Spirits and Deific Forms: Faith & Belief in British Old Craft
In 2008 Daniel A. Schulke approached the late Michael Howard, editor of the British witchcraft and folklore journal The Cauldron, about co-editing and producing a witchcraft anthology for Three Hands Press. Given the quiet but potent renaissance that traditional and hereditary witchcraft underwent in the 1990s, they both felt that such a publication was long overdue. At the time, much written about traditional witchcraft was of poor quality, either crudely derivative of a few often-repeated sources, factually inaccurate, or simply plagiaristic. Though this situation persists, readership on this subject has grown increasingly sophisticated and discerning, and a few new voices have emerged from the collective hedge to articulate important and original perspectives on the Craft.
Aside from considerations of quality content, high-caliber writing and creative synthesis, they agreed that a crucial aspect of the work should be the unique voice of the actual practitioners, speaking directly to experience of the magical Art itself. Though still obscure to most, the variety and idiosyncrasy of old witchcraft lines is remarkable. The witches of Cornwall, with their corpora of folk charms and blessings, are one such phenotype. The Pickingill Craft as described by E.W. Liddell, remains despite its controversy one of the most unique and potent streams of Old Craft, as does Robert Cochrane’s Clan of Tubal Cain. The Manx Old Order covines, with their intense connection to angelic magic and the dark faery lore of Ellan Vannin (the Isle of Man), are another such clan, as is the Skull and Bones tradition of Pennsylvania with its ominous and rustic spirit-patrons. The Old Craft lineages of the Cultus Sabbati, with the medieval Witches’ Sabbath as an important organizing principle, are yet another distinctive tradition – as was Bob and Meriem Clay-Egerton’s Coven of the Scales – which is where I entered the equation.
Though these forms of the Old Craft are known through their exterior writings, there are other such groups who are content to remain out of the public eye, practicing their Art and training their own generation of adepts. All of these traditions share a common feature of extreme selectivity when it comes to prospective members, and the willingness to reject those proven unfit for the work. [my italics, MD] This unpopular and confrontational stance has often led to thorny relations between groups, but it has also engendered a sanctuary-like environment where creative magical collaboration can unfold according to the design of each tradition.
Thus was forged Hands of Apostasy: Essays on Witchcraft and Folk Magic, an anthology featuring eighteen writers on witchcraft topics as varied as the Devil, plant magic, necromancy, the Romantic movement, and the powers of moon and tide. Representing widely varying witchcraft traditions and perspectives, the book is a sound testament to the Craft’s diversity and strength. With Apostasy Daniel Schulke served as a co-editor with Michael Howard, whose work over the years with The Cauldron had been an immensely valuable resource to the at-large community of practitioners.
I’d known Michael Howard for many a long year but I must confess that the commission had me scratching my head for a long time. We know what we believe but it’s another thing to explain to outsiders so that it makes sense and after several months ‘Faith and Belief in British Old Craft’ finally passed muster …
Faith & Belief in British Old Craft
An insight into the spiritual beliefs and faith of traditional British Old Craft and its approach to the spirits and deific forms that inhabit the natural world around us; and how an Old Craft witch was taught to approach these beings of both the natural and Otherworld to draw on them magically … Melusine Draco.
Our witchcraft has taught us a basic tenet of belief that although not a religion, there is a highly defined spiritual element to its practice. Also that traditional British Old Craft – like the mysteries of pre-dynastic Egypt and pre-Roman Italy; the ancestral beliefs of Japanese Shinto; the Aboriginal tribes of Australia, and the indigenous native Americans – is fundamentally animistic. Animism is, of course, 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.
Taking this viewpoint into account, it is not unreasonable to claim that Old Craft is probably the native shamanic practice of the British Isles. The term ‘shamanism’ describing the supernatural powers practitioners channels from the spirit world 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’ [The Penguin Dictionary of Religions, ed John Hinnels, p293], rather than the overt devotional practices often found in contemporary Wicca. As intermediaries between the world of the Ancestors and the living, the Old Craft witch maintains direct contact with spirits, whether of Otherworld, ‘of plants, animals and other features of the environment, such as the ‘master-spirits’ (e.g. of rivers or mountains)’.
A natural witch has the ability to identify and interact with this spirit energy on which she (or he) must draw for all purposes of Craft practice. Without this natural ability there is no Old Craft witch, because as Hotspur retorts to Glendower’s claim that he can ‘call spirits from the vasty deep’. “Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?” And which particular spirit energy do we conjure for what purpose? The gentle ethereal energy of the fields and hedgerows differs quite considerably from the primitive and often menacing energy of the woods and forests; or the ever-changing seashore; while mountains and rivers generate their own mystique.
