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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What a Goddess

 Now our lady the Goddess had never loved,

but she would know all mysteries, even the mystery of Death,

so she journeyed to the Underworld.


So begins Wicca's foundational story of the Goddess's Descent into the Underworld.

It's an etiological masterpiece, the tale of the making of the First Witch. But for now, I'd like to linger here with this first sentence. Often it gets glossed over in a rush to get to the good stuff, but that's a shame, really. As a first sentence, it's a brilliant set-up, and my gods: talk about rich characterization.

Now our lady the Goddess had never loved... Well, there's your foreshadowing. You know exactly what's going to happen in this story: she's going to fall in love. That's the central mystery, after all. But look at what else it says about her.

She's young. She's inexperienced. There are things that she doesn't know. She changes, and is capable of change. These are truly remarkable things to say about one's deity, and they tell you a lot, both about Who She Is, and about Who She Isn't.

...but she would know all mysteries... She may be young, but she's smart, she's self-aware, and she's curious. As a characterization for a witch-in-the-making, that seems pretty sound to me. Some recensions of the text say here She would solve all mysteries, but that seems to me the poorer reading. This is, after all, the Goddess that we're talking about, not Nancy Drew.

...even the mystery of Death... Holy shite: this is no lightweight newbie. (You need courage to be a witch.) She knows what she doesn't know, and she shrinks from nothing. That's our goddess, all right. she journeyed to the Underworld. She's a doer, our Lady. She wants first-hand knowledge, and she seeks it through experience. For knowledge, she is willing to give everything, even (I can barely bring myself to write the words) her own life.

In her quest for knowledge, she single-mindedly, willingly undergoes death without guarantees.

My gods. What a gambler. What a goddess.

No wonder we love her so much.


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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.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Friday, 15 June 2018

    Is this story from Robert Graves or Gerald Gardner?

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Saturday, 16 June 2018

    GBG. To the best of my knowledge, the tale of the Descent first saw print in Witchcraft Today in 1952. Although he already knew Doreen Valiente at that point--Valiente, of course, edited and/or rewrote much of the BoS material--I think that we see here Uncle Gerald's unrevised work. Gerald wasn't--let's admit it--a particularly gifted writer, and this version bears the jerky, rather awkward style that characterizes his writing.

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Saturday, 16 June 2018

    Thank you! I already knew about Ishtar's descent to get back Dumuzi from Babylonian mythology but I wasn't familiar with this one.

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