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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Horse and Hattock

In 1662 Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie reported using this incantation before riding off to the sabbat:

Horse and hattock, in [Old Hornie's] name!

It is worth noting that this phrase, as it stands, conforms to the standard four-beat line of Old English poetry, its two half-lines bound together by alliteration: the meter, for instance, of Beowulf. This, no doubt, we may ascribe to coincidence.

She also reports a longer version of the same incantation, in the form of a rhymed couplet:

Horse and hattock, horse and go,

horse and pellatis, ho ho!

The Craft has always been characterized by mysteriousness and practicality in equal measures, and we see the same principle in operation here.

Hattock means “little hat”: a cap, one might say. The same archaic diminutive suffix occurs in buttock, hillock, and bollock. This, then, is a phrase of departure: you've got your horse, you've got your hat: you're ready to ride. And since you're going to the sabbat, you do it in Old Hornie's name.

Just as you do everything else. That's what it means to be a witch.

Pellatis is, admittedly, rather more problematic. Given the couplet's first half, my best guess would be that we see here a form of pelisse, an archaic term for a fur garment, especially a cloak lined with fur.

Any Minnesotan witch will readily understand this. Baby, it's cold outside. Still, you've got your coat, you've got your hat: you're ready to ride.

Gowdie would have it that one uses these incantations before setting off to the sabbat regardless of what one is riding, whether an actual horse or a symbolic one: a broom, say, or a windle-straw.

Or, presumably, a car.

Mystery and practicality in equal measure.

That's the Craft, just as it's always been.




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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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