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Melusine Draco biography

This is the post excerpt.

This is the Blog for Melusine Draco, esoteric author (fact and fiction) and spiritual teacher; dog person and countrywoman; writer and creative writing tutor.  Hopefully, it will make life a lot easier in keeping in touch on social media about work in progress, new titles and books off the back-list.

Mélusine Draco is an Initiate of traditional British Old Craft and the Khemetic Mysteries.  Originally trained in the magical arts with Bob and Mériém Clay-Egerton’s Coven of the Scales, she has been a magical and spiritual instructor for over 20 years with both Coven of the Scales and the Temple of Khem, and writer of numerous popular books including Liber Ægyptius: the Book of Egyptian Magic; The Egyptian Book of Days; The Egyptian Book of Nights; Root & Branch; The Witch’s Treasury of the Countryside; The Thelemic Handbook; The Hollow Tree, an elementary guide to the Tarot and Qabalah and Starchild: a rediscovery of stellar wisdom. Her highly individualistic teaching methods and writing draws on ancient sources supported by academic texts and current archaeological findings.  She also has a soft spot for the writings of Aleister Crowley and will only use the term ‘magick’ when writing about Thelema and its associated practices; endorsing his view that magic is an amalgam of science and art, and that magic is the outer route to the inner Mysteries.

She now lives in Ireland near the Galtee Mountains and has several titles currently published with John Hunt Publishing including the Traditional Witchcraft series; two titles on totem animals – Aubry’s Dog and Black Horse, White Horse; By Spellbook & Candle: Hexing, Cursing, Bottling & Binding and By Wolfsbane and Mandrake Root: The Shadow World of Plants and Their Poisons; Pan: Dark Lord of the Forest and Horned God of the Witches published by Moon Books; in additional to Magic Crystals Sacred Stones and The Atum-Re Revival published by Axis Mundi Books.

Her series of esoteric novels – The Temple House Archive – has been published by Ignotus Press UK and is available in both paperback and e-book formats.  All books available on Amazon.  Her Ignotus Books non-fiction titles include: Root & Branch: British Magical Tree Lore; Starchild  I & II; The Calendar of Ancient Egypt: The Arte of Darkness: Magic & Mystery From the Shadows; Old Year, Old Calendar, Old Ways; Wort-Lore: the Craft of Witches and CRONE!

Web: www.covenofthescales.com and www.templeofkhem.com

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/melusine-draco.blog

“Mélusine Draco, as her name suggests, has long been plugged into the powerful currents of traditional witchcraft and ritual magic. She is one of the real ones. Her provocative series of Tradition Witchcraft will show you how to move between the inner and outer worlds. Follow along behind her if you dare …” Alan Richardson, author of numerous esoteric titles including Priestess and The Old Sod, biographies of Dion Fortune and W G Gray.

Contact: melusinedraco777@gmail.com

Nature Creates Her Own Wheel of the Year … all we have to do is follow it

In Traditional Witchcraft for Fields & Hedgerows , Melusine Draco looks at the importance for young witches to go rummaging about in the hedgerow and coming face to face with its inhabitants. This was the third in the Moon Books, Traditional Witchcraft series, which is slowly but surely making its way towards best-selling status. 

Many years ago, my friend and I passed those long, hot summer days of childhood roaming the surrounding fields and hedgerows. Then, we could disappear for hours, discovering the treasures of the season and enjoying the closeness of a silent companionship. Some sixty years and hundreds of miles apart, we still share those memories of knowing where to find the first flowerings, and close encounters with birds and animals of the hedge bank.  “Do you remember …” frequently crops up in letters and telephone conversations to recall to mind some indelible memory of a bank of spring celandines; the glimpse of a hunting stoat snaking through the undergrowth near the ruined barn; Easter violets; the chatter of nesting hedge sparrows, or more correctly ‘dunnock’, who often play foster parents to the cunning cuckoo.

Hedgerows were a prominent and distinctive feature of the landscape when I was a child, and the oldest were probably remnants of the continuous woodland that once covered most of the land. As villagers and landowners cleared the forest for agriculture, they would leave the last few feet of forest standing to mark the outer boundaries of their land.  A traditional witchlet instinctively knows that these boundaries have a special magical significance, especially at dawn or dusk when we encountered a tawny owl hunting along the hedge in the twilight – or ‘owl light’ as we called it.

On a much deeper level the ‘hedge’ refers to the hedgewitch’s boundary separating the mundane world from Otherworld.  The hedge also represents a physical and psychic protective boundary, separating spirit from human – thus hedgewitches are said to ‘hedge-ride’ by crossing the liminal space of the time between times.  While hedge-riding is seeing a resurgence in popularity, the practice itself is actually quite old with most modern practices based on historical texts with modern mistransliterations, interpretations and adaptions.

Some of our most ancient hedges are the remnants of such boundaries, perhaps even now still marking parish borders.  Hedges were also formed to enclose patches of land to contain livestock.  This would have been done close to a farm or village, and in many places, these small irregular enclosures can still be recognised by witches of today, as indications of old field patterns and ancient hedgerow.  The majority, however, were planted in the 18th and 19th centuries to enclose patches of land in order to establish ownership.  Nevertheless, the older the hedge, the more we feel we are walking in our ancestors’ footsteps as we search for magical and medicinal ingredients.  Probably the leaves of the hawthorn are the first wild vegetable country children learned to eat: widely known as ‘bread and cheese’ the young leaves have a pleasant nutty taste and we used to add them to our picnic sandwiches.

For both countrywomen and witches the hedge was extremely important. A veritable treasure house: a source of food, drink, medicine, shelter, fuel and dyes, while numerous superstitions arose around many hedgerow plants. The special plant community that makes up a mature hedgerow also offers a wider range of food for animals and birds than most deciduous woodland, making the hedge a very attractive habitat in winter. After feasting on the autumn harvest of elder and blackberries, birds turn to rosehips and haws, then sloes, and finally to ivy berries and this is where we become familiar with our totem animal or bird in its natural habitat. Here we often encountered a basking grass snake, or better still a shed skin that could be made into a witch’s garter.

The Romans introduced a large number of herbs to Britain, valuing them for their supposed supernatural powers, as well as culinary and medicinal uses … and many of these plants now grow profusely in the wild. By the Middle Ages, the use of herbs for magical purposes was commonplace, and every village had its own witch or cunning-woman. A medieval witch was an expert in the identification of wild herbs, and from the countryside surrounding her home she would gather the appropriate plants for scenting linen, flavouring sauces … or procuring an abortion. Herbs were so important in daily life that when people moved around the country, they took with them the plants and the superstitions surrounding them.

Dr Harold Selcon reminds us in The Physicians of Myddfai, that by the end of the 14th century a different class of medical herbalist was developing — the apothecaries — who purchased herbs collected from the countryside by wandering professional herb collectors, known as the ‘green men and women’. This occupation was a traditional one with a long history, and during the reign of Elizabeth I the ‘Wild Herb Act’ was passed, giving the ‘green-men’ the right to gather herbs and roots in wild uncultivated land. Nevertheless, prior to, and during the First and Second World Wars, Britain grew large quantities of its own medicinal herbs; while a significant quantity of wild herbs were gathered for commercial use. The ‘wild herb men’ finally went out of business in the early 1960s, although in December 1972, the East Anglian Magazine featured an article on one of the last men to gather wild plants for a living.

In fact, the use of common native plants in everyday home medicine is now almost obsolete, largely because it was mainly a DIY collection of first aid remedies, often passed on orally, rather than a written record. Although the growing pagan community has resulted in a resurgence of interest in these natural remedies, those who were fortunate in learning the language of the fields and hedgerows at an early age retain these early lessons in order to give a greater understanding of witchcraft in later life.   Those fields and hedgerows still provide a vast encyclopaedia for those with an active interest in Craft practice and the folklore handed down to us hides much more than it reveals.

Mélusine Draco’s Traditional Witchcraft series (including Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living, Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore, Traditional Witchcraft for Fields & Hedgerows, Traditional Witchcraft for Woods & Forests, Traditional Witchcraft & the Pagan Revival and Traditional Witchcraft and the Path to the Mysteries) is published by Moon-Books, an imprint of www.johnhuntpublishing in paperback and e-book format.  Also available from Amazon. 

Michael Howard | The Cauldron 
“The third book in this series approaches the subject from the premise that whether we live in the city or the countryside nature is all around us. According to the author, it is the natural world that can teach us how to be a witch and release the knowledge of the Old Ways … Overall this series is recommended as a safe introduction for absolute beginners looking for their first connect with a traditional type of witchcraft through the medium of folklore and naturalism.”

Deosil Dance Magazine 
“It is a fascinating and insightful book on the folklore of plants, weather lore, treelore, and nice recipes that are easy to follow. With nice gentle introductions into each of the seasons, it is a good book to give to newcomers & children alike who will be fascinated by the contents.”

The Secret People (extract)

This extract is taken from ‘The Parish Healer’ chapter under Old Wives’ Tales – a dismissive expression normally used to indicate that a supposed truth is actually a superstition to be ridiculed. Such ‘tales’ were considered to be unverified claims with exaggerated and inaccurate details, often focussing on ‘women’s concerns’, discouraging unseemly behaviour in children, or folk cures for ailments ranging from a headache to in-growing toenails.

Old Women’s Sayings was a song published on ‘Broadside’ by a number of 19th century printers, the earliest being John Pitts and James Catnach. A broadside was a large sheet of paper printed on one side only. They were usually posters announcing events or proclamations, or simply advertisements. Broadsides are difficult to date accurately since all the printers copied each other’s work as a matter of course, but the earliest versions seem to date from c.1835.

Draw near and give attention

And you shall hear in rhyme

The old women’s saying

In the olden time.

High and low, rich and poor

By daylight or dark

Are sure for to make

Some curious remark

With some foolish idea

Your brains they will bother

For some believes one thing

And some believes another.

Chorus:

These are odds and ends

And superstitious ways

The signs and tokens

Of my grandmother’s days.

The first thing you will see

At the house of rich or poor

To keep the witches out

A horseshoe’s o’er the door;

Bellows on the table

Cause a row by day and night

If there’s two knives across

You are sure to have a fight;

There’s a stranger in the grate

Or if the cat should sneeze

Or lay before the fire

It will rain or freeze.

A cinder with a hole

In the middle, is a purse

But a long one from the fire

Is a coffin – which is worse;

A spider ticking in the wall

Is the death-watch at night

A spark in the candle

Is a letter, sure as life;

If your right eye itches

You’ll cry till out of breath

A winding sheet in the candle

Is a sure sign of death.

If your left eye itches

You will laugh outright

But the left or right

Is very good at night;

If your elbow itch

A strange bedfellow found

If the bottom of your foot itch

You’ll tread on strange ground;

If your knee itch you’ll kneel

In a church, that’s a good ’un

And if your belly itch

You’ll get a lot of pudden.

If your back should itch

I do declare

Butter will be cheap

When the grass grows there

If the dog howl at night

Or mournfully cry

Or if the cock should crow

There will be someone die;

If you stumble up stairs

Indeed I’m no railer

You’ll be married to a snob

Or else to a tailor.

A speck on your finger nail

Is a gift that’s funny

If your hand itch in the middle

You will get some money;

Spilling of salt

Is anger outright

You will see a ghost if the doors

Should rattle in the night;

If your sweetheart

Dreams of bacon and eggs

She’ll have a little boy

That has got three legs.

The cat washing her face

The wind will blow

If the cat licks her foot

It is sure to snow;

Put your gown or your jacket

On, inside out

You will change your luck

And be put to the route [sic]

If your nose itches

You’ll get vexed till you jump

If your great toe itch

You’ll get a kick in the rump.

If a girl snaps one finger

She’ll have a child it seems

And if she snaps two

She’s sure to have twins;

And if she snaps eight

Nine, ten, or eleven

It’s a chance if she don’t

Have twenty and seven;

If you lay with your head

Underneath the clothes

You’ll have an ugly old man

What has got no nose.

If you see a star shoot

You’ll get what you wish

If a hair gets in your mouth

You’ll get as drunk as a fish;

If your little toe itch

You’ll be lost in a wave

If you shiver there’s somebody

Going over your grave;

If you go under a ladder

You’ll have bad luck and fall

And so say bad luck

Is better than none at all;

So to please outright

I have told you in rhyme

The great superstition

Of the olden time.

Many of these sayings passed into family use although some differed around the country. For example, an itchy palm was said to show money was on the way, but some believe it’s the right hand, while others say: ‘Left hand receive,’ and rub the palm against wood. The explanation for the latter was that the receiver shook hands with the right hand, as they were receiving the ‘gift’ with their left. ‘It works every time,’ admitted one country woman. ‘It might only be a penny found in the street, but it has to be unexpected.’

In recent years, research has show that more and more of these old superstitions have more than a grain of truth in them, or have detected the logic behind the casual warnings. Whether they are fact or fiction, most people have grown up with their use within the family.

Melusine Draco

The Secret People by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books – www.moon-books.net ISBN 978 1 78535 444 1 : UK£13.99/US$22.95 : 226 pages : in paperback and e-book format.

Putting Out The Call

An excerpt from The Power of Prayer currently a work in progress from Julie Dexter and Melusine Draco for Ignotus Press. Due for publication 2021.

‘Putting out the call’ on the astral is something completely different to prayer.  Here we are making a public (astrally-speaking) statement that we are looking for, or are in need of someone or something that cannot be clearly defined in terms of a formal magical rite. We have all sent out a plea on the astral for things; it’s not always a conscious process but every one of us sends a plea out into the void, in one form or another, at some stage in our lives.  What that power is we are supplicating, and how it works is a matter for debate – the gods, the ancestors, the universe, the source, the cosmos – it doesn’t really matter. Asking for something can work, providing we keep one or two simple rules in mind.

Generally, the one putting out the call is, more often than not, an experienced magical practitioner who can usually get on their contacts within seconds and without any prior preparation.  For all its outwards appearances, however, this is not a knee-jerk reaction and the ‘Call’ has probably received a great deal of consideration and/or agonising over before it is put into practice.  Because of the character of the supplicant they have probably decided that the time is right on a subconscious level and that they are willing to accept whatever outcome with good grace.  There is a saying in traditional British Old Craft that the witch has the right to ask but the ‘powers that be’ have the right to refuse.

