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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A Horse-Headed St. Mark from 9th-Century Brittany



If you didn't know it was Christian, you wouldn't know it was Christian.

Check out this horse-headed St. Mark from the 9th-century Breton Evangeliary (gospel-book) of Landévennec. Looks pretty pagan, doesn't he?

For reasons that I won't go into here, the writers of the four new testament gospels are generally associated with certain animals in Christian iconography. Generally these animals—an ox for Luke, an eagle for John, etc.—hover around in the background somewhere behind the figure of the evangelist. It took the Celtic imagination to give the evangelists the heads of said animals, however.

In the humano-centric world of Christianity, the result ends up looking surprisingly non-Christian.

St. Mark is generally associated in Christian art with the lion, not—as we see here—the horse. This figure represents a development specific to Brittany, a visual pun: marc'h in Breton (compare Welsh march; the English word mare is a first cousin) means “horse.”

The hippocephalous saint is here shown wearing a rich robe. I especially love his cloche-shaped halo and the not-altogether-reassuring look in his eye. (Clearly the monastic artist was himself something of a hippophile: note the careful attention to the spotting on the neck, the sensitively-drawn muzzle, and the tossled forelock.) He holds a book in his left hand and presents a pen with his right.

In the context of the Landévennec Gospels, of course, the book and pen refer to Mark's composition of his eponymous gospel.

For witches, though, the book and pen hold a different meaning. (“Sign.” “I cannot write my name.” “I will guide your hand.”)

Just add antlers. Pagan artists and Neo-Celtic stylists, take heed.






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