There nothing more tiresome that biographical details of someone who is desperately trying to create a life of importance and yet when it came to writing The Secret People I found myself in the invidious position of recording memories of a country life-style that had almost disappeared when I was still a child. You might even say that I grew up surrounded by ghosts of the past – which was the perfect jumping-off point for where I am today! Although there have been those critics who claim those memories to be ‘romanticised’ … for example:
A few years ago, I attended a Welsh Game Fair with a group of friends. In the main arena, one of the attractions was a chap who was simulating all the old poacher’s tricks for the entertainment of the crowd. His display was cleverly contrived by using a series of elastic lures to make the fake ‘rabbits’ streak across the field into the long-net. It was so convincing that two visiting whippets joined in the fun, much to the delight of the crowd and the embarrassment of the owner. I’d been watching the display with a view to writing an article about it but instead of taking in the details of the here and now, my subconscious mind was re-living my own memories of poaching that had been long forgotten.
Like Faust’s madeleines, it was the running of the long-net that triggered the memory. A long-net was some two foot high and some 20 feet long, and held up right by cut hazel sticks … how did I know they were hazel sticks? Because it had been my job to carry them. The story goes back to my pre-school years and my father left baby-sitting for reasons I can’t now remember. He’d done the 1940-45 stint in North Africa and Europe and it took a long, long time to get the need for an adrenalin buzz out of his system. Being a countryman, he turned his hand to a spot of DIY recreational therapy (i.e. poaching) because that was the way you coped in those pre-counselling days.
It was a fine night with a poacher’s moon; myself (aged about four) and the dog (about the same age) were bundled onto the motorbike and off we went into the darkness of the woods for a few hours of illegal hunting. This happened several times until my mother found out – then there was all hell to pay and my night-time excursions were stopped. Today, social services would consider leaving a four year old alone in the dark holding a poacher’s net, the act of extreme neglect, if not cruelty. For me, it represents ultimate trust in the person closest to me. The long-term effect is that I have no fear of being alone in remote places during the hours of darkness – which was just as well when I lived in Wales and used to roam about the fields at midnight with the dog, star-watching. Or where I live now in the Galtee Mountains. [Taken from Life-Writes – Compass Books]
The Secret People is my recollection of growing up in a rural environment where older people lived life that still relied on herbal preparations and ‘simples’ and poaching for the pot – and if that is classed as ‘romantic’ in some eyes then so be it. I feel myself privileged to have experienced a rapidly disappearing way of life, and damned lucky to be able to remember it … and in CRONE! to share many of those enduring memories that have accompanied me through life.
EXTRACT from The Secret People: Parish-pump witchcraft, Wise-women and Cunning Ways.
The Secret People is a wander down memory lane and a step back in time; it is that ‘other country’ of the past where parish-pump witches, wise women and cunning folk still travel the highways and byways of a bygone era. Their voices can still be heard in the recipes and remedies handed down via an oral tradition, and now giving new knowledge to the next generation of pagans. It was a world where men went out with a ferret in a box and a long-net, accompanied by a silent long dog for a companion under a ‘poacher’s moon’. From ‘owl-light’ until dawn these people walked silently in the woods and along the hedgerows, watching and waiting to collect Nature’s bounty to be used for the benefit of themselves and their neighbours. From them came the introduction to spells and charms, divination and fortune-telling; the language of birds and the movement of animals – all grist for the witch’s mill. Mysterious horsemen might share secrets of horseshoe nails and thunder-water; while countrymen lived by weather, the seedtime and the harvest.
Few of The Secret People could be called traditional witches by any stretch of the imagination, and many would have been mortally offended to be referred to as a ‘witch’ or ‘pagan’. Few parish-pump witches would have thought about the skills they possessed since these were natural abilities, and even fewer wise women and cunning folk would have had any concept of the sombre and often dangerous rituals required for the raising of energy needed in the practice of true witchcraft. Theirs was a knowledge that filtered down in the form of spells, domestic plant medicine and country lore, imparted to offspring, friends and neighbours, who in turn handed it down to their children … and so on down through the generations. In fact, in his Dialogue Concerning Witches & Witchcraft (1603) George Gifford observed that local wise women ‘doth more good in one year than all these scripture men will do so long as they live’.
Most, however, would live by the Church calendar, inveigling saints to add potency to their healing spells, or to guide a hand in locating missing property; with many of the protective charms being aimed at deflecting malevolent witchcraft! Most old ladies in the parish seemed to have a wide repertoire of fortune-telling tricks to amuse young girls looking for a husband, not to mention the applied psychology of already knowing their neighbours’ business, which made divination with playing cards and tealeaves a push-over, and even up until recent years the village fete always had a fortune-telling tent. And since the early Church calendar had been formed around the agricultural year, the men folk of the village had no problem with presenting themselves, their animals, and produce from the harvest for blessing.
The Secret People would have greatly outnumbered the practitioners of traditional witchcraft since the practical abilities that define a true witch are bred in the bone and not everyone can lay claim to the lineage. The skills of The Secret People can, however, be learned and perfected with practise and for those who struggle to find a label with which to empathise, it is hoped the lessons taught here will help the reader to establish some sort of identity that sits comfortably with them.