Needless to say, much of what is referred to as ‘magical energy’ often depends on what lies beneath our feet and some geological formations are better suited for magical or creative working than others; an idea mooted by Dion Fortune in her novel, The Goat-Foot God. There are, of course, many different types of rock that make up the Earth’s surface and each of them will have certain positive or negative magical-creative properties. Like all things magical, however, the Old Craft witch knows that nothing is as simple or precise as it seems. Just as the outcome in all magical and psychic exercises depend on the personal chemistry of the individual, so the blend of individuality, ability and Earth energies can combine to produce the most extraordinary results. And some things work better than others …
It is, for example, the quartz element of granite that reconnects us with the spirit of the landscape. As an accomplished Old Craft witch and having a doctorate in geology, Meriem Clay-Egerton was fascinated by the fact that for millennia humanity and quartz had interacted with each other. [Magic Crystals, Sacred Stones, Melusine Draco, Axis Mundi p.25] She wrote that our ancestors recognizing the qualities of quartz was evident from the studies of its usage, not region by region, but over the entire area of the British Isles: “Everywhere one looks there are clear distinct traces. To people who know its potential it was clearly no accidental employment of any material to hand. It was sought out for use. Why?”
She went on to explain at some length that quartz was used prolifically at prehistoric burials sites and that there was an esoteric school of thought that the quartz enabled the living to contact spirit entities “when they were in a correctly attuned state”. Standing stones (some of which are made of quartz, other may contain a high percentage of it) are accepted by magical practitioners as being able to act as conductors of ‘earth-force’, such as that encountered at nodal points for energy lines. “A quartz stone, or stones with high quartz content, will often appear in such a prominent position.”
Once we understand that quartz is very abundant in slate, it is not difficult to see why this particular material generates so much earth-energy. Magical and psychic working on slate packs a very distinctive punch, especially if the slate layers are close to the surface. Chalk, on the other hand, generates its own particular kind of energy, which is why our ancestors built their most prestigious monuments on chalkland. By contrast if we try walking through very heavy clay, it immediately becomes obvious why earth-energy is often ‘blocked’ or sluggish. Magical working on clay involves a lot of magical generating techniques by the practitioner, and unless there is a considerable amount of experience to draw on, things may take a long time to come to fruition. And despite all the wealth of crystals in the world, for the Old Craft witch, natural quartz should remain the most precious of all, since a quartz pendulum used for dowsing draws on an ancient knowledge for unlocking psychic power and seeking out information not easily obtained by any other means – especially contacting spirits of the landscape.
The genius loci or guardians of these locations are some of the strangest spirit beings we encounter since few are able to move from their native area, either because they are ‘part of the landscape’ or because they are bound to it for some other reason. Although extremely powerful and appearing to possess rational thought, they are ‘simply vast, semi-sentient well-springs of magical energy’ with the power rarely extending beyond the boundaries of the particular genius loci. If a witch is in that location at the time of posing a magical question, the energy may manifest in the form of a divinatory response, simply because an Old Craft witch provides a natural conduit for magical energy.
Christopher Tilley [A Phenomenology of Landscape] describes this phenomenon as occurring because the landscape has ancestral importance due to it being such an integral part of human development that it abounds with cultural meaning and symbolism. “Precisely because locales and their landscapes are drawn on in the day-to-day lives and encounters of individuals they possess powers. The spirit of place may be held to reside in a landscape.” Despite different locations giving a variety of explanations for the existence of this ‘spirit energy’, in a large number of instances the intelligent, magical entity simply develops from the colloquially named ‘spirit of place’ over a great deal of time.
One of the most famous examples being Wayland’s Smithy, the Neolithic long barrow and chamber tomb site located near the Uffington White Horse, close to The Ridgeway, an ancient road running along the Berkshire Downs. It has been suggested that this prehistoric site was named for a Germanic smith-god by the Saxons who settled in the area some four thousand years after Wayland’s Smithy was built; although a ‘smith-god’ association may have been linked to the site by the indigenous Pritanni many centuries before the Saxons arrived. In other locations genius loci are thought to be formed by powerful magical events, and in others the results of ley lines, dew ponds, or an equivalent natural phenomenon.
