Ten Voices of Influence by Melusine Draco

Those of us who’ve been rattling around for a while are often asked which have been the greatest influences on our way of thinking about life, magic, the Universe and everything … and it’s not always an easy question to answer.   It must also be remembered that the collective terms of ‘paganism’ and ‘Wicca’ were not in general use at the time. Contemporary paganism grew from the explosion of interest in world religions and ancient revivalism during the 60s and 70s; as a name for the religion, ‘Wicca’ developed in Britain during the 1960s, although it is not known who precisely invented the term. The first recorded use of the word ‘Wicca’ appears in 1962, and it had been popularised to the extent that several British practitioners founded a newsletter called The Wiccan in 1968 …

Dion Fortune

My first introduction to ‘serious occultism’ was via the novels of Dion Fortune and she was instrumental in encouraging the interests of many of my generation.  Her fictional works – The Demon LoverThe Winged BullThe Goat-Foot God, and The Sea Priestess: Moon Magic, was left unfinished but completed by her protégé and published posthumously – were more accessible to the reader than her explicit, non-fiction texts and made the approach to magic appear natural and easy – providing the correct procedures were followed. Her work as an occultist, and both the creator and heir of several occult traditions, including the Golden Dawn in post-war England added to her credibility and led to a deep breath before tackling The Mystical Qabalah and Psychic Self-Defence. Her writing became the bench-mark against which other magical teaching could be compared – and all too often found lacking.

Richard Cavendish

Quoted from the Obituary Daily Telegraph: Richard Cavendish , who died aged 86, was an authority on magic, myth and witchcraft and ,whose bestseller The Black Arts caught the imagination of spiritual questers at the tail end of the 1960s. Cavendish himself was agnostic about the beliefs and practices he documented. Many of them, he conceded, were ‘liberally embellished with lunacy’. He was friendly with white [sic] witches and would happily visit Stonehenge with druids, but he was careful not to dice with the dark arts. He viewed the whole area with a mixture of fascination and respect, and he understood its appeal. “I think basically it is a terrific reaction against materialism,” he told an interviewer in 1970. “They are turning towards mysticism and yoga because all these things involve looking inside yourself for the truth. The current catchphrase, ‘doing your own thing’, is very applicable to magic and mysticism.” 

Dabbling in astrology, black magic and necromancy was all the rage at the time of the book’s publication in 1967, and the notorious occultist and voluptuary Aleister Crowley had been reinterpreted as an exemplar of countercultural freedom. According to Gary Lachman, The Black Arts (subtitled An Absorbing Account of Witchcraft, Demonology, Astrology and Other Mystical Practices Throughout the Ages) ‘was part of Mick Jagger’s favourite bedside reading’. Anthony Powell in The Daily Telegraph described it as ‘the standard work on contemporary occultism’.  It was later republished as The Magical Arts by Arkana.

As an author he was scholarly but breezy in style and always aiming at a general audience. “It’s these odd corners of the human mind that I find fascinating,” he said. “What excites me too, about all these subjects, is the marvellous poetry and insight on human nature and the situation of man in the world.”  Which was a refreshing approach to the subject back in the 60s and 70s and meant that the 24-volume set Man, Myth & Magic, which he subsequently edited and contributed to, had a healthy subscription base from the start.

Man, Myth & Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural was an encyclopaedia of the supernatural including magic, mythology and religion and originally published as a British weekly magazine by BPC Publishing, Ltd, commencing in 1970, and continued for 112 issues spanning 1,000 articles with some 5,000 illustrations, many of them in full colour.  My battered set still occupies a place of honour on my bookshelves and I can remember avidly reading each issue – whilst not always understanding most of it at the time!

Paul Huson

Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks and Covens was published in 1970 by G.P. Putnams – the first mainstream publisher to produce a do-it-yourself manual for the would-be witch or warlock [sic].  The book has been described as one of the main motivators of the so-called ‘occult explosion’ of the 1970s; it was regarded as one of the chief sources of information and ritual for ‘non-Wiccan and non-feminist witchcraft’.

For many starting out in the 1970s, and continuing to the present day, this book gave/and still gives some folk the jitters; it was described as ‘A genuine vade mecum for those who want a ‘do it yourself kit in witchcraft’ by the Catholic HeraldMastering Witchcraft took a different approach; is it all inclusive; no, but it provides the basics, although  there are parts that have not aged quite as well … Then there’s the chapter on forming a coven; the information contained in it was, at the time, not generally shared in print, but is fairly common knowledge now, as such things go. But yes, the coven rituals are ‘correct’.  His Mastering Herbalism was also a welcome edition to our bookshelf as it discussed the mind-expanding powers of herbs.

While still a student at the Slade, he studied the Qabalah and the Western Esoteric Tradition with Dion Fortune’s Society of the Inner Light; in 1964 he worked as a research assistant at the American Society of Psychical Research in New York. In 1965 he studied the history and practices of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Stella Matutina under the aegis of Israel Regardie. 

Chris Bray

of Sorcerer’s Apprentice fame remains one of my occult heroes: imposing, charismatic and irascible … and while he didn’t suffer fools, he would always give of his time and expertise to genuine magical questers.  I worked with him during the SAFF years when he was fighting the dreaded SCRAM (Satanic Child Ritual Abuse Myth) allegations and I was researching Malleus Satani and was interested to pick up on the Tony Rhodes’ (Director SAFF) post on the wyrduk blog, acknowledging the comments from the people that Chris Bray has helped in extremis, quietly and without fanfare over the decades. ‘Free-thinkers like us owe him a great debt … Having someone willing to take it on the chin, like him, and hold out for everyone’s freedom of belief has had extensive and historic effects for the future.’ 

Under his Frater Marabas persona, his magical knowledge was legendary, and there were many of us benefitted from the endless source of munificence and wisdom.  The Lamp of Thoth (LOT) magazine was published throughout the 1980s by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and, as former editor of Pagan News, Phil Hine, remembers ‘was eclectic, sometimes provocative, and above all, contemporary, providing a glimpse into current events and concerns in the occult/pagan scene of that period. Its contents ranged through every possible permutation of esoteric thought at the time, and in addition to the articles which might range from Abramelin to Chaos Magic. It also featured ‘contact ads’, Aunt Sally’s often ascerbic ‘problem page’ and  – something which the few other ‘zines of the time lacked – a sense of humour …’

Bob & Meriem Clay-Egerton

whom I was introduced to by Chris Bray, were then running Coven of the Scales from Newcastle on Tyne, although it can trace its recorded lineage back to the mid-1800s from a Cheshire mining community near Alderley Edge.  Bob had been a member of the origin ‘Aldersley’ Coven and subsequently, the local magical Order since the 1940s.  The early name was, according to old records, ‘Aldredsley’ and it was from this name that the title of the magical order, the Wardensi Aldredsley was derived.  The coven had its origins deeply-rooted in the pre-repeal of the Witchcraft Act times, and never lost sight of that legacy.

The couple were prolific writers and teachers of all matters magical from both the Craft and ritual magic perspective although they were not into the pick–and-mix approach so popular today.  One held a doctorate in geology, which influenced a considerable amount of our knowledge of the Earth and the components that had a direct bearing on the magical and archaeological influences of our beliefs. The other had received an extensive military training and looked upon the knife as a weapon rather than just a piece of ceremonial equipment. This level of instruction was aimed at giving a clear understanding of the different types of knives and the magical symbolism represented by them – and which grade of piano wire made the best garotte!

