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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In Which Our Intrepid Blogger Names the Children That He Never Had



I never had a son or a daughter; gay men of my generation mostly didn't. (Talk about a failure of imagination.) But if I had, I have a pretty good idea what I would have wanted to name them, assuming it had been up to me to do so.

What do you want from a good name? Well, you want 1) something unique, but not weird enough to encourage teasing. You want 2) something with some history, some myth, to it: an old name in modern form. And you want 3) something that gives the kid a context, a sense of the culture that he or she is born into.

So, unsurprisingly, I would have wanted to give them names from the old dialect spoken by the Hwicce, the original Tribe of Witches. (Ah, the down-side of having a linguist parent.) This would have been by way of saying to them: Your life is your own, to do with as you wish, but you have a culture that's yours by right of inheritance, and always will be, whatever you may or may not choose to do with it.


Frytha. My daughter I would have wanted to name Frytha ("soft" -th, as in “breathe”): “peace.” Unlike speakers of modern English, who make do (or, just as often, don't make do) with only one kind of peace, the ancestors had different names for different kinds of peace; frith (“hard” -th, as in “breath”), the base-word from which the name derives, means “peace within a given community.”

Girls were still named Frith in East Anglia well into the early “20th” century. Frytha is a variant used—perhaps created—by one of my favorite (and formative) writers, novelist Rosemary Sutcliff; it's the name given to the bow-maid viewpoint character of her 1956 teen novel The Shield Ring. It's not a form that would have made sense to the Anglian-speaking ancestors, for whom -a was a masculine ending, but that's surely acceptable. As Mordechai Kaplan says, the ancestors get a vote, but not a veto.

So, welcome Frytha.


Siffrith. My son, I would name for a hero: a dragon-slaying hero, in fact.

German Siegfried is composed of frith's Continental variant (you'll notice a theme here) with the addition of Sieg: “victory.” Sieg + Fried = “Victory Peace” or “Victorious Peace.” It's a name of good omen: there are far worse kinds of peace than peace through victory.

Though the name, so far as we know, did not exist in Old English—in Beowulf, Siegfried's dragon-slaying exploits are ascribed to his father, Siegmund—its component roots certainly did, and we can easily reconstruct what an Old English version of the name would have looked like: sige (pronounced like “see ya”), “victory” + frið, “peace” = Sigefrið.

If 1) the name Sigefrith had existed in Old English, and if 2) it had survived into modern times while undergoing all the usual sound-changes, we would today say: Siffrith.

So, welcome Siffrith.


Children of the body I never had, but there are children and children. My children have all been those of the spirit, and of these—each and every one (you know who you are)—I couldn't be prouder.

But in this Season of the Ancestors, betwixt-and-between time that it is, besides those who were, we pause to remember those who might have been.

So hail to you, Siff and Fryth, son and daughter that I never had.

I, your father that might have been, salute you.



Above: Franz Stassen, “Siegfried Bathing in the Blood of Fafnir” (1932)


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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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