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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in authenticity
Does the Name Match the Claim? Using Historical Linguistics to Assess Claims of Pagan Continuity

Every word tells a story.

Unfortunately, it's not always the story that we want to tell.

Back at the end of the last century, it was not uncommon for pagan groups to claim unbroken continuity with the paganisms of the past. When someone makes such a claim, one way to test what they say is to look at the vocabulary that they're using to see if it matches their claims.

To take one preeminent example: in the 60s and 70s media witch Sybil Leek claimed to be high priestess of a Keltic tradition group in Hampshire's New Forest called Horsa Coven.

(Sorry, but after nearly 50 years in the Craft, I still cringe when I hear the term "high priestess." Talk about hokey.)

Now, “Horsa” has a pleasingly archaic sound to it: unsurprisingly, as it's an Anglo-Saxon/Old English name meaning “horse.” The fact that the name is Anglo-Saxon, however, sits uncomfortably with her claims of a “Keltic” tradition.

Horsa was the name of one of the two legendary Anglo-Saxon brothers who led their people to the Promised Land of England. (His brother was reputedly “Hengist,” which means “stallion”; the word survives into modern English as the first syllable of henchman.) The implication, I suppose, is that the tradition goes back to Anglo-Saxon times.

If so, the name itself disproves the claim. If the name had survived in continuous use since ancient days, it would automatically have modernized to "Horse." The fact that it didn't is proof that the name is a modern one, chosen for its archaic sound. Interestingly, one can say the same for the word “Wicca.”

Back in the early 90s, a group in the English Midlands calling itself Tuatha de Cornovii claimed to be a survival of the Iron Age Keltic tribe of the same name. Does the name match the claim?

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Card Tables of the Gods: Paganism, Good and...Not So Good

The festival organizers had chosen the one mostly flat place on the slope between the woods and Turtle Creek on which to lay out their ritual circle. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.

Mistake Number One. They'd designed their Circle using the "Quarter altar" model, with four card tables, one per quarter, each covered with a schmatte in a garishly bright “elemental” color.

On the living body of the valley's natural beauty, the cheap and artificial tables and cloths stood out like an open wound.

Moral Number One. When it comes to the gods, only the real and the beautiful are worthy.

Mistake Number Two. The landscape had a distinct and palpable flow to it, from the forest above to Turtle Creek below, and back again, running roughly ENE by WSW.

Unfortunately, the organizers had decided to lay out their Circle with a compass, thereby placing the Card Tables of the Gods in due East, South, West, and North.

Completely out of rhythm with the land around it, this skewed circle in fact impeded the valley's natural flow rather than augmenting it.

Moral Number Two. Regardless of what the books may say, real sacredness inheres in working with the landscape.

OK, Posch: so how would you have done it any better?

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Post-Industrial Primitive

“So, what look are we going for?”

It was a good question. The general planning and walk-through for the Hunt ritual had gone well. Now the Hunters were meeting.

Well, what aesthetic were we after? Plaid and day-glo, no, but likewise loincloths and feathers were out, too. One reads funny, the other reads wannabe, and this is ritual: it needs to be real.

Well, the only pagans that we can honestly be is the pagans for our own time and place.

“Post-industrial primitive,” I said.

Which left most of us in jeans, skin, and face paint.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Know Your Lake

Let's face it: Revival Paganism has an authenticity problem.

This state of affairs is hardly to be wondered at. Our roots have been cut. Things that should, by rights, have come down to us, we've had to figure out for ourselves. Like every learner, we've made our share of mistakes.

But there's a ready solution.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Kensington Runestone Is Genuine

Some years back a friend and I drove out to see the famous runestone in Kensington, Minnesota.

Purportedly discovered by a farmer clearing a field in 1898, the runestone's inscription records the supposed visit of 14th century “vikings” to what is now Minnesota. Experts have mostly written it off as a hoax.

I think that the experts are probably right. My initial impression when I saw the runestone was that it doesn't look like a runestone; it looks like a page from a book. Historic runic inscriptions tend to be serpentine, curvilinear, not neatly arranged on the page in lines of equal length.

But I still think that the Kensington Runestone is genuine.

Let me explain.

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Hit Piece in Sheep’s Clothing

One Saturday when I was chatting with the Native American chaplain who sponsors our Wiccan circle at San Quentin, he handed me a book.  He’d received it from the Jewish chaplain who’d been our previous sponsor.  Wicca’s Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality, by Catherine Edwards Sanders.  I said I was unfamiliar with the author and had not heard anything about it, although I generally keep half an eye open for newer Pagan publications.

He casually mentioned that according to this book, and according to the chaplain who gave it to him, ostensibly for the small library we keep in the Wiccan storage locker along with our ritual supplies, Wicca was for women and had little relevance here in an all-male prison.  Not that he thought that, but that the book made that case.  He gave it to me to take home.  Book sl-t that I am, I took it, thinking that with all the reading material stacked around my house awaiting my attention, it would be very low priority.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Brenda Caudill
    Brenda Caudill says #
    That book is so wrong that I felt sorry for the author.
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Thanks for the warning. We used to say that the difference between Wicca and New Age was about one decimal place (in the price of

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Once & Future People

Žemė, “Earth.” Pendant: amber (with vegetal inclusions), 2¾' x 1¾'. George Romulis, 2012

George Romulis, at 93, has been working amber for more than 70 years. He is an emeritus member of the Riga Amber-Workers Guild and one of the living treasures of Latvia.

This stunning pendant, titled Žemė, “Earth”, fits neatly into the palm of the hand, but its clean lines and boldness of form give it a striking monumentality; it feels larger than it actually is. It is also profoundly female. We all know these lines; we've seen them many times before: in the bodies of the women around us, as in what our coven kid Robin used to call the “clay ladies” of ancient Europe and the Middle East, here elegantly stylized but readily recognizable nonetheless.

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