It should be understood that although they firmly held the philosophy and opinion that all faiths were One and all Paths lead to the same Goal, they did not advocate what is now referred to as ‘eclectic paganism’.  What they did teach was the desire for knowledge and experience, regardless of source.  Each new experience was, however, studied within the confines of that particular religion, path or tradition.  Each new discipline was kept completely separate from each other.  It was only when the quester had a thorough understanding of the tenets of each discipline were they encouraged to formulate them into their own individual system.

By the 1960s they had moved to the ‘land of the covens’ in rural Warwickshire (the Moonraker Coven), before decamping to Newcastle Upon Tyne following the outbreak of a vicious anti-occult campaign in the area.  After Bob’s death and just prior to her own, Mériém handed the reins to Melusine Draco, who remains Principal of the EoS and, who has recently appointed Old Crafters Julie Dexter as Dame and James Rigel as Magister of Coven of the Scales to keep the tradition alive.

Chrissie Sempers

was a fellow CoS member and one of the most capable and enterprising ‘parish pump witches’ I have ever met.  She’s probably best remembered for Raven Magical Supplies where she concocted all manner of magical preparations that she prepared and blended herself, in addition to producing the Corvus magical chap-books.   Blessed with a phenomenal memory she could answer most witchcraft enquiries off the top of her head, and was never too busy to advise personal callers.   In the true tradition of the wise-woman or parish pump witch, she could create teas, perfumes, incenses, beauty products, cures, aphrodisiacs, and potions with a variety of herbs and spices; or prepare any variety of magical charms, talismans and amulets and instruct on the endless ways of empowering them.

Losing touch with old friends like this can feel tragic.  As significant and special and magical as our close friendships can be, how they came into existence is truly wonderful; to a large degree, it’s just a matter of who was there when the big thing happened to us.  The good times and strong bonds of friendship we shared are in the past where they belong and when friendships fade, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Neither of us failed the other as a friend; the relationship we had is in no way devalued because it hasn’t endured – but the magical lessons learned have increased in value and fond memory.

Michael Howard

was a prolific author on esoteric topics and from 1976 until his death he was the editor of The Cauldron magazine.  We were neighbours in Wales and his knowledge of Craft was encyclopaedic from his early friendship with the Luciferian ceremonial magician, Madeline Montalban to his initiation into Gardneria Wicca in 1969; he published his first book, Candle Magic, which was followed the next year by the beginning of The Cauldron.  Hence my request for him to give Traditional Witchcraft & the Pagan Revival the once-over to check for any errors before it went off for publication.

From 1977, the magazine became the vehicle for Bill Liddell’s controversial articles about the 19th-century cunning man George Pickingill, and it would also serve as a platform for articles by a wide range of esotericists.  It was founded to cater for pagans and witches, giving space in particular to non-Gardnerian traditions of witchcraft and so provided some balance to The Wiccan (now Pagan Dawn), the mouthpiece of the Pagan Front (later the Pagan Federation). During its lifetime The Cauldron was edited by a man who had been active among pagans and ritual magicians since the early 1960s.  In later years, he was instrumental in raising the profile of the Craft of Robert Cochrane and the Clan of Tubal Cain though a series of articles and publications. In 1999, he was contacted by Andrew Chumbley, and subsequently joined his traditional witchcraft order, the Cultus Sabbati and published By Moonlight & Spirit Flight by Three Hands Press, acting as co-editor of Hands of Apostasy, a witchcraft anthology to which I was invited to contribute on behalf of traditional British Old Craft.

T C Lethbridge

was an English archaeologist, parapsychologist and explorer, and a specialist in Anglo-Saxon archaeology, serving as honorary Keeper of Anglo-Saxon Antiquities at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology from 1923 to 1957.  Over the course of his lifetime, he wrote twenty-four books on various subjects, becoming particularly well known for his advocacy of dowsing. In this work he argued that the mind was separate from the brain; believing that the mind was connected to an ancestral collective mind which everyone inherited. Many of the ideas expressed in this work were akin to those of Carl Jung, although it is not clear if Lethbridge had been aware of this beforehand – nevertheless it resonated with certain beliefs that were contained within various older Craft traditions of the time.   

As a result of the widespread rejection of his theories, Lethbridge became increasingly critical of the academic and professional archaeological community, believing that an attitude of what he called ‘trade unionism’ had caused most archaeologists to reject independent thought.  His work Witches – Investigating an Ancient Religion (1962), which articulated a form of Margaret Murray’s witch-cult hypothesis but also contained many digressions and anecdotes unrelated to that topic.   And, although adherents of traditional British Old Craft didn’t always agree with many of his findings, it made a refreshing change to the ‘Izzy-wizzy let’s get busy’ [Hand up all who remember Sooty & Sweep?] style of magical application currently prevalent in emerging Wiccan trends, or the dogmatic findings of Alfred Watkins’ Old Straight Track.

Lethbridge’s next book was ESP – Beyond Time and Distance, published in 1965 that dealt with the theme of extra-sensory perception and articulated Lethbridge’s argument that rays of energy were transmitted from every object, and that they could be detected using pendulum dowsing. In 1966 he published A Step in the Dark, which repeated many of his theories regarding pendulum dowsing present in earlier works. Archaeologist Niall Finneran asserted that Lethbridge had a ‘distinguished if fairly unspectacular reputation’ within British archaeology prior to his adoption of fringe theories. Various colleagues expressed critical praise of his work in this field; for instance, Lethbridge’s fellow Anglo-Saxon archaeologist Audrey Meaney noted that his ‘observations on features in the cemeteries he excavated around Cambridge were perspicacious but in advance of his time’.  Another Anglo-Saxon archaeologist, Sam Lucy, later noted that Lethbridge’s observation that those buried with Anglo-Saxon material culture need not have been ethnically descended from continental migrants was – while largely ignored by his contemporaries – widely accepted in scholarship by the end of the 20th century.

However, his embrace of unorthodox and pseudo-scientific views later led to professional archaeologists becoming increasingly critical of his work; as his biographer Terry Welbourn noted, Lethbridge’s peers came to view him as being ‘too radical … a loose cannon and maverick’.   Nevertheless, having a ready insight into and understanding of such things, he was preaching to the choir when it came to those of a magical and esoteric bent who were being spoon-fed Meriem Clay-Egerton’s theories on the magical and cultural properties of quartz for our ancient ancestors, some forty-years before its acceptance by modern archaeologists.

On his death, Glyn Daniel  praised much of Lethbridge’s writing for its ‘freshness and an eager restless sense of enquiry’ An anonymously authored obituary in The Antiquities Journal referred to ‘the strength and honesty of Lethbridge’s character as a man, and the singleness of purpose that united all his work, as experimental testing of what he found by observation’, seeing these as the unifying characteristics behind his divergent research interests.  As such, Finneran asserted that Lethbridge’s ‘true legacy’ lay outside of ‘conventional archaeology’, and could instead be located within the Earth Mysteries movement.

Aleister Crowley

It’s been my personal experience that if Crowley can’t find a way to explain how magical stuff works, then no one can. On top of which he was blessed with an inimitable sense of humour that could put even the most complex magical working into some sort of perspective.  This, offered with his philosophy that magic is a blend of science and art is the perfect jumping off stage for anyone who is interested in how magic worked.  Agreed, it can all get extremely complicated with his highfalutin phraseology and purple prose but over the years I’ve learned more about magical working practice from his writings than from any other source.

