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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Bolf the Yeet, or: the Anglishing of Paganism

Anglo-Saxon Burial Site ... 


Let's let Professor Tolkien demonstrate.

Take a word from Old English—English as it was spoken 1000 years ago—one that either never existed, or once existed, but didn't survive into modern times: say hol-bytla, “hole-builder.”

Ask yourself: if this word had survived into modern times, and undergone—mutatis mutandis—all the usual sound changes, what would it look like today?

Enter hobbit.


If there is a linguistic term for this process of artificial verbal aging, I for one don't know what it is. Over the years, drawing on the Greek and Latin vocabulary that linguists tend to use to describe matters linguistic, I've coined several names for the process. None were sufficiently utile (or beautiful) to linger even in the memory of the coiner.

(Yes, I could laboriously go back through my notebooks and find them again. I'll spare both you and me the results.)

Recently I asked fellow ledesman (see below) Theodsman Nick Ritter—a better linguist than me, any day of the lunar month—what he would call it.

Anglishing, he promptly fired back.


Anglish is the name given to the conlang (“constructed language”) which asks precisely this question: if the English language had never undergone the type of Frenchification (= linguistic imperialism) that overtook it after 1066, what would it look like today?

One of the foundational principles of Anglish is the avoidance of Romance/Classical vocabulary whenever possible. Hence, my abortive attempts to coin a Greco-Latin term for this process of linguistic updating, wrong-headed from the beginning.

Thanks, Nick: Anglishing it is.


(“How, then, would one Anglish 'Beowulf'?” I ask him.

Beowulf's people, the Geats, also fell out of memory, as did the hero—whose name means “bee-wolf” (i.e. bear) himself. But Nick, of course, has a ready answer.

Hail and welcome, Bolf the Yeet.)


Old English had two different words that could be translated “tribe” or “people”: théod and léod. Without a detailed study of the words in their original context, it's hard to say what the difference in denotation between the two might have been to the English-speaking ancestors.

With the demise of tribal identity among speakers of English, neither of these words survived into modern times—13th century scholars had to borrow the Latin word for the concept—but, via the wonders of Anglishing, we can say that, had they survived, we would today say thede and lede.

So, what's the difference these days? Easily told: the people writ small, and the people writ large.

Example #1: While regarding themselves primarily as Athenians, Spartans, or Corinthians, ancient Greeks would all have regarded themselves as Hellenes.

Example #2: Speakers of Anishinabe (“Ojibway”) share a larger sense of kinship with other speakers of Algonquin languages, the larger linguistic family that includes Anishinabe and various other related languages.

Example #3: Modern-day Wiccans: Witch by thede, Pagan by lede.


Lest anyone think such linguistic nativism unique to speakers of English, let me hasten to assure you that there's an entire movement out there to revive Gaulish, the extinct language of ancient Gaul.

Permit me to rephrase more precisely. Not content with merely resuscitating ancient Gaulish as the ancestors spoke it, speakers of Modern Gaulish are asking themselves exactly the same question that the good professor poses above: If ancient Gaulish had continued in current use instead of becoming extinct, and if it had undergone all the expected sound-changes that have characterized the other modern Celtic languages, what would it look and sound like today?

(A lot like Welsh, it turns out, but sans ys and ws.)

Call it the Anglishing of Gaulish.

Maybe it's just me, but a quest so quixotic, you've simply got to love. (Admit it, pagans love lost causes.) Add to this the fact that—unlike Proto-Indo-European revivalists, who (go figure) are prone to translate Christian prayers and gospel passages into Proto-Indo-European (!)*—speakers of Modern Gaulish tend to lean toward the Old Ways instead. Steve Gwiríu Mórghnath Hansen's grammar of Modern Gaulish includes an appendix that lists, not a translated Our Father, but the modern forms that the names of old Gaulish deities would have taken if they'd survived in daily use.

Hail Cernun (or Carnon)!


In all its quixotic playfulness, the process that turns Old English into Modern Anglish, or ancient Gaulish to New, can't help but be reminiscent of the Pagan Revival.

Why try to pick up exactly where the ancestors left off, as if time's flow had halted 500, or a thousand, years ago? Instead, let us ask ourselves: if the old paganisms had survived uninterruptedly to our day, what would they now look, and sound, like?

Call it the Anglishing of Paganism.

Whether the results end up being worth the keeping, or not, would not our paganisms be the stronger for such an intellectual (and imaginative) exercise, with results both beautiful and utile?

Might it not be a collective step toward deepening, toward (dare I say it?) authenticity?



*Personally, such posthumous evangelization of the ancestral Mother-tongue can't help but remind me of the LDS's self-serving (not to mention remunerative) baptism of the dead: distasteful at best, necrophilous at worst.




Steve Gwíriu Mórghnath Hansen (2021) The Modern Gaulish Language: A Comprehensive Grammar. Tei In Carnuch









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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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