New book release

Scent of a Witch

Melusine Draco

‘Magic and scent were conceptually linked in antiquity. Ancient authors sometimes treated magic as a type of smell; at other times odors were treated as a medium through which magic worked. Some authors compare the effect of smells to magic; others described scent and magic as different things but impossible to distinguish. Magicians used incenses and perfumes liberally to set the scene for their rituals and please the gods, as demonstrated by the corpus of spell books that survive from Greco-Roman Egypt; meanwhile, ancient deities signaled their presence by their divine fragrance.’ So writes Britta Ager in her academic paper for Penn State University, Magic Perfumes and Deadly Herbs: The Scent of Witches’ Magic in Classical Literature.

The Classical authors that Professor Ager cites in her paper were, of course, more contemporary with the regular users of those fragranced preparations. While most modern scents are produced from synthetic materials, the original fragrances were a combination of plant or animal products and rich oils. Today, archaeologists continue to find evidence of perfume’s use throughout the Ancient World, often in the form of contents in intricate perfume vessels. In witches’ spell books, known as grimoires, herbs, flowers, roots and resins were called upon to facilitate the workings of the magical practitioners who recorded the use of olfaction as a very powerful tool in spell-casting. Essences and aromatic smoke have also been linked with spirits and gods in ancient cultures, and the earliest of spell books …

Perfume-making has long been big business and from the earliest times provided a ‘cottage industry’ for those who knew and understood the properties of plants. Those early Greek witches whose magic was associated with scent were supernatural exaggerations of rhizotomoi, or ‘root-cutters’ – professional herb gatherers who supplied doctors, magicians, and others with ingredients.

Rhizotomoi, who could be male or female, observed ritual precautions when picking certain plants, either to protect themselves from the herbs’ dangerous powers, or to preserve the herbs’ efficacy. Such plant-cutting rituals are well-attested throughout antiquity, including precautions such as pulling up the plant with the left hand, drawing a magic circle around it with a sword, chanting, sacrificing, pouring libations, or cutting it at a particular time of day. There was a tendency worldwide to attribute medicinal and magical powers to plants with strong odours, and, conversely, scented plants are more likely to accrue folk-lore about their potency than inodorate species. Homer’s mythical plant moly, for instance, was frequently identified in antiquity with stinking rue or garlic.

The Greeks believed that the scent of certain herbs, magic or otherwise, was potent enough to be dangerous; thus Theophrastus, a fourth-century BC botanist, wrote that people gathering hellebore should eat garlic and drink wine as a protection; and that when harvesting other plants the root-cutter should stand upwind to avoid eye damage and swelling. One early portrait of the mythological Greek witch, Medea, shows the ease with which female root-cutters, with their strange rituals and dangerous herbs, came to be mythologized as witches. Evidence for Medea in the classic Greek Archaic period is highly fragmentary, although what survives already shows a well-developed narrative in which she is the wife of the hero Jason and a powerful witch with magical powers grounded in a knowledge of herbs and drugs

Further along the historical time scale, however, the ‘root-cutters’ were still going strong. In his Herbal Simples (1897), William Fernie made rare mention of the ‘green men’ [and women] who were first licensed in the Elizabethan Wild Herb Act to gather herbs and roots from wild, uncultivated land – but it was a contemporary occupation that had already been going strong since the late 14th-century. A new kind of medical herbalist had evolved – the apothecary – who purchased plants collected from the countryside by these wandering herb collectors. In Green Pharmacy, Barbara Griggs records that during the 17th-century herbs could also be bought direct from the herb women in Newgate Market or Covent Garden. According to Fernie:

Coming down to the first part of the present [19th] century, we find purveyors of medicinal and savory herbs then wandered over the whole of England in quest of useful Simples as were in constant demand at most houses for the medicine-chest, the store-closet, or the toilet-table. These rustic practitioners of the healing art were known as ‘green men’, who carried with them their portable apparatus for distilling essences, and for preparing their herbal extracts. In token of their giving formally officiated in this capacity, there may yet be seen in London and elsewhere about the country, taverns bearing the curious sign of The Green Man & [his] Still