There is also a belief that many ‘sacred sites’ have their own guardians to prevent improper use of site-energies. Tom Graves [Needles of Stone] cites the reaction a group of students experienced when they decided to perform a magical working taken from a spell book on top of an ancient earth barrow at night – for a joke. Whatever happened spooked the group so badly that they panicked and ran. For days afterwards the students were plagued by the fear of being stalked, some even requiring psychiatric counseling before they were able to overcome the fear of being followed. According to Graves, it was impossible to get an exact description of what suddenly appeared on top of the barrow, as its appearance differed in each account but as any experienced magical practitioner would realize, this is characteristic of such guardians and many other kinds of nature spirit.
Natural sites also have guardians which, as Philip Heselton explains in Secret Places of the Goddess, can be sensed by both physical and Otherworld components. “Often you will find your eye drawn to some feature, a tree which is distinctive in some way, or a rock formation. You certainly get human guardians of some sites who appear from nowhere – the woman walking her dog, the old laborer, even a child. Animal guardians can also be striking – a wild animal that comes surprisingly close and watches you for longer than seems natural.”
Anthropologist Christopher Tilley also observes: “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.” This is part of an Old Craft witch’s instinctive grasp of how to behave within a ritual or sacred landscape, and to recognize the type of magical energy to be encountered there.
Equally as important is an adeptness in identifying the location of nature sprites or ‘numen’ – the spirit-essence dwelling in each natural object: a tree, a spring, the earth, or more correctly: where the presence of ‘deity’ is suspected but undetermined. As Philip Heselton observes: “Many of us had our first experience of the numinous – that living spirit which lies behind physical form – through walking in the woods. Indeed, this is so universal in those I have talked to, that I suspect it to be of a fundamental and archetypal nature.” Although numen are usually considered to be an ‘essence of deity’ rather than deity itself, the Old Craft witch treats them with the utmost reverence and respect.
The usual concept of such ‘spirits’ is of neutral powers, that might be hostile if neglected, similar to those of ancient Rome [The Religion of Ancient Rome, Cyril Bailey],which if duly placated with offerings will be friendly and give health and prosperity. As a result, any site that inspired status on account of its own magical power, became sacred because it was “the dwelling of a spirit, or had been touched by its power”. These sentiments were also expressed by the poet Ovid [Fasti, iii, 263 and 295]: “There is a lake, girt with the dark wood of the valley of Aricia, sanctified by an ancient feeling of awe …” and “There was a grove below the Aventine dark with the shade of holm-oaks, and when you saw it, you might say ‘there is a spirit there’ …”. As Cyril Bailey [ibid] points out, however, this was a cult of individual natural objects, but was in no sense a worship of the powers of nature.
A nature sprite is the kind often encountered as the guardian of an individual plant or tree. They can also be guardians of animals and of specific natural landscape features, but these spirits are bound to one particular place. There are certain places where it is easier to contact them, usually where mankind has not intruded too much into the landscape, or where the land has been largely left to look after itself. These spirits have individual personalities and it is possible to create an understanding either with an individual or with specific ‘family’ of nature spirits – especially those that venture into the house for a look around. Although long-lived, their lifespan is often connected to a tree or part of the landscape; should this be destroyed, then the nature-sprite will die.
There are, however, different kinds of nature sprites that are often referred to as ‘elementals’. Some are the naturally occurring kind usually linked to specific natural features e.g. cliffs, ponds, junctures of ley lines and can also be thought of as guardians of such places. Most need to be approached carefully, as they can be extremely temperamental. They react well to genuine emotions of sympathy, trust, and the wishing of a witch to learn, and can react quite detrimentally to cynical or disrespectful thoughts, since these creatures react to emotions and feelings, not to the spoken word. This kind of elemental does not, as a rule, move around. It will only be found in its ‘home’ location – even in the basement of a tower block, for example, if one has been built over its original home. In this confined environment they are also likened to ‘dark springs’ of energy which manifest in a similar manner to poltergeist phenomena – amateur ghost-busters resort to exorcism but it is only effective for a short period of time and never permanently as an elemental cannot be banished or destroyed.
The Old Craft witch should also be able to differentiate between the energies of the spirits residing in the woods surrounding cultivated land and those of the agricultural hedgerows per se, since the ‘wild borderland spirit’ being more in touch with untamed Nature, has the gift of prophecy. The significance of all these places of ‘time between times’ is the sometimes over-powering generation of magical energy that can be terrifying if encountered unexpectedly and not fully understood. Combine the powers of the wood-field margin with owl-light (dusk) and experience the sensation of Nature at its most raw and untamed.