Nevertheless, there are times when the knee-jerk has all the passion and emotion necessary to fuel the Call … like in the case of a missing dog or child, for example.  Under heightened emotional states, individuals are more inclined to engage in ill-considered or rash actions than at other times. The building panic and imagination working in overdrive, however, can pitch a plea into a full-scale operation that bulldozes its way across the astral, cutting a swathe through physical obstacles, magical protocol and stellar bombardment!   The secret is that this kind of emotion cannot be simulated and so it is pure, unadulterated energy being poured into the Call. 

Putting out the call is simple but not always easy. All we have to do is ask for what we want and accept there is always a catch and/or a price.  For example, the energy we put into asking affects what may ultimately manifest,because if we call for things in a desperate, needy, or doubtful way, we can actually attract more despair, need and doubt. In addition, if we are too vague about what we desire, we can end up acquiring the wrong things, or nothing at all. This is why it is important to be very clear about both the condition our energy is in, and the seriousness of our intentions before we attempt to put out the Call.  It never ceases to amaze us, just how many ‘impure conduits’ there are who fail to realize that the main reason for their magical/personal failures are often due to these impurities.

True, this type of working could defy most senses of magical logic, if only because there are only certain exceptions when it comes to the question of practice or ritual.  As Carl Jung pointed out, ‘a great many ritualistic performances are carried out for the sole purpose of producing at will the effect of the ‘numinosum’  – a dynamic existence  – by certain devices of a magic nature, such as invocation, incantation, sacrifice, meditation and other self-inflicted tortures of various descriptions’.  We all are so used to the implications of cause and effect within magical practice that to activate a working without due attention to the focus we have for powering it, would seem impractical or pointless; since every magical action we take, whether taken consciously or subconsciously, has consequences that will deliver specific reactions in our lives.

Part of that ‘cause and effect’ is to make sure our energy channels are pure and uncontaminated. This can be one of the trickiest aspects of realizing success for many people. When we ask from a place of fear or need, we are not sending out the right energy signals on the astral because our channels are contaminated by fear and/or need.  The principle behind the Call is that like attracts like, and if we send out fearful or needy energy, we will actually attract things that will make us more fearful or needy. When we call with doubt in our heart, or think that we do not deserve what we are asking for, we will attract back proof of these beliefs. This is why energy cleansing is the first step in putting out the calland, if our channels are clear, then there is nothing to stand in the way of the cause or the effect.

Cleansing

Once we are clear about what we want, it is time to ask for those desires. It may help to take some time for deep breathing exercises or meditation before we begin because it is essential to be feeling as relaxed and positive as we can so that our energy is good. We can create a mini-ritual around the asking if that makes us feel more connected, perhaps lighting a candle, or going to a beautiful place in Nature where we feel connected to natural and universal energy. Then, simply put out the call for what we desire. The spoken word is very powerful, so it is important that we ask for what we want out loud whenever possible.

It is important to understand that exhaling stimulates our response, so a breathing routine with longer exhales than inhales will be more effective at lowering emotional tension. Routines, in which the exhale is the same length as the inhale while focusing on your anxious thoughts, are usually less effective at lowering the effects of anxiety, although, this is a good form of being mindful about learning how to become more relaxed.

For simple meditation, we sit or lie comfortably and close our eyes … making no effort to control our breath, we simply breathe naturally. Focusing our attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation, we can feel the tension begin to evaporate.  It may help us relax if we play our favourite sounds of Nature, or soothing classical music and focusing on the rhythms and the tranquility of the sound.  

The uncomplicated ‘Rainbow Chakra’ exercise has absolutely nothing to do with traditional British Old Craft but it calms the mind, and can act as a quick pick-me-up.   We make ourselves comfortable on the floor or on the bed, and try to keep our mind completely blank for two minutes.  Closing our eyes and visualising a blank area in front of us, pushing thoughts away as they intrude into the darkness; we begin by identifying each of the natural energy points of our body with a colour of the rainbow:

  • Genitals – red
  • Navel – orange
  • Solar plexus – yellow
  • Heart – green
  • Throat – light blue
  • Forehead – dark blue
  • Crown of the head – amethyst

Visualise a warm red light rising slowly from the genitals, changing to orange as it reaches the navel, through yellow, green, light blue, dark blue, continuing up until the top of the head is bathed in a warm amethyst glow.  During the first attempts we will reach the crown very quickly but, as the concentration develops, the light will take longer between the changes of colour as it moves up the body.  More effective than 40-winks or a cat-nap, this exercise can be used as a pick-me-up at any time, whenever stress or tiredness creeps in.   Or, it can be used before attempting any form of impromptu magical working, as a fire-break between the mundane and the magical world.  Time: 15-30 minutes.

Similarly, the ‘Lucid Dreaming’ exercise is a half-waking, half-dream state, where the witch is fully conscious and aware of their surroundings, but still able to receive images or impressions from the astral.  The astral image is often super-imposed over the immediate surroundings like a double-exposure on a photograph.

For the best effect, we sit in a comfortable chair in a patch of sunlight, with a lighted candle burning in front of us.  Stare at the candle flame, which will be almost invisible in the sunshine streaming in through the window.   We don’t allow ourselves to fall asleep but at the same time we allow our mind to drift, and be open to receive any of the impressions that float into our consciousness.   The result is extremely relaxing but also useful for divination.  We may feel as though hours have passed but when we look at the clock, the hands may have only advanced a few minutes.

  • The advantage of these exercises is that we can have someone burst in on us, and all they will see is someone taking a nap!   Because none require any deep form of meditation, it is not dangerous if we are awakened suddenly.

Before we can attract what we desire, however, we have to break down those blockages that stand in our way. One of the main traps that people fall into when putting out the call for something is that we are not 100% sure what we want and why. We say things like ‘I want this …’ or ‘I want that …’, but until we flesh out those ideas, they are not going out as actual requests.  We can also feel like ‘they’ are hostile or indifferent to us, and when we have tried to ask and failed, it is easy to believe that the ‘powers that be’ don’t care about us.  However, the astral is simply responding to the energy waves it receives.  The problem with asking generic questions is that we won’t know what the answer looks like. Until we can say, with some degree of certainty, what we actually want, how can we possibly know whether or not we’ve receive it?

We should let our feelings guide us in deciding what exactly it is we want, but if we don’t get a powerful desire erupting within us when we visualize our request, then maybe it’s not the right request to make.  For example:

‘From a large pack of dogs I was down to the last three and for one old lady it was now a matter of weeks rather than months.  I needed to start looking for another dog – a greyhound or a whippet – but there were lots of mixed feelings as to the inappropriateness of the action and how the remaining dogs would react to the newcomer.  One moonless night, with the Dog Star to the south, I went outside and put out a verbal call for an old greyhound brood bitch who needed a home … and as I stood there I had a simultaneous vision of a friend’s blue dog van pulling up at the closed gate and her getting out leading a white greyhound with red markings.

It was not a good time for us.  My old greyhound was getting older and my little mongrel contracted pneumonia and unexpectedly died.  I contacted my friendly dog-van owner and found that Poppy – a white and red greyhound – had been rushed into the animal sanctuary for an emergency c-section. It was arranged that when the puppies were weaned she would come to me.  All seven puppies were adopted and the day the last one left, Poppy came home in my friend’s blue van because lockdown had forced me to remain locked-down. 

Poppy is a beautiful, elegant little lady who is a greyhound/fox terrier cross – the original breed-mix of the whippet – and an undoubted gift from the gods, who has helped me through a very difficult, lonely time.  And she came in answer to my Call.’

‘Ask the Universe’ is becoming quite a popular ‘in-thing’ on-line but although many of the techniques are similar to those we use within Craft when ‘calling’, I’ve looked long and hard but there appears to be no substance behind the shadows.  Google ‘ask the universe’ and there are some 244,000 results, with most of them telling us that there is a way out of our misery just for the asking. These sites have been written by experts in order to create hope without making any pledge; they foster certainty with never a binding promise.  They pledge calm and tranquility in exchange for an act of faith … but in what?

Neither is there any special formula for asking the Universe for help or guidance. Apparently, you can say something as simple as: ‘Universe, give me a clear sign about what action I should take.’… or … ‘Universe, help me to know if I should really take this action or not.’ Even: ‘Universe help me to clearly know if this action is something you want me to do.’ Do people believe that requests to the universe for help in solving problems and couched in this vein, really work?  Possibly, if they have a leaning towards a concept that the Universe is partly within our subconscious minds – the collective unconsciousness of Jungian psychology.  In other words, we can ask for help and our subconscious will attempt to provide the answers, but it might not have them straight away. Being patient is important …

Gregg Levoy writing for Psychology Today asks an extremely pertinent question: how likely are you to allow yourself a trust-fall into the arms of the Universe. ‘If you say you trust the universe, it would undoubtedly help, for starters, to clarify what aspect of the universe it is that you trust? Do you trust its benevolence, the feeling that you’re somehow looked after? Or trust that it’s filled with endless possibilities? Or is it your own resilience you trust, faith in your ability to choose how you’re going to respond to whatever the universe hands you – which is probably the only kind of trust that everyone is capable of. 

     The definition of trusting something is believing in its reliability, so there’s a catch here: The universe is certainly reliable (sun comes up, sun goes down, gravity works, etc.). But the universe is also reliably unpredictable (chaos theory, Murphy’s law, entropy, the famous shit that happens). So saying that you trust the universe means trusting it to be itself, which includes chaos and randomness, forces which clearly operate on affairs down here on the home planet, and in your own individual life.’

Belief, of course, is a very personal thing and this kind of ‘blind faith’ thinking will challenge any form of belief.  As Jung pointed out, religious belief as an external and objective divine cause always precedes any performance of prayer.  Those of a witchcraft persuasion understand that although we have a faith/belief in what we are it is not of the blinkered variety and, we need to know what it is we’re putting our faith in!  Therefore, to throw a spoken aloud request into the air – so to speak – goes against the grain and we want to know how it works?

So … after the cleansing of the astral/psychic channels, the main problem with any attempt to put out the call is that lack of clarity about what it is that we want. We may actually have only a vague idea of what we want, or we may have had conflicting thoughts.  Once we’ve asked for something, however, we need to relax and put it out of our mind, because there’s no point in dwelling on it.  Change rarely happens in an instant; it is typically a gradual process that has to follow its own path. Depending on what ‘ask’ we have made, the end result we have in mind might take days, or months … or it might even take years to reach.

Once we have asked for what we want, it is time to let go of our desire and let the astral energies get on with their own system of working.  We need to stop fretting and worrying about the situation because this could impede the manifestation process.   Remember that we must be open to new opportunities that come our way and that sometimes things will manifest in a slightly different way than what we expected. When the response comes, it will not always be obvious. We have to keep our eyes peeled for little signs here and there that guide us to where we want to be.  For example:

‘Books on witchcraft are awash with money-spells but in Old Craft it’s considered a bit of a no-no to ask for cash.  Nevertheless, there comes a time in everyone’s life where the lack of money is causing a serious problem and it’s accepted that even in times of dire hardship, a witch will only ever receive enough to keep the wolf from the door.  So save the breath in asking for Lottery numbers!

I remember a time when being strapped for cash was causing untold misery and thought it necessary to put out a call for some help in paying the electricity bill before things had a chance to get worse.  It was an ask for a specific amount – no more, no less.  The response came quickly but not in a way that I could have envisioned – via junk mail!  This normally goes in the bin unopened and unread, but that particular day it was a solitary envelope from one of those ‘gold for cash’ companies who were touting for unwanted and/or broken jewellery.

Needs must when the devil drives and I sorted out several pieces that were beyond repair, thinking there might be enough to cover the electricity bill.  Within days I received an offer on what I’d sent them and it came to over £1000, well in excess of what I’d asked for.  My reasoning for this extra largess was that I had been given what was, in effect, my own property since I owned the jewellery; I’d just been pointed in the right direction for turning dross into cash but without that garish envelope dropping through the door, I’d have never thought about selling broken bits of gold jewellery.’

Be prepared … the signs can come in many different forms, but they will be ones that we are able to spot if we look hard enough.  We should also be mindful of any thoughts or memories that appear randomly when we least expect them – because these can also be important signs that we need to look at more closely.  A crucial step that is often overlooked by people is trusting the ‘powers that be’ to do right by us, even if it doesn’t seem that way on the surface.

Traditionally, ‘putting out the call’ was for a teacher or mentor when a student felt they had reached a fork in the road, or that the way was blocked for a variety of reasons. This situation was discussed in an interesting article in Psychology Today by martial arts practitioner, E. Paul Zehr: and we often find reflecting parallels in magical and martial arts instruction of when the student is ready the teacher will appear …

‘Both the origin and context of this quote are somewhat obscure and open to both interpretation and nuance that change over time. When I first heard this quote decades ago, I took it quite literally. I thought of it along the lines of, ‘When you get to a certain level of skill, you need to find the right teacher’.  It’s interesting how we can be presented repeatedly with the same technical content, but fail to grasp many aspects until some later date. It’s all a matter of where we are at any given time and what we are open to accepting or understanding. 

‘I have seen my teacher do the same sequences of movements hundreds and thousands of times over the years. Yet, every so often I will catch something ‘new’ – or that appears new or different to me – in his performance. Many times when I’ve experienced this my default reaction was: ‘Interesting. I wonder why he changed that?’ Over time I’ve realized that, while there are legitimate tweaks and changes that my teacher may decide to make to technical performance within the martial arts system he heads, mostly it’s down to me for not seeing clearly in the first place. Or that at different times, my focus and appreciation were on different aspects of the technique. The ‘changes’ that I see typically reflect the small discrepancies between what I am and ought to be doing.  In these instances, I, the student, was ready for the appearance of my teacher. It just turns out that I was finally seeing something clearly for the first time, despite that it has always been there. Instead of being discouraging, I find this liberating and invigorating. How many other aspects of my life can I take this spirit of newfound vision to?’

Again, we have to remember that a teacher can light the way and, ease the way – in other words, facilitate learning – but the learner has to walk the path.  So, although we may put out the call because we may feel we are being held back, or our present teacher isn’t right for us, we may need to stop and reflect where the problem actually lies.  We may be reluctant to leave our present tutor out of a sense of loyalty but need guidance on how to handle this delicate situation.

This kind of ‘non-active’ response is still a result.  Simply because a visual sign that gets us thinking about other things in a different light, is still a positive result. The association of ideas is a process by which representations arise in consciousness, and also for a principle put forward by an important historical school of thinkers to account generally for the succession of mental phenomena whereby one idea was thought to follow another in the consciousness as if it were associated by some connected principle. The term is now used mostly in the history of philosophy and of psychology but it does still occur quite naturally in the magical world.

