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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Witches with Their Feet on the Ground

As a movement, the modern Old Craft has tended to be characterized by a verbal style that I can only call “opaque.”

Anyone who has ever tried to work her way through the letters of Robert Cochrane (1931-1966), Father of modern Old Craft, will know what I'm talking about. Cochrane hints, but rarely tells. He's very good at dropping a few evocative details, then drawing the veil back over. He writes, as my friend and colleague Bruner Soderberg once rather acidly observed, “to impress rather than to inform."

His would-be successors, alas, have often tended to follow suit. Particularly notorious for the opacity of his prose was mage Andrew Chumbley (1967-2004), whose books have got to be among the most-collected and least-read titles on the shelves of modern Witchdom.

Chumbley seems immune to clear exposition. He will never say “mystery” when he can possibly say arcanum, “flying ointment” instead of unguentum sabbati. Maybe there really are people out these who are impressed by high school Latin, but personally, I'm not one of them.

Old Craft thrives here in the American Midwest. What both intrigues and impresses me about Midwest Old Craft is its very lack of opacity. Rather, the standard Chumbleyian style of “I know something you don't know” obfuscation seems to us a pomposity, a bore: in fact, an admission of poverty. It strikes us—whether rightly or wrongly—as a ploy to cover lack of substance.

We've got plenty of substance here in the Midwest. If we obfuscate, it's generally through understatement.

Here we're witches with our feet on the ground. We prefer crisp, clear, succinct. Don't waste our time with fifty-dollar words and logorhea. If you don't care enough about what you're saying to be both concise and precise, don't bother us. We're witches. We've got work to do here, important work.

And arcanum has nothing to do with it.








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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.


  • Ian Phanes
    Ian Phanes Monday, 04 February 2019

    Can you recommend any Old Craft books that are "crisp, clear, succinct"?

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 05 February 2019

    By its very nature, Old Craft defies clear exposition. It's best transmitted through evocation: story, dance, song.

    And surely it's a jest worthy of the gods that most off the best books about Old Craft that I can think of aren't about Old Craft per se.

    Check out Elizabeth Marshall Thomas' The Old Way: A Story of the First People. When it comes to Old Craft, that's about as crisp, clear, and succinct as it gets.

    All you have to do is to read between the lines.

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