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 Visit to the Castle of the Roses

This post in honor of the Rose Moon, now upon us.

In Old Craft lore, the Seat of the Lady is said to be the Castle of the Roses.

Robert Cochrane, father of the modern Old Craft movement, used to describe it as a castle on a hill on an island to the west. (It's where our dead go, they say.) He clearly saw it as a classic, high medieval castle: moat, drawbridge, curtain wall with four gates (it's also called the Castle of the Winds), a castle-keep with three towers, and Herself the Lady of the Castle enthroned within. It's called Castle of the Roses because the outer wall is girded with a thick hedge of rose-briars. The hedge is starred with white roses that turn red when one of Ours enters.

Knights in shining armor have never been my thing. (I'll take my warriors stark naked, be-torqued, and blue with woad, thank you very much.*) Cochrane's version reads like Idylls of the King meets Sleeping Beauty, and it's not the Brothers Grimm part that bothers me. In fact, the heroine of the original story was named Briar Rose, which is just right.

See how neatly, though, this medieval vision retroverts into early Iron Age Keltic culture. For drawbridge and moat, read ford. (You have to cross water to get to That Land.) Instead of a castle, picture a hillfort of three encircling earthen walls, with the rose-hedge girdling the outermost. You pass through the off-set gateways in the concentric earthworks, and at the top of the hill is the wooden Hall of the Lady, Chatelaine and Chieftain.

This makes sense because, of course, the Arthurian mythos as it has come down to us is firmly rooted in the gritty realia of Iron Age Keltic life. I think that we're in no way being false to Cochrane's vision to think of the Castle in this way. That the Land of Youth should show itself differently to different people in different times should be no surprise to anyone.

Interestingly, in Irish the Castle is known as Dún an Róis, the Dún of the Rose: singular, not plural. This is because, of course, the Lady is Herself the Rose, for reasons unlikely need explanation to anyone reading this. The rose--and I'm talking here about the single, not the compound, rose, the wild rose of five petals--has always been a token of the witches' goddess, and She Herself is called the Rose. That's why the rose was a symbol of the Craft back in the Hidden Days. That's why the pentagram is called the "Witch's Rose."

As Valerie Anand has it, if in the old days you wanted to find out about your companion, you'd draw--with your toe in the dirt of the yard, say--an X, and close the top two points with a line.

And then you'd wait.

If whoever you were talking with did nothing, then you'd know.

And if he (or she) finished the Rose by adding a  ^  over your three lines, well then, you'd both be knowing who's one of Ours now, wouldn't you?

Visit die Rosenburg whenever you like. There you can greet the Rose Queen and drink her fiery drink. 

But don't go slashing your way through the briar-hedge with a sword, now. If you're to go in, the hedge will surely open to you of its own accord.


*My friend Bosco once shut down the noisy early-morning back-yard party next door by charging into the midst of it butt-naked and screaming. The incident has since been memorialized in the triad Three Outrageous Spells:

When Melanie banished nazzes with a dance;

 when Bosco routed neighbors with a naked charge;

 when Robin Grimm dropped a house on X “toxic” Y.


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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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