These ‘spirit’ manifestations should also include mention of the Faere Folk since it is generally believed in Old Craft that the natural witch has what is usually referred to as ‘the taint of Faere blood’. There are many different theories about the origins of the Faere Folk, the most common being the one mentioned by archaeologist Margaret Murray [The Witch-Cult in Western Europe]: that faeries were the descendants of the early people of Northern Europe. Generally described as human in appearance and having immense magical power, there is an overwhelming amount of folklore surrounding them. Murray’s work may no longer be considered academically-sound but there are still many Old Craft ‘truths’ hidden in her text that cannot be found in more contemporary writings.
Alan Richardson, however, writing the Prologue for the 2005 facsimile edition of The Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns & Fairies (1691) by Robert Kirk observed that “to the people of that time faeries were not the tedious, pretty thumb-sized creatures … but other dimensional beings of real power, with their own laws, who co-existed (not always happily) with our own world, and who were linked with the ancient deities of forgotten faiths”.
To R J Stewart [Walker Between the Worlds] faeries were real beings in their own right with substantial supernatural powers, and the genius loci of the ancient world.” While Margaret Murray observed that: “The identification of the witches with that fairy race would give a clear insight into much of the civilization of the early European peoples, especially as regards their religious ideas.” While this author commented: [Traditional Witchcraft & the Pagan Revival] “It may also explain the subtle differences between traditional witches and cunning-folk, in that the ‘darker’ nature of Old Craft stemmed from the ‘taint of Faere blood’ and an inherited dislike and distrust of the human race; while cunning-folk used their natural abilities to combat the more malevolent aspects of some witchcraft for the benefit of their neighbors.”
Otherworld is the world of ‘spirit’ in its widest possible sense as Bob-Clay-Egerton explained, there are innumerable planes of existence on different levels in many dimensions of time and space. Mankind exists, physically, in one dimension of time and space. Mentally he can penetrate to other levels. Spiritually he can reach more levels. “This is similar to a trained pearl or sponge diver being able to reach very much greater depths, for longer periods, than can the untrained diver — who can, nevertheless, reach greater depths in safety than a non-swimmer. As mankind can mentally and spiritually penetrate to other levels, so other entities can penetrate to our level, in our dimension. As not all men and women are benevolent, so not all intruding entities are benevolent; as men and women differ in intelligence, so do the entities of other planes. Thus we have a variety ranging from simple, uncomplicated ‘elemental’ entities to complex and powerful ‘deific’ entities.”
These are what we refer to as discarnate entities – what Old Craft witches call upon, or communicate with, for mystical-magical purposes. They are what others may refer to as deities or gods, demons or angels – they are what we summon to the quarters to protect us, invoke into ourselves to channel magical energy, or act as a [Holy] Guardian [Angel]. What we should never lose sight of is the fact that these energies-entities can be helpful or harmful, and should be treated with the greatest respect and caution. These are cosmic energies on a very lowly level but they are far more powerful than can ever be imagined and as such can destroy if treated in a cavalier manner.
The Old Craft witch learns to understand as much about these energies as possible and is not encouraged to use eclectic mix-and-match god-forms from different cultures. Once summoned, any entity requires energy on which to feed (i.e. charge its batteries) and if not kept it under firm control, or the magical working is not closed down properly, it may continue to feed-grow until it manifests into something unpleasant and difficult to shift – which is not as rare as we would like to think! Whatever we call these ‘powers’ they do have the necessary link to the abilities and attributes that the witch strives for in the hopes of finding all she or he seeks. If the invocation is gone about in the right manner, there is no reason why this cannot be achieved – but it must be constantly born in mind that they are not interested in any human development, only their own. Only by encountering these varying aspects can the witch learn to differentiate between the positive/negative, active/passive beings that exist on other planes because for every one that will help, guide and give advice, there are the same number who will hinder, deceive and cause harm, if given the opportunity.
The most powerful energy on which an Old Craft witch can call, however, 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 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 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 traditional British Old Craft to which we claim to belong, then we will contribute nothing to the Whole when we die.
The honoring of the dead and venerating their memory 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 prehistoric remains of the numerous earth-works that the indigenous people of the British Isles and the Celts honored their ancestors; and the earliest written observations are those of the Roman Paternalia (February) and the Lemuria (May), which later spread throughout the Empire.
Interaction with these spirit-ancestors as an invisible and powerful presence is a constant feature of traditional British Old Craft, with the Ancestors remaining important members of the Tradition or people 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, with additional mystical and magical powers. Sometimes they are identified as the Holy Guardian Angel, 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 different 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 witchcraft is essentially a practical thing, the Ancestors are called upon to help find solutions to magical problems through divination, path-working and spell-casting.