When we are given the things we’ve asked for, we should be thankful for them and show our gratitude in our actions. This creates a spiral of appreciation, gratitude, and positivity that will help us to manifest bigger and better things. Gratitude is actually the beginning and end of the manifestation process and in order to be in alignment with universal energy, it is important that we focus on all that we have to be thankful for. This will lift our energy and help us to manifest good things.

We also need to be aware that those things that are ‘god-given’ can just as easily be taken away again and so a show of gratitude is merely completing the circle.  Our thanks can be shown by a quite moment of thanks, or the donation (sacrifice) to an appropriate charity but without making a great deal of fuss. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.  In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

Putting out the call is, therefore, neither prayer nor magical application but rather a spontaneous cry from the heart.  A sort of ‘Hey guys, I need some help with this!’ and is probably the most informal application of serious magical practice.  Is it likely to work for someone with no magical ability?  Doubtful … of those 244,000 results on Google, none claim to have had any magical training, or any connection to a magical path or tradition but a larger number were endorsing the practice of asking the Universe if only for the feel-good factor. MD

Rocky Temples & Sacred Groves by Melusine Draco

Caves and groves played an important role in our ancestral story. In addition to providing shelter for our earliest forebears, caves were often considered to be an entrance to Otherworld’s mystical realms. For some cultures, caves were the gateways to the Underworld, while others believed that supernatural beings dwelled within.  Nevertheless, there are numerous craggy outcroppings and ranges of hills that add beauty and majesty to a landscape – and beneath them often lie miles of secret caves carved out of natural rock by primordial waters, giving us the Hollow Hills.

No doubt there are many caves – large and small, man-made and natural – around the world that have their own mystical character that remain tantalisingly beyond our understanding.   One such place is the prehistoric underground Hypogeum on Malta where Frater M was able to strip away all previous archaeological theories and reveal (to himself) the true secrets of this mysterious place and recorded in What You Call Time.

Without his extensive occult training Frater M would probably not have been able to ‘tune in’ to the psychic vibrations emanating from the underground chamber; an inexperienced person making the same discovery by accident would more than likely have been terrified out of their wits.  And, despite his vast experience of psychic phenomena, however, it still took about four hours for him to totally regain his equilibrium. [What You Call Time]

There is a marked different, however, between a sacred (temple) site and an ancient (burial) monument.  Sacred sites become sacred by a dedicated usage, while other places may have been consecrated for specific funerary use.  The building of megalithic monuments such as Maes Howe (Orkney) and New Grange (Ireland) burial sites are prime examples.  Rituals held in the past would have been dedicated to the cult of the Ancestors and the deities deemed to have been concerned with death and possibly regeneration.  It seems unlikely that such funerary sites would have been visited for anything other than the rites for which they were designed.

At the other end of the sacred/ancestral spectrum to the Maltese temple is Paviland cave on the Gower peninsula in South Wales, and a crucial site for tracing the origins of human life in Britain. It was in here, in 1823, that the excavated the remains of a body had been discovered that had been smeared with red ochre (naturally occurring iron oxide) and buried with a selection of periwinkle shells and ivory rods.  The headless skeleton was given the name – ‘the Red Lady of Paviland’ – and it is still called the Red Lady, even though the remains are those of a young man, probably in his late 20s.  He was buried some 34,000 years ago, making the ‘Red Lad’ the oldest anatomically modern human skeleton found in Britain, and marking Paviland as the site of the oldest ceremonial burial in western Europe.  The limestone cliffs along the Gower coast are known for their archaeological importance and a reindeer engraved on the wall of the nearby Cathole Cave has been confirmed as the oldest known rock art in Britain.

Equally mysterious are the engravings and paintings representing the first known flowering of cave art at Creswell Crags (a limestone gorge on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border) with other markings similar to those found in caves under the Mendip Hills in Somerset. The spectacular limestone gorge is thought to have been occupied as early as 43,000BC. This network of caves, weathered deep into the rock, no doubt provided shelter from the harsh conditions of the last Ice Age, and the area is now home to Britain’s most important collection of occupation sites from this period – but it was not until 2003 that Britain’s only confirmed examples of Ice Age cave art were discovered

The markings also include hundreds of letters, symbols and patterns carved at a time when belief in witchcraft was widespread; the scale and variety of the marks made on the limestone walls and ceiling of a cave – which has at its centre a deep, dark hole – is unprecedented.  Commonly known as ‘witch marks’ these apotropaic scratchings (from the Greek apotrepein meaning ‘to turn away’), are believed to be the biggest concentration of apotropaic marks, or symbols to ward off evil or misfortune, ever found in the UK.  Creswell Crags was already of international importance for its Ice Age art and to find this huge number of protection marks from the more recent past added a whole new layer of discovery.  Even two hundred years ago the English countryside was a very different place, death and disease were everyday companions and evil forces could readily be imagined in the dark.  One can only speculate on what it was that the people of Creswell feared might emerge from Otherworld into these caves.

The most famous examples of cave art are to be found in France and in Spain, but a few are also known in Portugal, England, Italy, Romainia, Germany and Russia with the total number of known sites being about four-hundred.  Most cave art consists of paintings made with either red or black pigment. The reds were made with iron oxides (hematite), whereas manganese dioxide and charcoal were used for the blacks. Cave art is now generally considered to have a symbolic or ritual function, sometimes both. The exact meanings of the images remain unknown, but no doubt were created within the framework of shamanic beliefs and practices. One such practice, no doubt,  involved going into a deep cave for a ceremony during which a shaman would enter a trance state and journey into Otherworld to make contact with the spirits in order to try to obtain their guidance.

Examples of paintings and engravings in deep caves – those existing in complete darkness -are rare outside Europe but are suggestive of being the forerunner of the chthonic beliefs of the Greeks and the deities of the Under/Otherworld.  And as Professor H W Janson observes in A History of Art, hidden away as they are in the bowels of the earth, to protect them from the casual intruder, these images must have served a purpose far more serious than mere decoration.

‘One of the most important and useful factors inherent in the study of rock or cave art is that its location has not changed – it is still where the artist chose to put it and the viewer is occupying the same space that the artist occupied.  This can give us a great deal of information that is far more solid and dependable than speculations about meaning.  In any culture there may be ‘good’ places and ‘bad’ places, and even inside caves there were probably places where such intangible factors played an important role in the decoration of the walls.

‘The natural architecture of caves played a role in the way in which they were decorated … and the ultimate example of this phenomenon is evident in the Pergouset Cave where the engraved art begins only after a long crawl, at full stretch, down a narrow, low, wet and unpleasant passage.  One of the engraved figures, a horse head, was made at arm’s length inside a fissure into which the artist could not possibly have inserted their head.  Even the artist never saw this figure: it was not meant to be seen by human eyes.’ [Art & Religion in the Stone Age]

What archaeologist, Paul Bahn finds even more intriguing are the numerous images that were purposely hidden, up high chimneys, under low overhangs or in niches. ‘Such imagery was not made to be seen by other Stone Age people, but was intended to be seen by – or was offered to – something else, perhaps a deity, spirit or ancestor.  In other words, some cave art (but not necessarily all of it) was clearly religious in some way and produced out of strongly held motivations’.  In fact, inaccessibility appears to be the crucial factor for this ‘hidden’ imagery.  Perhaps the overcoming of obstacles, the discomforts and dangers, were more important than the actual creation of the images.

Perhaps, too, the placing of the images in the most inaccessible location possible was somehow linked to the remoteness of the artist’s everyday world – and it was this remoteness that made the images as sacred as possible.  There is a suggestion that this exquisite cave art wasn’t meant to last and that its survival was irrelevant. This could certainly be true of Le Tuc d’Audoubert where the now-famous clay bison were made at the far end of the cave, after an arduous journey of nine-hundred metres – the farthest point that could be reached.  The images were left in the darkness, and it is doubtful whether anyone ever returned to see them until their discovery in the early 20th century.

And perhaps we should take Frater M’s experience in the Hypogeum in Malta into account when we study Bahn’s comments about another factor which may have played a significant role in the choice of location is acoustics:

‘Today we tend to enter these caves speaking in hushed tones, but this may be wrong – the original artists or users of the caves may well have been singing, chanting, or praying loudly while the images were being made or used.  We will never know, but studies of acoustics in some Ice Age decorated caves have detected a correlation between the locations of decoration and those places where men’s voices can best be heard. 

     Often, the areas with the best decoration have the best acoustics, while undecorated areas are totally flat in terms of sound quality.  In view of the obvious intelligence of artists, it is extremely likely that, just as they took full advantage of the morphology of the cave and of particular rock shapes, so they would also have used any acoustic peculiarities.  Anyone who has heard stalactites being played inside a deep, dark cave – they produce a soft marimba-like sound – will know how amazing the experience can be.

     One of the characteristics of Ice Age cave art is the exploitation of undulations in walls … and to gain a better idea of how these shapes would have appeared to Ice Age visitors, it is necessary to replicate the sources of light they would have used … which I believe can take us the farthest into the minds and motivations of the artists.’ [Cave Art: A Guide to the Decorated Ice Age Caves of Europe]

In April 2003, further engravings and bas-reliefs were found on the walls and ceilings of some of the Creswell caves, an important find as it had previously been thought that no British cave art existed. The discoveries included an animal figure at first thought to be an ibex but later identified as a stag. Later finds included carvings on the ceiling of Church Hole Cave, the rarity of which made the site one of international importance.

‘To this day the finds at Creswell Crags represent the most northerly finds in Europe. Their subject matter includes representations of animals including bison and, arguably, several different bird species. The engravers seem to have made use of the naturally uneven cave surface in their carvings and it is likely that they relied on the early-morning sunlight entering the caves to illuminate the art.  The scientists and archaeologists concluded that it was most likely the engravings were contemporary with evidence for occupation at the site during the late glacial era around 13,000–15,000 years ago. Most of the engravings are found in Church Hole Cave on the Nottinghamshire side of the gorge. Since this discovery, however, an engraved reindeer from a cave on the Gower peninsula has yielded two minimum dates of 12,572 and 14,505 years.’ [Britain’s Oldest Art: The Ice Age cave art of Creswell Crags] 

Not all of the figures identified as prehistoric art are in fact man-made. An example given by archaeologists Paul Bahn and Paul Pettitt is the ‘horse-head’, which they say is ‘highly visible and resembles a heavily maned horse-head … lacks any trace of work: it is a combination of erosion, black stains for the head, and natural burrow cast reliefs for the mane’.  Others are a ‘bison-head’ which they think may be natural and a ‘bear’ image which ‘lacks any evidence of human work’. Notwithstanding they believe that more figures may be discovered in the future.

We know that sound plays an important role in magical practice, and research into our ancient past is revealing interesting technologies employed by ancient societies.  Also in history we see how the Greeks and Egyptians, and many other cultures worldwide used sound and light, and sometimes psychedelic substances in their temples.  The very bluestones of Stonehenge – themselves a long way from their native Preseli mountains – were hewn from rocks that ‘sing’.

 Nevertheless, this is obviously when the great awakening of symbolic, often referred to as ‘religious thought’ began.  The mysterious painted caves point to the time when mankind began to probe the boundaries of spirituality and are the natural cathedrals that witnessed the birth of religious belief. Questions inevitably follow.  How and why did the ancient artists do it?  The underground cathedrals of Palaeolithic times were dark, dangerous, dank and depressing.  They had to crawl through small openings carrying some sputtering light source, fully aware that if it went out, leaving them in darkness so profound they couldn’t even see their hand in front of their face, they would probably die there.  The sharp, ragged rocks scraped their back and knees, and unfathomable drop-offs opened up suddenly before them at every turn.  They risked their life and sanity every time.  Why would they do such a thing?

Chthonic might seem a lofty and learned word, but it’s actually pretty down-to-earth in its origin and meaning, since comes from chthōn, which means ‘earth’ in Greek, and is associated with things that dwell in or under the earth. And yet within living memory, at the inconspicuous Neolithic village of Carn Euny (Cornwall) there is a small, enclosed opening in the ground that leads to an underground chamber called a fogou.  Back when this village was occupied it was necessary to go to quite a bit of trouble to reach this subterranean, human-constructed cave, crawling on hands and knees down into the darkness. 

‘But there would inevitably come a day when kids grew old enough to be initiated into adulthood.  Suddenly mystery confronted them, and I imagine they were frightened out of their wits.  Here was a whole unexplored realm, right beneath their feet.  It must have been a spiritual awakening, discovering new worlds, adult worlds, and magical worlds where children were now expected to behave in a new way and take on mature responsibilities.  What went on down here?  What did they learn?  What mysteries were revealed?’ [The Modern Antiquarian]

There are no doubt many of these dark mini-caves all over the world serving a similar purpose. But once we get down on our hands and knees and make the mental and spiritual effort to crawl through the tunnel, we will, like the children of Carn Euny, never be the same again.  We will discover a world where much is the same, only more so.  We will discover the world of spirit, the world of alternate realities, the multi-verse, the place of alternative perceptions.  It’s right there underneath our feet and all around us, but we’ll never experience it unless we start searching … 

Once upon a time, there was a forest … and what a forest it was.  The Boreal Forest wraps around the globe at the top of the Northern Hemisphere in North America and Eurasia. Also known as taiga or snow forest, this landscape is characterized by its long, cold and snowy winters. In North America it extends from the Arctic Circle of northern Canada and Alaska down into the very northern tip of the United States in Idaho, Washington, Montana, and Minnesota.

In Eurasia, the taiga covers most of Sweden, Finland, much of Russia from Karelia in the west to the Pacific Ocean (including much of Siberia, much of Norway and Estonia, some of the Scottish Highlands, some lowland/coastal areas of Iceland, and areas of northern Kazakhstan, northern Mongolia, and northern Japan (on the island of Hokkaido).

Taiga in its current form is a relatively recent phenomenon, having only existed for the last 12,000 years since the beginning of the Holocene epoch, covering land that had been under the Scandinavian Ice Sheet in Eurasia and the Laurentide Ice Sheet in North America during the Late Pleistocene Age.  Nevertheless, it’s the planet’s single largest biological environment and makes up thirty percent of the globe’s forest cover. The main tree species, the length of the growing season and summer temperatures vary across the world. The taiga of North America is mostly spruce; Scandinavian and Finnish taiga consists of a mix of spruce, pines and birch; Russian taiga has spruces, pines and larches depending on the region, while the Eastern Siberian taiga is a vast larch forest.

Nearer to home, the Old Caledonia Forest (Scotland), was part of this immense area and even as late as medieval times, the great forest of native pine and birch stretched across most of the Highlands from Perth to Ullapool.  But with deforestation and the insatiable timber demands of the Napoleonic Wars and the Highlands Clearances, together with intensive sheep and deer grazing, by the 1970s it was estimated that little more than 25,000 acres remained.

