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 Thews of Witchdom

The old-time Tribe of Witches didn't have a separate word for “religion.”

Or “tradition.”

Or “morals.”

They had one word for them all.

The Hwicce—the Anglo-Saxon tribe (and later, kingdom) that (according to some) gave rise to the name and lore of today's witches—spoke their own dialect of Old English, the language which (after a crossbow marriage with Norman French) gave rise to Modern English.

Living in a state of cultural wholeness that we can only fantasize about today—what culture critic Stephen Flowers would call “integral culture”—their word ðéaw denoted many of the shared things that together make a people a people: Religion. Custom. Tradition. Usage. Virtue. Conduct. In the plural, it also meant virtues, (good) manners, morals, morality.

Imagine a world in which all these things were the same thing. That was the world of the witches.

Today we say thew and thews (rhymes with new and news), but the word retains all its old meanings. As one might imagine, it's a productive root.


To thew is to raise someone in the ways of the thede (tribe): to bring him up morally, virtuously. A person so raised is thewful and acts thewly, in a thewful way. If not, she is thewless. But to the thewfast, thewfastness is its own reward. A culture in which everyone so acted would be called thewy.

The thews are what the Romans called virtues, the qualities and attributes that make up the heart of pagan morality: Hospitality, Generosity, Love, Honesty, Justice, Responsibility, Excellence, and the like. Our thews are also the set of customs that make us who we are.

The Kalasha are the last remaining pagans of the Hindu Kush, known for their proud polytheism, their wine-drinking, and the freedom and beauty of their women. Theirs is the only Indo-European culture never to have been reshaped by one of the big-box religions. In many ways, it is as if we were to discover a thede of ancient Kelts up in the Bavarian Alps who had managed to hold on to the Old Ways all along.

And guess what? The Kalasha don't have separate words for “religion,” or “tradition,” or “morals” either.

You got it. In their language, one word means all these things: dastúr.

In Witch, we would translate: thew.


For more on the Hwicce and their kingdom, see:


Stephen J. Yeates, The Tribe of Witches: The Religion of the Dobunni and Hwicce (2008). Oxbow Books.

Stephen J. Yeates, A Dreaming for the Witches: A Recreation of the Dobunni Primal Myth (2009). Oxbow Books.

For more on the Thews (pagan virtues), see Chapter 7 of:

Ceisiwr Serith, Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans (2007). ADF Publishing.


For more on the Kalasha and their surprisingly familiar ways, see:

Mytte Fentz, The Kalasha: Mountain People of the Hindu Kush (2010). Rhodos.




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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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