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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The First Time Around

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Male-Male Transgression in 17th-Century Basque Witchcraft


In 1608, King Henri IV appointed witch-hunter Pierre de Lancre* to investigate a troubling outbreak of witchcraft in the French Basque country. According to de Lancre's report, this outbreak was fueled by the expression of forbidden sexuality.

When having sex with young men or women, the Devil, he reported, “took as much pleasure in sodomy as in the most ordered and natural voluptuousness.”

Men that he interrogated confessed to “performing sodomy” with one another, frequently with relatives, in order to “please the devil.”

One male witch confessed both to having frequently bottomed for the Devil, and topped other warlocks.

In the end, the judges decided that the Basque witches did not really believe in the Devil; rather, their witchery amounted to a mere smokescreen for the sex.

“And so they gathered,” they wrote, “and the naughtiest one among them pretended to be Satan.”


So, at least, claims Benjamin Ivry—without, I might add, providing any documentary evidence—in his 2000 biography of composer Maurice Ravel (8).

(What, you might ask, has any of this to do with Maurice Ravel? Item: Ravel's mother was Basque. Item: Ravel was born in the French Basque country. Item: Ravel was gay. Item: Ravel had a lifelong fascination with witchcraft and the occult. Item: As reflected in his music, Ravel had a lifelong devotion to the god Pan. Item: For the ancient Greeks, the phrase “to honor Pan” meant male-male sexual activity [16].)

While I have yet to confirm all of Ivry's historical claims concerning Basque witchcraft, my own research has turned up enough similar evidence to tentatively accept what he says as historical.

Certainly—as evidenced by the furor over “homosexuality” in contemporary conservative Christianity—in a hetero-normative Christian society, transgressive behaviors like witchery and same-sex sexuality quite naturally go hand-in-hand.


Gay men have undeniably played a leading role in the late 20th-century Witchcraft Revival.

It's nice to know that we were there the first time around, too.




*Terry Pratchett fans take note.



Benjamin Ivry (2000) Maurice Ravel: A Life (New York: Welcome Rain)




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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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