Although I am drawn to the sheer beauty and magnificence of mountains, I would never have the courage to be a mountaineer.  And yet I have never had any fear of forests, no matter how dark or dense … and on the lower slopes of my mountains the forests are as dark and dense as any primordial woodland of the imagination. Forests can be spooky if we’re not used to them but it’s different if we grow up around them because the trees and the darkness are our friends and provide us with protection.

Nevertheless, there is something of the night about forests. Even at the height of summer, even under the midday sun, they are places of murk and mystery, blotting out the light with a mille-feuille of foliage. Even the most regimented spruce plantation has its shadows and its secrets. ‘At the heart of every forest is a darkness that bides its time,’ wrote Phil Daoust in the Guardian.  ‘And as the sun goes down, after that lovely hour of slanting golden light, this dark spirit reclaims its own, rolling out across bracken and brambles towards its still-grey borders. Then wood is at its woodiest.’

And yet … for those of us who grew up with Pan as a playmate these wooded places are beautiful, enchanting, magical and … yes … sacred.   There is a time-less romanticism in the forest that interweaves myth and history, legend and folklore.  It is a multi-layer tapestry woven in rich, natural colours that change with the season and provides a convivial habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna. Which might explain why, in so many primitive cultures it is a requirement of tribal initiation to spend a lengthy period alone in the forests or mountains, a period of coming to terms with the solitude and non-humanity of Nature so as to discover who, or what, we really are – a discovery hardly possible while the community is telling us what we are, or ought to be.  Or as Alan Watts observes in Nature, Man & Woman:

‘He may discover, for instance, that loneliness is the masked fear of an unknown which is himself, and that the alien-looking aspect of nature is a projection upon the forests of his fear of stepping outside habitual and conditioned patterns of feeling.  There is much evidence to show that for anyone who passes through the barrier of loneliness, the sense of individual isolation bursts, almost by dint of its own intensity, into the ‘all-feeling’ of identity with the universe.  One may pooh-pooh this as ‘nature mysticism’ or pantheism’, but it should be obvious that a feeling of this kind corresponds better with a universe of mutually interdependent processes and relations than with a universe of distinct, block-like entities.’

The forest played an important role in the beliefs of our Ancestors, for in the remote area of Wildwood we find sacred groves but the term ‘ancient woodland’should not be confused with ‘wildwood’.  Wildwood refers to the woodland that developed in the UK and across Europe after the last glaciations, although the nature of the Wildwood is the subject of some debate. Was it dense, dark forest or open savannah with trees?  Whatever its nature, Wildwood was never ‘managed’ as we understand the term today.

Historically, the term ‘Wildwood’ is the name given to the forests as they were some 6,000 years ago, before human interference. On a magical level, the Wildwood refers to those strange, eerie places that remain the realm of Nature and untamed by man. It is the Otherworld of unearthly and potentially dangerous beings. This is the realm of Pan and the Wild Hunt. In modern psychology it refers to the dark inner recesses of the mind, the wild and tangled growths of the unconscious. Here among the trees we are never sure that what we see is reality or illusion, and the nearest most of us come to experiencing it is through that wonderful passage in The Wind in the Willows where Mole is lost …

“… he penetrated to where the light was less, and trees crouched nearer and nearer … Everything was very still now. The dusk advanced on him steadily, rapidly, gathering in behind and before, and the light seemed to be draining away like flood-water … Then the whistling began …”

Mériém Clay-Egerton wrote extensively on the subject of trees and produced some extremely evocative pieces relating to Wildwood experiences, which were sadly, left unpublished at the time of her death. Here she describes the strange half-light that anyone who walks in the Wildwood will immediately recognise …

To me this was a place that had obviously been held as a sacred area for so very long now that it had in its turn breathed this very atmosphere itself, and so projected this onto the mind which was prepared or conditioned to be both sympathetic and empathic to various woodlands and their forms of existence … It resembled what I might envisage as a naturally constructed ‘cathedral’. Here lived and breathed holiness and beauty …”

It is impossible to describe the sensations of the Wildwood, but no one who has walked there can remain unchanged by the experience. This is the natural Wildwood of our legends, where it is said that the forest knows all and is able to teach all; that the forest listens and holds the secret of every mystery. A legacy of prehistoric traditions of nature conservation, sacred groves are patches of forest that rural communities in the ancient world protected and revered as sacrosanct. Deeply held spiritual beliefs ensured that not a tree was felled nor a creature harmed within its boundaries.  Since ancient times, those woods have been the places of sacred groves and nemorous temples.

A sacred grove is any that is of special religious importance to a particular culture. Sacred groves feature in various cultures throughout the world. The Celts used sacred groves, called nemeton, for performing rituals, based on their mythology. Nemeton were often fenced off by enclosures, as indicated by the German term Viereckschanze – meaning a quadrangular space surrounded by a ditch enclosed by wooden palisades.

Trees held a particular role in Germanic paganism and mythology, both as individuals (sacred trees) and in groups (sacred groves). The central role of trees in Germanic religion is noted in the earliest written reports about the Germanic peoples, with the Roman historian Tacitus stating that Germanic cult practices took place exclusively in groves rather than temples. Scholars consider that reverence for, and rites performed at individual trees, are derived from the mythological role of the world tree, Yggdrasil; some historical evidence also connects individual deities to both groves and individual trees, and even after Christianization, trees continued to play a significant role in the folk beliefs of these people.

The Wildwood, however, is the dark, untamed part of natural woodland where unearthly and potentially dangerous beings are still to be found. This is not everyone’s favourite place and many urban witches never get over an ‘atavistic fear of Nature uncontrolled’. Mériém Clay-Egerton described the strange half-light that anyone who walks in the Wildwood will immediately recognise. ‘I was always glad to go deeper into the apparent gloom because I would be beyond one of the woodland’s outer barriers’.  Nevertheless, even witches are not always welcome in this tree-filled wilderness. Hostile forces can physically bar our entrance into the inner sanctum of the wood, just as Philip Heselton describes in Secret Places of the Goddess: ‘The undergrowth is a thick tangle of briar and bramble, giving the aura of a place ‘set apart for mysterious concealment’. Entwined with these almost impenetrable barriers, are tufts of tall ferns, the seeds of which can be used to cast a witch’s cloak of invisibility. We must learn to heed the signs, however, for Nature does not always allow humans to pass.’

According to the Speculum Christiani, a fourteenth century manuscript against divination, Welsh soothsayers would invoke the name of Gwyn ap Nudd, the king of the Tylwyth Teg or ‘Faere folk’ and ruler of Annwn, the Welsh Otherworld, before entering woodlands, proclaiming: ‘To the king of Spirits, and to his queen – Gwyn ap Nudd – you who are yonder in the forest, for love of your mate, permit us to enter your dwelling’.  Similarly, the oldest Hellenic oracle, the oak of Dodona in Epirus in northwestern Greece, was tended by priests who slept on the ground by the tree.  During classical antiquity, priests in the sacred grove interpreted the rustling of the oak leaves to determine actions to be taken.

Sacred caves and groves were natural holy places that were later re-created in the stone-built temples and cathedrals that mirrored the trunk-like columns and pillars and creating the cavernous darkness within the holy precincts. For the people of the Elder Faith, however, there is still a preference for those sacred places that were created when the world was young

A Return to Coarse Witchcraft … not likely!

We’re repeatedly asked if there’s likely to be another in the series of Coarse Witchcraft and the answer is highly unlikely.  Having watched a YouTube interview (2012) with Michael Green describing how he was inspired to write his famous book, The Art of Coarse Acting – which in turn had inspired Coarse Witchcraft, it is easy to explain why.  Michael Green was a journalist, author, actor and humourist who produced 15 Coarse books on subjects ranging from gardening to sex, and a fellow-drinker in the Grapevine Bar at Questors Theatre in Ealing, London where he kept us entertained with his immense fund of funny stories.  With an eye for the ridiculous, he would have made a wonderful job of the Coarse Witchcraft series …

As the interview revealed, the objects of his ridicule generally thought it was funny and everyone knew someone who was a coarse (actor), never considering for a moment seeing themselves in the part.  Similarly, everyone who’s ever commented on Coarse Witchcraft knows each and every coarse witch included in the pages.  Some have even identified with the main characters or claimed to have worked with them on occasion.  The irony is, that no one has ever got it right according to the authors!  In fact, they were astounded that anyone would admit to the fool in the pages being themselves …

Genuine traditional witches have always seen the funny side of Coarse Witchcraft, and the less talented … well, they don’t think of themselves as coarse witches because they believe theirs is the right way to go about it. The original authors were out and about in the pagan community and so the stories, gossip and anecdotes readily came their way, whereas today, things would become more contrived and less spontaneous.

Anything that is a pastiche or take-off  – is very difficult to achieve because there has to be the right blend of very good, and very bad (ability-wise) witches to achieve the balance – because unlike parody, pastiche celebrates, rather than mocks, the work it imitates.  There is also much less humour abroad in the pagan community than there was some thirty years ago, with a large number of the unknowledgeable having such a high opinion of itself  that it can vulgarly be said to be poised on the threshold of disappearing up its own arse! MD

Or the Coarse Witchcraft view of life, the Universe, and everything …

‘People prefer the play-acting,’ said Adam quietly. ‘They want someone who looks the part and they’re not interested in whether it’s a complete and utter prat, just so long as they talk the talk. Criticism is only seen as sour grapes.’ He doesn’t say a lot but when he does, it’s usually pretty profound.

‘But they haven’t got a yard-stick to measure anything by,’ I protested. ‘Publishers are now accepting an author purely on face value and the book lists have hundreds of different titles giving out this airy-fairy drivel. As a result, the play-actors don’t need to know any more than what’s in the books, providing they can keep one step ahead of those who know nothing. As long as they can cast a Circle and recite an invocation, it’s considered to be witchcraft and the newcomer knows no different.’

‘I don’t think they really believe in the magic, either,’ said Pris sadly. ‘It’s like coarse fishing; it’s seasonal; anyone can have a go; there aren’t any rules; they can make up their own little rituals; it gets them out of the house for a few hours on a regular basis, and it doesn’t actually have any practical purpose other than personal gratification.’

Coarse Witchcraft,’ said Rupert, spooning an unhealthy amount of mustard onto the side of his plate. ‘A damned good title for a book. It could contain a worm’s eye view of what passes for Craft among the uninitiated and warn the wannabes to be on their guard against the poseurs.’

We spent the next couple of hours making suggestions about who and what should go into this fictitious book. We got merrier and sillier. And then forgot all about it …

‘Gerry thinks the book is a great idea, providing we stick to fact and only include real-life situations,’ said Pris over the telephone next morning.

‘What book?’ I responded, forgetting my grammar in my confusion.

Coarse Witchcraft.’

 ‘Pris,’ I said patiently. ‘It was a joke. A bit of fun. That’s all.’

By the time Rupert came in for lunch she’d nobbled him on the mobile. ‘Pris and Gerry think we should go ahead with the book,’ he said tucking in to a large slice of cheese.

Rupert is appreciative of fine food and his outdoor lifestyle means that he can enjoy a good scoff, without losing that ‘small and beautifully made’ look, despite the fact that he’s now over fifty. That ‘we’ was the most ominous sound I’d heard for a long time, particularly as I’m the one who earns my living with the pen. ‘It’s libel, darling,’ I said firmly, trying to head him off at the pass.

‘Do you honestly think anyone’s going to hold up their hands and confess that the idiot on the page is them? Besides, we’re not going to use names, and the instances won’t necessarily be people of our acquaintance. We can go further afield … Josh is always good for some gossip.’

Cynically referred to as the ‘Witch of the North’, we’re never sure whether she attracts the comedians, or whether there’s something in the water in that part of the country. Whenever we speak to her, there’s always been some hilarity or histrionics to report. Like the instance of the neophyte who managed to almost sever an artery when he was taken out into the woods to cut his staff. He was so afraid of the Magister shouting at him that he didn’t mention it until he’d almost passed out. This same lad later set light to his robe setting up the Circle – everyone noticed but declined to say anything …

This extract was taken from The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy by Rupert Percy and Gabrielle Sidonie.  Introduced by Melusine Draco.  ISBN 978 1 78279 285 7 : UK£10.99/US$8.95 ; 254 pages : Available in paperback and e-book format.

WRITER@WORK

The first day of Spring is one thing, the first Spring day is another …

Have to admit to succumbing to the frustrations of ‘lock-down’ and the torrential down-pours haven’t helped.  But this week has seen the garden burst into bloom with containers of dwarf daffodils and flower beds full of scarlet dwarf tulips. Patchy sunshine has brought the bumblebees out and both the dawn and dusk chorus is a joy to listen to the ear.

Arcanum books got off to a good start and we’re springing into production with Talking to Crows.  Several new ideas for titles have brought the series up to ten with Thrice Great Thoth: The Magician’s Magician, Rats: Born Survivors (working title), The Power of Prayer (with co-author Julie Dexter), Chasing Rainbows: Coping With Pet Loss and Bereavement and The Scent of Magic. These books keep me busy as they can mostly be written off the top of my head and I thoroughly enjoy turning my hand to completely different subjects.  They also spot me from becoming bored!

The typescript for Temple House Archive – PACT! – is still dragging its feet on the subject of pacts, demons and curses – which is best suited to winter creative writing when the evenings are dark and dismal.  I’ve decided to kill off one of my main characters and it’s not easy!  Beginning to sound like one of the spoilers for Death in Paradise!  The end is firmly in sight but just need to tweak the final action …

As I’ve said before, Pagan Portals: Sexual Dynamics in the Circle will finally see the light of day on 26th March 2021 pointing out that one of the most significant social changes in the 20th-century was the wedge driven between the males and females of Craft as a result of social media and political feminism. From a purely magical point of view the battle of the sexes has been one of the most negative crusades in the history of mankind since everything in the entire Universe is made up from a balance or harmony of opposite energies. Men and women are different as night and day but still part of the same homo sapiens coin – regardless of their individual sexuality.

So … what’s new for the rest of the year?   The Witch’s Book of Simples has gone into production with Moon Books and hopefully will be published towards the end of the year.  And once the various bits and pieces, blogs and stuff are out of the way, I’ll take my usual summer break (not that I should need it after all this lockdowning) and make a start on the next book in The Vampyre’s Tale series.

