've met—i.e. people whose surname is Cowan—this rhymes with plowin', not sowin'. (Both Cowans that I know are, in fact, pagan, and find this situation quite amusing. I guess there's something to be said for protective coloration.) This term comes from Wicca's Masonic background—thank you, GBG—where it means, loosely, a non-initiate and technically, a scab: a non-mason who does mason's work. Supposedly the prototypical cowan was a guy named MacOwen, and the name stuck. Some day I'll work up a pagan story about this. "This is the story of the first non-pagan...." In fact, we know this to be a true story. Once upon a time, there was a first non-pagan, and by the standards of modern h. sapiens it wasn't all that long ago, either.*

Although I'm not a Mason, I frequently speak on the local Masonic lecture circuit. I always find it rather amusing to be the resident cowan for an evening.

I have to admit, this is my own preferred term. To both eye and ear, it parallels pagan, which seems right. It's mysterious and kind of witchy, which I also like. (I'm a big fan of in-group language.) It has the advantage of not being overtly derogatory (or rather, any perceived derogation is a product of tone). It's all in how you use it.

From what I hear, cowans even have their own venereal term. An exultation of larks, a murder of crows, a herd of cowans. Now who's being condescending?

I suppose some day the University of Paganistan will have a Department of Cowan Studies. Training ground for the diplomatic corps, I suppose.

A while back at a festival, I was introduced to a friend's current guy. Making conversation, I asked, as I often do, “So, what flavor pagan are you?”

Oh, I'm a darrin,” he answered.

Call it a classical reference. (You know: Bewitched, Samantha's husband.) This is a brilliant and, in fact, a very useful term: a non-witch partnered with a witch.

Those wacky cowans. What'll they think of next?

* According to the Kalasha of the Hindu Kush, First Man and First Woman—who were, of course, Kalasha—had nine sets of twins, one boy and one girl each. They paired them off oldest with youngest, etc., careful to break up the sets of twins. One pair of twins, however, mated—incestuously—with one another, and that's where Muslims come from.


Last modified on
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.


  • Linette
    Linette Monday, 24 November 2014

    I'm loving the "Darrens" idea. Thanks for the smiles this is bringing me.

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information