Today, under the ubiquitous umbrella of paganism, the parish-pump witch runs the occult shop in the high street, the wise woman dispenses Reiki healing and the cunning man has become a professional tarot reader. The countryman’s world has disappeared under a sprawl of urban housing and ring roads, while the poacher has yielded his domain to the brutal gangs who slaughter wildlife on a commercial scale – even the poacher’s dog, the lurcher, has found his niche in the ‘fly-ball’ event at Crufts!
And yet…the knowledge of The Secret People is still there for the learning, if only we know how to search for it and rediscover our identity.
The Silent People by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books. ISBN: 978 1 78535 444 1 226pp UK£13.99/US$22.95 http://www.moon-books.net
EXTRACT from CRONE! A Year in the Life of an Old Craft Witch
On reflection life is good and it’s not everyone who can live the witch’s dream of retiring to a small, isolated cottage in a river valley in the shadow of a wild mountain range. Since I’m country born and bred, it’s more like returning to my roots but life’s rich tapestry has certainly had its fair share of snags, runs, holes and endless thread-pulling along the way. I’ve lived in the Glen for over ten years now and although my original pack of greyhound companions has been reduced drastically through old-age, I’m still pack-leader of five … not forgetting Harvey my intrepid little mongrel!
The Glen is ideally suited to the type of magic we teach in Coven of the Scales simply because we are not over-looked – psychically or magically – and nothing is allowed to interfere with the daily routine of interacting with Nature on a full-time basis. The cottage is on the opposite side of the Glen to the mountains, on the wooded Slievenamuck Ridge with a lush valley and the River Aherlow running between. The view of the mountains is never the same two days running and at certain times of the afternoon, the slopes are bathed in a strange, ethereal light that is nothing short of enchanting. Each morning I can stand at the bedroom window and stare out with the feeling that this is an ever-lasting holiday – and one I often share with members of the Coven.
The Galtees (Na Gaibhlte) are Ireland’s highest inland mountain range, a high ridge which rises up almost sheer from the surrounding plain, the highest peak being Galteemore. As far as the geology is concerned, two major periods of glaciation affected the area and the rounded summits of the Galtee peaks were formed due to the higher parts being above the ice. The constant freeze-thaw action on the higher rocks gradually wore the peaks down to form the stony, scree covered summits we see today. This glacial action also formed corries on the higher slopes, which are now five mysterious glacial lakes. These mountains have many secrets not easily discovered: cliffs, lakes, bogs, streams, archaeology, wildlife, sheep, wonderful wild plants and ancient history. If anyone is familiar with my Magic Crystals, Sacred Stones (Axis Mundi), they will understand how important these geological features are to our magical teaching.
As a result of being surrounded by all this beauty, I’ve now gone into Crone-mode, which in magical parlance means that I can do and say what I want, when I want, and no one can object, since they must sit at my feet and drink in the pearls of wisdom I dispense with every breath … even if they are the senile, verbal wanderings of an aging crank. Seriously, the Coven has been told that if I do get to that stage ‘Do not revive!’ must be entered on the medical chart! Today, I am blessed with a crowd of wonderful people in the Coven from all over the world; all of whom are bright, intelligent and talented – not a witchy outfit to be seen amongst them with the Craft ‘mark’ tastefully concealed – and all dear friends.
In truth, we as practitioners of Old Craft are less concerned with ritual and dogma, and more focused on natural energy-raising techniques, which we use to channel or direct spells and charms according to the nature of the working. As I’ve often said, Old Craft witches do not worship Nature but we are certainly proficient at working in harmony with it … and are highly spiritual beings on this level, too. Unlike the majority of modern pagans, however, we accept Nature as being red in tooth and claw and do not seek to impose our will on the natural scheme of things – even if Beltaine is delayed because the hawthorn comes into bloom a month late! And you can’t have a true Beltaine celebration without the fragrance of May blossom in the air … if you understand my meaning.
We also accept the timeless concept of the hunter and the hunted, and the essential inter-action of male-female energy. Old Craft is not generally seen as gender specific but its beliefs do tend to lean towards the male aspect since the female aspect remains veiled and a mystery – as she should be since this is the ancient and fundamental ‘Truth’ behind the Mysteries. Coven of the Scales is not a true sabbatical tradition but it remains an initiatory Mystery one, and what it does share with the other pre-Wiccan traditions is a common feature of extreme selectivity when it comes to prospective members – and the willingness to reject those proven unfit for the Path. Needless to say, this unpopular and confrontational stance has often led to thorny relations between other so-called ‘traditional’ groups, but it has encouraged a sanctuary-like environment where creative magical collaboration can unfold according to the design of each individual member of the Coven.
All this ‘tradition’ has now funnelled down to a tiny, remote cottage in the Glen that offers members of the Coven a warm welcome, a magical learning centre and a spiritual home, hopefully, for many years to come. We have our own Neolithic site where we interact with the Ancestors and, unlike many other ancient monuments, these ancestral energies have not been polluted by the unwelcome tramp of tourism. Here I can live the life of an Old Craft Crone according to the tenets of my belief and periodically welcome friends and fellow travellers to share in my magical world.
CRONE! By Melusine Draco is published by Ignotus Press UK. ISBN: 978 1 78876 001 0 UK£7.95 https://www.feedaread.com/books/CRONE-9781788760010