Melusine Draco

Spring Equinox 2021

Sacred Landscape

by Melusine Draco

The sacredness of a landscape is not determined by the man-made edifices that have been littered across its face since ancient times.  These monuments – from the Pyramids to Stonehenge, from Angkor Wat to the Acropolis, from Göbekli Tepe to Teotihuacán – these magnificent temples were inspired by the landscape, and the sites were made sacred because of the astronomical phenomena visible from them.  All the truly ancient monuments were celestially aligned long before the first post-hole or building block was put in place; aligned by our Mesolithic ancestors with particular star-groupings, or the sun’s rising/setting at the solstices/equinoxes.

Mesolithic (also called Middle Stone Age), is the cultural stage that existed between the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), with its chipped stone tools, and the Neolithic (New Stone Age), with its polished stone tools.  Although culturally and technologically continuous with Paleolithic peoples, Mesolithic cultures developed diverse local adaptations to special environments.  Nevertheless, from an anthropological point of view, human activities become inscribed within a landscape in that every cliff, large tree, stream or marshy area transmutes into a familiar place ‘inside the Neolithic mind’.

Daily passage through the landscape provided biographic encounters for individuals, recalling traces of past activities and previous events and the reading of signs – a split log here, a marker stone there.  ‘So, all locales and landscapes eventually became embedded in the native and individual folk-memory. These ‘daily passages’ metamorphosed into sacred ritual journeys within the landscape, establishing spatial linkages between different topographical landmarks and given lineages: through the journey the lineage becomes ‘mapped’ in the terrain. The shortest route to a ritual mountain from any point on the plain, for example, was not merely undertaken but rather morphed into a prescribed walk in which it could be approached and seen from the propitious direction.’  This journey is always a combination of ritualized occasion and seasonal observation.

‘Ancient cultures understood that we live in a vast ‘sea’ of cosmic energy. They taught that everything animate and inanimate has consciousness, and channels this energy according to its individual capabilities to help facilitate this essential universal dialogue. Ancestral communication is the highest form of spiritual channelling that comes from a strong, deep and pure connection with the Ancestors and, through the Ancestors, with the Divine. In fact, the ancients understood that all matter, including our own physical body, is a gathering of this universal power, even though they couldn’t explain it.’  [Inside the Neolithic Mind]

They accepted that our thoughts and emotions were a form of energy, and that when these are in harmony with the living universal force-field, we become clear, unpolluted channels. Enabling the life force of the Earth and cosmos to flow through us more smoothly and abundantly, guiding our mystical evolution as new perspectives are revealed and advanced magical abilities are awakened within us. These abilities included heightened creativity, extrasensory perception and the ability to bring about dramatic physical results that those of the Elder Faith learn to feel, sense and use without filtering or distorting the energy.

Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood.

I have often quoted from anthropologist Christopher Tilley’s A Phenomenology of Landscape and Interpreting Landscapes in saying that ‘the landscape has a certain ancestral importance due to it being such an integral part of human development that it abounds with cultural meaning and symbolism’. This reflects Elder Faith teaching that bestows an instinctive grasp of how to behave within a ritual or sacred landscape, and to recognize the type of magical/mystical energy to be encountered there.  Tilley goes on to say: ‘There is an art of moving in the landscape, a right way (socially constrained) to move around in it and approach places and monuments.  Part of the sense of place is the action of approaching it from the ‘right’ (socially prescribed) direction.’ The method of approach is governed by a combination of place and time – both seasonal and social – while the ‘art’ is the simultaneous practice of meditation and ritualized operation.  ‘Flashes of memory, so to speak, illuminate the occasion.’

And in case we forget, sacred places and landscapes have been created and evolved through human interpretation, the manner in which people experienced and understood the world of their time. Some form of narrative structure unifies the sacred place within a broader landscape and reinforces the racial memory of events performed there. Sacred places and landscapes were also spatially liminal: just as events in cultural myths occurred in a ‘time before time’ and were then re-enacted in the present. Ancient monuments were erected upon or near natural sacred sites where there was a significant feature or a large area of land, or water that had special spiritual eminence to peoples and communities; consisting of all types of natural features including mountains, hills, forests, groves, trees, rivers, lakes, lagoons, caves, islands and springs. 

All of these natural elements could create a liminal space – a portal to Otherworld – a time between times. A liminal space could be either a physical or a temporal space, and often both at the same time, but it is always a psychic space.

‘In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning ‘a threshold’) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals (a psychic/temporal/ physical space), when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage (that is, within the liminal space), participants ‘stand at the threshold’ between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.’  [Victor Turner]

The sacred landscape is still littered with these ‘thresholds’ whether they be at the field margin, woodland clearing, the forest path, the mountain slope or a lake’s shallows.  They may change according to the time of day, or the seasons of the year.  They act as a sort of psychic Einstein–Rosen bridge linking this and Otherworld – the realm of deity, supernatural beings and the Ancestors – that exists alongside, and often intruding into our world.  They can be signaled by phenomena such as sudden, localised mist, a drop in temperature, sudden changes in the weather, or the appearance of unusual animals and/or unnatural phenomenon.   We have to focus because we have to practice recognising these signs for Otherworld.  We have to break the habit of missing them and create a new habit of actively seeking them out.  And then, hopefully, we’ll start to see them open up for us everywhere.

A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next’.  It is a place of transition, a sense of waiting, and not knowing; it is where all transformation takes place, if we learn to wait and let it inform us. The liminal ‘veil’ is what we call the place where a transition occurs between the threshold and the place that waits before us – and although it may feel confining, it often takes only minor changes to get through to the next place.  In anthropology, liminality is the ‘quality of ambiguity or disorientation’ that occurs in the middle … Twilight serves as a liminal time, between dayand night – where one is ‘in the twilight zone, in a liminal nether region of the night’. 

It can, however, take a lot of hard work and concentration to get to the point of being able to enter into sacred liminality [Otherworld] willingly and freely and, it is a gift to be able to do so without a push from disruptive life experiences. It takes focus and intention, while ritual and repetition can make it easier.  As we learn to understand how it works and why it is necessary, we can learn to go with the flow and use sacred liminality to allow ourselves to psychically expand and develop.  It is here, on this threshold, we are able to enhance our creativity and tap into Universal wisdom.  It is here we begin to fully understand the ways in which we can mould the world in which we live.  And it is here that magic happens.

This is what the Japanese refer to as a kenshō moment. It appears suddenly and fleetingly, upon an interaction with something unexpected or intangible; on hearing, seeing or smelling some significant ‘strangeness’, or by experiencing an unexpected sight or sound. Kenshō is an initial insight or awakening. And we might experience numerous ‘kenshō moments’ along the way – in the Western traditions we refer to them as ‘portals’ or ‘gateways’ – and we must pass through several on the path before we reach an Understanding and/or Enlightenment (satori).  Of which there may also be many different type of experience.

In truth this is no big deal and we’ve all been there. Sitting on a rock or under a tree, feeling emotionally or mentally drained when a sudden thought comes to us and there is an immediate uplifting of the spirit. We may or may not immediately recognise it as such, but if we attempt to hold on to that moment, odds-on we may come up with a solution to our difficulties. On the other hand we may, of course, choose to ignore the sensation and dismiss it as something inconsequential – and continue to wallow in our misery. The experience may not be a spiritual moment in the accepted sense of the word but it is there if we know how to ‘see’ it.

The experience of such places is unlikely to have been equally shared and experienced by all of our Ancestors; the introduction and use of them would have been controlled and exploited within the community.  Knowledge and experience of particular locales and tracts of the landscape would also have been restricted and/or hidden from particular individuals or groups.  These powers of spatial experience are clearly related to the manner in which they are realized, by whom, when, and how in relation to the selection by the spiritual/shamanic leader within the tribe or clan.

The sacredness of any landscape grew out of the natural phenomena that made it remarkable to the Ancestors.  The way the light from the setting sun refracted on mountain slopes; the alignment of the rising or setting sun at the solstices/equinoxes between two peaks on a hillside … the landscape was sacred before those places of worship were added to it.  The phenomena of light bridged the interpretation of landscape and religious experience, while its symbolism pervaded the geography of the sacred terrain.  As Professor of Geography, Barbara Weightman, points out, ‘manifestations or evocations of light in particular may be associated with holiness and are critical aspects of sacred place’. This sacredness was based on feeling and seeing natural occurrences that happened on a regular or seasonal basis, and marked out a particular area as being ‘special’.

The Mound of the Hostages (Irish: Dumha na nGiall) is an ancient paqssage tomb located in the Tara-Skryne Valley in Ireland.  The mound is a Neolithic structure, built in the same style as the Newgrange tomb: dome-shaped with an inset for the entrance and a small doorway, set almost one metre into the side of the monument. The doorway is framed with undecorated standing stones and, as is common in passage tombs, this alignment allows for the rising sun to shine down the passageway only twice a year, illuminating the chamber within. At this mound, the passage is illuminated on the mornings of Samhain and Imbolc,  at the beginning of November and February, respectively.

No doubt to see this light cast upon such places created a deep awareness of an enhanced sensitivity to the reciprocal relationship between spiritual nature and the Earth in the ordinary experiences of the here and now.  In Spiritual Reality, Dr Jerry Killingsworth observes that ‘The historical religions now pretty much blanket the earth, but chronologically they form only the tip of the religious iceberg, for they span less than four thousand years as compared with the three million or so of the religions [beliefs] that preceded them’.  And these are the beliefs that are so firmly embedded in our ‘racial memories’ or ‘collective subconsciousness’ … primal beliefs that focused on a deeper sensitivity and vision that we do not know or recognize today.  ‘It is the living experience that we lack!’

But it can happen … On 22nd March 2020, the Pyramids’ archeological region witnessed a distinct astronomical phenomenon, as the sun set on the right shoulder of the Sphinx. Former Minister of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, noted that the phenomenon occurs twice a year over the course of four days, as the sun sets on the right shoulder of the Sphinx, on 2122nd March 21 and 2122nd September, that is, at the Spring and Autumn Equinox when night and day become equal. Hawass continued ‘that the sun, after falling at sunset on the right side of the Sphinx, heads south, and during the summer it moves to the north.’

The veteran Egyptologist also emphasized that a more significant phenomenon can be seen at the Solstice on 2122nd June, when the sun sets directly between the Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) and the pyramid of Chephren (Khafre). Hawass pointed out that the phenomenon proves that archaeologists ‘made a mistake when they said that the ancient Egyptians accidentally found an ancient rock and turned it into a statue with a human face and an inhuman body’. He further explained that the phenomenon proves that there is an astronomical and religious reason for sculpting the statue of the Sphinx, which is the sun god, that rises and sets between the horizons of the pyramids of Cheops (Khufu) and Chephren (Khafre).

Another natural phenomena that raised the question of why the sunsets and sunrises were so dramatic in early April.  The answer, according to Met Eireann meteorologist Siobhán Ryan, was partly to do with the current weather and also the time of year.  The country was enjoying a couple of relatively settled days and this dry, calm, still weather ‘scatters the light molecules in a different way and also changes the directions of light rays’, she says:

‘Our eyes are sensitive to the wavelengths in that and the different colours associated with different wavelengths, which bend in different directions.  Both at sunrise and sunset, light has to travel a greater distance to reach our eyes, than during the day, when it is more directly overhead.  So more of the blue – that we see in a cloudless sky – gets filtered out. This reveals more of the warmer colours of the rainbow that make up light.  Because we are coming into the Spring Equinox, there is also more sunlight and the sun is higher in the sky.

Our ancient Ancestors may not have had any understanding of the science of meteorology and light molecules but they were fully capable of charting seasonal phenomena. And as Professor Weightman observes, light is fundamental to religious experience, and its symbolism pervades the geography of sacred landscapes, especially when aligned with the Equinoxes and Solstices:

‘As sun, fire, ray, colour, or attribute of being and place, light serves as a bridge between interpretation of landscape and religious experience. To see the light cast upon places orients believers in otherwise undifferentiated space, grounding them in context of home. As sacred places are created, an inner light outweighs outer darkness, and a spiritual journey commences.  In at least four ways light is integral to sacred landscapes; as the sun or some other celestial body; as fire, the sun on earth; as light rays or beams and colour; and as an attribute of sacred beings and places.  Each of these affects how a local geography is perceived.’  [Sacred Landscapes and the Phenomenon of Light]

This phenomenon is at its most breathtaking during twilight. In the morning, it begins when the sun is just below the horizon and ends at sunrise.  We can define twilight simply as the time of day between daylight and darkness, whether that’s after sunset, or before sunrise, when the light from the sky appears diffused and often pinkish. The sun is below the horizon, but its rays are scattered by Earth’s atmosphere to create the colours of twilight. The ‘blue hour’ refers to the darker stages of both morning and evening twilight, when the Sun is quite far below the horizon, coloring the sky deep blue.

In the evening, it begins at sunset and ends when the sun reaches six degrees below the horizon.  Like the ‘blue hour’, the ‘golden hour’, it is a favorite with painters and photographers. When the late evening sun is close to the horizon on a sunny day, its light appears warmer and softer: this makes the ‘golden hour’, also known as the magical hour, popular with photographers and filmmakers. Dusk and twilight are beautiful, evocative words and times; dusk is the darker stage of twilight.  We may even be fortunate to catch a glimpse of the elusive ‘green ray’ – a meteorological optical phenomena that sometimes occur transiently around the moment of sunset or sunrise. When the conditions are right, a distinct green spot is briefly visible above the upper rim of the Sun’s disk; the green appearance usually lasts for no more than two seconds and I have only been fortunate to glimpse it once in my lifetime.

For many of us, however, the evening twilight is the most mysterious of all as it trails a magical veil across the landscape. This golden ‘hour’ refers to the period just after sunset, and its length depends on where we are, the time of year, and the weather conditions.  This strange, luminous light is unlike any other and it can  not be replicated because there are natural elements about it that make it unique and treasured whenever we experience it. This effect is easily visible when mountain slopes are illuminated, but can also be seen when clouds are affected by light diffusion.

The vast majority of sacred natural sites were originally founded by indigenous spiritualities, but many were subsequently adopted or co-opted by in-coming beliefs. There is, consequently, a considerable ‘layering’ and mixing of religious and other spiritual or belief systems.  Our ancient sites are subsequently connected to a wide range of socio-cultural systems and to different dynamics of change and cultural interaction, which nevertheless continue to adhere to at least some traditional or folk beliefs whereby religion interacts with nature and the landscape.  These ancient beliefs remained so powerful that they are increasingly being revived or rearticulated by many of the mainstream faiths, who are setting out their own religion’s relationship to the natural world and their perceived responsibility towards the planet.

