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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Brand Spanking New

Brand spanking new.

A curious expression, certainly: what does one have to do with the other?

In fact, it's birth imagery. Birth imagery? you might think.

Ah, but this was birth the cowan way.

Back in the Bad Old Days of the Cowan Era (CE), it was customary to hold newborn babies upside-down by their feet and give them a good, solid swat on the behind. Supposedly, this was to get the newborn to take its first breath.

In fact, of course, most newborns breathe automatically, and for those that don't, there are much less violent methods available.

But for cowans, the gesture held deep meaning. At the very moment of birth, it subjected the newly-born to the life of indignity, violence, and subjugation that most people then could expect to live.

If this sounds almost inconceivable, remember: these were the same people for whom the mutilation of the genitals of male children was routine.

Fortunately for us, the Cowan Era, with all its attendant barbarities, ended long ago.

Let us not forget to be grateful.


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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.


  • nolongerhere
    nolongerhere Thursday, 24 August 2017

    Unfortunately, Steven, it hasn't. Not if you enter a typical maternity ward rather than a birth center. I deeply appreciate your attention to barbarism in childbirth, though. Few, even those of us who have given birth, are aware of it because society cauterizes women to the sheer level of unnecessary trauma routinely inflicted upon them in a hospital in the US and Canada. Europe is far more humane.

    Healthy women should be able to go into a trance for a much easier birth. (Seidhr DOES have links to this!) This is known science now, but American hospitals demand the exact opposite environment. It's likely they still will for many years until more women are better educated about their own rights, health, nutrition, etc.

    And as for the pagan community, why in the hell is it so damn difficult to find information on magic related to childbirth? Historically that was crucial in most societies but anthropologists and modern pagans just about ignore it entirely.

    Midwifery was almost extinguished in this country, ignoring the hundreds of years of wisdom women had about what helped birth!

    And no, I am not against emergency care when needed. I have loved ones who would have died without a hospital delivery. I know exactly why emergency medicine exists, but the majority of women by far are capable of safe births with proper nutrition, exercise and oversight.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Friday, 25 August 2017

    I delivered all three of my boys at home with a midwife, and believe me, there was no spanking involved! It hadn't occurred to me until your post that "no spanking" was one of the (many) benefits of avoiding an unnecessarily medicalized birth. (With Shirl, I understand the some births *do* need to take place in a medical setting, I'm grateful that wasn't the case for us.)

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