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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Men Without Shadows

In Iceland, they call it the Black School. (But blá can also mean “blue.”)

There go all the aspiring young warlocks to learn from the Horned his secret and magical arts.

Exactly where the School may be is hard to say. (Some say Paris.) It's one of those places that seems always to be somewhere else.

It's called the Black School because it's always black as night there. (It sounds like some sort of cave.) For five (or nine, or seven) years, they live there together, underground, in the dark.

There they study from the Horned's ancient tomes, which, being written in letters of fire, can thus be read in the dark.

Each day they receive for their sustenance a trencher and horn from the hand of the Horned himself, although they do not see him.

And of the Black School there is also this to say: that at the end of their study, when they step out into sunlight for the first time in five (or nine, or seven) years, each warlock must leave behind his shadow there with the Horned, and so casts no shadow for all the rest of his days.

 And this is the price that he pays for his education.


Extended periods of study spent in constant darkness characterize the training of shamans in a number of cultures. Among the Kogi of Columbia, shamans-in-training spend nine years sequestered in a cave.




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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.


  • Anne Forrester
    Anne Forrester Tuesday, 21 March 2017

    There's two interesting things about this post: First the word "blá" that might be black or the color blue. NPR's "Radio Lab" did an episode where they talked about how the color blue is always the last color to come into the vocabulary of a language system or culture. Blue is often thought of as a "nothing" color in the background (like the sky), but not many objects in nature are blue). There was a quote from Homer referring to the "wine dark sea" (as if the ocean was reddish-purple), but the word "blue" never appears in the Iliad or the Odyssey.
    Secondly, studies in a dark cave for any extended length of time (even with text written in fire), would surely cause some blindness; and physical deformity (especially losing the ability to see outwardly) in exchange for otherworldly connection/power (the ability to see inwardly) seems to be a common theme in many Shamanic paths.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 22 March 2017

    When I first came across this story years ago, I was impressed (as I continue to be) by how well it reads as a description of the interior processes of individuation.
    Ultimately, the God of Witches (as First Shaman) is the Wounded God, and the Wounding is part of the process of becoming like him. He wounds and he heals, and there we are.
    Looking up the etymology of "black" a while ago, I was surprised to learn that it comes from the same root as bright, blaze, bleach, and Bealtaine. In other languages, the same word means "white"! (Beluga being "white" caviar). Apparently it originally meant "bright, shining, fire"; "black" derives its sense from being "burnt, charred."
    Looking over the trial materials, it's interesting to note how often the Devil wears blue.

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