Teotihuacán, for example, was not originally built by the Aztecs. In fact, it’s height of power had been almost 1000 years earlier, and may have been built another 1000 years or more before that.  The Aztecs were in awe of these ancient people and their city, although they knew very little about them; they believed it to be the birthplace of the most recent creation, where the new sun had been born.  The ‘pyramid of the sun’ is the third largest in the world and was built on a lava tube cave: a shrine here may be the original reason for the settlement. Though not built by the Aztecs, Teotihuacán was considered by them to be a sacred site and by the time the Aztec Empire was at its height, this great city had been around for over 1600 years.


As Dr Jerry Killingsworth rightly says, however, these primal peoples should not be romanticized because they had hard lives, were superstitious, and limited in their views, but they did have one thing that we have lost.  ‘And that was that spirit was everywhere and in everything; that that nature and earth are our own unique origin and habitats’ and they also had magic, mystical and holistic ways and views, and they could accept the mysterious, but we’ve lost some of that perspective in our obsession to explain everything.’

Wherever we go in the landscape there is always the overwhelming presence of the genius loci; an idea of a ‘spirit of place’ that has echoed down through the ages. It derives from an ancient and widespread belief that particular bits of the world are occupied by divinity or spirits who had to be propitiated and was a key element of Roman religion. Genius loci is the Latin for this spirit or guardian of a place and a phrase that has been adopted into English and other languages to become a popular concept across the world.

While spirit of place/genius loci was originally, and to some people still are, closely associated with beliefs about the sacred character of a particular landscape, it has been increasingly secularized. A quick Google search for genius loci brought up links to a recent art exhibition featuring the work of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and others; an American kick-starter campaign for a book on tales of the spirit of place; the name of travel company specializing in Italy; and an art project in Weimar in Germany.  Every ‘place’ has its own unique qualities, not only in terms of its physical makeup, but of how it is perceived by those visiting.

As Christopher Tilley explains precisely because locales and their landscapes were drawn in the day-to-day lives and encounters of individuals they were deemed to possess powers; the spirit of place may be held to reside in such a landscape:

‘Familiarity with the land, being able to read and decode its signs allows individuals to know ‘how to go on’ at a practical level of consciousness … People routinely draw on their stocks of knowledge of the landscape and the locales in which they act to give meaning, assurances and significance to their lives.  The place acts to create people who are of that place.  These qualities of locales and landscapes give rise to a feeling of belonging and rootedness and a familiarity, which is not born just out of knowledge … They give rise to power to act and a power to relate that is both liberating and productive.’ [A Phenomenology of Landscape]

Witches are, by custom and practice, ‘spirit workers’. It is one of the basic and unavoidable elements of witchcraft and gives acceptance to the belief that the Elder Faith is, indeed, part of the indigenous shamanic practices of the Old World and its peoples. And yet … the genius loci is not always welcoming, especially if it has been disrespected in the past, and outright hostility is not uncommon.  Just because we’ve signed up to the pagan Party and collected a wide assortment of merit badges, it doesn’t mean we are granted automatic admission to Otherworld.  Like the Ancestors, genius loci have been around for a l-o-n-g time, and have very long memories – and there’s nothing in the rule book that says they have to be pleasant!

If we get a distinct feeling that we’re being told to bugger off and leave them alone, then it’s best to take them at their word and make ourselves scarce.  Should we decided to re-visit the place at a later date, then a small propitious offering would be appropriate – but we make the visit brief and don’t outstay our welcome.  They may relent … and then again, they may not.  If not, then the response will not be open to misinterpretation … we may trip and fall, badly hurting ourselves or get lost; car keys may go missing; or ‘something’ may follow us home to create a little bit of physical or mental disturbance …

One instance of the genius loci objecting to a person’s presence spring to mind.  The first was when visiting another Old Craft coven for the occasion of newbies attending their first outdoor ritual at the coven’s secret working site.  Having worked at the site with them on numerous occasions without let or hindrance, it was obvious from the start that something wasn’t right.  The fire wouldn’t light, the wind kept changing direction and blowing smoke in everyone’s eyes, even experienced members muddled up the wording for the chant, and someone kicked over the uncorked bottle of altar wine. 

The Lady prematurely called ‘time’ and on the way back, when negotiating a steep slope, one of the newbies lost her footing and in slow-motion rolled down to the bottom and ended up with her backside in the shallow stream.  Three of us went back to the site the next week, made the appropriate offerings and never had any more trouble. It transpired that this particular newbie had been nothing but trouble and often disrespecting the Lady; it was obviously the genius loci’s way of saying ‘no admittance’.

We should always bear in mind that our sacred landscape, wherever we are in the world, is the same living landscape that spoke to our Mesolithic ancestors.  True, much of it has been profaned by the encroachment of human development but the sun still appears over mountain peaks and casts its ethereal light on the landscape at certain times of the day.  The tramp of tourism may have caused the flow of natural energy around the mighty monuments to degenerate but it is still there in other places yet to be discovered.   As Dr Killingsworth observes:

‘I believe what are the profound and mystical (beyond words) and holistic (beyond analysis) aspects of spirituality, that is reality, are the essence and non-dimensional characteristics, as in the atmosphere of the spirit, and this is why, I believe, the natives and primal could, and had to, sense, feel, and see the Great Mystery – the Great Spirit – that was in, out, up down, and all around, that is mystical and holistic which yields more to the instinctual and intuitive than to the rational and intellectual.’ [Primal Ancient Religions]

Bob Clay-Egerton maintained that Craft learning is about forty percent information and sixty percent intuition – that is, the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning; bridging the gap between the conscious and subconscious parts of our mind, and also between instinct and reason. While philosopher Henri Bergson defined intuition as ‘a simple, indivisible experience of sympathy through which one is moved into the inner being of an object to grasp what is unique and ineffable within it.’

We can also look at it as the primal side of our nature and those ancient monuments in our sacred landscape are a testimony to its existence.  Our primitive Ancestors didn’t have a clue about physics: the science of matter and energy, and their properties and interactions in fields including mechanics, acoustics, optics, heat, electricity, magnetism, radiation, atomic and nuclear science.  And yet, they could build huge monuments that allowed sunlight to penetrate into the inner most chambers on a specific time and day of the year; or align them with the stars.  MD

In the Footsteps of the Ancestors

by Melusine Draco

The Ancestors play an extremely important role within the Elder Faith of European witchcraft.  The honouring of the existence of the ‘Mighty Dead,’ and venerating their memory with propitiatory offerings, is a common root of all belief, with many cultures believing that the dead live on in another dimension, continuing to affect the lives of subsequent generations.  This concept of spirit ancestors is an extremely ancient one, especially when it involves dealing with deceased members of a particular people or clan, and is still widely observed in Japanese Shinto, Chinese Confucianism and among the Australian Aboriginal and Native American peoples. In the West, we know from the  remains of the numerous prehistoric earthworks that the indigenous people of the British Isles, and later the Celts, honoured their ancestors, and the earliest written observations of the practice are those recording the Roman Paternalia (February) and the Lemuria (May), which later spread throughout the Empire.

It is curious how retentive these ancient mythological doctrines about death are enshrined in the racial memories of different peoples. This Celtic fable of the Land Beyond the Sea, to which souls are borne after death, has also engrafted itself upon popular literature in the concept of the Grey Havens in The Lord of the Rings as ‘one of the only places that leads to the ocean’. The ocean, because it is the origin of all life, and also because of the mysteries beneath, is symbolic of life and mystery. One could even say it represents the mysteries of life … and death … and the Ancestors

In fact, the most powerful energy on which an Old Craft practitioner can call is that of our ‘Ancestors’, who represent our culture, traditions, heritage, lineage and antecedents; they trace the long march of history that our predecessors have taken under the aegis of traditional British Old Craft. When those of the Elder Faith pass beyond the veil, their spiritual essence merges with the divine spirit of the Whole, which in turn gives traditional witchcraft the continuing power to endure – even past its own time and place in history.  It therefore remains the duty of an Old Craft practitioner to ensure that the soul of any newly deceased can successfully join the Ancestors and keep adding to the strength of belief, which, in many instances may already have endured for hundreds of years.  If when living, we cannot acknowledge and respect the Ancestors of the Elder Faith to which we claim to belong, then we will contribute nothing to the Whole when we die.

Interaction with these spirit ancestors as an invisible and powerful presence is a constant feature of Elder Faith, with the Ancestors remaining important members of the Tradition they have left behind.  In general they are seen as Elders, treated and referred to in much the same way as the most senior of living Elders of a coven or magical group, but with additional mystical and magical powers. Sometimes they are identified as the Guardians, the Mighty Dead, the Watchers or the Old Ones, who gave magical knowledge to mankind, rather than merely family or tribal dead. Or, even more ambiguously ‘those who have gone before’ – their magical essence distilled into the universal subconscious at differing levels. Reverence for Craft Ancestors is part of the ethic of respect for those who have preceded us in life, and their continued presence on the periphery of our consciousness means that they are always with us. And because traditional Old Craft is essentially a practical thing, the Ancestors are also called upon to help find solutions to magical problems through divination, path-working and spell-casting.

The Ancestors are called upon to act as intermediaries between human and the Divine because, in truth, our deities have little time or patience with the constant carping and demands leveled at them by the occupants of the Compass or Circle.  The ‘gimme, gimme, gimme’ attitude of modern supplicants has alienated them from the divine nature or essence of our gods. The ‘god and goddess’ of popular witchcraft are no longer within hailing distance and, as a result, the Ancestors have been dragged out of mothballs to intercede between the two parties with a view to reconciling our differences.  The act of propitiation and appeasement have all but disappeared from our rituals – those rites of direct communication with deity and age-old customs so ancient that they have had time to firmly entrench themselves in the vast storehouse of our racial subconsciousness.

Those deep-rooted folk memories, that earned Carl Jung the scorn of his contemporaries, serve to explain the many cross-cultural similarities that appeared to alter a culture’s natural development by an outside influence, or exposure to a more advanced, or military powerful, society. The mass migrations from the earliest times served to re-populate vast areas of land decimated by conflict and invasion – and the four-thousand years or so following the end of the last Ice Age was a time of dramatic re-ordering in Western Europe, according to Professor Barry Cunliffe in Facing the Ocean.  Old Europe, an early culture in south-eastern Europe before the arrival of speakers of the Indo-European languages, is a term coined by archaeologist Marija Gimbutas to describe what she perceived as a relatively homogeneous pre-Indo-European Neolithic culture in south-eastern Europe.

Old Europe, or Neolithic-Europe, refers to the time between the Mesolithic and Bronze Age periods in Europe, roughly from 7000BC (the approximate time of the first farming societies in Greece). Regardless of specific chronology, many European Neolithic groups appeared to have shared basic characteristics, such as living in small-scale communities, more egalitarian than the city-states and chiefdoms of the Bronze Age, subsisting on domestic plants and animals supplemented with the collection of wild plant foods and hunting, and producing hand-made pottery, without the aid of the potter’s wheel. There are also many differences, with some Neolithic communities in south-eastern Europe living in heavily fortified settlements of 3,000–4,000 people (e.g. Sesklo in Greece) whereas Neolithic groups in Britain were small, with possibly 50–100 people.

Marija Gimbutas investigated the Neolithic period in order to understand cultural developments in settled village culture in the southern Balkans, which she characterized as peaceful, matristic, and possessing a goddess-centered religion. In contrast, she characterizes the later Indo-European influences as warlike, nomadic, and patrilineal. Using evidence from pottery and sculpture, and combining the tools of archaeology, comparative mythology, linguistics, and, most controversially, folkloristics, Gimbutas invented a new interdisciplinary field – Archaeo-mythology.

In historical times, some ethnic groups were believed to correspond to Pre-Indo-European peoples, assumed to be the descendants of the earlier Old European cultures: the pre-Hellenic Pelasgians; Minoans; the Leleges – whom Homer names among the Trojan allies; Iberians; the Sardinian Nuragic people; Etruscans; the Rhaetians, a confederation of Alpine tribes;  the Camunni of Lombardy and the Basques. Two of the three pre-Greek peoples of Sicily, the Sicians and the Elmians, may also have been pre-Indo-European. How many Pre-Indo-European languages existed is not known. Nor is it known whether the ancient names of peoples descended from the pre-ancient population actually referred to speakers of distinct languages. The idea of a Pre-Indo-European language in the region actually precedes Gimbutas, going by other names, such as ‘Pelasgian’, ‘Mediterranean’, or ‘Aegean. [The Language of the Goddess]

According to Professor Gimbutas, Old Europe was invaded and destroyed by horse-riding, pastoral nomads from the Pontic-Caspian steppe who brought with them violence, patriarchy, and Indo-European languages – with later and more prolonged migration after Old Europe’s collapse due to other factors, including the Anatolian migration. While there can be no direct evidence of prehistoric languages, both the existence of Proto-Indo-European and the dispersal of its off-shoots through wide-ranging migrations and ‘elite-dominance dispersal’ are inferred through an accumulation of data from linguistics, archaeology, anthropology and genetics. Comparative studies describes the similarities between various languages and the traces the spread of cultures presumed to be created by speakers of Proto-Indo-European in several stages  into their later locations in Western Europe by migrations and ‘elite-recruitment’ as described by anthropological research. Recent genetic research has also increasingly contributed to the understanding of relations between various prehistoric cultures, including those influenced by the wide-spread Atlantic coastal migration that brought remarkable building skills to Brittany, Ireland and the British Isles.

As a result, our sacred landscape is like a gigantic patchwork quilt that also reflects the beliefs and culture of the people who have dwelt in it down through the ages.  And much of what we see in it today is a stark reminder that its most striking features were important landmarks for our Neolithic ancestors. Chet Raymo is a rare animal indeed. He is a professor of physics and astronomy; a teacher, writer and naturalist, exploring the relationships between science, nature and the humanities. His books are recommended reading for anyone wishing to seriously study pagan Mysteries and learn how to interact with this ancient landscape:

‘This is not a work of metaphysics or theology.  It is instead a kind of serendipitous adventure. A spiritual vagabond’s quest.  I have tramped the landscapes … studying the rocks, the sky, the flora and the fauna, and I took whatever scraps of revelation I could find.  I sought the burning bush and did not find it.  But I found the honeysuckle and the fuchsia, and I found the gorse and the heather.  When I called out for the Absolute, I was answered by the wind.  If it was God’s voice in the wind, then I heard it.’ [Honey From Stone]

Nevertheless, the Neolithic hunter-gatherers who erected those massive monoliths in central Turkey 11,500 years ago had a command of geometry and a much more complex society than previously thought, archaeologists are now telling us.  The enigmatic monoliths erected at Gobekli Tepe have been puzzling archaeologists and challenging preconceptions about the prehistoric culture of our Ancestors since their discovery in the 1990s.  In fact, almost 12,000 years ago, in the remote recesses of Anatolia, today’s southeast Turkey, something happened that, seemingly overnight, completely changed the course of human evolution.

