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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The Long Man of Baraboo

Not far from Baraboo, Wisconsin, lies a monumental 1000-year old effigy mound in the shape of a man with horns.

Sound like anyone you know?


Southern Wisconsin, in the American Midwest, is home to the largest concentration of effigy mounds in the world. (Ohio's Great Serpent Mound, an eastern outlier, is the largest and most famous of them all.) They were raised during the Late Woodland period (700-1200 CE) by a number of related cultures. Although not all are identifiable, the vast majority have the shapes of the animal beings of the Three Worlds: snakes, turtles, panthers, bears, birds.

Of the thousands of recorded effigy mounds, we know of only nine in human form, all but one of them located in the relatively small area drained by the lower Wisconsin River. Of these, the majority wear horns.


Or rather, wore horns; only one still survives. Officially known as the La Valle Man Mound of Sauk County, I call him the Long Man of Baraboo.

First recorded in a land survey of 1859, the Man had his feet amputated early in the 20th century during the construction of the road that still bears his name. (From Baraboo, turn right onto Man Mound Road to get there. The mound will be on the right.) Fortunately, the mound—still nearly 200 feet long—and the land around it were purchased jointly by the Wisconsin Archaeological Society and the Sauk County Historical Society in 1907.

He now has his own park, Man Mound County Park, where he lies, long and low (he rises only 2-3 feet above the surrounding turf) on a curving slope at the foot of a high, wooded ridge. He stretches out roughly north-south, striding across the land, with his arms at his sides. His now-vanished feet once pointed toward the sunset (he's walking west, just like the rest of us); his elegant bison horns sweep out from his head in a single, unbroken crescent.

The Horned Man retains his mystery. Misinformation abounds. In a Youtube video about the mound he can barely be distinguished at all. It is virtually impossible to photograph him intelligibly. For some reason, drawings of the mound—including the one on the plaque in the park—depict him incorrectly. The guidebooks report the presence of a viewing tower that no longer exists, if it ever did.

Interestingly, because he lies on a slope, it is impossible to view the entire figure at once from any vantage point on the ground, with one exception. If you stand directly above the crown of his head, between the curve of his horns, you will see the Man's entire body stretching out before you.

This must have been intended by the makers of the mound, and any witch worth her salt could easily tell you why, if only she would.

Who He was to the people that made Him we cannot know. In historic times, the local people (the Ho-Chunk) told stories about a monster-slaying tribal hero named Red Horn. The high percentage of horned figures among the known man mounds suggests that the Man with Horns was a mythological being. Archaeologists speak unhelpfully about shamans, a catch-all explanation that explains nothing.

Ask the druids who hold ritual there at full moon who He is. Ask the witches who stand in the moon-gate of illumination between His horns pouring out liquor and laying down tobacco. Ask my friend Artemis Namaste, who will be leading a rite there this year at sunrise on Midsummer's Day.

The Man knows who He is, we may be sure of that. And at Beltane, He is covered, absolutely covered, in violets.


The Man Mound has his own website, where you can read my poem “The Long Man of Baraboo.”

For more about the Sauk County Man Mound and the other mounds of Wisconsin, see Robert Birmingham and Leslie Eisenberg, Indian Mounds of Wisconsin(2000). Madison, University of Wisconsin Press.


















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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.


  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Friday, 30 May 2014

    Very cool. Thank you for telling us about it!

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Friday, 30 May 2014

    I liked both poems. But yours is better.

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