According to archaeologist Stephen J. Yeates, the original Tribe of Witches was the Anglo-Saxon people called the Hwicce, who inhabited the Cotswolds and Severn Valley of what is now southwestern England.
These were previously the tribal territories of an early Iron Age Keltic people known as the Dobunni. Both genetics and archeology suggest strong demographic and cultural continuity from the Keltic to the Anglo-Saxon periods.
The name Dobunni, known from inscriptions and Roman historians (Yeates 2-3), is of uncertain etymology. Yeates himself does not discuss a derivation.
It may be, though, that this ethnonym preserves a memory of the origins of the tribe itself.
But like other tribes, the Tribe of Witches tends to be porous around the edges. Opting in is always a possibility. (So is opting out, but that's another matter. And you know what they say: Once a witch, always a witch.)
You can marry in. Love is the ultimate bind-oath. Once you speak the language, eat the food, and keep the holidays, you're more or less in by osmosis.
Or you can adopt in. The old rites of initiation are essentially rites of adoption: you make the bind-oath to the gods of the thede (tribe), you're blooded, and you're in.
Because (with all due deference to Uncle Gerald) we're not really a religion at all.
It's thoroughly in keeping with the irony-laden history of the modern Craft that one of the most common names for the Goddess of Witches should derive ultimately from the name of a first-century member of the Judaean royal house.
Well, it's a long story. (I'll tell it to you some time. If you don't already know and want to find out, you can do so here. Scroll down for the good stuff.)
No, my purpose today is much simpler: stress. Is it a-RA-di-a or a-ra-DI-a?
Bealtaine's coming up, and with it the annual problem: how do we decide who to sacrifice this year?
Well, I don't know how they go about it where you live, but one tried-and-true method is the Bealtaine Bannock.
You cook a barley-cake over an open fire and break it up into pieces. One piece you mark black with charcoal from the fire. Then everyone draws a piece and eats it. Whoever gets the black piece wins. Or loses. Whatever.
It's a old method of Choosing. The stomachs of several bog bodies have been found to contain remnants of charred bannock. Hey, if it was good enough for Lindow Man, it's good enough for me.
The old-time Tribe of Witches didn't have a separate word for “religion.”
They had one word for them all.
The Hwicce—the Anglo-Saxon tribe (and later, kingdom) that (according to some) gave rise to the name and lore of today's witches—spoke their own dialect of Old English, the language which (after a crossbow marriage with Norman French) gave rise to Modern English.
Living in a state of cultural wholeness that we can only fantasize about today—what culture critic Stephen Flowers would call “integral culture”—their word ðéaw denoted many of the shared things that together make a people a people: Religion. Custom. Tradition. Usage. Virtue. Conduct. In the plural, it also meant virtues, (good) manners, morals, morality.
Imagine a world in which all these things were the same thing. That was the world of the witches.
It's a question worth asking: do we, the new pagans, have a right to the ways and the lore of the old pagans?
To this, I would say: we do. They're ours by eldright.
David Cowley, who coined the term, defines eldright as “ancient right, tradition.” It comes to us by virtue of who we are.
We are the pagans, the True people. (It's an anthropological truism that practically every tribal name means the People, the Real People.) The contrary of this True is not false; the contrary of this True is unTrue. We are the ones who remain faithful (“true”) to the ways of the ancestors. Some have chosen other ways, as is their right. But in doing so they have thereby become unfaithful—untrue—to the ancestors and to their ways. Every people that remains True to its ancestral ways is a True people.