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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Happy Grannog

 10 facts about groundhogs

 "It is the Washin' o' the World's Face."

(R. García y Robertson, The Spiral Dance)


Our story so far: The Chinese have invaded America and then (for reasons never specified) pulled out again. The East Coast literally walls itself off from the rest of the Continent and becomes a stuck-in-the-head techno-megalopolis.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Continent reverts to tribalism. Foremost among these tribes are the Latter-Day Witches who call themselves "Circle", or "Coven", who through centuries of inbreeding have achieved mastery of the art of direct mind-to-mind communication, what they call lep.

(If you suspect that this has something to do with telepathy, I think you're probably right.)

That's the universe of Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin's Masters of Solitude series, some of the earliest (late 70s/early 80s) popular literature to be profoundly shaped by the emerging Wiccan movement.

Being, in effect, our children, the people of Circle observe the same Wheel of the Year that we do today. Part of the fun of the novels for pagans lies in extricating the names of the firedays from what 1000 years' worth of linguistic erosion have left of them.

For Circle folk, Eostre/Ostara/Easter is Leddy. (I myself can remember back when, in the early days of American paganism, some folks knew Spring Equinox as Lady Day.) Then comes Belten, Sinjin (< “Saint John['s Day]"), Lams, Milemas ( < Michaelmas), Samman, and Loomin for Yule. (I'm guessing that this latter is probably a worn-down form of illumine, drawn perhaps from Doreen Valiente's quintessential Yule chant Queen of the Moon, Queen of the Sun: "Golden Sun of the Mountains,/Illumine the Land, Light up the World,/Illumine the Seas and the Rivers,/Sorrows be laid, Joy to the World." If so, it's a nicely folkloric touch.)

Their Imbolg/Oimelc/Candlemas is Grannog.

Grannog. I have to say, I like it. It's witchy, kind of mysterious; it hovers off in the back of your head as something that you know that you should recognize, but don't quite.

In context, of course, it's clearly a derivative from Groundhog['s Day], and why-ever not? Back in the Old Country, there are other hibernating animals—bears, hedgehogs, snakes—that supposedly wake up today. Groundhog Day—woodchucks being local critters—is our American incarnation thereof. Naturalize or die.

When you think about it, “In the Belly” and “Ewe's Milk” are actually pretty dumb names for a holiday, though of course this hasn't stopped decades of non-Gaelic-speaking pagans from parroting these interpretations of, respectively, Imbolc and Oimelc. In fact, both supposed meanings are products of the ever-fruitful cauldron of folk etymology for a (presumably) Celtic word of unclear origin. Celticists have proposed numerous possibilities, perhaps the most convincing of which is Alan Ward's derivation from the proto-Celtic *embibolgon, “budding.”

Well, manyness is the essence of paganism. I say, the more names that we have—wherever they come from—the richer we are.

Happy Grannog to you and yours. You've got to love a holiday that you can't help but grin when you say it.



Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin (1978) The Masters of Solitude. Doubleday

______ (1982) Wintermind. Doubleday









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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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