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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Keeper of the Book of England: Tracking Down a Pioneer of the Horned God Revival

Today, he's almost entirely forgotten.

But he was one of the pioneers of the Horned God revival in the 20th century.

Hans Holzer's 1969 book The Truth About Witchcraft was my second book about modern witchery. (The first was Sybil Leek's Diary of a Witch.) In it, he treats mostly with witchcraft of the Gardnerian and Gardnerian-derived varieties.

But A. Damon was different.

Damon lives with his wife upriver, writes Holzer, “within the frame-work of witch law,” as he put it when he invited me to drop in for a visit, and his “logo” or symbol is an interesting combination of the Horned God's horns and sex organs within a triangle (150).

My 14-year old's ears pricked up immediately.

Damon had no use for Gardnerian witches, “blessed be,” or the pentagram.

“These have no significance within the Craft,” he told Holzer.

Damon claimed to hold the highest possible position of authority in the Craft, and had never, so he said, met another witch since his grandmother died.


Here's the passage that hit me hardest, and stuck with me through the decades that followed:

What makes Damon's...approach to the Craft so interesting is his claim to be Keeper of the Book of England. His form of the cult goes back to twelfth-century England. There is even a “pact”—not with the devil but with the Horned God—signed in blood.

And that, tantalizingly, was all.

I knew that this was the real thing because by 1969—just like in the old stories—I'd already met the "Black Man" in the woods myself and made my own deal with Him.

In blood, as it happens.

But it was decades before I heard anything more about A. Damon.

In 2009, I wrote to British writer Michael Howard (1948-2015) to see if he knew anything more. In a Craft over-blessed with self-obsesssed innovators, Mike Howard was that rarest of personalities, the chronicler of other people's ideas. He'd been around forever, he knew everyone, and everybody talked to him. If anyone else knows more about this, I thought, it would be Mike.

Sure enough. Here's what he wrote to me:

'Damon' lived in Kingston-on-Thames, which is west of London in Surrey, and I corresponded with him for a while. He claimed to have an all-female coven and he was its leader and representative of the Horned God, who demanded his followers give him the 'osculum infame'. He was at one time a member of Gardner's Brickett Wood coven, although he said that [he] only joined to see what was going on. He told me a tale that his version of the Craft originated with a mysterious white tribe in ancient Africa, although he did not go so far as to say they were Atlanteans! As far as I know, the reference to him in Holzer's book is his only public appearance.

Mike's mention of Atlanteans references Charles Cardell's Coven of Atho, which did indeed make such a claim. Much as it may sound like something from an H. Rider Haggard novel, I suspect that the “white tribe of Africa” business is a reference to the Berbers of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, among whom survives the cultus of the Goat-Man known in Berber as Bilmawn, and in Arabic as Bou Jaloud, literally “father of skins.”

In Old Craft lore, the worship of Bou Jaloud is said to have entered Europe through Moorish Spain, and to have spread up along the coast until it got to England, cross-pollinating along the way with the extant European worship of the Horned God. It was this vigorous hybrid that, in the 12th century, gave rise to what would later be known as witchcraft.

The secret to every good story is specific detail. I'm still intrigued by that Book of England, of which Damon claimed to be keeper. Was this (as one might suspect from the little Holzer relates) the equivalent of the Devil's legendary Black Book, which every witch signs in blood at her initiation, and thus a register of all the witches of England, past and present? Or—perhaps even more tantalizing—was this a chronicle of the Craft in England, faithfully kept and updated since the 12th century?

A. Damon, wherever you are and whoever you were, I owe you a debt of gratitude. What you said to Hans Holzer (who, let's face it, was not exactly the brightest candle on the altar) inspired me, helped shape the life of my spirit, and gave me tales to tell.

So I number you among my forebears, and pledge to pour to you at Samhain this year, and every year, while ever my days shall last.

Now, about that osculum infame....


Hans Holzer, The Truth About Witchcraft (1969). Doubleday.


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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.


  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak Tuesday, 13 June 2017

    For me, the seminal Holzer book was "The New Pagans." CES, CAW, Feraferia. It was all so heady and exciting...

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Tuesday, 13 June 2017

    I remember reading Holzer and Leek back in the 70's along with Journey to Ixtlan and Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. I don't think any of them had a noticeable impact on me. I was probably more influenced by Andre Norton's Witch World, and the stories of Thomas Burnett Swann.

  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak Wednesday, 14 June 2017

    Oh yes - I was very influenced by them as well. (Darkover too! And Kurtz's Deryni.) I highlighted "New Pagans" because I started out in Wicca (h/t to Paul Huson and "Mastering Witchcraft") but something felt amiss. "New Pagans" opened me up to the idea there was much beyond Wicca but in the same orbit.

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 14 June 2017

    My favorite Darkover story remains Darkover Landfall. I remember reading the Deryni series but the memory of it doesn't stay with me for some reason, even Orion Foxwood talking about waking the witch blood didn't recall it to mind.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 15 June 2017

    When I saw Fred Addams' Apple Kore on the Jacket of New Pagans, it was love at first sight. Nigh on 50-some years later, I still feel the same.
    Funny: I've always thought that Holzer was a numb-nuts, but he had the wit to be chronicler of his betters, and I find that his stuff still reads interestingly as a snap-shot of the period.
    Huson, Swann, Kurtz...I'm getting all nostalgic. Never liked MZB, though. I picked up Mists of Avalon the other day and literally couldn't make myself read it.
    And Rosemary Sutcliff. Gods. Her stuff still shapes what I do today.

  • Mike W
    Mike W Monday, 19 June 2017

    Huson, Holzer, Leek. Some of the early influences on me as well. I corresponded with Mike Howard also, he was a real scholar as well as a gentleman. I treasure my copies of his Cauldron magazine more than many of my books. The website for the old magazine is still up and they are downloading articles from the magazine regularly, worth a check. He wrote a book on Wiccan history, Modern Wicca, with some interesting info not provided by US authors. Also, his book Children of Cain is one of the only resources on traditional non-Wiccan witches in the modern era. As to Holzer, I think that he was personally involved and that influenced his viewpoints sometimes, but I am forever grateful for his books for bringing the Craft and Paganism out of the closet in the 1970's, with descriptions of actual rituals, along with his interviews with some of the leading pagan elders of that era. I agree, it still brings back a feeling of my first connection with the Lady , even now when I look at Adams' Kore art. Holzer's daughter, Alexandra Holzer, has a website where she continues her father's interests in ghosts and the paranormal, but she seems to have a problem with his personal connections with witches and pagans. Holzer mentioned in his books that he filmed many ceremonies of the leading witches and pagans of that era including Fred Adams and Alex Sanders for a possible documentary film. Somewhere, if it has not been thrown out, is a treasure trove of film which has never been seen. It would be nice if someday a well known pagan approached her to see if she is open to sharing this before it is lost.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 20 June 2017

    From your lips to Old Hornie's furry, pointed ear, Mike. Holzer mentions his pagan film-in-the-making in practically every one of his witch books. If the footage is still out there, what a stunner it could be. (Pagan film-makers take note.)
    As a confirmed chauvinist who firmly believes that the throbbing center of creativity and innovation in world Pagandom lies in the American Midwest, let me add that Holzer was (by choice) a Chicago boy.

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