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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Was the Keltic "Tribe of Witches" Originally the "Two Tribes"?

According to archaeologist Stephen J. Yeates, the original Tribe of Witches was the Anglo-Saxon people called the Hwicce, who inhabited the Cotswolds and Severn Valley of what is now southwestern England.

These were previously the tribal territories of an early Iron Age Keltic people known as the Dobunni. Both genetics and archeology suggest strong demographic and cultural continuity from the Keltic to the Anglo-Saxon periods.

The name Dobunni, known from inscriptions and Roman historians (Yeates 2-3), is of uncertain etymology. Yeates himself does not discuss a derivation.

It may be, though, that this ethnonym preserves a memory of the origins of the tribe itself.

I would suggest that in the second element of Dobunni we may see the same Proto-Indo-European root (*bhendh-) that gave rise to English bind, band, and bond, not to mention bundle, woodbine, and cumberbund.

The same root is the origin of German Bund, “league,” and occurs in numerous other Indo-European languages as well. The original meaning would seem to have been “bind,” but the word often came to be applied to groups of people who were “bound” together (Watkins 10).

The Dobunni, then, would originally have been the “two bands”: a coalition of two peoples joined together to form a single entity.

Interestingly, we see exactly the same formation in the ethnonyms of two Continental Keltic peoples, the Gaulish Tricorii and Petrucorii, tribes presumably originally formed from (and named for) three and four war-bands (corii) respectively (West 449).

Witches these days (let's just admit it) are something of a mongrel lot.

Looks like maybe we've been that way for a long, long time.


Calvert Watkins, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, Third Edition (2011). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

M. L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (2008). Oxford.

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


I was gratified to see that the (anonymous) historians of have proposed a similar (though not identical) etymology for Dobunni. Call it linguistic MPG.












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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.


  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Thursday, 11 October 2018

    Very interesting reading. Thanks for the links.
    Interesting that they put a horse on their coins. Horses were the new super tech that allowed Proto-Indo-European warriors to dominate all of Europe and western Asia. That fits with the origin of their Dubunni name.

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