Earth Mysteries & Magic
The terms gateways, portals and doorways speak for themselves, and as a witch’s magical ability develops these psychic ‘gateways’ will begin to open – maybe in one, or even several directions simultaneously. Personal advancement along the Old Craft path depends on an individual’s willingness to pass through or stay put, since these gateways open as a result of personal progress serving as an indication that the time has come to move on and to climb to the next level.
Sometimes this transition can be difficult and painful but in magical learning everything has a reason, so we must never ignore the opportunity, no matter how it strange or vague it feels. The price of an Old Craft witch’s progress can be exacting but the end result is well worth it; to ignore it will only result in personal loss (in terms of both spiritual and magical development). In time, the same situation will return and the trial begins all over again. If the opportunity is not taken, it may be many years along the line before it occurs again, in which case there are many years lost in an individual’s progress as it will be akin to starting anew; or it may not occur again in this lifetime.
Gateways or portals can appear in Circle; during meditation; or in a dream, but we should not be afraid of these blinding flashes of inspiration, as they only appear when the ‘powers that be’ feel that we are ready for them. For an experienced witch it may be a boot in the bustle to suggest they’ve spent long enough at a particular level and that it’s time to take the next step. Not taking the chance on these new openings will be the individual’s loss, since those who have chosen not to pass through these gateways, even after many years of practice remain at exactly the same level as when they first began. Their magic and understanding has never altered; their progression halted due to their own fear and misunderstanding. They have tried to batter down the door for years without success; the true Old Craft witch finds that the door swings open at just the lightest touch of a finger when the time is right.
Passing through the portal also brings awareness that there all manner of other different currents and movements on the planet that effect us on a deeper magico-mystical level [Traditional Witchcraft and the Path to the Mysteries]. Let us consider for a moment Professor Brian Cox’s comment that every blade of grass has 3.8 billion years of history written into it. Or what we often blithely refer to as ‘earth mysteries’ that can produce a mild tingling sensation, which sets the pendulum swinging; or a burst of warm energy in our hands and feet. But do we stop to think that this could be caused by the swirling molten layer under the Earth’s crust, creating the electro-magnetic field that surrounds the planet by the spinning outer crust around the solid part of the inner core? Or is our Elemental Earth just a quiet ramble in the countryside and a container of sand marking the Northern quarter?
We may sit meditating by a rippling stream, watching the sunlight dance in the water as it trips over the stones and pebbles in its path – but do we allow our minds to explore the greater picture of where that crystal clear water comes from? Do we realise that this stream began its brief chapter of life being drawn up as vapour from the ocean and falling as rain on the hills and mountain sides, before flowing down into the river valley, bringing rocks and stones tumbling in its wake? Do our magical energies focus on the stream; the rainfall on the mountain; or the ocean? Are we constantly aware of the force of that water-flow throughout the seasons – the spring floods; the summer drought; the clogging of the channel with autumn leaves and the frozen surface in winter. Or does our concept of Elemental Water begin and end with the symbolic bowl of tap water marking the Western quarter of our magic Circle?
Nothing on the planet can live without clean, breathable air but the witch needs to think beyond soft summer breezes and rainbows after a spring shower. Air is the stuff from which tornados and hurricanes are made; it brings puffs of cumulus cloud or a billowing thunderhead some 10 miles high; not to mention the thousands of feet high dust storms that are created when a monsoon collides with dry air currents above it. Or is our Elemental Air merely the smoke from a perfumed joss stick marking the Eastern quarter in our magical workings?
Fire, even in its most modest form has the capacity for destruction – a box of matches in the hands of a child, a fallen candle, or a carelessly discarded cigarette. On a grander and more epic scale, we are well acquainted by television coverage with devastating wildfires destroying anything that stands in its path; the eruption of a volcano; or the power of solar winds that reach out from the sun to interfere with electronic equipment here on Earth. Or is our contact with Element Fire restricted to a candle burning at the Southern quarter of our Circle?
These, for example, were some of the lessons taught by Bob and Meriem Clay-Egerton in the Coven of the Scales. That is wasn’t necessary to rely on group dynamics, psycho-drama, ritual, Circle casting, chanting and dancing to generate magical energy because it is there, all around us on a permanent basis. It means that a natural Old Craft witch can be on his or her contacts in seconds; knowing what type of energy, or ‘witch-power’ is needed to cure a headache, or channel the strength to walk the death-path with confidence after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. It really is a belief that can move mountains – if the application is right – and all witches draw on this natural energy to cause change through the application of Will.
