As I’ve said before, and no doubt I’ll say it again, writing about witchcraft is easy. Finding the right theme isn’t. Any fool can pass themselves off as a witch but finding an informative and entertaining approach for a new book is a whole different cauldron of knowledge. Personally, I feel there should be a magical purpose behind any book on Craft – otherwise it’s all been said before – and usually better …
Because humankind 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 ancient witchcraft has been lost in favor of fantasy creations. Just as Christianity promoted the Madonna as a popular image, so modern paganism often adopts a similar approach to the Mother-Goddess in order to give this new religion ‘people appeal’.
For the purposes of Old Craft technique, however, it is important to accept the energies associated with these archaic male-female aspects of magic and not transpose the concept of the loving, caring Great Mother Goddess of Wicca-Christianity into Old Craft working. The female-goddess energy within Nature is just as ‘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 magic rites.
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 self and in that ‘Power’. 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: ‘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 …
We also accept that the physical worldly embodiment of the goddess – Mother Nature – is neither caring nor motherly and when she wants to cut up rough – she will, without a thought for anything, or anyone. In the guise of ‘The Goddess’ she is usually seen as spending her days caring for her many children who inhabit and shape the landscape – often portrayed in trailing garments composed of lush plants, colorful flowers, and sinuous woody shapes. In most depictions she is meditative, embodying the spirit of the mythological ‘mother’ in Nature firmly entering the zeitgeist as a figure akin to a synergetic composite of Burne-Jones in the later 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.
Over previous decades, however, the archaeo-mythological work of Professor Marija Gimbutas was revealing a far more primal approach to discovering the persona of this ‘hidden’ goddess of Old Europe. Not unexpectedly, her theories have been dismissed by many of her fellow archaeologists but like Carl Jung and Margaret Murray, whose work suffered similar professional scorn, there are elements that ‘speak’ to us on a more subliminal level. As writer Allen Bennett once observed it’s that moment in reading when you come across something … ‘a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.’ It was as if, in discovering the writings of Marija Gimbutas, the tectonic platese of archaeo-mythologica (Old Europe) and esoteria (Old Craft) collided – and made complete sense of the way we viewed this ‘hidden’ Primal Goddess within our own Tradition.
We also found ourselves asking, but where exactly was this ‘Old European’ culture located? Between c7000 and c3500BC the inhabitants of this region developed a much more complex social organisation than their western and northern neighbours. In the Goddesses & Gods of Old Europe, this area is designated as extending from the Aegean and Adriatic, including the islands of Sicily and Crete, as far north as Czechoslovakia, southern Poland, the western Ukraine and parts of Anatolia. Suggesting that the earliest possible representations are those prehistoric ‘Venus’ figurines found from Western Europe to Siberia – all sharing the same characteristics of pendulous breasts, sagging stomachs and buttocks; but more importantly the heads are small and featureless, i.e., without identity.
In reality, almost all Neolithic goddesses are composite images with an accumulation of traits from the pre-agricultural and agricultural eras. Those ‘buxom wenches’ with their massive thighs, breasts and buttocks that suggest a prehistoric society weaned on junk food, or suffering from a thyroid dysfunction were only one aspect of the goddess. In other sculptures of the time we see lithe, elegant figures of the Cycladic and Stargazer imagery, and the sinuous grace of the engraved rock ‘dancers’ from the cave of Addaura in Sicily.
Nevertheless, they all share a distinctive feature of a strong but featureless face: her image remains hidden because we are deliberately prevented from seeing the true face of this Primal Goddess. A concept that was rejuvenated with the replacing of the sculpted face of Cybele with … ‘a certain [black meteorite] stone of no great size, which could be carried in a man’s hand without exerting any pressure on him, dusky black in colour, uneven with some edges projecting, and which we all see today placed in that very image in lieu of a face, rough and uncut, giving to the image a countenance by no means life-like …’ [Arnobius, c255-330AD]
In the Power of Images, Professor David Freedberg offers up the explanation that this sacred stone, like many others, was deliberately left unworked because it was in that state that its sacredness resided. ‘Shaping it would presumably have deprived it of its sacred content, or, at least diminished it; the only course left was to have it set in such a way as to emphasise or make plain its divine status.’ Even as late as Imperial Roman, when copies of Classic Greek beauty were demanded by the interior designers of the day, these enigmatic faceless matrons were still thought of as sacred. ‘For 5th-century beholders that ‘face’ [of Demeter in the Museum at Cyrene] can hardly but have generated as association with the kinds of mysterious powers so often associated with unworked stones,’ Freedberg concluded.
And that feeling of ‘faceless’ wonder trickles down to the present day, causing the Curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art to comment: “All we can do is speculate on the creative and spiritual forces that created this beautiful and mystical figure that symbolises our search for the divine.” But because of the way we’ve been schooled in the art of witchcraft, Old Craft witches are more likely to ‘see’ their goddess figure in terms of the Stargazer; while contemporary paganism appears to favour the predominantly medievalist forms of Burne-Jones and Rossetti.
It is an inescapable fact that this ‘hidden’ Primal Goddess of Old Europe remains a tangible power that can be tapped into and channelled for magical, mystical and spiritual reasons. It is the elusive power that is released into us at the moment of Initiation when we come face to face with deity and we may look upon the face of the Primal Goddess for the first and last time.
Nevertheless, for Old Crafters the Primal Goddess remains a sigil and symbol, allegory and metaphor, and we learn how to follow her by respecting the world she has created. She is Creatrix, Death-Wielder and Regeneratrix – the eternal triple deity. And the reason we say she is too terrible to look upon is due to the realisation that in her eyes, our lives are worth no more than that of an ant or hover-fly. And, as and when we meet her face to face, it is with the understanding that she is not the benevolent Mother-figure of popular paganism; she is a disinterested but not dysfunctional being whom we approach with awe and reverence
Author biography: Mélusine Draco is an Initiate of traditional British Old Craft and the Khemetic Mysteries. Originally trained in Old Craft 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 on the Egyptian Mysteries, traditional witchcraft and magical practice.
Pagan Portals: Seeking the Primal Goddessby Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books ISBN 978 1 78904 256 6 UK£6.99/US$10.95 and available in paperback and e-book format.