Far flung bands of hunter-gatherers who previously had wandered the landscape, existing day to day by foraging from whatever nature provided, suddenly gathered in one place, organized themselves into a work force, built huge megalithic structures for what seems to be religious purposes, and invented agriculture, giving birth to what is now called civilization. But some pieces of the puzzle are missing. Why did they do it? What motivated them? How did they learn so much so fast? The fact that something drastic occurred is recorded in the archaeological record, wrote Jim Willis in Archaeology & Science. Anatolia had been a popular region for settlement throughout history due to its geopolitical location and fertile lands. Humanity, on the other hand, has consistently built places of worship from past to present. Early periods of civilization are currently being rewritten with Gobekli Tepe – home to the oldest known temple in the world.

At this world-renowned archaeological site several concentric stone circles feature massive T-shaped pillars that reach almost 20 feet in height with animals and anthropological motifs carved in relief. A new study focuses on the arrangement and positioning of the oldest circular stone enclosures and the researchers claim that underlying the entire architectural plan of these great structures is a hidden geometric pattern, which they describe as being specifically an equilateral triangle – and that it required planning and resources to a degree thought of as being impossible for those times.  The first phase of construction at the famous ‘potbellied hill’ has been dated to between 12,000 and 11,000 years ago, and these prehistoric stone circles, located on a barren hillside has challenged archaeologists’ ideas about prehistoric cultures since their discovery.  Does the ‘sacred geometry’ of Göbekli Tepe suggest that our Ancestors knew of these rudimentary principals and indicating a much more complex society than previously assumed by archaeologists, or not?

Until these new observations, most archaeologists had assumed that the circles at Göbekli Tepe had been built gradually, over a long time period, possibly by different cultural groups, and that older circles were covered over with the new. Never was it considered that all three enclosures might have been constructed ‘as a single unit at the same time’, said the researchers. Using an algorithm, they identified the center points of the three irregular stone circles, which fell roughly mid-way between the pair of central pillars in each enclosure. The eureka moment came when the three central points were found to form that nearly perfect equilateral triangle, so accurate in measure, that the researchers say the ‘vertices are about 10 inches away from forming a perfect triangle with sides measuring 63 feet each’.

Nothing like it has ever been found anywhere in the world. As of June 2020, there are more than 200 stone pillars at Göbekli Tepe, buried beneath the surface (most of them) in 20 clearly denoted circles. These pillars are massive; they rise to an average height of 20 feet and have a weight of 10 tons. Fitted into sockets previously hewn out of the local bedrock, the t-shaped stone pillars are the site’s most unique features.

Klaus Schmidt, one of the most famous excavators of the site, discovered two phases of occupation, the oldest of which can be traced back to around 10,000 BC. This means that already 12,000 years ago, the society that was in charge of building Göbekli Tepe was ahead of their time, at least in the construction and organizational sense. Needless to say, its true purpose remains a profound mystery, although various theories propose that Göbekli Tepe was either a massive ceremonial site – which would make it the oldest known megalithic temple on Earth, or an early astronomical observatory.  Experts like Schmidt suggest the site was used in a religious or ceremonial sense, where people from vast distances traveled to the site to pay their respects. Whatever the case, the imposing stratigraphy at the site attests to several centuries of activity, the earliest of which originated during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic.

We must also take into consideration that the people who built Göbekli Tepe did so without the aid of pack animals or technologies such as the pulley or the wheel.  The monument is so old that it predates pottery, metallurgy, the invention of writing or the wheel, and essentially the Neolithic Revolution. Remember, Göbekli Tepe was not built in a day, and it most likely took several generations to complete a site that would deliberately be backfilled around 8,000 BC. Klaus Schmidt suggests that the people of Göbekli Tepe weren’t wiped out, like other lost civilizations. “They simply packed up and went somewhere else – became someone else. It was like the witness-protection programme. In a way, they were still all around us. Lots of us were probably descended from them.”

This then, was the world of our Ancestors before the Indo-Europeans came flooding in from the East and the ‘out of Africa’ migration brought the  ‘stone-builders’ of Egypt and Mpumalanga province of South Africa.  Here, Adam’s Calendar is a series of stones believed to be the oldest man-made structure on Earth and remains accurate as a calendar following the shadow of the setting sun cast by the central monolith onto a flat calendar stone next to it.  The ancient circular monolithic stones predate any other structure found to date and, seen in perspective these stones are amongst an estimated one million ancient stone ruins scattered throughout the mountains of southern Africa; together with the famous megalithic monuments of the ritual landscapes of Brittany, Ireland, England, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides.

By about 8000BC the post-glacial period had finally begun.  The chronology of the changes are blurred but, according to Professor Cunliffe, the long established terminologies of Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic are still useful as a broad generalization, and the date of c.8000BC provides a convenient starting point for the process of change when the British Isles was still joined to the north-western Europe land-mass.   At this time the process of vegetational change escalated as the open tundra was colonized first by open birch forest and then by aspen and birch and later by pine.  About 7000BC hazel began to dominate; then followed elm, lime, oak and alder; and by about 6000 BC the hazel-pine forest had given way to a stable primeval forest dominated by shade-creating trees. In southern Europe, especially Iberia and southern France, pine spread to the higher altitudes while the rest of the land was covered with oak forests, with a much lower percentage of the other trees found in the primeval forests of the north.

The brief but cold spell at the very end of the Late-Glacial period drove human groups from the northern parts of Europe, and required major adjustments in the lifestyles of those who attempted to live at the fringes.      With the rapid improvement in the climate after 8000BC and the spread of forests over most of Europe, human populations moved gradually northwards.  After the middle of the sixth millennium, by which time Ireland had been severed from Britain; in central and southern Portugal it is possible to distinguish between the Early Mesolithic dating to about 8000-6000BC and a Later Mesolithic which lasted until about 4500BC.

By the beginning of the fourth millennium much of Atlantic-Europe – from the valley of the Vistula (Poland) to the Straits of Gibraltar, including the off-shore islands of Britain and Ireland, had adopted a Neolithic lifestyle.  By 4000BC some communities within the Atlantic zone had already begun to develop a specific form of monumental architecture and the building of large megalithic monuments was an Atlantic phenomenon without contemporary parallel.  In south-eastern Europe from the shores of the Aegean and Black Sea to the eastern fringes of the Alps, certain communities, perhaps motivated first by curiosity, were beginning to open up the trade routes.   By about 3000BC the evolving social system had emerged into ‘archaeological visibility’ with the Beaker, the battle axe, and the rite of individual burial as its defining characteristics.  However we choose to interpret these symbols – the communal nature of the drinking vessel, the axe as an icon of aggressive power, and single burial showing reverence for the individual – the ‘package’, and this presumably its social meaning, was widely adopted over a huge territory extending from Moscow in the east to Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland in the west.  [Facing the Ocean]

And, with all this to-ing and fro-ing, these people would have brought with them their culture and customs, beliefs, folk-medicine and superstitions.  Whether they were a member of the ruling classes, artisans, warriors, servants or slaves, their racial memories would have travelled with them in the baggage train – together with their priesthoods and shamans; astronomers, magi and wizards, diviners, conjurors, fortune-tellers and wise women; wort-charmers, healers and augers; sorcerers and enchantresses; necromancers, thaumaturgers, soothsayers and spell-casters. Probably all separated by an uncommon tongue but bound together by their magical prowess.

The majority of ancient peoples observed the cult of Ancestor-worship that was based on love and respect for their deceased. In some cultures, it related to beliefs that the dead have a continued existence, and possessed the ability to influence the fortunes of the living. Some groups venerated their direct, familial ancestors, while others venerated those who acted as intercessors with deity. In European belief, the point of ancestor veneration was to ensure the Ancestors’ continued well-being and positive disposition towards the living tribe, and sometimes to ask for special favours or assistance. The social or non-religious aspect of Ancestor-veneration was to cultivate kinship values, such as filial piety, family loyalty, and continuity of the family or tribal lineage that reach down to the present day.

For example: Brythonic-Celtic cultures in Cornwall and Wales, observed the autumn Ancestor festivals occurring around 1st November; in Cornwall the festival was known as Kalan Gwav, and in Wales as Calan Gaeaf and are ancient festivals from which modern Hallowe’en is derived.  During Samhain, 1st November in the Gaelic-Celtic cultures of Ireland and Scotland,  the dead are thought to return to the world of the living, and offerings of food and light are left for them.  On the festival day, ancient people would extinguish the hearth fires in their homes, participate in a community bonfire festival, and then carry a flame home from the communal fire and use it light their home fires anew.  This custom has continued to some extent into modern times, in both the Celtic nations and the diaspora where lights in the window to guide the dead home are left burning all night. On the Is;e of Man the festival is known as ‘old Sauin’ or  Hop-tu-Naa.

Whether there really exists among their descendents, certain powers lost by those less finely attuned to the Elder Faith, is a subject well worthy of consideration.  It may well be that those more closely allied to the earlier races do retain many more of those occult instincts intact. In the ‘spiritual’ feelings of the indigenous people there continued to dwell from generation to generation, and all the centuries which passed, an inability to obliterate the dark superstitions of the Eld, writes Wood-Martin:

 ‘It is true that the half-educated peasants publicly profess to be ashamed of such practices; but none the less, they do cling tenaciously, in secret, to the mysteries which their fathers and mothers taught them to dread, and the deep-rooted belief of the people in this kind of witchcraft still meets one at every turn.  Unreasoning credulity and superstition are more deeply rooted, both by hereditary tendency and direct tradition … It required, as a matter of course, to be semi-veiled, no matter how pure they might be – for all vanquished religions are accused by the incoming creed – early Christianity – of teaching indecent rites and organized immorality.  It is clear, therefore, that the biased testimony of the Fathers must be taken with a considerable degree of caution with regard to their allegations regarding paganism’. [Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland]

Antiquarian, William Wood-Martin was probably researching his magnus opus by the mid-1800s and was more than sympathetic to those followers of the Elder Faith that had survived almost intact in Catholic Ireland.  His two-volume study is a fascinating collection of folk-memories about the mythical races of Ireland, especially the Tuatha de Danann, who were the spiritual race of Eire. and the most ancient of all of them. Tuatha de Danann (or Sidh – pronounced shee) was a magical race with supernatural powers. They represented the Elder Faith, for they were the folk who lived in pre-Christian Ireland for centuries, where they taught their skills in the sciences, including architecture, the arts, and magic, including necromancy. Before their unexplained disappearance, they stayed in Ireland for around four thousand years, and although there have been more than a few claims regarding their disappearance – the truth remains unravelled.  They retired underground, where they became known as Aes sidhe (the people of the mound – fairy mounds or forts), in the hollows of the hills and mountains.

In Wales there is a similar race known anciently by the natives as Y Tylwyth Teg which literally means ‘the fair folk’. Welsh fae typically live in lakes or streams and sometimes in hill hollows – although they are generally divided into five different types: the Ellyllon (inhabit groves and valleys and are similar to English), the Coblynau  (fae of the mines), the Bwbachod (household fae similar to brownines), the Gwragedd Annwn (female fae of the lakes and streams) and the Gwyllion (mountain fae more akin to hags). Although most stories about Y Tylwyth Teg are recorded from oral tradition, references to them appear in writing as early as Giraldus Cambrensis (c.1146–1223). Their king is Gwyn ap Nudd – Lord of Otherworld – while Gwlad y Tylwyth Teg is a Welsh name for Otherworld.

In general, Y Tylwyth Teg are portrayed as benevolent but still capable of occasional and dangerous mischief. In distinction from other Celtic fairies, they are more often associated with lakes, especially at Llyn y Fan Fach in south Wales. Another distinction is their fear of iron; unbaptized children were said to be guarded from being taken by them, by having a poker placed over the cradle. The link with such lakes as Llyn y Fan Fach has implied that the conception of Y Tylwyth Teg is derived from the short, dark-skinned early inhabitants of Britain who lived in crannogs, primitive lake dwellings; this coincides with one of the four general theories explaining the origin of fae; smaller and darker than Y Ttylwyth Teg, the ellyll may have been adapted from the non-Welsh elves.

Faerie belief was beginning to fade at the time countryman, Francis Kilvert wrote that he’d been told: “We don’t see them now because we have more faith in the Lord and don’t think of them.  But I believe they travel yet…”  This was not complete disappearance or extinction, therefore; more, it was a matter of the human eye of faith failing, or being distracted by the Christian teachings heard in the Wesleyan chapels. The fae were still there, but showed themselves less often than before; and were, in any case, naturally elusive. Our forebears often saw them – and knew that they had done so.  The certainty about the nature of the experiences frequently disclosed, is derived from various factors – circumstance, context, and experience – but in no small measure came from the witness knowing already what to expect.  Many, to this day, believe that Wales is still a hive of fae activity, but isolated sightings are depleting because they are now more stigmatised and ridiculed.

A slow absorption of these various pockets of humanity were swirled around the great melting-pot of Europe until only the more distinguishable elements of the different cultures remained in evidence.  It means, however, that we can still recognize the similarities among witches of different nations, backgrounds and ethnicities, regardless of historical, geographical or familial factors.  We can also look at the process and resources whereby knowledge, ideas, skills, perspective and even book-learning that moved across cultures, generated new and fresh concepts concerning the order of things in traditional European witchcraft.  It has been suggested that these cross-cultural exchanges took place in cultural boarder-lands where the margins of one culture overlapped another, creating a mutually beneficial relationship within local communities where exchanges of ideas took place on a mundane level. From such a stimulating interaction, ideas, styles, techniques and practices moved inward towards the cultural centers, urging them to renew and update cultural notions – hopefully without running the risk of misinterpretation or mistransliteration within the cultural-folk memory, or collective unconscious.

Like all forms of memory, cultural memory has important functions. For example, it crystallizes shared experiences and in doing so, provides us with an understanding of the past and the values and norms of the tradition to which we belong. It also creates a form of shared identity and a means for communicating this identity to new members. Because memory is not just an individual, private experience but also part of the collective domain, cultural memory has become a topic in both historical and cultural studies . To understand culture, we access a vast array of cultural symbols, such as books and artifacts of the past to provide insights into where we came from. Libraries and the internet store a seemingly infinite amount of data about what it means to be part of a witchcraft tradition – but cultural memory is the longest-lasting form of memory: indeed, cultural memory can last for thousands of years.