Of course, Crowley’s colourful, over-the-top, macho bombast is anathema within contemporary paganism and few actually realise how much of an impact he had on it because of his ‘language and poetry that was borrowed by both Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente when assembling much of the liturgy that would come to define British Wicca’.   Admittedly the latter removed much of his writing because ‘his name stank’ but she didn’t know her Aleister, and a considerable amount remained, much to the delight of the better read who preferred Crowley’s prose to Valiente’s hideous and pretentious verse! While Gardner drew heavily on Crowley’s work during the early stages of the Wicca movement, this gradually lessened as the years went by, thanks to Valiente’s judicious editing.

Margaret Murray

Like Lethbridge, Margaret Murray’s work was derided by fellow academics of the time, and yet The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) and The God of the Witches (1931) ensured that she became part of the modern pagan revival because of it. She was an Egyptologist, archaeologist, anthropologist, historian and folklorist, and,  the first woman to be appointed as a lecturer in archaeology in the United Kingdom, working at University College London (UCL) from 1898 to 1935; she served as President of the Folklore Society from 1953 to 1955, and published widely over the course of her career.

Murray’s work in folkloristics and the history of witchcraft have since been academically discredited and her methods in these areas heavily criticized, but perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty in condemning her out of hand without further examination by genuine practitioners of traditional witchcraft.   As with Lethbridge, Murray’s detractors were fellow academics and even with the production of a Folklore research article by Jacqueline Simpson, ‘Margaret Murray: Who Believed Her, and Why?’ (1994), the only Craft reference work quoted was The Life and Times of a Modern Witch by Alexandrian Wiccan couple, Stuart and Janet Farrar!

To view Murray’s writings as a hotch-potch of distortion and misrepresentation, ‘torn from the background of their own age and divorced from the serious study of their historical antecedents’ when the likes of Malleus Maleficarum is still allowed to stand with only a cursory comment is a mistake. We have to understand why the research of so eminent an archaeologist was so unsafe once she stepped outside the boundaries of her speciality.  She began studying witchcraft during World War I because at that time the Egyptology department was virtually out of action.  Her findings appeared first as an article in Folkloremagazine in 1917, and then as her first book, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. As she particularly prided herself on having used contemporary records only, it must have been galling that she was instantly attacked by historians for misinterpreting and distorting them.

So, what went wrong? Murray maintained that witches were keeping alive an ancient religion concerned with fertility, a notion which fitted current assumptions in the 1920s – but as Robert Cochrane was known to comment: ‘There had been no cause for a fertility religion in Europe since the advent of the coultershare plough in the 13th-century’. When this theme reached its full

flowering in her third book, The Divine King in England (1954), even her admirers were  embarrassed and her work was dismissed as the ‘senile wanderings of a 90-year old crank’.

What was the appeal of her work?  Jacqueline Simpson believed that part of the answer lies in what was at the time perceived as her sensible, demystifying, liberating approach to a long-standing but sterile argument between the religious-minded and the secularists as to what witches had been. At one extreme stood the eccentric and bigoted Catholic writer Montague Summers, maintaining that they really had worshipped Satan, and that by his help they really had been able to fly, change shape, do magic and so forth. His attitude can be judged by his passionate admiration for the Malleus Maleficarum, in which he found ‘inexhaustible wells of wisdom’.

‘She believed she was rediscovering forgotten facts of history; she never dreamed her work would be used to train new generations in the beliefs and practices of magic.  She refused to give any attention whatsoever to what she called ‘operative magic’, which included all the supernatural damage of which witches were accused, such as blighting crops, bringing disease, raising storms, killing beasts and men. Her sources, the trial records of Britain and the writings of continental inquisitors and demonologists, were of course full of such material, plus all the marvels associated with the Sabbath [sic]: the personal presence of Satan, often in animal form; magic flight; shape-shifting; magic eating of the essence of animals, and so on. Murray was of course right to say that all these are impossibilities. But, instead of examining them in terms of recurrent and socially conditioned fears, beliefs and story-patterns, as a modern folklorist or social historian would do, she dismissed ‘operative magic’ from consideration and struggled mightily to find some core of material fact within each item of the alleged cult.’ [‘Margaret Murray: Who Believed Her, and Why?’]

Sometimes certain motifs survived her selection process because she had not noticed that they were magical.  But, as the writer observes in What You Call Time, the principal difficulty in authenticating claims as to the traditional aspects of any brand of witchcraft lies in the fact that there are no genuine historical documents written by witches of the period.  All documents, from medieval times onwards, which form the basis of ‘historical’ witchcraft, has its roots in Inquisitional material – which is hardly an unbiased source.  Contemporary traditions all stem from the fragmented remains surviving under the guise of folklore. And, W G Gray’s valid observation that since witchcraft saw less persecution in Britain than on the continent, the probability is that it survived in these islands in a somewhat better state of preservation than elsewhere, deserves more than a casual thought.  Oral traditions can be amazingly tenuous if subjected to local variations and, in this fashion, considerable fragments of Old Craft descended to the present day.

Murray was a whole-hearted sceptic and rationalist, who wanted to strip away every notion of the paranormal or supernatural from the concept of witchcraft – and yet in the 1950s her descriptions of alleged rituals, festivals and organisations of witches were used by Gerald Gardner as a blueprint for setting up a new system of magical and religious rituals, the Wicca movement of Britain and America, now the most widespread and best known branch of neo-paganism.

The main reason why Murray’s ideas had such impact must lie in the fact that in 1929 she was commissioned to write the entry on ‘Witchcraft’ for the Encyclopedia Britannica, and this entry was reprinted in later editions up to 1969, making her views virtually infallible in the eyes of the public.  Along with the novels of Dennis Wheatley that also helped popularized occult fiction, and were probably responsible for an upsurge of interest in occultism, despite his using expert sources who, although great scholars, were as ignorant as fish as far as initiated magic was concerned.  Nevertheless, these writings were also accessible to journalists, film-makers, other popular novelists and thriller writers, who adopted the details enthusiastically that by now they are so entrenched in popular culture that they will probably never be uprooted.

Folklorist, Hilda Davidson didn’t think Margaret Murray would have ever had much to do with people like Gardner; ‘to her, witchcraft was an academic subject and belonged to history, it was not something one put into practice’. On the other hand, she did write a brief introduction for Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today in 1955, at which time she was 93-years of age; but whether she ever knew how very practical was his interest in the subject remains an unanswerable question.  Today, few Wiccans know who Gerald Gardner was, never mind being familiar with Margaret Murray and her endorsement of his re-vitalised new religion.

