Introduced by Melusine Draco
The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy is like Marmite … you either love it or hate it. Fans of the series are aware of the story behind the trilogy. How the authors were unhappy with the proposed ideas for publishing the first book as humour instead of the polemic typescript they had originally proposed. They finally agreed for the text to be given to me (as a fellow Old Crafter) to ghost-write and Coarse Witchcraft: Craft Working was duly created – provoking more good natured laughter about British witchcraft than we could have expected in our wildest dreams.
The ‘Coven’ was a genuine, real-life traditional group, and the ‘stories’ all actual biographical happenings – and although I do confess to taking some liberties with the dramatis personae, other names were changed to protect the stupid. Any bare patches were filled by other Old Crafters who had plenty of stories of their own to tell and contribute them they did! While surprisingly, a large number of people wanted to identify with those petulant, waspish, curmudgeonly, liverish and often not so loveable characters who were willing to give a rare glimpse into the Circle of Old Craft practice.
Even esoteric author and long-time chum, Alan Richardson, said of the book: ‘Coarse Witchcraft made me laugh out loud in more than a few places. In fact, I think it is the first book of its kind; although it pokes fun at modern excesses and can laugh at itself, it still manages to teach the real stuff at a very high level.’ In its own way, the Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy represents a small but important time-capsule of Craft history during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s that we have been lucky enough to preserve for the next generations of witches.
With the benefit of hindsight, Coarse Witchcraft: Craft Working stillrepresents a pretty fair and accurate snapshot of ‘the Craft scene’ during the 1980’s – a scene that has fallen out of favour with the current generation of witches simply for the reason that they object to what they see as the strong elitist, hierarchical and patriarchal elements of the time. Craft of the 1980s is not, these days, considered entirely proper; its outmoded concepts such as loyalty, rank, merit and reward are frowned upon, regardless of the fact that Old Crafters could also see the absurdity, the tragedy and the rascality of those who should have attained them but either fell short, or deliberately flouted the rules. Then, we found it all mildly comic and relished the gossip of the whole ‘shooting match’ and this attitude was reflected in the writing of Craft Working.
Much to everyone’s astonishment Coarse Witchcraft was a great success and was on its way to becoming a cult-classic. There was almost enough material left from the first book to launch a second: Coarse Witchcraft 2: Carry On Crafting, with plans for a third. It was dedicated to all those Crafters who believe that reverence should be tempered with mirth and merriment – and was as equally well received as the first. There was, however, an element creeping into Craft of the 1990s that reflected the growing attitude of the in-coming generation who felt no obligation to the past – only gratifications to which they all felt they had a ‘right’. As for merit and reward, the whole idea was distasteful to them as the general consensus was that anything or everything within Craft tradition available to one person should be shared, as of ‘right’ between them all. They simply failed to understand the humour, sadness, roguery or irony of instances in which Craft-lore was accidentally or otherwise breached. Instead disapproval was voiced and judgements made … and unfortunately no jokes were seen or savoured.
For reasons that quickly become apparent upon reading, the third (and last) title, Coarse Witchcraft 3: Cold Comfort Coven was a long time in the writing. Despite the popularity of the books, the original authors decided to hand all copyright back to the ghost-writer who had created the series (with the proviso that the real names of the characters should never be revealed), and retire from the scene. Cold Comfort Coven was written in the same vein as the previous titles, and in its own way continues the unexpected, but true, story of the Coven from the numerous notes supplied by, and lengthy conversations with, the original members. In its own way the Trilogy is also a valuable piece of history of traditional British Old Craft but during the 2000s attitudes were hardening against the practices of the old approaches to witchcraft and all it stood for.
When we compiled Coarse Witchcraft: Craft Working, there was the honest intention of trying to reveal some of the Old Ways without becoming too dogmatic about the manner in which things should be done, or breaking any oaths; tempering any high-handedness with humour and hefty dollops of silliness. To a certain extent this idea worked and the majority of readers have laughed with us (and at themselves) but several years down the line the mood changed. And to make no bones about it … it was no fun anymore. As a consequence of all these changes there followed an almost deliberate attempt to re-write history which none of the old-timers recognize.
Once we fumble our way past beginner stage within Craft learning, we quickly come to realise that witchcraft is a tantalizing system of opposites: black/white, negative/positive, active/passive, male/female, dark/light, day/night and that the opposite of ‘good’ isn’t necessarily ‘evil’ – or even lukewarm wicked! And once we reach the path of the Initiate, we find that things haven’t changed much, except that we now understand we know nothing and have to begin all over again by looking at life, witch-magic and the Universe from a completely different perspective. In fact, darkness regularly comes to us all as the Earth spins on its axis and another part of the world gets to see the light. And we must always remember that even in the deepest and most authentic esoteric book-learning there are always bits missing!
In a recent article on Ancient Origins website: ‘Rapidly Closing American Churches Are Shadowed by the Meteoric Rise i9n Witchcraft’ highlighted the new political category of witchcraft – ‘feminist witch’ – a blatant mainstreaming of mysticism, and the politicisation of ancient craft, quite clearly aimed at liberal millennial women, who ‘are already involved in yoga and meditation, mindfulness, and new-age spirituality. Adding sympathetically that the elders of witchcraft, who have been practicising since the 1960s and earlier, must facepalm in frustration and dismay at these ‘space-age mutations’ of the old ways.
Unfortunately, the new generation of witches likes to do things their own way these days, even if it’s the wrong way – since much that passes for modern witchcraft is magically sterile due to the rejection of the history, traditions and lore of Craft. These are linked to energies so ancient that they are buried deep within the depository of the collective unconscious, while modern imagery has come about much too recently to act as direct conduits. For the Old Ones these lines of communication are dead – and the mistake often made is in assimilating modern eclectic usage with witchcraft’s ancient past, where too many outside (or alien) influences are allowed to creep into the equation.
Traditional witchcraft acknowledges the natural – and essential – polarity between the sexes and can’t be bothered with what passes for the contemporary mainstreaming of what is in reality a very old art. The Old Craft covens that continue to exist in the shadows still maintain those ancient links and retain those elitist, hierarchical and patriarchal elements; while those who continue to seek them out have no problem in coming to terms with the traditional values of the teaching.
In 2008 Daniel Schulke approached Michael Howard, editor of the British witchcraft and folklore journal The Cauldron, about co-editing and producing a witchcraft anthology for Three Hands Press – Hands of Apostacy. 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.
Though these forms of the Old Craft were 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. 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.
The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy chronicles three decades and reveals what it was like to be a practicing Old Craft witch during the 1980s and 1990s, and into the 2000s when the Coven disbanded. It is easy to mourn the passing of the ‘good old days’ and to lament that ‘things were no longer like it was back then … but in truth, it never was like it was!
But I guess you had to have been there …
The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy by Rupert Percy and Gabrielle Sidonie is published by Moon Books : ISBN 987 1 78279 285 : UK£10.99/US$18.95 : 256 pages ¨in paperback and e-book format.