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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Why Black Phillip Eats the Lion from the Lion's Den

Every decade has its premier witch movie, and that of the twenty-teens (so far, anyway) is surely Robert Egger's 2015 The VVitch: A New-England Tale, in my opinion the finest filmic invocation of the Horned Master since Roman Polanski's 1999 The Ninth Gate.

So there are two recommendation for your next coven film night.

In The VVitch, young Jonas and Mercy sing a song with an eerie three-note tune about Black Phillip, their family's ornery he-goat and (as it later turns out) something more.

Black Phlllip, Black Phillip,

a crown grows out of his head.

Black Phillip, Black Phillip

to nanny queen is wed.

Jump to the fence post,

run to the stall:

Black Phillip, Black Phillip,

king of all.


Black Phillip, Black Phillip,

king of sky and land,

Black Phillip, Black Phillip,

king of sea and sand:

we are your servants,

we are your men.

Black Phillip eats the lion

from the lion's den.

In all, a pretty fine hymn to the Horned Master as Lord of the Beasts, well worth the learning. The recurrent motif, of course, is kingship: His crown is the very horns that grow from His head. His kingship is not achieved from without, but grows—as does all true mastery—from within.

But why, one might ask, does Black Phillip eat the lion from the lion's den?

The received internet opinion would seem to be that this alludes to the Biblical story of Daniel in the lion's den, and therefore lauds the triumph of the Dark Lord over the "God" of the Bible.

Me, I'm not convinced.

If there's a Biblical allusion here at all, my suspicion would be that it is to Black Phillip's triumph over the Christian savior, the so-called "Lion of Judah." But if so, that's mere gloss.

Since the entire song is about Black Phillip's kingship, I think that the primary allusion here is to the lion as King of Beasts. You might think that the lion is king, but in the end, Black Phillip devours him, thereby establishing his own triumphal reign.

Since in the usual course of things, goats don't eat lions, but rather the reverse, we see here the final statement that Black Phillip is not just the farmyard buck, as one might think at first, but the Horned Lord incarnate.

As, indeed, proves to be the case.

The Craft is something new in the world: a paganism that grows out of Christianity.

That may be its beginning, but assuredly that is not its end. Like the Lion-eating Goat, the Craft devours.

And then goes on from there.


You can hear the first stanza of the Black Phillip song (or most of it, anyway) here.


For MM

Boss Witch






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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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