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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Mother Tongue

We don't know what language was spoken by the Copper Age peoples of what Marija Gimbutas called “Old Europe.”

But whatever it was, we still—in a sense—speak it today.

English is an Indo-European language. The Indo-European languages all descend from a language spoken during the late Stone Age on the prairies (“steppes”) between the Black and Caspian Seas. This language was spoken by a milk-drinking, pastoralist people who domesticated the horse and invented (and named) the wheel. (Our wheel comes ultimately from their word *kwelkwlos, literally a “turn-turn.”)

Their nearest neighbors, to the southwest, in what is now Ukraine, Poland, and Rumania, were the Cucuteni-Tripolye cultures made famous by archaeologist and feminist ideologue Marija Gimbutas. These were settled farmers, eaters of bread and beans, whose bold, swirling designs, striking ceramics, and fetching little female figurines still speak directly to us today.

These two, the Indo-European and the Old European, were, in effect, our Father and Mother Cultures.

And we still speak their languages today.

The speakers of what would become the Germanic languages—English among them—first entered Europe through the region inhabited by the Cucuteni-Tripolye cultures about 4000 years ago.

Gimbutas paints this entry as a cartoonish (and sexist) caricature of a bellicose patriarchal People of the Sword trampling under hoof a peace-loving matriarchal People of the Plow.

As one might expect, recent archaeology draws a rather more complex and nuanced picture. It would now seem that Old Europe's cultural collapse owed more to climate change, and the long-term effects of environmental degradation due to deforestation, than to militant patriarchs.

New evidence suggests that what emerged as a result was not so much the rape of one culture by another, as the marriage of two cultures.

Up to a third of the core vocabulary of the Germanic languages is of non-Indo-European origin. Interestingly, much of this vocabulary consists of words for agricultural products, tools, and processes (Manco 2015, 76).

Genetic testing shows that my first traceable male ancestor to live in Europe entered Europe at about this time and this place.

Old Europe never died.

It lives today in the very cells of our bodies.

And in the very words that we speak.


David W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (2007). Princeton.

Jean Manco, Ancestral Journeys: the Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings (2013). Thames and Hudson.

Jean Manco, Blood of the Celts: The New Ancestral Story (2015). Thames and Hudson.


Sculpture: Joanna Hajduk, Glinka Design

Photo: Magda Kielar






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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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