Collective unconscious refers to structures of the unconscious mind which are shared among beings of the same species.  According to Carl Jung, the human collective unconscious is populated by instincts, as well as by archetypes: universal symbols such as The Great Mother, the Wise Old Man, the Shadow, the Tower, Water, and the Tree of Life.He linked his collective unconscious to ‘what Freud called ‘archaic remnants – mental forms whose presence cannot be explained by anything in the individual’s own life and which seem to be aboriginal, innate, and inherited shapes of the human mind’. He credited Freud for developing his ‘primal horde’ theory in Totem & Taboo and continued further with the idea of an archaic ancestor maintaining its influence in the minds of present-day humans. Every human being, he wrote, ‘however high his conscious development, is still an archaic man at the deeper levels of his psyche’.

A Horse of Another Colour

Lascaux Cave is a Palaeolithic cave situated in south-western France, near the village of Montignac in the Dordogne region, which houses some of the most famous examples of prehistoric cave paintings. Close to 600 paintings – mostly of animals – dot the interior walls of the cave in impressive compositions and horses are the most numerous, dominating the imagery, walking and grazing and congregating in herds. Now, a group of researchers has used distinctly modern techniques to help decipher the mystery, at least in the case of Pech-Merle cave’s famous spotted horses. By comparing the DNA of modern horses and those that lived during the Stone Age, scientists have determined that these drawings are a realistic depiction of an animal that coexisted with the artists.

An author of the study, Michael Hofreiter, an evolutionary biologist at the University of York in England, said: “Why they took the effort making these beautiful paintings will always remain a miracle to us.  It’s an enigma, but it’s also nice to see that if we go back 25,000 years, people didn’t have much technology and life was probably hard, but nevertheless they already endeavored in producing art. It tells us a lot about ourselves as a species.”

He and his colleagues did not set out to study cave art. They were simply continuing their work on coat colour in prehistoric horses. Only after they found the spotted horse gene in their ancient samples did they realize they could say something about archaeology. “What we found is that there were really only these three colour patterns – spotted or dappled; blackish ones; and brown ones,” he said. “These are the three phenotypes we find in the wild populations. And then we realized these phenotypes are exactly the ones you see in cave paintings.”

Terry O’Connor, an archaeologist at the University of York who collaborated on the study, said spotted horses in particular had been used to argue that cave art was more symbolic than realistic, and that as a result the finding could cause a stir. “One of the things that most pleases me about this paper as a piece of ancient DNA science,” Dr. O’Connor said, “is it kind of begins with a question. These spotty horses, were they magical or real? But now it is clear that some horses had a gene for that coat colour. “People drew spotty horses,” he said, “because they saw spotty horses.” 

Last summer, exploring a cave in the Dordogne region, Dr. O’Connor said he became transfixed by a series of line drawings. “They were absolutely superb, some using contours of the cave itself, capturing the size and shape and movement,” he said. “You look at that and say, ‘These guys know what the animals looked like, and they can draw.’ ”

What also becomes evident is that very few animals convey such majesty, power, pride, and nobility of spirit as the horse for both prehistoric and modern man. Horse symbolism also speaks about an unbridled desire for freedom because of its naturally wild and powerful spirit, and it always wants to break free.  In fact, horse symbolism holds so much meaning that can stir our heart and set our imagination running wild! The horse is known for being one of the most hard-working animals on earth, with the ability to carry on even on the roughest roads and the toughest climbs – signifying the overcoming of obstacles, and how we should carry ourselves in the face of adversity.

When we accept the horse as our totem, this most commonly represents power and stamina, allowing us to see the true essence of freedom in our life, and if we have this powerful animal working for us, we will truly experience the energy of a genuinely free spirit.  The horse is going to bring forth a number of different ideas and theories surrounding the symbolism that is associated with this animal. However, we do need to pay close attention to the animal and the way in which it is viewed in real life as this is something that is seen as being quite majestic and almost regal in its approach. The same symbolism is then going to be applied to the spirit animal and what it represents, according to spirit-animal.com  The horse-spirit may encourage us to push our boundaries, even if we are not sure of the outcome.  But because the horse can be head-strong and unpredictable we need ro consider the repercussions of our actions.

We also need to familiarize ourselves with the magical associations of the farrier because the folklore of iron and smithing has been common since prehistory, and one of the oldest folk-tales tells of a blacksmith forging a deal with the denizens of Otherworld.  Blacksmiths have long been revered and feared thanks to their skills with metal and flame … they often held a high status because people thought they had magic powers.

The magical power of a horseshoe derives from the obvious elemental energies that go into its making: the heart of the forge (Fire); the sacred metal, iron (Earth), the cooling (Water) and the bellows (Air) – not forgetting the (Spirit) smith who makes and fits the shoe. Should a cast shoe be found in the road, this should be taken home and nailed above the entrance door – with the prongs pointing upwards – to attract and hold good fortune.

While 17th century antiquarian writer John Aubrey, commenting on contemporary social customs, wrote: ‘A horseshoe nailed on the threshold of the door is yet in fashion: and nowhere more than in London: it ought to be a Horseshoe that one finds by chance on the Road. The end of it is to prevent the power of Witches, that come into your house.’ A popular greeting of the same period expressed the wish, ‘That the Horseshoe may never be pul’d from your Threshold.’

Different types of horseshoe required different types and styles of nail for fixing and the social position of the ‘nail-man’ was in no way inferior to that of the farrier. To the uninitiated, it might appear that the nail is an insignificant part of the shoeing operation, but it would be the unwise witch who overlooked its importance as an integral element of ‘horse power’.

Another magical element of the blacksmith’s forge is acquisition of a bottle of thunder water taken from the trough or bucket that is used to cool to shoe when it comes from the fire.  This water has all manner of magical/healing properties …

Shaman Pathways: Black Horse, White Horse: Power Animals Within Traditional Witchcraft by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books – www.moon-books.net : ISBN 978 1 78099 747 6 : UK£4.99/US$9.95 : Pages 84 : Avaialable in paperback and e-book format.

The Path of the Elder Faith

One concept was learned, but behind that was another hidden mystery. The lifting of one veil led to the finding of yet another.  At the same time, one was left knowing that behind all these veils was an inner core, a hidden truth that only the very few would ever find.  I have yet to reach that stage – if I ever do.  But the sureness of its being there, and the knowledge that it is, can be reward enough in itself.’ [Evan John Jones]

Back in the day when the world was young; when neo-paganism was a resurgence of interest in the Elder Faith, and Old Craft was a primal shamanic ability manifesting in only a few – things were less complicated.  Since then, however, the ‘witch’ has firmly entered the 21st-century zeitgeist as a figure akin to a synergetic composite of Burne-Jones in the terminal stages of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Guinevere of Arthurian romance, and Daenerys Stormborn from Game of Thrones – reflecting the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of the era. All of which appears to be an out-and-out attempt to make a statement and stand out from the crowd when our forebears would have done everything in their power to blend in with their neighbours!

And yet … in his book Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed, Evan John Jones warned that to refer to the witchcraft revival as merely a throwback to an ancient fertility cult totally avoids the mystical importance surrounding the belief, for this was never a simple rustic faith of peasants. The faithful still revered all aspects of nature, whether beautiful, bountiful or bloodstained; following the cycles of the seasons in the observation of birth, death and rebirth as represented by the turning of the year.  Of equal importance, however, was the recognition of the darker, more mystical side of life, receptive to hidden psychic forces and ‘the ability to understand that, behind the veil between the known and the unknown worlds of the natural and supernatural, there were powers which were once the birthright of humanity …’ It was this dark side that required the sacrifice of the Divine King in order that his followers might survive having eaten of his flesh; and the God-King sacrificing his own life so that his people may live was a recurring theme among ancient civilisations.

This Mystery aspect of witchcraft appears to be one that is assiduously avoided by all but a few of the more traditionally minded. The late Robert Cochrane was highly critical of the development of the modern Craft in an article written as long ago as 1964 for Pentagram (‘The Craft Today’); describing it as an attempt by 20th century man to deny the responsibilities of the 20th century. He felt that many witches had turned their backs on the reality of the outside world, pursuing a belief system that failed to recognise the needs of modern living, whilst repeating rituals by rote, rather than by understanding. In consequence, he believed that much of it had become ‘static and remote from its original purpose, which was to enlighten the follower spiritually’.

My old friend, Evan John Jones, who was a member of Cochrane’s coven, contends that behind the simplicity of it all was a deeper faith that called for a greater understanding than blind acceptance, which ably demonstrates that dedicated witches are not expected to accept ‘the Word’ in its fundamental context. Beneath the exterior of a simple nature worship and cosy sabbat ceremonies, there lies a deeper tradition through which the devotee ‘may perceive the beginnings of that ultimate in wisdom, knowledge of themselves, and of their motives’.

In a further article for Pentagram (‘The Faith of the Wise’) Cochrane also attacked the limited perception of the various ‘authorities’ on witchcraft, since being one of the oldest and most ‘potent’ of religions [sic] it was a way of life ‘different and distinct from any theory promulgated by the authorities or historians …’ According to Cochrane it brought ‘Man into contact with Gods, and Man into contact with Self. It creates within the human spirit a light that brightens all darkness, and which can never again be extinguished. It is never fully forgotten and never fully remembered.’  And I still have in my possession a letter from Evan dating from July 2000 in reply to a question of mine:

‘I wondered how long it will be before someone asked the question of where Robert [Cochrane] would have been led to in the next step of his magical argosy? I’ve a very shrewd suspicion having more or less followed in his footsteps and eventually finding myself in more or less the same position as he was. The surprising thing is, it can in many ways lead to a break with his traditional craft and eventually leads on to a highly individual form of devotional workings that in one sense, reverses everything Tubal Cain has to teach. In a sense, you belong yet not belong. You break away from being a member of the group as such and embark on a highly individual way of working yet at the same time, you remain rooted to the clan tradition and the other oddity is, you never actually pass on anything in the sense of the working techniques.

Instead, people have to eventually find their own way there and develop their own particular mystical bent and experiences. Roy once said that Tubal Cain should not be the be-all and end-all of a person’s craft experience as each one of us should be capable of reaching far beyond that. The more I think about it, the more I feel he was right, none of us should be led by the hand all our occult lives; we should be free to reach out and find our own spiritual reality without destroying our craft roots.’

Much of the source material for Traditional Witchcraft and the Path to the Mysteries was based on the teachings from the British-based Old Craft coven led by Aleister (Bob) and Mériém Clay-Egerton, that could trace its own recorded roots in Cheshire, back to the early 1800s. Their view was that it is not unreasonable to surmise that Old Craft probably retained features of the native shamanic practices of the ancient Pretanni, since the term ‘shamanism’ describes the supernatural powers practitioners channel from Otherworld for healing, divination and the conducting of souls – all of which are the natural province of an Old Craft witch where it is viewed as ‘an isolated or peripheral phenomenon’, rather than the overt devotional practices often found in contemporary paganism.

Contrary to what many so-called contemporary witches believe, it should also be understood that there is an older system of Craft that has never left the shadows.  There is little altruistic about Old 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 periodic backlashes, even in more modern times, this is not surprising. ‘Trust None!’ is the creed of Old Craft and it has preserved its secrecy by not divulging its rites and practices. No matter what a publisher’s blurb may claim, there are no authentic Old Craft rituals, rites of passages, spells, charms or path-workings in print for one simple reason …

Any Old Crafter committing any of these to paper for public scrutiny would be in breach of their own Initiatory Oath – and that still carries the ultimate penalty for treachery and betrayal. Admittedly, there are some excellent ‘smokescreens’ that may offer a parody of the genuine article – but the essence of the Sacred Order remains firmly in the shadows, where it has always been and where it will always belong. Nowadays, there are a lot of people now claiming their antecedents stem from an Old Craft rootstock but a few moments of conversation is enough to reveal that these roots are very shallow indeed!

There should, however, be no doubt about it – that although witchcraft is not a religion (and never has been), the Elder Faith does have an overriding spirituality that is extremely profound in its concepts and perceptions. 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 the Mysteries is to have experienced them first hand.  Occult teaching at this level is based on a vast variety of magical techniques, which enables the quester to use one or many of the various ‘astral doorways’ to connect with the Anima Mundi for the purpose of mystical or divinatory exploration. These techniques access the archetypal Elder Faith imagery of primal and powerful visionary experiences – both on the inner and outer planes – where kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood.

This means that whether the quester chooses the path of the shaman, Old Craft, heathenism, Asatru, Vanatrú, hedge-witchery, Druidry et al, the tools required to connect with the Anima Mundi are universal. By using the different means available, the quester can consciously establish contact through the application of path-working and meditation within the realms of what is often referred to as ‘inner court’ or ‘sabbatic’ witchcraft: an archaic embodiment of traditional Craft that embraces a higher form of spirituality akin to the mysteries of the ancient world, liberally laced with ceremonial magic.  It may also go a long way to explain why the archaic religious and spiritual influences of ancient beliefs persist into the 21st century when science tells us that religion and superstition should have long been rendered redundant.

It is, therefore, unimportant whether these ancient gods, angels, demons or the Faere Folk actually exist, the point is that the Anima Mundi behaves as though they do. In this way, the vodun priestess, the Celtic shaman, the Druid, the Norse Gothar and the Old Craft witch all employ their own individual or traditional techniques to bring the creative force of the Universe into their own lives and into the life of the world of which they form a part. They tap into this reservoir of cultural memory and what we must also accept is that this Collective Unconscious includes the ‘totality of human experience’, both good and evil. ‘In other words,’ writes Francis King, ‘the Anima Mundi is a rubbish heap as well as a gold mine; it contains not only beauty, wisdom and knowledge – but destruction, hatred and ignorance.’

These unconscious but powerful folk-memories of the Elder Faith are old but remain an important feature of many people’s lives. ‘Today more and more people are becoming interested in traditional witchcraft and it is a trend that would seem likely to increase in the future, although Old Craft will always be rather an elitist practice. It has always been for the few and not the many, and will remain so.’  The late Michael Howard also reminded us: ‘As Cochrane said (and few people understand what he meant), witchcraft is not pagan, but it does preserve elements of the pagan Mysteries. A subtle difference.’  MD

This extract has been taken from the limited edition of Inner Court Witchcraft currently in preparation for Ignotus Books UK by Melusine Draco and a companion volume to Round about the Cauldron Go … by Phillip Wright and Carrie West.