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 Story in Five Pictures

Dating from more than 40,000 years ago, the Lion “Man” of Hohlenstein Stadel is the oldest uncontested zoomorphic figure that we know of. Carved from mammoth ivory, and standing about a foot high, the bipedal image combines feline and human characteristics. Since the lions of prehistoric Europe had no manes and there is no clear indication of sex, we cannot say for certain whether the figure is intended as female or male. 


In Mithraic art of the early first millennium, the deus leontocephalus—lion-headed god—is a common motif. Shown naked, four-winged, and spirally wrapped in a serpent, his identity is uncertain. Sometimes said to be Aion, the only known inscribed example (from York in England) is identified as Arimanius (= Persian Ahriman?).



Narasimha, generally considered the fourth of Vishnu's 10 major avataras, is depicted as a man with the head and claws of a lion. He first appears in Hindu art during the 3-4th centuries CE. According to his maha-mantra: “O brave and angry Maha-Vishnu, your heat and fire permeate everything. O Lord Narasimha, you are everywhere. You are the death of death, and I surrender to you.”




Like the Hohlenstein Stadel image, the Key Marco Cat combines human and feline (in this case, pantherine) characteristics. The sex is indeterminate. Found waterlogged in a pond on Key Marco, off the Florida coast, the wooden figure is thought to be a product of the Calusa culture and to date to circa 1400.




It's hard not to love C. S. Lewis' Aslan, the Lion-Lord of Narnia: not a tame Lion, no. For all his latter-day Christianity, Lewis loved the Old Ways and refused (as Ron Hutton has observed) to relinquish them. Lewis once received a letter from the mother of a 5-year old boy who was worried that he had committed idolatry (!) because he loved Aslan more than he loved Christ. Lewis, concerned, wrote back to reassure the boy that in loving one, he was loving the other. Perhaps.


But our longing for the Wise and Lordly Animal is a longing deeply human, immemorial.


We conventionally think and speak of the god of witches as horned and male, but we know that on planet Earth—the collective sum of whose biota makes up His corporate body—as in the human heart, the Lord of Beasts takes many, many forms.


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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.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Tuesday, 31 March 2015

    Way back in the 80's I dreamed of a soap stone sculpture of a seated man with the head of a mountain lion wearing a feather bonnet, squash blossom necklace, breach cloth and moccasins. One hand was raised in blessing and the other was in the boon bestowal gesture you find in some Hindu or Buddhist art. On the base of the figurine was the name Sambala. I knew at the time that this was the war god of the United States. A couple of weeks later I found a book at the bookstore entitled Shambala.

    I once borrowed from the public library a book on Meroe one of the African kingdoms on the Nile about where Ethiopia is today. The book mentioned there being a lion headed god in the area.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 01 April 2015

    It's such a rich image. Hereabouts, he would be the Cougar Man. After years of "reported sightings," a few years back a surveillance camera finally got footage of one, and they had to admit that the Big Felines are back in Minnesota.

    Call it "rewilding."

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