French historian, Le Roy Ladurie, has said of The Witch-Cult that it is a book ‘wherein sound inspiration and near nonsense are mingled’ – the sound aspect being Murray’s perception of a pagan substratum in witchcraft, an intuition for ‘genuine old strata of mythical belief embedded in the confessions, relating to pre-Christian rites.  Similar, perhaps to the authentic elements concealed within Charles Leland’s Aradia: Or, The Gospel of the Witches(1899) and the comments made by Michael Howard:

‘As has been established by historians such as Dr Carlo Ginzburg and Eva Pócs. The elements of the medieval Witches’ Sabbat contain relics of the ancient spirit cults and localized ‘pagan’ folk beliefs of Europe.’ [By Moonlight and Spirit Flight ]

A lot of Margaret Murray’s theories, however, weren’t so far off beam, if not strictly accurate and it should be borne in mind that in 1921 when her first book was published, the repeal of the Witchcraft Act was still thirty years away.  She maintained that in isolated communities the Craft had survived, although she mistakenly dismissed the idea if any mystical or magical powers attached to the belief.  But equally wrong were her scholarly critics, one of whom suggested that …. ‘ her picture of the witch-cult seems far too sophisticated and articulate for the society with which we are concerned …’

Daniel Schulke of Three Hands Press said upon the publication of the Hands of Apostacy: ‘Of equal import to our endeavour was the emerging work of academics who have deemed traditional witchcraft worthy of study as a form of Western esotericism.  In a sense this has become possible due to a new generation of researchers who have considered occult practice and exegesis from fresh and daring perspectives. I have long been an advocate of good relations between witchcraft practitioners and academia; Old Craft traditions need not fear, nor avoid, the work of good and principled scholars. But another important aspect of this shift in the winds is that, at a crucial moment in time, the Craft itself became self-aware, and in doing so fostered stronger creative and intellectual traditions within its own circles.’

I tend to disagree, simply because the problems are the same now as then.  It is not possible to have an academic discussion on the subject of witchcraft and magic with anyone who has not been admitted to the Inner Court of traditional Craft.   Yes, they want to learn and understand but from experience I can say that they will go to any lengths to obtain information to be revealed in their next publication because they are not oath-bound.  Margaret Murray’s academic detractors hadn’t set foot in the Circle either and until they do, they don’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of learning our ways.

Those nebulous magical motifs that survived Margaret Murray’s selection processes – because she hadn’t noticed that they were magical – revealed that she had been talking to the right people even if she didn’t know it at the time.  But then, neither did the scholars who belittled her work.  Only someone schooled in traditional British Old Craft holds the key to such secrets – because some of them have never appeared in any other writings.

It should be obvious that the major influences on my own magical development have generally been mavericks who weren’t afraid to take a flyer in the face of academia… even if they came a cropper as a result.  Many of those half-baked theories have been validated in later years and us ‘old uns’ can still derive a great deal of pleasure from re-reading those old dusty books with a hint of smugness!

Old Year, Old Calendar, Old Ways

Creating A Magical Link to the Old Beliefs

Compiled by Melusine Draco

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” George Orwell

Like Topsy, the idea for Old Year, Old Calendar, Old Ways, just ‘growed’ – and kept on growing. Originally it was just a basic calendar with entries relating to the Old Ways in keeping with the Old (Julian) Calendar in order to create an important magical link with the past. Once the bulk of the entries were in place, however, it quickly became evident that many of these old festivals, celebrations and observances required some sort of explanation, since a large number of people have lost touch with their ancient heritage.

     As most of my readers will know, I have a fascination for odd and obscure historical facts that are hidden away in the millions of sources that outstrip and confound the confines of the Internet – it’s finding them that presents the stimulation and the challenge. If we merely rely on the regurgitated information of contemporary paganism not only does our mind become stagnant, but for those who follow the Craft of the witch, so do our magical abilities. For example did you know that in the 1770’s red-headed women, especially those with very white skin, were still considered likely to be witches?

     “This belief was utilised in Christopher Fry’s play, The Lady’s Not For Burning. It is also worth noting that … in the Middle Ages it was associated with witchcraft and women were arrested for its use. In fact, this notion continued as late as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and any woman who altered her appearance was considered to be practising witchcraft and was, therefore, subject to arrest. An Act of Parliament of 1770, as cited in The Magic of Herbs by Mrs C F Lyell, states: ‘That all women of whatever age, rank, profession or degree, whether virgin maid or widow, that shall from and after such Act impose upon, seduce and betray into matrimony any of His Majesty’s subjects by means of scent, paints, cosmetics, washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool (red wool for painting the face), iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes or bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the law now in force against witchcraft and like misdemeanours, and that the marriage upon conviction shall stand null and void.’” [Earth, Air, Fire Water]

     Admittedly, even Craft can become mind-numbingly boring if we merely follow exactly what it says in the text and not bother to expand our knowledge by getting to grips with the history behind it all. For there are still experienced witches who will have a hissy-fit if Christianity is brought into the equation, never stopping to think that paganism and the early Church existed in peaceful harmony for hundreds of years. The ‘conversion’ was a slow, absorbing process where churches were built on sacred sites, local deities and heroes became saints, and the old agrarian festivals provided the basis for the original Church calendar. In other words, nothing had changed and it explains why witches of the old school often use references to the Church calendar rather than the Celtic names for the seasons and festivals of the year. If we learn how to look behind the Church litany we will find that it preserved far more than it ever destroyed. In reality, the early Church in the British Isles was far more pagan than anyone likes to admit.

     Over the years I have also incorporated a great deal of folk and country lore into my books on witchcraft with a view to preserving the knowledge for future generations. Much of what even my grandparents’ generation once knew is now lost because it was never recorded for posterity. True there are numerous pagan books written about similar subjects but it is obvious that a large number of them don’t have the countryside in their blood and fail to reflect the magic and mystery of growing up in an uncomplicated rural environment. Strangely enough, these sentiments are often now viewed as some form of elitism but I prefer to go back to the roots of learning rather than consult something that has been cobbled together from different popular titles without any true grounding in country lore. As J Harvey Bloom comments in Folk Lore in Shakespeare Land:

     “The year was marked in our forefathers’ time by somewhat rare days when the whole village made holiday. It is true the rejoicings were more hearty than refined, but they were honest and real, looked eagerly forward to, and talked of when long past. The great feasts of the church’s year combined revelry with religion, and dated back to the Sun festivals if remote antiquity.”

     Similarly, the further we move away from these Old Craft traditions we also cast aside the magical ties and techniques that have fuelled us down through the years. And yet there are time-honoured things about us all as individuals that are bred deep in the bone. We are what our roots (DNA) claim us to be and we cannot escape those racial memories of where we came from even if the descendants of yesterday’s witches are now scattered all over the globe. In truth, there is no such thing as Scottish, Essex, Yorkshire, Cornish or Lancashire witches because all individuals are identified by the location in which they lived their early lives and a witch will still reflect the region dialect, customs and superstitions of his or her original neighbours, no matter how far we travel. For example: I am Anglo-Welsh, living my life between rugged mountains and the central English Shires. I therefore reflect the characteristics of the Welsh and the natives of the Bucks/Northants borders but this does not make me a ‘Welsh’ or ‘Catuvellauni’ witch! Nevertheless, many years down the line I still retain many of the influences, colloquialisms, customs and traditions from the past – many of which have been incorporated into my personal Craft working and those teachings of Coven of the Scales which actually originated in Cheshire!

