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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Thinking Third Thoughts

Robert Cochrane (1931-1966), father of the contemporary Old Craft movement, was wont to say that the true name of the witch goddess is Fate (Cochrane 25). Yet he writes to Joseph Wilson in 1966 that the “prime duty of the Wise” is to “overcome fate” (Cochrane 23).

What is one to make of this?

Permit me to draw on the traditional vocabulary of the Elder Witcheries and to reframe the discussion in terms of “Wyrd.” Wyrd was anciently seen both as a goddess and as the inherent pattern of things: what Is, the sum total of everything that has happened until now, and the cumulative momentum towards the future inherent in that pattern. In the most abstract sense, one could say that the witches' goddess is Being, as the witches' god is Duration: in effect, Mother Nature and Father Time.

Each one of us is the product of both our genetic and our cultural history. Having been born to a certain family in a certain time at a certain place, and having received a certain education, here am I: a product of my wyrd. I gained a deeper understanding of the larger patterns of which our lives are part when I visited my cousin in Germany in 2005. By that point my family had been in America for more than 75 years. I had never realized before just how culturally German my family remains. In many ways we're still stubborn old Germans. (My mother would contend that “stubborn German” is redundant, and there's no moving her from this position.) I was born into this particular pattern of thought and behavior. It was my wyrd. It was Wyrd.


How then is it the work of the witch to “overcome [Wyrd]”? Just so: because of who I am, and my wyrd, I am predisposed to think and act in certain ways. This is how most people go through life: going “with the flow” unquestioningly. The work of the wise is to understand this predisposition and to use it to work around itself.

Terry Pratchett writes about “having third thoughts.” First thoughts: the cat knows. Second thoughts: people know that they know: i.e. they can watch themselves think. Third thoughts: the witch knows that she knows that she knows: she understands the patterns of her own mind well enough to watch her own thought processes happening and to think in new ways by learning to out-think herself.

If I am predisposed to think and act in a certain way, then—being consciously aware of this fact—when I make the conscious decision to think or act in a way different to that predisposition, I have thereby overcome my wyrd. Of course, the nature of wyrd is such that, having done so, what one has done thereby becomes part of one's wyrd. But that's Wyrd, and there's no escaping it. Even the gods, the wise agree, are subject to Wyrd.

The paradox is, being fully aware of my own mental predispositions, I can nonetheless choose to act in accordance with them. To do so is still to overcome wyrd. To choose to act against one's predispositions antinomianly—for the sheer reason that they exist—is ultimately an act of mental adolescent rebellion that the truly wise will learn to overcome in turn. How one chooses is moot. The choosing is all.

Wyrd is said to be a weaver. Cloth consists of both warp and woof: the base threads, and the threads that are woven across them, the fixed and the moving. Some things are fixed and cannot be changed. But within those bounds, I can move the shuttle and its thread as I will. Should I so choose, I can introduce a new pattern into the weave.

We all have our own patterns of mind. “I'm a concrete thinker,” a friend said to me recently. (Being the same, I feel a sense of solidarity.) The witch's work, then, is not to say: Well, that's how I think, that's how it is. The witch's work is to say: Knowing that I tend to think concretely, what then do I do not to think concretely? All patterns of thought have their inherent shortcomings. The only way not to fall prey to these shortcomings is to understand ourselves well enough to work—when the situation merits—outside of (and sometimes against) our own standard patterns of thought.

For the witch's greatest work is always the work of her own mind.

It is, one might say, our wyrd.


Robert Cochrane and Evan John Jones, The Robert Cochrane Letters: An Insight into Modern Traditional Witchcraft (2002). Ed. Michael Howard. Capall Bann.






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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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