The Green Man & Still was a tavern originally situated at 335 Oxford Street, London and was also a coaching inn (a 1792 map shows it at the entrance to a stagecoach yard), the starting point/terminus of several stage coach routes out of London. Although the original tavern closed and re-located, it retained the Green Man & Still name as late as the early 1920s. Another Green Man & Still is recorded at 161 Whitecross Street, Clerkenwell in 1789 run by one Peter Richardson, victualler, from Sun Fire Office records held at the London Metropolitan Archives. It closed in 2006 and remained empty until it became a coffee shop in 2011. The ‘Green Man’ became a popular name for English pubs in the 17th-century (when the Distiller’s Company Green Man & Still heraldic arms were still in common use), although most inn signs tended to feature the familiar foliated face of church architecture; while the ‘green men’ or rhizotomoi, of Elizabethan times, probably merged into the cunning-folk tradition and faded into oblivion.

Gone were the days when a tavern sign pointed to the existence on the premises of a still where cordials were distilled from green herbs. In this case, the house was not kept by a tavern-keeper, but by a herbalist. The premises may, however, have belonged to an innkeeper or a ‘green man’ who lived further afield on the same estate. In Shakespeare’s time there was a London street, named Bucklersbury (near today’s Mansion House), so noted for the number of apothecaries who sold Simples and sweet-smelling herbs that in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Sir John Falstaff describes the dandified fops of his day as ‘Lisping hawthorn buds that smell like Bucklersbury in simple time.’

The cunning folk provided a combination of written charms, magic rituals, prayers and herbal preparations, because one of the most ancient of magical sciences is ‘magical perfumery’. It has long been recognized that certain scents produce certain responses in our physical, mental, and emotional bodies. Both men and women of old perfumed their bodies and kept unguents in alabaster flasks and caskets so that the perfume seeped through the alabaster. The bottle was called a flacon – a small, often decorative container with an opening seal or stopper, designed especially to hold valuable liquids which may deteriorate upon contact with the air.

A modern-day rhizotomai – or root magician, John Canard, in his Defences Against the Witches’ Craft, describes himself as fitting into the role of the cunning man – and, of course, cunning men were often employed to fight against the malefic attentions of witches. He lists a whole range of plants said to protect from negative magic that can be home-grown for protection and several of the classic anti-witch herbs are mentioned in the old rhyme – but not for their perfume:

Trefoil, vervain, John’s wort, dill, / That hindereth witches of their will.

  • Trefoil has a sweet, vanilla scent and although it is a pretty yellow flower, its old country meaning is one of revenge or a warning. It was worn as a protection against evil and witchcraft.
  • Vervain was one of the three most sacred herbs of the Druids (the other two are meadowsweet and watermint) and used to ward off evil. It has very little smell and a bitter taste. It has been used as a powerful protective plant from malefic magic, hence the name of Devil’s Bane.
  • St John’s wort oil has an herbaceous, sweet, floral aroma although the leaves give off a ‘foxy’ odour. Used as a powerful herb against malefic magic.
  • The distinct smell of Dill influences the conscious mind and will clear the head after smelling it for a few seconds. It was believed to be a very powerful anti-witch herb

This is where we have to try to define what brings back the past for us as individuals. I would have to say that for me, personally, it is the scent of hawthorn on the summer breeze and before the flowers start to fade. This also evokes the late spring-early summer weekends of childhood and camping trips to The Quarries where the landscape was a mass of white flowering trees mingling with the smell of wood-smoke from an open camp fire … Seventy-five years later and these particular scents can cause me to take a gigantic leap back in time in an act of involuntary memory.

For dwellers in green places, every season has its own perfume: Spring has the sappy smell of working bulbs, piercing sword leaves, and swelling buds. Smell a daffodil and you know the entire fragrance of spring. During high summer the golden liquid of a thousand scent bottles changes unnoticed into a pot-pourri of fallen petals. The smell of autumn, perhaps the most nostalgic of all scents, of rotting leaves, wood-smoke and mushrooms, hangs motionless between the trees until one day we realize that it has gone, who knows where – and the chill of splintered mirrors in frozen ditches gives out the faintest perfume of the year. [Green Magic]

Translate these scents of the seasons into colours, and we have for spring the pale green of new leaves. Summer’s scent is a deep rose-pink; autumn is an orange-red, fading to brown and then to grey, as the season dies. Winter’s cold faint perfume is a silvered ice-blue in the witch’s world where we often ‘see’ intangible things in terms of colour.

