Root & Branch: Eclectic Folk Magic, Conjure, and Witchery for Every Day.
Discover the natural magic of the British countryside and apply its
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The Old Ways Back In The Old Days
Sooner or later, we always come to the question of what Old Craftwitches believe, and although my old tutor, Bob Clay-Egerton firmly held the philosophy and opinion that all faiths were One and all Paths led to the same Goal, he did not advocate what is now referred to as ‘eclectic paganism’. What he did teach was the desire for knowledge and experience, regardless of source. Each new experience was, however, studied within the confines of that particular religion, path or tradition. Each new discipline was kept completely separate from each other. It was only when a student had a thorough understanding of the tenets of each discipline were they encouraged to formulate them into their own individual system.
And if we accept that true Craft is not a religion – because it’s an individual’s natural ability that distinguishes a witch – then does this mean that traditional witches have no religious affiliations?
Not at all. Back in the good old days, after most pagan agricultural festivals and celebrations had been absorbed into the Church calendar, the local wise woman might even have been seen as a church-going, card-carrying member of the parish. This idea is borne out by the fact that, even today, traditional Craft persists in using the old Church calendar names for the major festivals that remained very much part of the agricultural year despite the repackaging.
And despite attempts to re-introduce the use of Celtic names in the 1980s, genuine old Craft incantations still call on Christian saints, many of whom had strong pagan associations before being ‘adopted’ by the Church. This practice is considered to be an integral part of traditional witchcraft and widely quoted in popular books of the 1970s. [Similarly, the use of Celtic seasonal names is still commonplace in Ireland, but not connected in any way to modern pagan belief.] This is also true of both the Romany and practitioners of voodoo/Santeria; both of whom have a strong magical culture that is performed under a thin veneer of Christianity.
Nevertheless, the village witch (or wise woman) would have been regularly called upon to act as midwife, or to dispense herbal medicine for sickly children and animals. No doubt she would have flung the occasional curse about in order to relieve the boredom: and to maintain the fear and respect of her neighbours. This installation of fear also kept her safe, and free from interference from those who would perhaps persecute a woman living alone. If her neighbours felt uncomfortable in her presence, they could always keep her sweet by the giving of gifts in the form of bread, eggs, vegetables, a chicken, etc., and keep their distance – until the next time they needed her skills.
We must also remember that the concept of witchcraft in Anglo-Saxon and Medieval England differed considerably from the hysteria that surrounded the later Tudor-Stuart ‘burning times’ and happenings in continental Europe. Up to around c1500, witchcraft was viewed as damage to crops or cattle livestock by spells or poison; or to people, ranging from sickness, sterility and death. The crime was not considered serious – it was a crime against a neighbour, rather than a crime against God – and the penalties tended to be like those for any other anti-social act. Conviction carried a relatively light punishment and few suffered death, unless they had caused the death of another human being.
An old-fashioned witch might not have had the enquiring mind or educational opportunities of her 21st century counterparts, but she had the advantage of absorbing an oral tradition that had persisted for hundreds of years. Lacking in intellect but not in application, the witch of yesteryear would probably have fully understood the sentiments expressed in a collection of spiritual essays dating from 1897 [The Treasure of the Humble], wherein the author writes about Ultima Thule – the extreme limit – and which also can be applied to traditional Craft.
We are here on the borderland of human thought and far across the Artic circle of the spirit. There is no ordinary cold, no ordinary dark there, and yet you shall find there naught but flames and light. But to those who arrive without having trained their minds to these new perceptions, the light and flames are as dark and cold as though they were painted. This means that the intelligence, the reason, will not suffice of themselves: we must have faith.
The kernel of a traditional witch’s faith, however, is a belief in a definite association of force (or energy) within special localities, and the notion of natural energy influencing cause and effect. The term ‘animism’ was first coined in the early 18th century by Georg Ernst Stahl to describe his philosophy of a world soul; the word anima, meaning ‘breath’, which in Latin came to have the secondary sense of ‘soul’ = breath of life. The belief embraces the notion that spirit [or natural energy] inhabits everything in Nature – every hill, tree and stream, every breeze and cloud, every stone and pool has its own ‘spirit’. According some anthropologists, animism is the grass roots of all religion, and so the theory was consigned to the box of ‘primitive thought’ … but it’s the nearest we can come to understanding what presses the spiritual buttons of the traditional witch.
We should not, however, take this to mean that Old Craft is spiritually backward. The most amazing thing for us to consider, is that all this wondrous insight into the metaphysical world would have been passed amongst people with no (or little) formal learning. In reality, it is perfectly possible to perceive ourselves as a spiritual beings without being at all religious. Spirituality is how we ‘feel’ about the meaning of life – it is the quest for the hidden mysteries and need not manifest itself in religious terms.
In all honesty, there is little altruistic about traditional Craft. It can best be described as having a tribal mentality in that it believes in protecting its own, but with no obligation to mankind in general. In view of the historical backlash, even in more modern times, this is not surprising. “Trust None!” remains the creed of traditional Craft and it has preserved its Mysteries by not divulging its rites and practices. No matter what a publisher’s blurb may claim, there are no genuine traditional Old Craft rituals, rites of passages, spells, charms or pathworkings in print, for one simple reason …
Any traditional Crafter committing any of these to paper for public scrutiny would be in breach of their Initiatory Oaths - and this still carries the ultimate penalty for treachery and betrayal. Admittedly, there are ‘smokescreens’ that may offer a parody of the genuine thing - but the gnarled roots of traditional Craft remain firmly in the shadows, where they belong. Although there may be a variation in formulae from region to region, the underlying Mysteries remain the same, and the only way to know about them is to have experienced them first hand.
Broadly speaking, nearly all traditional witchcraft employs the use of ritual, symbol and ceremony as a means of representing and communicating with forces underlying the universe and man – the macrocosm and the microcosm. Or, in much simpler terms, to quote that old adage of Evan John Jones which had originated with Robert Cochrane.
If one who claims to be a Witch can perform the tasks of Witchcraft, i.e. summon the spirits and they come, can divine with rod, fingers and birds. If they can also claim the right to the omens and have them; have the power to call, heal and curse and above all, can tell the maze and cross the Lethe, then you have a witch.”
Adapted from the Coven of the Scales foundation course and Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living by Melusine Draco, author of the Traditional Witchcraft series, published by Moon Books, in imprint of John Hunt Publishing. www.johnhuntpublishing.com
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