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 Flame Between the Horns

In Old Craft iconography, the Old Master is sometimes depicted as a horned (or antlered) skull with a flame between its horns. He is thus the Flammifer, the líht-bera, the Lucifer.

The image takes its origin from Continental trials; French witches frequently deposed that the Devil appeared at the sabbat in the form of a He-Goat with a candle burning between his horns. This is how Jeanne Bosdeau saw him at the Puy de Dôme in 1594. The witches would then light their own tapers or torches (as we still do) from the god's fire: the Lord of the Sabbat giving illumination to his people.

The witch-fire is the power of life that burns in each of us. It is said to be threefold: the fire in the head, the fire in the heart, and the fire in the loins.

The icon is deeply mythological. It is said that in the beginning the Old One, in an act of incomprehensible bravery and compassion, brought the fire of the gods down from heaven to give to his people: "between the horns he bore it," says the song. Since then, Fire dwells on earth. This act was the making of us. By it, we became the wise, for the witch-fire is the fire both of cognition—of the self-awareness that characterizes our species—and of culture. All human history revolves around the hearth. For this act He became the First of the Dead: He Who Dies that the People May Live. He is the Life of the people, and the witch-fire is His sign. To this day Old Craft ritual begins with the lighting of the Fire. Robert Cochrane once said that “There is no true religion without fire.”

We may see in the image of the skull-and-flame an allusion to the bone-fire of the sabbat, and also to the fires of cremation: the material becoming immaterial, the immaterial becoming material. The flame is the image of divine presence, the indwelling god; representations of the Horned Lord not infrequently show Him with a licking tongue of flame above His head, the meaning being that the god is present in his image.* When the stang—the hayfork or horned pole—in-stands for the Old Buck in ritual, it is common to light a candle in the crotch of the fork in sign of the god's presence. In my daily offerings to the stang, I “see” the flame and make the pour. It flares then, like a gas jet.

As above, so below. The flame between the horns, the phallus between the legs. Is He not called “Father of Witches,” Him that Sired us?

Intriguingly, the image itself is a modern one. From the accounts of the trial transcripts, the flame between the horns became a visual icon during the 19th century with Éliphas Lévi's famed (if distinctly un-beautiful) image of Baphomet. For Lévi the torch between the horns articulated the god's giving of gnosis, of illumination. Then in the early 60s, under the influence of both Lévi and the trial materia, the witch-fire was kindled anew between the horns of the stang by Robert Cochrane, the father of the Old Craft movement, and his Clan of Tubal Cain, and continues to burn brightly to this day.

In the evolution of this icon, we may thus behold in our own day the coming-again of the Horned in power among His people, the self-revelation of the Enlightener to those who have borne Him in our heads, our hearts, and our loins for so many years.

“I declare the short path to the sabbat, as narrow as the athame's edge.”


*We may possibly see here a wry allusion to images of Pentecost in Christian art, where the presence of the Holy Spirit is shown as a tongue of fire hovering above the heads of the apostles. If Old Craft is a paganism (some would deny it), it is a paganism shaped by centuries of interaction with Christianity. This is one of the things that gives it its power. Old Craft éminence grise Michael Howard once observed that when Old Craft makes use of Christian images and ideas, it uses them entirely for its own ends. One sees this same subtle subversion in the Afro-Diasporic religions as well. As new pagans we cannot simply pretend that Christianity never existed and expect to pick up exactly where the ancestors left off. Old Craft thus becomes a paganism in response to Christianity.

Photo: Raspberry Bidet

For Paul, who asked

 

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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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