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 Craft Is No Thornless Rose

 “She hath a grip of all the Craft.” (Andrew Mann, 1594)

For behold: I am Queen of all Witcheries.” (The Charge of the Goddess)


Here's the thing to remember: there are many Witcheries.

Feign though we be to one amongst the many, yet are we heirs to them all.

I've been reading (and mostly enjoying) Aaron Oberon's 2019 Southern Cunning: Folkloric Witchcraft of the American South. Oberon is a post-Wiccan witch (his nutshell definition of Wicca as “four corners and gods” has got to be one of the wittiest and most succinct critiques that I've ever heard) in search of a Witchcraft with some grit and spooge to it. This he finds in the folklore of the American South, where he grew up, and in the American witch-tales collected in Hubert Davis' classic (but, among witches, much-neglected) collection The Silver Bullet and Other American Witch Stories.

Now it has to be faced that one of Wicca's great weaknesses lies in the fact that its magic is largely coven-magic. When it comes to practical magic for one, the standard Book of Shadows simply doesn't have much to offer. This explains why so many Wiccans have been off studying Hoodoo for the last 20 years: they're looking for the micro-nutrients that their own diet simply isn't providing.

In one chapter, Oberon sets himself to unravel a bit of folklore that he himself grew up with. “The Devil is beating his wife,” his mother would say when it rained while the Sun was shining.

Well, the expression raises some interesting questions, and Oberon's discussion ranges—as it should—through Scots trial disquisitions, domestic abuse, and his own dream-work.

But you've missed something important, Aaron: you're forgotten your Witch mythology. Remember the Lady's Descent? Remember the Scourging? Remember the “pangs of love”?

Feign though we be to one Witchery, yet are we heirs to them all.

The Horned drives. His Scourge, that most problematic of all His tools—as I learned from local Wiccan elder Burtrand back in the 80s—may be little-understood, but with it, he drives us to surpass ourselves, to go beyond what we thought we were capable of. Pain, adversity: these push us to transcend our own limits.

Of the many Wiccan initiations that I've attended down the decades, one of the few that actually felt like it meant something was (if you'll pardon the expression) priested by one of the local Dungeon Daddies. That was a real scourging with a real scourge, and it signified.

I daresay that throughout Wiccandom these days, few covens still actually scourge and, among those that do, the pathetic embroidery-floss scourge largely holds sway. Here we see Wicca at its most pallid: a symbol without a reality.

As a tool of the modern Craft, the Scourge derives ultimately from the trial transcripts of the Great Persecution, in which the Devil was said literally to whip up the dancing, where laggards—those who gave themselves less than fully to the effort—would feel his lash.

Indeed, Old Hornie was said to have flogged those that displeased him. (He still does.) In the Appalachian lore from which Oberon draws much of his practice, he was said to do so with rose-canes. If the Devil's rose-canes were anything like the ones on the heirloom variety at the foot of my driveway, I can only say: Yikes.

Yet the thorn is the vegetal equivalent of the horn. Horn : Thorn, get it? With the pain comes the beauty. There's no beauty without it, no rose without thorns. That's what makes the Rose the Lady's emblem.

The Craft is no thornless Rose, no wide and easy Way. No, it's a path much beset with thorns and briars. When we feel the tears of the Goddess while the Sun yet shines, let us remember the Horned's rose-cane scourge, and the pain that drives to exceed.

Feign though we be to one amongst many Witcheries, yet are we heirs to them all.

As for the “Devil-beats-wife” domestic abuse scenario: that's misrepresentation, just more nazz agitprop.



Aaron Oberon (2019) Southern Cunning: Folkloric Witchcraft in the American South. Moon Books.

Hubert Davis, ed. (1975) The Silver Bullet and Other American Witch Stories. Jonathan David.




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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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