     We need to understand that the Old Ways or the Old Religion were echoes of the pre-Christian faith, and that these old beliefs provided the energy that the clan or tribal shaman or witch drew upon to work their magic. It generated a certain dynamism that powered the magic of the day, and while all of the rural populace would have been followers of the Old Ways, not everyone was a magical practitioner. Nevertheless, every village would have had its own wise woman who was well versed in the arts of folk-medicine and fortune-telling. It is not surprising, therefore, that Shakespeare should have made frequent illusions to this popular belief, considering how extensively it prevailed in the 16th and 17th centuries; the religious and dramatic literature of the time being full of it. It was only to be expected that Shakespeare should introduce into his writings descriptions of a creed which held such a prominent place in the history of his day. [Folk-Lore in Shakespeare]

     In T A Spaldings’s essay Elizabethan Demonology (1880), however, it was suggested that the ‘weird sisters’ who play such an important part in Macbeth, are not witches at all, but are ‘allied to the Norns or Fates of Scandinavian paganism’. Another writer in the Academy (1879) believed that Shakespeare drew upon Scandinavian mythology for a portion of the material he used in constructing these characters, and that he derived the rest from the traditions of contemporary witchcraft; that the ‘sisters’ were hybrids between Norns and witches.

     It is also interesting to note that almost all the charms and symbols supposed to guard against witchcraft in those tedious Victorian folklore compilations, or cunningly concealed in the texts as ‘love spells’, are those that the witches themselves used and revered in earlier times. And that is why the popular literature of the time and the archive of the Folklore Society should be on every witch’s essential reading list, since here we find all those old observances of our ancestors, hidden under a thin veneer of later ‘respectability’ and where anything that smacked of paganism was immediately labelled ‘devilish’. If we learn to strip away the various layers we are still left with the priceless patina of Old Craft belief and the original calendar against which it was practiced by our ancestors. 

Currently, Twelfth Night is celebrated on the 5th January, as the last day of the Christmas season and the night for Wassailing, together with the removal of the Yuletide decorations.  There can be no doubt that the title of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth-Night took its origin from these festivities, although according to Folk-Lore of Shakespeare, the play was probably originally acted at the barrister’s feast at the Middle Temple on 2nd February [Candlemas] 1602: ‘It is worthy of note that the festivities at Christmas-tide, were conducted on a most extravagant scale. In addition to the merry disports of the Lord of Misrule, there were various other revels and the Christmas masque at Gray’s Inn in 1594 was on a magnificent scale.’

Traditionally, the Wassail is still celebrated on Twelfth Night while others Wassail on ‘Old Twelvey Night’ – 17th January – as it would have been before the introduction of the new calendar.  Robert Herrick’s poem, Twelfth Night or King and Queen reflects the gaiety of the occasion:

      NOW, now the mirth comes
      With the cake full of plums,
Where bean’s the king of the sport here ;
      Beside we must know,
      The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

      Begin then to choose,
      This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
      Be a king by the lot,
      And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.

      Which known, let us make
      Joy-sops with the cake ;
And let not a man then be seen here,
      Who unurg’d will not drink
      To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

      Next crown a bowl full
      With gentle lamb’s wool :
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
      With store of ale too ;
      And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

      Give then to the king
      And queen wassailing :
And though with ale ye be whet here,
      Yet part from hence
      As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

     In the cider-producing West of England (primarily the counties of Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire) ‘wassailing’ also refers to drinking (and singing) the health of trees in the hopes that they might better thrive. The purpose of wassailing is to awaken the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the following autumn. Then, the assembled crowd would sing and shout and bang drums, or pots and pans, and generally make a terrible racket until the gun-men gave a great final volley through the branches to make sure the work was done and, then off they went to the next orchard. Chinese crackers, or even party poppers, will suffice if you haven’t got a gun licence. Here is an extract from Robert Herrick’s The Wassail:

Give way, give way, ye gates and win

An easy blessing to your bin

And basket, by our entering in.

May both with machete stand complete,

Your larders, too, so hung with meat,

That thou a thousand thousand eat,

Yet ere twelve moons shall whirl about

Their silvery spheres, there’s none my doubt

But more’s sent in than was served out …

The ‘Ashen Faggot’ is another archaic West Country custom that still survives in country pubs where the burning takes place on Christmas Eve – or the 5th and 17th January which are Old Christmas Eve and Old Twelfth Night respectively. This is a large log with withies bound around it to make a bundle which is burned indoors in a large hearth. Drinks are consumed as each withy breaks in the flames, which just sounds like an excuse for conviviality! For Craft observances it could also be used as part of the Twelfth Night celebrations, especially if we have an outside fire pit or patio burner.

For this reason, it’s a good idea for any coven to hold Old Twelfth Night observances in order to acknowledge the end of the Mid-Winter Festival with true medieval gusto. Ideally, a fancy dress party would seem to be the order of the day, but how long our Mid-Winter revels last will, of course, depend on how much time we have off work during the party season and our personal stamina!  If not partying, light the fire and drink a toast to the Old Ways and the Ancestors on this old Twelfth Night, or observe it by watching one of the many DVD versions of the Shakespeare play. 

The January Esbat would normally be held at a Crafter’s home in the form of an ordinary party where Craft symbology can be subtly introduced without ‘outsiders’ being any the wiser.  After all, everyone will be suffering from a surfeit of celebration and these days, not many know much about Old Twelfth Night, but in the medieval and Tudor periods, it was more important than Christmas Day.  In English and French custom, the Twelfth-night cake was baked to contain a dried bean and a dried pea, so that those who received the slices containing them should be respectively designated king (bean) and queen (pea) of the night’s festivities – which is obviously a throw-back to the ancient concept of the Lord of Misrule. 

A tradition held in Georgian times, the Twelfth Night cake celebrated the last day of the festive season on 5th January when there were great feasts, of which cake was an essential part.   A rich crumbly fruit cake, sumptuous icing and a classic design makes a marvelous Twelfth Night Cake [Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery] with this trusted family recipe.

6 oz butter : 3 oz brown sugar : 3 eggs : ½ gill milk (2.5 fluid oz) : 1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda : 2 oz treacle : 4 oz currants : 4 oz sultanas : 4 oz mixed peel : ½ level teaspoon ground cinnamon : ½ level teaspoon mixed spice : 3/4lb plain flour : ¼ teaspoon salt

Line a 7-inch cake tin with greaseproof paper.  Cream the fat and sugar in a bowl and gradually beat in the eggs.  Add the milk in which the soda is dissolved; stir in the treacle and beat well.  Add the prepared fruit and spices.  Sift in the flour and salt and mix lightly.  Put into the tin and bake in a warm oven (335F, 175C, Gas 3) for 2-2 ½ hours.  The dried pea and bean should be baked in the cake.  And any silver charms should be wrapped in greaseproof paper.

Liven up the rooms by adding some sparkle to the existing decorations that will be looking very tired by now, throw some gold streamers on the tree and around the house before everyone helps take the decorations down.  Be aware that guests will be tired of eating rich, heavy foods by early January, so light appetizers should be welcomed at our party.  Most large supermarkets have ‘party boxes’ with a wide assortment of finger food, so stock up the freezer well in advance.  Coven members can contribute to the event by bringing plates of finger food, such as cocktail sausages and mini sausage rolls, canapés, vol-au-vents together with crispy salad assortments.  Think in terms of picky bits that can be kept in plastic containers to keep in hand for livening up the buffet table throughout the evening.

Like all Craft elements we have to be careful of how we dispose of anything used in ritual observances. Whichever day is chosen for the removal, there is still the vital question of how to dispose of the Yule evergreens. In The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain & Ireland, the author and folklorist Steve Roud, records that although there appears to be no discernible regional pattern to explain the different superstitions, in some places it was considered unlucky to burn Yuletide evergreens. It is interesting, however, that the anti-burning appears to date from c1866, while there are references that mention burning Yuletide greenery right back to the 11th century. This suggests that burning was indeed a pagan custom. As witches, however, we can cut the tree into small pieces and burn it on an open fire – indoors or out – and enjoy the smell of pine being released into the air over the coming weeks.