The Scent of a Witch by Melusine Draco is published by ignotus press uk : ISBN: 9781803022338 : Paperback : Pages  104 : Price £6.85 : Published  28 October 2021 : Order direct from

New release

Quartz: Breath of the Dragon

There are many different varieties of quartz, several of which are semi-precious gemstones. Since antiquity, varieties of quartz have been the most commonly used minerals in the making of jewellery and hard-stone carvings, while in the metaphysical world quartz crystals are the supreme gift of Mother Earth. Even the smallest piece is imbued with powerful properties that enable the bearer to cross the boundaries between the worlds; while archaeologists are finding more and more evidence that quartz played an important part in the ritual and burial customs of our Megalithic and Paleolithic ancestors

It is the quartz element of granite that reconnects us with the spirit within the landscape. As an accomplished occultist and having a doctorate in Geology, one of the Coven’s founders, Mériém Clay-Egerton, was fascinated by the fact that for millennia, humanity and quartz had interacted with each other. She wrote that our ancestors having recognised the qualities of quartz was evident from the studies of its usage, not region by region, but over the entire area of the British Isles and other parts of the world: “Everywhere one looks there are clear distinct traces. To people who know its potential, it was clearly no accidental employment of any material to hand. It was sought out for use. Why?”

Quartz is the most common constituent of rock, she went on to explain, a basic silicate dioxide having three molecules arranged in either a right or left-handed spiral form, which has the power of polarising light in more than one direction: “When light enters a crystal it splits into two beams, due to the differing speeds of the light’s velocity being refracted back from the different vibration of the crystal’s lattices, and their own individual refracting indices. In certain circumstances, the crystals can act as ‘windows’ to ultra-violet and infra-red wavelengths. In addition to these scientific points, we may also hear quartz crystals hum or ‘sing’. We can also see quartz crystals displaying piezoelectric effects.”

These are scientific terms for what our ancestors knew: “Burial chambers with quartz kerb-stones were commonplace, as were the pits used for inhumations, which were sprinkled with quartz chippings, both whole and broken. There is a school of thought that these were used to either keep the individuals concerned safely at rest, or to permit the living to contact spirit entities when they were in a correctly attuned state.”

On a metaphysical level, Mériém wrote: “Standing stones (some of which are made of quartz – others may contain a high percentage of it), are accepted by psychics [and magical practitioners] as being able to act as conductors of ‘earth-force’, such as that encountered at nodal points for energy lines. If they are acting like natural ‘acupuncture needles’, then it is not surprising that they should be as pure a substance as possible and with natural powers of their own. Many circles in the south-west of England appear to have been originally constructed with a central point; other phases being tacked on afterwards. A quartz stone, or stones with high quartz content, will often appear in such a prominent position, having superseded the original wooden post.” A new study  reveals how Stonehenge has stood the test of time so successfully: The quartz crystals that make up the sarsens form an interlocking structure that makes the boulders nearly indestructible.

And much closer to home: “Nowadays, we protect our water with chemicals to make it fit for us to drink, but in ancient times folk made offerings to the guardians of holy wells. Some were simple things, others were valuable objects that had been ceremoniously broken; it is strange how often white stones, and quartz in particular, figured highly on the list of offerings. As the wells were quite often used in fertility and healing rites, then I suppose we should naturally expect quartz to be a frequent gift. Today, crystal healing is still practised; and quartz plain or coloured, is one of the principal stones used – yet another relic of our past.”

In truth, as Dr Clay-Egerton asserted some forty years ago, the use of quartz in prehistoric stone-working traditions was a worldwide phenomenon.  For archaeologists, however, quartz analysis presented significant challenges with the result that it was often misidentified, or ignored, or only cursorily analysed.  Indeed, well into the 20th-century, quartz artefacts were routinely discarded during excavations.  Nevertheless, quartz was an integral part of traditional British Old Craft teaching all those years ago and, despite the contemporary pagan penchant for crystals, for us nothing was allowed to displace quartz from being the most valuable stone for witchcraft.

