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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Not the Sharpest Athame: In Praise (More or Less) of Hans Holzer

Let's face it, Hans Holzer was not exactly the sharpest athame in the circle.

And there's the wonderment of the thing: that even through such flawed tools as ourselves, do They work Their will in the world.

Hans Holzer (1920-2009) was, by all accounts, an interesting guy. Born in Vienna, he PhD'd in Classical Archaeology (assuming this wasn't one of those invisible degrees that occultists are so good at conjuring out of the Air), emigrated to Chicago, and wrote 120 popular-press books on subjects arcane and occult.

In so doing, he gave hundreds of thousands of us our first leg-up into the Old Ways.

Though not exactly the brightest candle on the altar, Holzer had the nose, and the sense, to understand that the rise of the Modern Craft and the New Paganisms were profoundly interesting phenomena, and so—years before Margot Adler did it smarter and better—he traveled across Contemporary Pagandom interviewing the Movers and Shakers who were to become the First Generation of American Pagans. Then he wrote books about them.

In this way, Holzer became an invaluable chronicler of that shining generation of thinkers and doers who created Modern Paganism. In some cases—as with his interviews with Ordún of Chicago's Sabaean Temple—he preserved a record of brilliant and path-breaking work that has since gone largely forgotten.

To be sure, Holzer had his limitations. Often he simply didn't understand his informants. Again and again in his writings, Holzer tries to translate what his interviewees are saying into plain language. Frequently he just plain gets it wrong, transforming the insightful into the banal. That's the danger of interviewing one's Betters.

Nonetheless, in so doing, he managed to create a treasure-trove of information on a unique period of contemporary history, one from which historians of culture and religion will be drawing for years. Holzer's work now reads as a postcard from the (recent) Pagan Past.

Likewise, he gave to many, many of us our first taste of something that would change our lives forever. Gods help me, his Truth About Witchcraft guided some of my own first steps on this path.

So thank you, Hans Holzer. Admittedly, sometimes I just want to shake you, and say: Wise up, you dumb f**k.

But you have my eternal gratitude anyway.






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Tagged in: Margot Adler Sabaeans
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.


  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak Wednesday, 16 May 2018

    For me it was "New Pagans." I was in SoCal when Feraferia, CAW and CES were all active (and I was a member of the latter two) and the book was almost "current events" for me. It was a heady time, esp. for non-Wicca Pagans who were polytheists. I never felt we were in the majority, but we were always a major player and there was respect all the way around.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 16 May 2018

    Credit where it's due: it was Holzer and his New Pagans that took the P-word out of the pagan ghetto and began to give it cultural currency.
    Gods: heady days, indeed; the mere memory makes me giddy. And oh the beautiful arrogance of it: we were so sure we were going to remake the world.
    And lo and behold: nearly 50 years on, we have.

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 16 May 2018

    I remember reading a Holzer book back in the 70's. I can't remember the title. I am almost certain that I made a few notes for future reference but I couldn't tell you now where the notebook is. It was a library book and I tried to read a lot of books from that section of the library back then.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 17 May 2018

    Twelve will get you thirteen, Anthony, that that book was his The Truth About Witchcraft, by far Uncle Hans' best-researched book on the subject. He even traveled to England to talk to people, including Alex Sanders and folks from the Regency. My own copy still has more marginalia than anything else he wrote.

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