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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Rabbi Shimon ben Shetah and the 80 Witches of Ashkelon

In the days of Queen Salome Alexandra, the city of Ashkelon was plagued by a coven of 80 witches who lived in a cave outside the city. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetah decided to rid the city of these wicked women and their sorceries. He summoned 80 strong men and instructed each of them to acquire a jar and to place within it a change of clothing; he himself did the same.

On a night of pouring rain, he went with his men and stood outside the cave. “Sisters,” he called out to the witches, “I am a sorcerer, like yourselves; let me come in out of this rain.” Quickly he removed his wet clothing and donned the dry set from his jar.

“Enter and be welcome, fellow sorcerer,” cried the eighty.

R. Shimon entered the cave, and the witches marveled at his dry clothing. “How did you accomplish such a feat?” they asked.

“My power is so great that I can walk through rain and yet remain dry,” said he. “By the power of my magic, I can work another wonder for you: I can summon 80 men, each in clothing as dry as my own, to come and dance with you.”

The witches wished to see this marvel, so R. Shimon gave a whistle. Immediately 80 men, all in dry clothing, rushed into the cave and began to dance with the witches. When the witches had thoroughly lost themselves in the dance, R. Shimon gave a second whistle, and each man seized the witch that he was dancing with, and lifted her up high into the air. As everyone knows, a witch draws her power from the Earth and is rendered powerless if she is not touching it. The witches screamed in anger and fear, but there was nothing they could do.


In this way R. Shimon captured the 80 witches of Ashkelon. By his command, all 80 were crucified outside the walls of the city, and so Ashkelon was rid of its plague of witches.

R. Shimon b. Shetah is remembered in the Talmud as a sage of great wisdom and integrity. It is written that, having discovered a precious jewel beneath the saddle of a donkey that he had bought, he returned the jewel to the man from whom he had bought the donkey, saying: “Surely this was not included in the sale.”

It is recorded that the man, who was a gentile, marveled at this and cried out: “Great is the god of R. Shimon b. Shetah!”














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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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