From the Winter Solstice to Old Twelfth Night, the tide begins to turn and the Earth’s natural cycle begins to move again; the days grow noticeably longer and the Earth-tides grow stronger. Whether we observe the Julian or the Gregorian calendar there is an upbeat feeling to the start of the New Year, but make sure that a thorough banishing and cleansing of your home is carried out on the day following Twelfth Night to remove any negative psychic energies that might be lurking about.  Prepare an appropriate infusion spray a day in advance and keep it in the fridge until the house has been cleared of all of the previous year’s negativity (and people) and spray from top to bottom.

Old Year, Old Calendar, Old Ways – Melusine Draco ISBN: 9781788762052 : Paperback : Pages 210 : £8.9 To order: https://www.feedaread.com/books/Old-Year-Old-Calendar-Old-Ways-9781788762052.aspx

WRITER@WORK

WRITER@WORK – Winter draws on …

The CoS limited edition – Round About the Cauldron Go … has gone into hardback because (a) it is a ‘first’ for Ignotus Books, and (b) its readership of this grimoire will be restricted to the members of Coven of the Scales who have reached a certain stage on their magical journey.  It will be followed at a later stage by Inner Court Witchcraft, which is an advanced handbook for those who have passed through Initiation and want to go on to the next level … will therefore be another CoS limited edition.  These are much more difficult to write than you might think and it will probably be a couple of years before this one comes out!

Arcanum books will start 2021 with the publication of Offerings for the Gods by Sacrifice, Oblation and Libation.  This new series will be comprised of titles under 100-pages of practical and/or instructional text on a specific esoteric subject or theme and written by magical practitioners with proven antecedents.  Taking its name from the Coven of the Scales’ foundation course, the aim is to offer further tuition/guidance on specific elements of witch-lore and practice. Coming in at under 25,000 words and under 100-pages, each title will be packed with information and instruction rather than puffed out with superfluous wordage and regurgitated text borrowed from other publications. Talking to Crows will be the second title in the series, and Hagstones is coming up hard on the inside … followed by Gateways to Otherworld and The Magic of Quartz making up the first five books in the Arcanum series.

Finally managed to pick up the typescript for Temple House Archive – PACT! – and the chapters are forming nicely into the first draft of 70,000 words on the subject of pacts, demons and curses – which is best suited to winter creative writing when the evenings are dark and dismal.  I’ve decided to kill off one of my main characters and it’s not easy!  Beginning to sound like one of the spoilers for Death in Paradise!

Pagan Portals: Sexual Dynamics in the Circle will finally see the light of day on 26th March 2021 pointing out that one of the most significant social changes in the 20th-century was the wedge driven between the males and females of Craft as a result of social media and political feminism. From a purely magical point of view the battle of the sexes has been one of the most negative crusades in the history of mankind since everything in the entire Universe is made up from a balance or harmony of opposite energies. Men and women are different as night and day but still part of the same homo sapiens coin – regardless of their individual sexuality.

One of the most difficult aspects was finding the ‘right’ cover picture because the choice available was too erotic, downright tacky or overly homoerotic.   The final choice was finally tracked down on Pixabay by Leandro DeCarvalho that was neither too raunchy, nor too twee.

Elen Sentier said of it:  “I was so pleased to get a preview copy of Sexual Dynamics in the Circle to read; a good, proper book on sex magic is long overdue and this one is seriously refreshing. Melusine Draco’s approach is very down to earth and, at the same time, fully with spirit. Gone are the crazy, titillating, salacious styles of far too many other books on the subject, Draco shows you and explains what actually happens and helps you understand this for yourself.
     In Sexual Dynamics, we learn about working with the two principles of the universe that we know, here on Earth, as gender, female and male, the duality that is all created from forming stars. And we’re able to get away from extreme feminism too, always a good thing; the powers of goddess and god are twined and combined, they don’t battle for supremacy.  If you want to learn more about how the genders combine to work magic this is the book to read.”

So … what’s new for 2021?  Not a lot, if I’m honest, apart from getting existing typescripts into print.  But, I intend to be doing a lot of readingand I might even make a start on my science fiction novel …

Melusine Draco

Winter Solstice 2020

HAVE A COOL YULE …

How to Survive (and Enjoy) the Mid-Winter Festival

With all the doom, gloom and despondency surrounding the Christmas planning for this year, it might be the perfect time to take a leaf out of the dining table and start preparing a pared-down pagan Yule.  Whether ‘bubbling’ or ‘cocooning’, there’s no reason to let the ‘virus’ stop us from enjoying ourselves and observing the festival as one of celebration and good hope.  In order to run smoothly, our pagan Mid-Winter Festival/Yule needs to be planned well in advance and not be spoiled by any last-minute disasters. A bit of organisation goes a long way so start by making lists to cover all aspects of the festivities – guests, gifts and gormandising.

If, on the other hand, we’ve decided to spend the Mid-Winter Festival/Yule alone, then the same rules still apply. It can be rather daunting to actually plan for a solitary Yule, but since the whole focus of the holiday is usually getting together with those close to you – and if those people can’t be around this year – then the exercise may seem pointless.  My advice is stock up with all your favourite treats, a good selection of DVD boxed sets, and treat yourself to a disgustingly expensive Yule gift – mine for this year is a vintage Aquascutum duffel coat!

The solitary life-style is amplified at this time of year and all the hype that is geared around spending time with family often creates the impression that if we’re not part of the glamour then we’re nothing but a sad git! There’s a vast difference, however, between being alone and being lonely. And although outsiders might think it a bit strange, the company of a cat or dog means that there’s someone in the home to talk to and snuggle up with, and discuss what we’re going to watch on telly – just as we’ve done throughout the lockdowns.

Strangely enough, it is Christianity itself that has made a mockery of ‘Christmas’ and turned it into the commercial free-for-all we know today. What is sad, is that a large number of pagans in rejecting the whole concept of Christmas are, in fact, rejecting the ancestral concept of Yule. So, lets us reclaim the Mid-Winter Festival with all its ‘warmth, light and revelry’ and celebrate it in time-honoured fashion without the commercial overtones – even if we have to do it alone this year.

“As per usual and in great style, Mélusine Draco presents a wealth of information about this historically proven pagan festival. Whichever way the reader chooses to celebrate…whether it’s a traditional family Christmas or a traditional Yule in the company of pagan friends or as a solitary – there is something for everyone. From a complete festival calendar with some simple rites and symbolism, to carol lyrics, recipes, gift ideas and feasting to the ‘art of using up’ and festive games; everything Yuletide is covered. And with generous doses of light-hearted good cheer and a sprinkling of dark humour, the author strikes a balance that is both useful, informative and entertaining. A charming little book.” Sheena Cundy, Witch Lit author The Madness and the Magic

“Have a Cool Yule is a lovely guide on how to truly enjoy the festive season in the depths of winter, whether you call it Christmas, the Winter Solstice, Yule or any other name. In the pages of this book you will fi nd time-honoured traditions, recipes and sensible advice on how to avoid the worst of the commercialism and make the occasion what you want it to be.” Lucya Starza, author of Pagan Portals – Candle Magic

Pagan Portals: Have a Cool Yule by Melusine Draco and published by Moon Books : ISBN 978 1 78535 711 4 : UK£6.99 : US$10.95 : 82 pages

WHAT IS COARSE WITCHCRAFT?