On a final note: quartz is solid silica and if it did not crystallize when it solidified it is known as flint, and everyone knows that two flints struck together will produce a spark. What is not generally known is that all quartz pebbles will do the same and often produce bigger and better sparks. Clear quartz, or rock crystal, will produce an orange spark if two pieces are struck together in a darkened room, accompanied by the smell of burning … and this can be viewed as magical fire from the very Earth itself.  Despite all the gems of the world, for the magical practitioner, natural quartz should remain the most precious gift of all.

As a result of this current resurgence of academic interest, there is a certain pride and satisfaction in knowing that the ‘old-fashioned’ teachings of traditional British Old Craft are now being validated by contemporary scientists and archaeologists, who are beginning to understand that the ancients’ obsession with quartz crystals was more than just a passing fancy.  It was Aleister Crowley who maintained that magic was an amalgam of art and science and those Old Crafters of my generation were fortunate indeed, that our founder was a doctor of geology, with more than a passing interest in archaeology, anthropology and ‘earth mysteries’.  This meant that we also had a thorough grounding in these subjects and were encouraged to investigate further for information and knowledge … a practice that is maintained within the Coven to the present day.

‘Thanks, Mériém …’

Quartz: Breath of the Dragon is the sixth in the ignotus press Arcanum series. ISBN: 9781803021829 : Type Paperback : Pages: 104 : Published: 17 September 2021: Price£6.85 : Order direct from

WRITER@WORK – Autumn Equinox

WRITER@WORK –  Autumn Equinox

with Melusine Draco

This is the best time of year to pick up old projects and get them finished … or re-started.  Now we’re about to see the next Temple House Archive novel – PACT!  – to be published.  It’s an unusual title but it saw me killing off one of my favourite characters and the tying-up of all the loose ends in the series, so that the next book – Labyrinth – starts from scratch.   It’s also led to the idea that the TH Archive would make a good television series and so will be poking and prodding about among the production companies over the next few months to explore the possibilities.  These are unchartered waters so any suggestions would be gratefully appreciated …

The Water Boatman in ‘A Tale For All Seasons’ quartet is now available in paperback and e-book format.  Set against a backdrop of the British waterways, the principal character is a modern day herbalist and cunning-man who operates off his luxury narrowboat to become embroiled in various adventures along the way.   Although it has its own fair share of bodies along the tow-path, this is much more of a cosy-crime … along with the start of the next Hugo Braithwaite Mystery … Break In! … set against a covid background because we can’t ignore it completely, can we?

It’s also time to start on the fourth title in The Vampyre’s Tale series – Mememto Mori – that picks up the story in the Middle Ages as it moves towards its conclusion with its dual time-line.  Dark doings for a darker time of the year

At the back end of the Summer, Moon Books issued a contract for Sumer Is Icumen In: How to Survive (and Enjoy) the Mid-Summer Festival and saw me make a start on the next title Song of Harvest Home in the same format.  If MB accept it there will be Springtime to follow … if not, they can be published under the ignotus press banner.

Ignotus Press’s Arcanum series is well under way with the first four titles already in print: Sacrifice To The Gods, Talking To Crows, Hagstones and Thrice Great Thoth.  With The Power of Images, Quartz and Scent of a Witch currently in production, Gateways to Otherworld should bring the total up to eight by the end of the year.

I’m also making a stab at a new departure into a sci-fi adventure …

So yes … all in all it’s been a very busy and productive summer

The Power of the Pendulum

My fingers are best suited to cleidomancy and over the years I have experimented with numerous different types and sizes of pendulum made of different materials.  Magically a pendulum is a weight suspended from a pivotal cord or chain so that it can swing freely; scientifically when a pendulum is displaced sideways from its resting, equilibrium position, it is subject to a restoring force due to gravity that will accelerate it back toward the equilibrium position.  Generally speaking, a pendulum is a small weight on a cord or chain. And that’s all it is! It can be any weight, and it can be any sort of cord or chain.  The pendulum itself is more often than not, an object only about ½ inch by 1 inch in size and the cord or string is about 8 inches long; the whole thing fitting easily in a small pocket or pouch.

