Philip Wright and Carrie West are the authors of Coven Working and Death & the Pagan. They were early members of Coven of the Scales when it was formed by Bob and Meriem Clay-Egerton following their move to Newcastle and have since run their own teaching coven in St Albans for well over twenty years until its recent disbanding. The long history of the Moonraker-CoS Coven has always been close knit and often beset with troubles resulting from both internal and external causes but unlike many of those that were around back in the day, they are gratified to see that CoS goes from strength to strength.
‘Traditional British Old Craft is often frowned upon by millennial-witches for its elitist, hierarchical and god-based structure but it has been provably in existence since the mid 1880s and has managed to survive to keep the spirit of ‘true’ Craft alive despite the often overwhelming odds. We as old-timers are proud to have this as our heritage …’
Round About the Cauldron Go … is a rummage around in their personal magical journals to produce a witch’s coven calendar that is as relevant today as it was for our Old Craft forebears. This is the opening for the first draft to wet your appetite …
PART I: SUMMER: Calan Haf-Beltaine
The whole essence of traditional British Old Craft is closely bound to the natural tides that govern our planet. When we organise our own Coven activities, these are focused on drawing down an elemental power to synchronise with the traditional Sabbats/Esbats, thus ensuring the Coven develops a ‘group mind’ of its own that nonetheless periodically needs to be recharged via group ritual. This also explains why Old Crafters synchronise those rituals to coincide with the Old Julian Calendar that links us directly to the power of the Ancestors. Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood. The modern Gregorian calendar is now fourteen days out of alignment and had been thirteen days adrift since March 1900 – but magically as miss is as good as a mile!
A witch needs to be on familiar, operational-terms with these times and tides of the witch’s year – not just the solar and lunar tides but the oceanic, earth and atmospheric tides that can also enhance our magical workings. We must also understand that some tides are more beneficial than others for recharging the ‘group mind’ of the Coven so that we as individuals can draw upon these currents of elemental power to energise our own spells at any time. This elemental power is marked in the charting of the stars, and while the stars are not generally used as sources of power they can act as a celestial barometer for the calendaric ebb and flow. This is the witch-power we channel when we work magic – either singly or as a group – and it makes sense to take these various different tides into consideration and utilise them to our best advantage whenever we can. There’s nothing to stop us from working against the tide but this is self-defeating when it is easier to go with the natural flow of Nature..
The eight great fire festivals are marked by the Equinoxes and Solstices of the solar year, with the four traditional celebrations of Old Beltaine, Old Lammas, Old Hallowe’en and Old Candlemas making up the eight Sabbats of the witch’s year. The fire festivals occur at the beginning of each quarter of the solar-tide cycle with Candlemas marking the end of the reign of the Holly King and heralding the first stirrings of the bright tide of summer. At the turbulent tide of the Vernal Equinox, the bright and dark tides are equally balanced with the bright tide on the increase; Beltaine marked the traditional beginning of summer, which reached its height around the Midsummer Solstice. From here it begins to wane as we progress through the sacred time of harvest …
Fire is the focus of our Coven meetings – either as a symbolic fire-pit in the garden, or a more ambitious cooking fire in the great outdoors where we celebrate a fire festival with a shared meal around the glowing embers. Fire gives light and warmth but it is also extremely destructive if not properly contained – its symbolism is wildly varied depending on the circumstances of its use. Within the Coven it is seen as the only one of the four elements we can create for ourselves and therefore it is the link between gods and mortals whether generated by a roaring bonfire or from a simple candle flame.
Needless to say, it is necessary to take some form of precautionary measures in hand in order to guard against inadvertently causing wild-fire because not every coven is fortunate enough to have a former fire-chief amongst their members! And while controlled fire can be beneficial for the environment, one caused by flying sparks or an inadequately extinguished bonfire can be devastating in a season of very dry weather. Ideally, all witches working outdoors should hold a Craft equivalent of the scouting fire-safety merit badge, since one coven of our acquaintance regularly lit their bonfire with a whole box of fire-lighters and a bottle of white spirit! It’s a wonder the whole wood didn’t go up in flames and them with it.
