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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Who you callin' 'cowan'?”


In Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin's “Masters of Solitude” novels*, the Witches—they call themselves “Coven” or “Circle”—have a derisory term for cowans/non-pagans: they call them Motherless.

(Quickie alternate-historical recap: the Chinese invade the US; the US collapses; then, for reasons never made clear, the Chinese withdraw. The East Coast, which has become a single sprawling megalopolis, literally walls itself off in incestuous techno-isolation and lets the Interior stew in its own atavistic juices. Out of this cauldron of ferment arises Circle, a tribal Witch culture that has bred for psychic/telepathic ability.)

Now, this makes sense. As pagans, we're the Mother's People, the First People. We've continued to love and to honor Her all along, even when others have forgotten Her.

Hence “Motherless.” It's a brilliant example of how things look from Inside. The term has a whole passel of implications, all of them apt. Those without a mother have no one to care for them. Those without a mother have no one to teach them the right ways of doing things. Those without a mother can grow up emotionally stunted and uncaring. (Just or not, those are the stereotypes.)

Not all non-pagans are Motherless, of course. The Goddess loves all Her children, even those who have turned their backs on Her. In Her mighty ruth (the old Hwicce/Witch word for mercy; tellingly, the term survives mostly in its opposite, ruthless), She shows Herself to them in ways that they too can understand. Hindus have goddesses; Buddhists too, though they may or may not call them that. Not all Christians are Motherless: consider Mary, Goddess of the Christians. (Let them play their semantic shell-games if they wish; pagans know a goddess when we see one.)

In some ways, one almost has to pity them, the Motherless. Who would chose to grow up without a Mother's love?

Part of our job, as New Pagans, is re-learning how to think in Pagan: learning what the Old Ways look (and sound) like from the Inside Out. The term Motherless is a fine example.

Interestingly, as I integrate the word into daily use, with the exception of private, largely self-satirizing expostulations (“You motherless moron! Where did you learn to drive, Cowanistan?!”), I find that “motherless” becomes, not so much a word that I apply to non-pagans—and certainly not to one face to face—as a general term of abuse. Since (thankfully) I live in a time and place in which society is not on the verge of breaking down into warring confessional units, I suppose this is unsurprising.

As I use “motherless,” the word seems generally to mean “uncaring, unloving; living only for oneself.” I use it of those who act without regard for others. In Diné, one of the worst things that you can say about someone is that she acts “as if she didn't have any relatives.” “Motherless” is much the same.

I even hear myself applying the word to other pagans: the ones who seem to think that it's all about self-actualization instead of community.

In the end, Mother's and Motherless alike, we're all ultimately Children of the Mother. Truly, as the saying goes, We're all one in the Mother.

My chiefest disdain I reserve for those, whether pagan or not, who can't be bothered to care.




*The Masters of Solitude (1978) and Wintermind (1980). The MS. of a third novel, Singer Among the Nightingales, was reportedly left behind among Godwin's papers after his death, but has—to date—yet to see publication.




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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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