Like dowsing with hazel twigs, from earliest times, pendulums have been used to locate water, gold, gems, and other valuable commodities – as well as missing items. In Europe early scientists and doctors would consult a pendulum for medical diagnosis to locate infections and weak areas of the body and to determine the gender of unborn infants. In the practice of radiesthesia, a pendulum is used today for medical diagnosis.

People also trust the pendulum enough to let it guide them through the most difficult times of their lives. For an extreme example, during WWII, a pendulum was used by Colonel Kenneth Merrylees to locate deeply buried bombs.  He was employed by the Army to dowse water supplies for Allied troops at the front, and also worked as a bomb disposal expert back home, where he used his dowsing skills to find unexploded bombs with delayed-action fuses that had penetrated deep into the ground; famously locating one 500-pounder under the swimming pool at Buckingham Palace. Even the most hard-bitten sceptic is not going dismiss the Colonel’s remarkable abilities with his pendulum!

Another advocate of The Power of the Pendulum (published in 1976) was T.C. Lethbridge, an English archaeologist, parapsychologist, and explorer. A specialist in Anglo-Saxon archaeology, he served as honorary Keeper of Anglo-Saxon Antiquities at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and over the course of his lifetime wrote twenty-four books on various subjects, becoming particularly well known for his dowsing and other experiments with a pendulum.

It is usual practice to first determine the response you will be using: (i.e. left-right, up-down); which will indicate ‘yes’ and which ‘no’ before proceeding to ask the pendulum specific questions.  The pendulum may also be held over a pad or cloth with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ written on it, or perhaps other words written in a circle. The person holding the pendulum aims to hold it as steadily as possible over the center and its movements are believed to indicate answers to the questions. Repeatedly asking the same question should be avoided as pendulums have been known to become ratty and climb up the cord like a snake about to strike!

Quite simply, when held correctly, the pendulum reacts to very small nerve reactions in our fingers that are generated by our unconscious mind in response to a question. Different nerve reactions will be detected depending on what our subconscious mind knows. These reactions are transmitted to our fingers from the deep recesses of the mind and through our fingers to the cord holding the weight of the pendulum. These tiny nerve transmissions affect the cord and are then transmitted to the weight – causing it to move in some direction. So rid yourself of the myth that a pendulum is moved by some spirit, or by magic – it is moved by our subconscious mind …

… and yet! There is a certain amount of magic in the ability to interpret some of the reactions.  I have found that the best results come from a pendulum with some quartz content since this is the mineral that ‘earths’ our magical abilities and makes the link with those chthonic energies that set the pendulum swinging … backwards and forwards for ‘yes’ … in a circle for ‘no’ … although others may use the opposite interpretation.  We make sure we’re on the same wavelength by uttering a simple incantation like: ‘Adonai, please answer my questions. Swing backwards and forwards for ‘yes’ or in a circle for ‘no’.  I thank you’.

My personal pendulum is a heavy crystal droplet from an old chandelier. Despite its name, ‘crystal’ is actually glass containing a minimum of twenty-four per cent lead. Not present in other types of glassware, the lead increases the sparkle and makes it easier to cut; the brilliance of lead crystal relies on the high reflective qualities caused by this lead content.  Although these droplets are manufactured there is still enough lead content to link us with the earth and its magical correspondences.  I also use a heavy pendulum because it takes more than a slight nervous reaction to set it swinging, and also for it to change from swinging backwards and forwards, to rotating in a circle without any detectable sensation of movement within the hand in response to my questions.

In addition, in alchemy lead is known as the silent metal. It is a law unto itself and in magic creates a space of silence; this is the perfect metal for ‘infinite space’ meditations, making an effective barrier against all forms of negative energy.  Ruled by Saturn, the magical use of lead promotes contact with deep unconscious levels (both the underworld and Otherworld), deep meditation, banishing negativity breaking bad habits and addictions, protection, stability, grounding, solidity, perseverance, concentration and conservation.

The magical correspondences also include: the astrological houses of Capricorn and Aquarius; Chronos, the father of Time; the Universe in the Major Arcana; the colours black and blue-black; magical powers of malediction and death (since lead is highly toxic), alchemy and geomancy; perfumes – all dull and heavy odours including sulphur and asafoetida.

