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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How Do You Say 'Religion' in Witch?

A friend once asked me why I don't capitalize 'pagan.'

Here's why.


Back in the old days, we didn't have a separate word for 'religion.'

We didn't know that we needed one.

In those days, religion interlaced with everyday life and behavior like intertwining patterns on a runestone.

In the language of the Anglo-Saxon Hwicce—the original Tribe of Witches—the word þéaw (today we say thew) meant “tradition, custom, usage, habit, conduct.” In the plural it meant “virtues, manners, morals, morality.”

But that was as close as we got to 'religion.'

That's why we had to import the foreign word.

Well, precision is an inherent good, and it sure is convenient to have a specific word for 'religion' when we need one.

But it's also good to remember how the ancestors saw things, with religion, custom, and tradition basically all one and the same.

Here in Witch World, that's still the way we see it.


It's interesting to note that among the Kalasha, the last indigenous pagans of the Hindu Kush, exactly the same situation obtains. Their word for 'religion' (din) is a borrowing from Islam. The native word—dastúr—means pretty much exactly the same as thew.

To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: a pagan is a pagan is a pagan.




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Tagged in: Hwicce thews
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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