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 Pentagram That Wasn't There

When you look at the twigs and branches of bare trees, do you ever see pentagrams?

I thought so. Me too.

It's March in Minnesota: there are plenty of bare branches to be seen, and the random patterns that they form as they move in the wind keep making pentagrams. Looking out the window this morning, I actually saw the pentagram before I saw the branches, as if it were standing in the foreground of my visual field, between me and the tree. Weird.

It's called pareidolia, literally “image instead of” (Greek eidôlon also gives us “idol”): the tendency of the human mind to interpret random stimuli meaningfully. Pareidolia is a type of apophenia, identifying patterns in random data. Our brains are really good at this; it's the basis, for example, of divination.

I used to wonder if it meant that I've been living in the broomstick ghetto too long. In Rosemary Edghill's novel The Book of Moons, one of our heroine's coven-sibs tells her, “Bast, you really need to get out more and read some history that doesn't have witches in it.”

I don't give it much thought any more. It's taken me a long time to learn to live in a pagan world. I feel no desire whatsoever to live anywhere else. Besides, where else is there to go? It's pagan all the way down.


Our ability to perceive patterns has doubtless given us a certain evolutionary edge down the millennia, but of course one always needs to bear in mind that just because we perceive patterns doesn't necessarily mean that there's something going on anywhere but in our own heads. Nanny Ogg used to say: “If you want to amount to anything as a witch, you've got to know three things: what's real, what isn't real, and what's the difference.”

Oh well, in a month and odd days that tracery of twigs and branches will all be covered with green, and then I won't be seeing pentagrams when I look at them any more.

I'll be too busy seeing Green Man faces in the leaves instead.


Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015

Reborn to the People

When asked, “Do you know any witches?” Terry Pratchett once answered:

Well, I know a lot of people who like to think that they are.”








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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.


  • Linette
    Linette Thursday, 19 March 2015

    Thanks! So much enjoyed this post

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