In more simplistic terms, ‘witch-power’ is similar to the energy raised by tai chi – and tai chi is widely used within art and sport without any magical significance whatsoever. It is a perfectly natural energy or force that can be harnessed or tapped into on a daily basis to a greater or lesser extent. A true witch can generate the magical powers necessary by channeling this natural energy from the natural world – in its widest possible sense. Covens produce the same energy by artificial means via psycho-drama and group dynamics. Old Craft uses both methods, of course, but if a solitary witch needs to be instantly on his or her contacts, then it could be a long wait between coven meetings!
Faith In Doubt
Natural Old Craft abilities are not governed by any form of religious allegiance but rather by channeling these natural energies or powers of Nature. Those who acted in a priestly or shamanic capacity for our Pretannic ancestors, probably saw these natural forces as more abstract concepts than we do today. For them, masculine energy would be seen in terms of the hunter-protector-rutter, while feminine energy would manifest in more general terms of fecundity and the hearth. And, because mankind has always had a tendency to see images of its gods in his own likeness, we have come to see pagan deities very much cast in 20th-century form. Ironically, in giving ‘god-energy’ the outward form of the Celtic ‘horned-god’, Cernunnos and ‘goddess-energy’ the cartoon image of a ‘warrior-princess’ or a member of the pre-Raphaelite sisterhood, the true mystery of Old Craft has been lost in favor of fantasy creations. Just as Christianity promoted the ‘Madonna’ as a popular image, so Wicca has adopted a similar approach in order to give this New Age religion people-appeal.
What it is important to understand, however, is that neither Wicca nor the modern trend of eclectic paganism, is NOT synonymous with Old Craft; it may utilize many of the trappings of Old Craft but Old Craft will always be a matter of ability, not religious conviction. In purely magical terms, it is not possible to up-end these ancient concepts just because they are at odds with 20th-century political correctness. A traditional British Old Craft witch was probably more often than not, seen taking part in Christian observances, and still refers to the seasonal festivals by the ‘mass’ celebrated within the church calendar of the time.
The ‘God of the Witches’ concept was one coined by Margaret Murray in her book of the same name, first published in 1931 as an anthropological study. Around the same time, Gerald Gardner inaugurated the tradition that we now know as ‘Gardnerian’, based on alleged rituals from a group based in the New Forest. Margaret Murray endorsed these claims by penning the Preface to Gardner’s own book, Witchcraft Today, a rag-bag of folk-lore, superstition, history and anthropology but the elevation of the ‘goddess’ within Gardnerian rituals was predominantly his own.
For the purposes of Old Craft technique, it is important to accept the energies associated with the male-female aspects of magic and not transpose the concept of the loving, caring mother-goddess of Wicca-Christianity into Old Craft working. The female-goddess energy within Nature is just a red in tooth and claw as male-god energy; both are equally as merciless as the other. It is also important to understand that this energy (whether male or female) is neither malevolent nor benevolent, it is merely natural energy waiting to be harnessed for use in Old Craft magic.
Nevertheless, it is amongst the trees of ancient woodland that we come face to face with the Old One, or in some cases, are pursued by Him. Who has not experienced the Presence when walking alone in the woods and suddenly feeling that we are being hunted, or that rushing feet are coming up behind us, only to turn and confront – nothing? Except for the unearthly sound of laughter fading in the undergrowth.
Although not generally acknowledged, there are still areas of the forest, known as the Wild Wood that are dark and untamed where unearthly and potentially dangerous beings are still to be found. This is not always welcoming and many urban witches never get over an ‘atavistic fear of Nature uncontrolled’ [Traditional Witchcraft for Woods & Forests]. On a magical level, the Wild Wood refers to those strange, eerie places that remain the realm of the ‘horned god’ and untamed by man. Ancient gnarled oaks, festooned with ferns and draped with lichen, carry an air of solitude and remoteness that is deeply unnerving – here birdsong and the trickle of the stream are the only sounds to break the silence. This is the realm of Pan – the Renaissance image of Pan Pangenetor, the All-Begetter – creative energy in its most material form. Here among the trees, we are never sure that what we see is reality or illusion.