These were two of Ignotus Press’s best-selling titles back in the day and now that our own Coven is going back to its sabbatic roots, these memories are even more relevant.  We will, of course, remain a teaching coven on a newcomer’s level because it’s basically a good introduction to traditional British Old Craft but behind the scenes, things will be changing.   After years of talking about it, we have recently published a Coven of the Scales grimoire for our Elders but The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy is the nearest outsiders are going to get to how an Old Craft coven works.  The two genuine covens were/are uncomfortably similar in as much as things go wrong, the Magister’s irascible , the Dame long-suffering and the members come from all walks of life.

Coarse witchcraft, by definition, is a spoof on bad Craft practice, parodying clichés, every kind of misplaced dramatic performance and Circle disaster. These three books, each with its own mix of disaster and hilarity, take their name from journalist Michael Green’s coarse acting/rugby treatment, resulting in a chaotic catalogue in which everything that can go wrong in the Circle does so.   But as 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.’

It’s been said that Coarse Witchcraft is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it.  And many of those who love it have taken to CoS teaching like the proverbial familiar to the broomstick!  No … we don’t suffer fools gladly but we do go out of our way to help genuine seekers who demonstrate an aptitude for Old Craft ways.  Yes … the Tradition is idiosyncratic but then we do have a foot in the dim and distant past and do not abandon ancient customs in favour of more contemporary observances.  Because we understands that contact with these old energies may be established more completely through customs that are so ancient that they have had time to firmly entrench themselves in the vast storehouse of the ancestral subconsciousness. 

“I think the Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy should be compulsory reading for anyone wishing to study Old Craft,” said our Dame with a grin. “The stories and the characters are real with very little embellishment but it does give a valuable insight into an Old Craft mindset.” MD

The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy by Rupert Percy and Gabrielle Sidonie. Introduced by Melusine Draco and published by Moon Books : ISBN 978 1 78279 285 7 : UK£10.99/US$18.95 : 254 pages

ARCANUM BOOKS series @ IGNOTUS BOOKS UK

Arcanum books will be titles of under 100-pages of practical and/or instructional text on a specific esoteric subject or theme and written by magical practitioners with proven antecedents.  The idea came from those ‘Ladybird’ books we had as kids that were often responsible for triggering and interest in all manner of subjects in later life. Taking its name from the Coven of the Scales’ foundation course, the aim is to offer further tuition/guidance on specific elements of witch-lore and practice. Coming in at under 25,000 words, each title will be packed with information and instruction rather than puffed out with superfluous wordage and regurgitated text borrowed from other publications.

The first five books in the series are now ‘works in progress’ and Offering to the Gods should be available early in the New Year.  Each title devotes itself to a particular Craft method or technique that the witch feels they wish to explore in more depth as part of their on-going studies.  In order of publication, the first five titles are:

  1. Offerings to the Gods
  2. Talking to Crows
  3. Hagstones
  4. Gateways to Otherworld
  5. The Magic of Quartz

Cursed be the Dog Thieves

None of us can begin to imagine what it would be like to discover that our dog’s been stolen; but neither can we imagine the terror and fear that the dog must experience on discovering that it’s been removed from its familiar people and surroundings.  Unfortunately, the law doesn’t consider dog theft a heinous crime but to those who are victims (human and canine) perhaps we cannot think of a punishment severe enough – because for dog people – dogs are our family.   This is where we can resort to a Higher Law – the power of the curse – because we don’t have to have a magical interest/aptitude to be able to throw a curse … all we have to have is hate and passion.

The dog thieves are possibly overlapping in their territories and if all those who have had your beloved pets stolen, then the power of the curse is compounded on these individuals.   In this instance, we are talking about the reality of the power of collective ‘prayer’, which cannot be underestimated because there is no doubt as to the magnitude of its effect.  This curse is a prayer of a different kind.

It is called The Gage, which is a pledge; something thrown down as in a challenge, from the poem of that name by Walter de la Mare, and demonstrates the power of the words adapted from of a verse from the poemthat offers an example of an extremely powerful curse that could be used in the event of someone stealing any pet dog .  For example:

O mark me well!

For what my hound befell

You shall pay twenty-fold,

For every tooth

Of his, i’sooth,

Your life in pawn I’ll hold.

The effective placing of this curse requires a personal item belonging to the stolen dog (i.e. fur, tooth, bone, saliva, etc.,) and a photograph.  Here we are bringing down a curse that is ‘twenty times’ the number of teeth in the dog’s mouth, which in an average healthy adult is around 42. This means that the sender must weigh in the balance whether the punishment fits the crime; after all, it would be rather extreme if someone had merely given your dog a clout for attempting to ravish their prize-winning bitch!

Cursing, however, is a question of personal responsibility and/or morality, but once thrown it cannot be retracted or negated.  That said, the theft of any dog and removing it from its home environment for financial gain, I would see the curse to be justifiable if the thieves lose their most priceless possession(s) as a result.  For this particular curse it is necessary to produce a small pouch containing the fur and photograph of the dog to be held tightly while reciting the above curse – and keep it safe.  And if everyone whose dog has been stolen were to throw this curse, the results will be compounded on the heads of the guilty parties according to Higher Law.

Remember that even the mildest ‘loss’ magnified 20 x 42 is going to have some serious repercussions.

Taken from Shaman Pathways: Aubrey’s DogPower Animals in Traditional Witchcraft by Melusine Draco and published by Moon Books.  ISBM 076 1 78099 724 7 : UK£4.99/US$9.95 : pages 84.

Book news …

Finally, the long-awaited Round About the Cauldron Go … is almost ready to go to print as a limited edition.  Written by Philip Wright and Carrie West, with lots of input from the Elders of CoS, the book is aimed at those who have completed the Arcanum foundation course, and have asked for ideas as to how they should celebrate the Sabbats throughout the year. Round About the Cauldron Go … shows them exactly that. All of the workings apply whether the Coven as a whole is undertaking them or the witch as a solitary practitioner. They are easy to adapt for those working alone and will ensure that there is a consistency of approach across the entire Coven.

Since these workings are ONLY for use by Coven of the Scales, this book is being made available as a limited edition to those Coven members who have shown a genuine aptitude for Old Craft and have also shown an active progression with Craft itself.  This is the Grimoire of Coven of the Scales, setting down our practices for the benefit of those needing to know them now and in the future.  Its contents must not be divulged to others under any circumstances and any member found to have shared its contents may face banishment from the Coven!

Other titles by Carrie and Philip are:

Coven Working: How to Set Up or Join a Working Coven – Philip Wright & Carrie WestISBN: 9781786971234 : Paperback : Pages 128 : £6.85To order: https://www.feedaread.com/books/Coven-Working-9781786971234.aspx

Death & the Pagan: Modern Pagan Funeral Practices – Philip Wright & Carrie WestISBN: 9781786970671 : Paperback : Pages 108 : £6.85To order: https://www.feedaread.com/books/Death-and-the-Pagan-9781786970671.aspx

Both are available from Kindle on e-book at a special price of UK£0.99/US$0.95 between 12-19th October.

