I recently read a response on an application form for Coven of the Scales to the question “What do you understand by the term traditional British Old Craft?” The response was that “‘Witchcraft is whatever you want it to be?” It might if we are talking about eclectic paganism … but within Old Craft if there is no natural ability for communicating with the spirit world, divination, recognizing and reading the omens, healing, cursing and moving between the worlds, then there is no witch. Added to this, Old Craft is extremely selective when it comes to prospective members and will reject any who prove themselves unsuitable for the Path.
Magic – whether of the folk or ritual variety – does not conform to the whims and vagaries of contemporary fashion and, like science, it has its own laws and lore that must be adhered to if a successful outcome is required. As ritual magician David Conway warns in his The Complete Magic Primer, to go through the ritual motions with no clear idea of what they are all about is mere superstition, not magic.
In any case, a witch should expect more from his or her magic than mere signs and wonders. If these are all he is after, he would be better advised to take up conjuring, which is far less trouble. The real rewards of magical study are not temporal benefits but a spiritual maturity which affords a more profound understanding of the universe in which we live. The form of traditional witchcraft practiced by the Coven of Scales teaches that the basic tenet of belief, although not a religion, does have a highly defined spiritual element to its practice. Also that Old Craft is fundamentally animistic – the belief that every object, animate and inanimate, has its own life-force, or energy. Here there is no separation between the spiritual or physical world, where ‘spirit’ exists in all flora and fauna (including humans); geological features such as rocks, mountains, rivers and springs; and in natural phenomena such as storms, wind and the movement of heavenly bodies. It is the understanding that a small quartz pebble can link us with the cosmic Divine.
Those members of CoS who have successfully passed through the first portal are usually mature individuals who have seriously studied other paths and traditions but were not comfortable with the contemporary dogma and questionable sources. Because let’s make no bones about it, today’s pagan interpretation of witchcraft often belongs to a revivalist tradition and should not claim to be anything else. Nevertheless, the seasonal rituals and celebrations need to be as close as they can to the beliefs of our Ancestors without falling into the trap of lumping all the deities together in one ageless pantheon … and expecting the magic to work!
These simple tenets of faith need to be enshrined in our memory because they allow us to perceive the simplicity at the heart of creation. Much of this may be seen as playing with semantics, but in truth, the god-forms themselves have changed greatly down through the millennia. It is only by studying myths, legends and folklore, and pulling all the strands together that we can appreciate just how much these have altered.
The spirits of the landscape that are the true focus of the ancestral beliefs of Old Craft have remained constant; they have not altered their form and have only grown more powerful with age. These well-springs of magical energy have not been contaminated because few have known of their existence – apart from the native shamanic practitioners [witches] who have kept the secret down through the ages. In more secluded spots, the spirit-energy of the ancient Britons survives in remote ancient monuments, isolated lakes, the rural landscape, and in the depths of the surviving Wildwood with which our hunter-gatherer Ancestors would have been familiar.
When the native shamanic practices went into the shadows, these powerful energy spots were deemed unholy and feared by the locals – and as such passed into folklore as those things that are “never fully remembered and yet never fully forgotten.” Those people who come to us are looking for the Path back to the Old Ways and learning how to connect with this timeless energy that “speaks” to them on a variety of different levels. In the light of all this, it might be felt that Old Craft has no place in modern paganism since it is both elitist and hierarchical but our answer to that accusation has always been: “How can you teach yourself what you don’t know exists?”
It is pointless stripping away all the ancient magical formulae to shoe-horn ancient wisdom into a pre-prescribed contemporary system in order to make it easier to understand, when the interior workings that drive the whole have been declared redundant. The ancient symbols, sigils, formulae, analogies and metaphors remain an integral part of the spiritual journey; just as magic is an amalgam of science and art and the stepping stone to the Mysteries. These symbols are so ancient that they are firmly entrenched in the collective subconsciousness and it would be a mistake to discard them purely because they are not understood – or worse still – misunderstood.
During the recent BBC History of Magic programme that unveiled rare books, manuscripts and magical objects from the British Library’s collection and forthcoming exhibition, were revealed some of the traditions of folklore and magic which are at the heart of the Harry Potter stories. J K Rowling said of the exhibition: “The British Library has done an incredible job. Encountering objects for real that have in some shape or form figured in my books has been quite wonderful and to have several of my own items in the exhibition is a reminder of twenty amazing years since Harry was first published…” And she was honest enough to admit that although she had thoroughly researched her subject, some of the magical stuff was made up!
The worlds of J K Rowling and J R R Tolkein are fabulous stories, full of magic and glamour (in the magical sense) but they are wonderful works of fiction and fantasy – not reality. Nevertheless I suspect that many of those original “kiddy converts” have now swelled the ranks of the pagan community but where do they go to discover authentic witchcraft? Our own ‘converts’ discovered for themselves that there was a dearth of material available and it took them many years of searching before they discovered there were other approaches to witchcraft than popular Wicca. Just as not every member of a Christian congregation came be a priest, so not every pagan can be a witch since according to tradition this is some innate ability that manifests in the ways of the Craft.
And although we draw upon the natural energy from the landscape, we are even closer to those sentient beings we refer to as the Ancestors who represent our culture, traditions, heritage, lineage and antecedents; they trace the long march of history that our predecessors have taken. When those of a particular Tradition 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 witch to ensure that they keep adding to the strength of belief, which, in many instances may already have endured for hundreds of years
So yes, in the twenty-first century you can view witchcraft as being whatever you want it to be but please don’t pretend to be following the Old Ways – because those “old ways” still matter.
First published in Magical Times 2019:
Melusine Draco is an Initiate of traditional British Old Craft and the Khemetic Mysteries and author of over fifty titles, many currently published with John Hunt Publishing, including the popular Traditional Witchcraft series published by Moon Books and a contributor to their latest anthology, What is Modern Witchcraft? www.moon-books.net Or contact www.covenofthescales.com for more information.