Old Craft, although not a religion, is a belief – a belief in one’s own abilities and in the ‘Power’ that fuels the Universe; and a faith – faith in one’s own abilities and in the ‘Power’ that fuels the Universe. This is not generally seen as gender specific but in truth, Old Craft does lean towards the male aspect since the female remains veiled and a mystery. In other words, the ‘God’ is the public face of traditional British Old Craft while the ‘Goddess’ remains in the shadows, revered and shielded by her protector. Not because she is some shy and defenseless creature but because face to face she would be too terrible to look upon! Or as the scientist who discovered the deadly Marburg filovirus observed when he saw the virus particles [The Hot Zone, Richard Preston]: “They were white cobras tangled among themselves, like the hair of Medusa. They were the face of Nature herself, the obscene goddess revealed naked … breathtakingly beautiful.” The secrets of Old Craft comes from the understanding of these things because it is not possible to convey the true meanings of our Ways to a cowan, or ‘outsider’ who has not experienced these Mysteries for themselves.
Nevertheless, Bob Clay-Egerton brought everything full circle [Coven of the Scales: The Collected Writings of A R Clay-Egerton] when he described the Power of the One in pure animistic terms. “The Almighty is everything, physical and non-physical, literally everything and therefore incomprehensible to our finite understanding. Being everything, the Almighty is male and female and neuter – not just a male entity. All things are created in the image of the Almighty because the Almighty is every part of everything. The Almighty has no specific regard or concern for one species – i.e. mankind, among millions of species on one insignificant minor planet, in an outer arm of a spiral galaxy which is one among millions.”
When calling upon such entities it is also necessary to adopt the correct approach and invocation and evocation are terms which are frequently misused, due to the misunderstanding of their exact meaning. This is because in the correct use of the term, the Old Craft witch calls upon a ‘god-power’ or higher level of intelligence to possess him or her. To take over the invoker’s body so that they become that entity and possesses the power of deity. This means we take a specific god- or goddess-form into ourselves and give up, albeit temporarily, the control of our body by inviting the entity to take control. The taking over, or coming in, is the operative element, so it is simple to remember that invocation is the plea for deity to come in and accept that only possession by the required ‘deity’ or god-power is the intended result.
“It is not, therefore, necessary to intentionally invoke a particular entity; it is sufficient to put the mind into a state suitable to allow possession by another entity. To do so is to open a psychic doorway through which a discarnate entity or extra-terrestrial intelligence may enter a mind suitably, if only temporarily, adapted so that it may control the earthly body. The danger can arise that the person who puts themselves into this state (or allows themselves to be put into a suitable state) for possession, may have no control over what level of extra-terrestrial intelligence takes the advantage.”
In contrast, evocation is the calling on lesser entities or extra-terrestrial intelligences such as demons; though less than ‘god-forms, these entities may yet be as powerful and/or dangerous. As a protection, the summoner usually stands in a protective circle and calls upon the desired entity to manifest in a specially prepared, restrictive triangle of conjuration. The invoker calls ‘in’ a god-form, to bring their macrocosmic force to the human microcosm, but the evoker becomes the symbolic macrocosm and calls forth the elemental intelligences to manifest in the microcosmic triangle. But what is the summoner to do with this power or energy?
Bob Clay-Egerton explained that it can’t be kept permanently because the human body is not designed or intended for such a purpose. One discharges the power in some way by using it to animate a thought form to perform some task. It may be transferred to a weapon or talisman in the form of a charge; or it may be passed on to members of a group. The power must be used or transmitted in some way as only by its use is it effective. A charged talisman or weapon is like a storage battery. The power it has received can be discharged when necessary to some purpose which eliminates the need for a complete invocation every time the power is needed. Atavars of gods and goddesses, and high grade Adepts may not need a ceremony to invoke their deities. With such people it may be accomplished in seconds and the power sent out or ‘earthed’, which can be a little disconcerting to an inexperienced witch who witnesses it. With magical evocation it is necessary before attempting to control the lesser entities, to invoke and be possessed of the power of a deity. “Above all it must be remembered that one must have sincerity of intention,” he concluded.
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. To a pre-dynastic Egyptian, for example, the goddess 3st was a modest deity identified with Osiris; later the cult of Isis spread into Greek and Roman society becoming so popular in later days that she absorbed the qualities of many of the other deities – male and female. Early Christianity found it easier to incorporate the mother and child image into its own canon rather than suppress it; while in modern times she has become the greatly diluted mother- goddess of the Fellowship of Isis – so far removed from the god-power of the ancient Nile valley that she would be seen as an alien entity by those early worshippers.