The cauldron is, of course, a traditional witch’s possession. The originals were made of cast iron and used to feed the family group; while small reproductions are now used to burn loose incense on a charcoal disc, to make black salt (used in banishing rituals), for mixing herbs, or to burn paper spells (with Names of Power or wishes written on them). Cauldrons symbolize the ‘goddess’ and when miniatures versions are placed on an altar they represent Elemental Earth because used in this capacity it is a working tool. There are numerous myths and legends cast around this most functional of coven equipment and whilst the symbolism is all part of our folk-heritage, our version was used for the purpose for which it was intended: to cook enough food for a large group of people – to symbolize plenty.
In truth, genuine cast iron, three-legged pot-bellied cauldrons are rare indeed and they weigh a ton. A witch-friend was lucky enough to have a monster gifted to her and decided that it would be used to celebrate the next fire festival. Now their working site was a wondrous place but getting to it could be likened to a commando assault course. By the time this weighty vessel had been lugged across two fields and over a small ravine, half the contents had been spilled (to the benefit of the local wild-life) and the Man in Black was developing definite homicidal thoughts towards his Lady. The exercise was not repeated and after that single outing the cauldron stayed at home beside the hearth filled with dried grasses and flowers.
Our acceptable alternative is the army field kitchen ‘dixie’ (that Phillip remembers from his scouting days) and like many army terms ‘dixie’ is of Indian origin, from the Hindi degshi for cooking pot. These are large three-gallon oval pots with lids and can literally contain enough to feed an army! Dixies are available from army surplus stores and websites at only a fraction of the weight and cost of an antique cauldron – witches have always learned to adapt and improvise – and a dixie is perfect for outdoor cooking.
Another traditional item that comes under the same heading is the witch’s knife and most ‘real’ knives – as opposed to ceremonial or reproduction items – would certainly be classed as illegal to carry in any public place. For that reason we have always recommended our Coven members invest in a second ritual blade in the form of a utilitarian Swiss Army knife that is cleansed and consecrated in the normal way but which can be carried almost anywhere (except in carry-on luggage on an aircraft) without let or hindrance. Since witches generally claim that the only reason they carry a ritual knife is for wort-collecting, the Swiss Army knife allows us to do this without running the risk of spending a night in the cells! Philippe is never without his (consecrated) Swiss Army blade that he’s carried since boyhood, and besides, some fool always forgets the corkscrew!
As glamorous as it sounds, al fresco witchcraft is not practical without a lot of preparation. After many years, however, we eventually got it sussed – one arrives at the site well in advance, lights the fire and sets the pre-cooked stew to keep warm – by using a tripod and a hanging pot. Supper was often transported in insulated containers to keep it as hot as possible and emptied into the cooking pot so that the delicious smell greeting the coven made all the extra effort worth-while. Perfectly adequate tripods and pot sets can now be purchased from Amazon at a reasonable price. Purists, of course, will insist on doing everything from scratch on site but unless the coven members have cast iron stomachs they’ll still be sitting there waiting for the ‘feast’ when the sun comes up. But it’s a guaranteed way of causing Irritable Witch Syndrome in even the most resolute of coven members.
Camp-fire cookery is an art in itself and since the whole idea of a Sabbat gathering is to generate power, the Dame and Magister need to be able to organise seamless rituals that aren’t marred by catering problems. Nevertheless, by synchronising our own CoS rituals with the days of the Old Calendar we are drawing down the power of the Ancestors to re-charge the ‘group-mind’ of the present Coven. By utilising power that has accumulated down through the centuries from successive generations of witches who gathered together to celebrate their Sabbat/Esbat on this very day over hundreds of years previously, we are ensuring that Old Craft survives into the next century. Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood’… linking those that are kindred by token of a common ancestry and a united by a blood-bond to the Ancestors.
Round About the Cauldron Go will be published by Ignotus Press Uk early in the New Year 2020.