Autumn reading …

The complete Temple House Archive series will be available on Kindle e-books at a special price of UK£0.99/US$0.95 between 7-14th October – House of Strange Gods; Realm of Shadow; Hour Betwixt Dog & Wolf and The Thirteenth Sign.

The Temple House was founded in 1586 in England during the reign of Elizabeth I as an off-shoot of Sir Francis Walsingham’s recently created intelligence service, inaugurated to investigate the growing popularity of esoteric learning that was occupying the interests of the Elizabethan intelligentsia. For this he recruited the descendants of the Knights Templar who had remained in England following the destruction of their Order. Drawing on a veritable mine of esoteric knowledge and experience of international intrigue, the Temple House was established to combat ‘evil forces’ of a human or supernatural agency, and those who would use occult power for destructive purposes. The current members of the Temple House, or ‘the Nine’ as they are called in memory of the nine founder members of the original Knights Templar, are all specialists and magical practitioners in the diverse fields of occultism and its relevant histories. For more details see http://www.facebook.com/TempleHouseArchive or order paperbacks direct from  https://www.feedaread.com/books/House-of-Strange-Gods-9781785106392.

Reviews:

“A brilliant read. Love the writing. A real chiller-thriller. The author has all the skills needed to write a cracking good novel. She also has a vast occult knowledge that really shows and writes on the subject with ease. As usual with Melusine there is a subtle humorous element running through that works really well. Best of all there is a volume two underway. I think this would make a great TV series.” Maria Moloney, Axis Mundi Books

A cracking read. An excellent story, the characters are three dimensional, the dialogue reads naturally and the pacing is fine. There is tension and plenty of conflict as well as some nice touches of humour. There is also a sense of truth that only someone who is familiar with the occult can provide in this genre.” Krystina Kellingley, Cosmic Egg Books

“A brilliant read and a walk into the world of the occult that is both fascinating and thrilling. Loved the historical undertones and the work of the ‘Nine’. Kept me gripped throughout. Can’t wait for number two!” Sarah-Beth Watkins : Bookworms

A Book Worm’s Eye View …

Root & Branch

Guessing the Age of the Woods

Many of the woods that were once pollarded or coppiced are extremely ancient. Trackways across the marshy areas of Somerset were built of poles that have been identified as coppiced alder, ash, holly and hazel dating from 2,500BC. Trees of many different kinds, with oak probably dominant, indicate old woodland. All the trees are native though sycamore may have been introduced at a much later date. Trees of one kind (such as oak or beech) growing close together with tall trunks, perhaps planted in rows, indicates high forest plantation more than 100 years old.

If the woodland is old it was once either coppiced or grazed. If the woods were grazed (ie. used as wood-pasture) the trees would have been pollarded, so look for old pollards and a lack of variety in ground plants as clues to old wood-pasture. Look to see if there is nothing but grass under the trees; this suggests that grazing continues. Wood-pasture is a dead tradition but some old northern coppice woods are now used for sheltering and grazing sheep.

Look for signs of previous coppicing: perhaps there are ‘many-trunked trees’ growing from the site of the old coppice stools. The main point is that a wood that was being coppiced 100 years ago is likely to be an old wood. The small-leaved lime tree is another good indicator, while the Midland hawthorn shows that the old coppiced area has never been anything but woodland.

Pollarding

When visiting a wood you should look for signs, particularly in the shapes of the trees, that tell of the history of the wood and what it has been used for in the past. Pollarding refers to trees that have been cut to produce successive crops of wood at a height of between 6-15 feet above the ground so that grazing animals cannot reach the young shoots. Pollarding is carried out on wood-pasture and hedgerows rather than on trees in the woods.

From an historical perspective, pollarding allowed livestock to graze the common land of the parish, which often included woodland. As a result, this type of wood-pasture developed its own appearance. It has a bare, grassy floor (for the animals destroyed the spring flowers and undergrowth) and the trees were well spaced out because the livestock also ate many of the new saplings. Supplies of poles could still be obtained by cropping the branches of the trees at head height and his became known as ‘pollarding’ from the word meaning head.

Old pollarded trees can still be seen today and although the technique has all but died out, it has been well documented since Anglo-Saxon times. Apart from wood-pasture, many old pollards can be found in hedges, in farmland as boundary markers, or along water-courses (pollarded willow or poplars).

Coppicing

The word coppice comes from the French word couper, meaning to cut. When young trees are cut back to the ground they quickly sprout a head of shoots which grow about six feet high in a year and then begin to thicken. The resulting tree is called a coppice.

After about seven to fifteen years the shoot of the coppice used to be cut to provide a supply of poles, staves and brushwood. Scattered throughout the coppices were the standard trees that had been allowed to grow unhindered until they reached an age of about 70-150 years when they were felled for timber.

The most obvious signs of past coppicing is the presence of many trunked trees growing on the site of old coppiced stumps. It was important in past times to keep livestock out since they would destroy the young shoots and so the wood was often surrounded by a ditch with a large bank inside, which was often fenced. The remains of the bank and ditch can still be seen in places.

Another clue to woods that were once coppiced is the abundance of spring flowers. The regular cutting of the coppices allowed plenty of light to reach the woodland floor, and this encouraged the growth of the plants. Woodland flowers are slow to spread and so their presence in large numbers is an excellent indication that the wood is ancient and was once coppiced.

Wild flowers provide the woods with some of their most attractive features. Because many have adapted naturally to flower before the leaves develop in the shrub and canopy layers, they are regarded as the harbingers of spring. No doubt to our primitive ancestors this re-awakening of the woodland contributed to the mystical significance of the many rites and rituals associated with spring.

An indication of an old wood is a rich variety of flowers, particularly if bluebells, snowdrops, wood anemones, primroses, yellow archangel and early purple orchids are present. Bluebells spread very slowly on heavy clay soils, so a carpet of them under trees could be the clue to old woodland.  Dog’s mercury may seem to be a common woodland plant yet it is rarely found in recently planted woods – that is, woodland that has formed in the last 100 years – and so is also a good indicator of old woodland.

The presence of these particular flowers in a hedge bottom today are all good indicators that it originated as part of a wood since these species spread very slowly and do not readily colonise hedgerows.

It’s not just the woods that can be dated from the variety and number of different species. British hedgerows have their own history and this is also chronicled by certain tell-tale signs. Old hedgerows were probably originally planted to mark ancient boundaries to estate and parishes, for example. The majority, however, were planted in the 18th and 19th centuries to enclose patches of land in order to establish ownership or control livestock.

Hawthorn is the most common tree to be found in the hedgerow, although many include blackthorn and holly. Other species arrive as seeds – dog rose and ash soon appear while others like hazel and field maple are slow to colonise. A hedge planted as pure hawthorn slowly acquires additional species as it gets older and scientific studies of the species diversity of hedgerows in relation to their age (where this can be reasonably accurately dated from historical records) have shown that there is more or less a direct relationship between the number of species established in a hedge and its age.

As a general rule one new species colonises the hedge every 100 years, so that a two-species hedge could be 200 years old, and a ten-species hedge 1000 years old.

Root & Branch: British Magical Tree Lore – Melusine Draco ISBN: 9781786974471 : Paperback : Pages:158 : £6.85 To order: https://www.feedaread.com/books/Root-and-Branch-British-Magical-Tree-Lore-9781786974471.aspx 

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