The spirits of the landscape, however, 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 The Goat-Foot God, Dion Fortune observed that the power-centres such as Stonehenge and Avebury “have all been exorcised long ago” mainly by the tramp of idle sight-seers who have polluted these popular tourist sites by their sheer numbers. In more secluded spots, the spirits of Old Pretanni survive in remote ancient monuments, isolated lakes, the rural landscape, and in the depths of the Wild Wood 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’.
And yet by studying our native folklore there are many echoes of these old beliefs in the recorded versions made by puritanical Victorians who were unable to differentiate between the two thin strands that linked traditional British Old Craft with the customs of our ancestors. The cult of the cunning-men and women preserved the old wisdom in the form of charms and healing aimed at thwarting the attentions of malevolent Faere-Folk and witches. The latter, with their knowledge of magic and Otherworld (and ‘taint of Faere blood’) were not adverse to using the energy generated by Church ritual, which is supported by the fact that a great deal of preserved authentic Craft-lore is based on the medieval, or pre-Reformation Church calendar.
In similar context, one of the most influential and controversial documents for the 20th-century pagan revival was Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches with its over-tones of Roman mythology and Catholicism, compiled by Charles G Leland and published in 1899. Purported to be of Etruscan lineage, Leyland’s informant took eleven years to compile the manuscript, which is made up of spells, blessings, rituals, stories and myths surrounding: “Diana is Queen of the Witches; an associate of Herodias (Aradia) in her relations to sorcery; that she bore a child to her brother the Sun (here Lucifer); that as a moon-goddess she is in some relation to Cain, who dwells as prisoner in the moon …”.
Aradia is a slim volume composed of fifteen chapters, the first ten of which are presented as being Leland’s translation of the ‘Vangelo’ manuscript given to him by his source, Maddalena. The remaining five comprise of material Leland believed to be relevant to the Vangelo, and acquired during his research into Italian witchcraft, while working on his Etruscan Roman Remains and Legends of Florence. A fierce debate has always surrounded the authenticity of the Vangelo manuscript itself but regardless of the reliability of its source, the real gems can be found in the ‘Notes’ that Leland affixed to each chapter. As this author remarked in Traditional Witchcraft & the Pagan Revival, there are numerous echoes of traditional British Old Craft in Aradia in those ‘Notes’, which came from Charles Leland’s own folklore researches.
Nevertheless, human intelligence and curiosity being what it is, the modern Old Craft witch’s motto must surely be that line from a T S Eliot’s poem: ‘We shall not cease from our exploration’. And as a result, they will eventually seek to embellish those natural abilities with input from ritual and ceremonial magic, while enhancing the spiritual aspects of belief by exploring the highways and byways of the mystical Qabalah, coupled with the insight and poetry of the Tarot. Some will experiment with the techniques of the Masonic-inspired Golden Dawn rituals; the bittersweet philosophy and magick of Thelema; doctrines of the East and West; or the paths and traditions of the Ancient World. In the fullness of time, however, this exploration will lead to the recognition that the thread leading us through this esoteric labyrinth is as familiar and yet as alien as the resonance of a singing Tibetan prayer bowl echoing out across time and space – pulling us back to our roots. We do indeed ‘arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time …
Traditional British Old Craft remains an oral tradition and much can still be found in our native folklore that resonates with those schooled in this more primitive form of witchcraft that is not reliant on group dynamics and psycho-drama to raise magical energy. And while an Old Craft witch can continue to find solace amongst the forests and woodland, lakes and mountains, in the rural landscape and on the seashore, the spirit-energies that power our belief will continue to endure.
Author biography: Mélusine Draco originally trained in the magical arts of traditional British Old Craft with Bob and Mériém Clay-Egerton and is now an Initiate. She has been a magical and spiritual instructor for over 20 years, and author of numerous popular books on witchcraft and magic. Her highly individualistic teaching methods and writing draw on ancient sources, supported by academic texts and current archaeological findings. www.covenofthescales.com
Her Traditional Witchcraft series is published by Moon Books: Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living, Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore Traditional Witchcraft for Fields and Hedgerows and Traditional Witchcraft for Woods and Forests, Traditional Witchcraft and the Pagan Revival together with The Dictionary of Mystery & Magic, By Spellbook & Candle, Aubry’s Dog, Black Horse, White Horse, Divination, Western Animism and The Power of the Elements. Magic Crystals, Sacred Stones and The Atum-Re Revival are published by Axis Mundi.
Published by Ignotus Press UK: Wort-Lore: the Craft of Witches, CRONE!, Root & Branch: British Magical Tree Lore; and Old Year, Old Calendar, Old Ways.