It is not surprising, therefore that a ‘crystal’ pendulum with its high lead content makes the perfect tool for divinatory work. For the record, my second choice would be a clear quartz crystal with bands of rutile since quartz (in all its forms) is the most magical mineral on the planet. Although in magical circles we are warned to ‘never haggle over a black egg’, a large droplet from a broken down chandelier  can be obtained for a few pounds off e-Bay, while a decent sized quartz/rutile pendant could have set me back over £100.

Let’s face it, divination is both a skill and an arte but an individual’s proficiency depends on regular practice just as much as his or her natural abilities. Most witches do, of course, have a particular favourite divining tool, which acts as a prompt for tuning in to psychic forces and if you already have a favourite method, then there is absolutely no reason to change. Just as the good all-rounder is rare in any walk of life, so the witch who can divine by using every tool imaginable is a rare animal indeed!   In addition, there are also different types of ‘tool’. For example, there now are hundreds of different Tarot packs to choose from and it won’t be until you find the design that ‘talks’ to you that you will excel in spontaneous tarot readings for yourself.

As with all elements of Craft the more we understand about the history and antecedents of our chosen divinatory method, the easier it becomes to instantly get onto our ‘contacts’ regardless of the technique we are using.  It isn’t enough to buy a modern book off Amazon and slavishly follow the directions.  We need to understand the history behind the system and to discover where it has travelled from to re-emerge in 21st century western esoteric writing.  We need to re-connect with the ancient seers, shaman and augers of the ancient world

Pagan Portals: Divination by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books ISBN 978 1 78535 858 6 : 82 pp : UK£6.99/US$10.95 : Available in paperback and e-book format.

New release …

ARCANUM New release

Thrice Great Thoth: The Magician’s Magician

Thrice Great Thoth: the Magician’s Magician by Mélusine Draco is the fourth title published in the ‘Arcanum series’ for Ignotus Books. 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. Based on the idea of those children’s ‘Ladybird’ books that often introduced us to an interest that lasted a life time and, 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.

In its simplest form, the modern function of the ancient Egyptian god, Thoth, can be seen as being the patron of writers and magical practitioners. Thoth is attested from the earliest historical periods onwards: he already played a prominent role in the oldest religious texts of Egypt, the Pyramid Texts, and continues to appear almost everywhere in Egypt up to the end of Egyptian religion some 4000 years later. Throughout this long period the god is overwhelmingly present in a vast body of documentation that yields an extraordinarily colorful picture of his nature and functions within the Egyptian pantheon. We should not forget that the archaic Thoth-cult of the pre-Dynastic era was a long way removed from the sophisticated theology of Ptolemaic times. Neither is my shadowy concept of Thoth enjoying a fine single malt and a cigar any more incongruous that the anthropomorphic images carved in the stone of the ancient temples. In historical terms, the death of Cleopatra was nearer to man’s landing on the moon, than it was to the magnificence of the pyramid-building era of ancient Egypt – but through all these times of change Thoth’s popularity has endured. Still holding the brush and palette of a scribe, since the wisdom of which he is the Master is in particular that contained in the sacred texts.

ISBN: 9781803020969 : Type: Paperback : Pages: 102 : Price £6.85

Published: 6th August 2021 – Also available in Kindle e-book format

Order direct from

Lammastide – the holy of holies

In the good old days, the harvest festivals began in August (Lunasa – ‘beginning of harvest’) followed by September (Meán Fómhair) and October (Deireadh Fómhair) translated as ‘middle of harvest’ and ‘end of harvest’ respectively. Harvest was one of the most sacred times of the pagan year and the Harvest Home or In-Gathering was a community observance at the end of the harvest to celebrate and give thanks for the bounty with all its attendant celebrations, including the singing of the traditional folksongs like John Barleycorn. Celebrating the harvest is still the holiest time of the Craft year and Lammas celebrates the coming of harvest-tide with its decoration of corn sheaves, fancy loaves, berries and fruits – all leading up to the Autumnal Equinox (or Michaelmas) that marked its zenith with the eating of the traditional goose and the raucous festivities of the community harvest supper and country fairs.

Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, ‘loaf-mass’), however, is a holiday still celebrated in English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere, usually between 1st August and 1st September, to mark the annual wheat harvest – the first harvest festival of the year. On this day it became customary to bring to the local church a loaf made from the new crop that began to be harvested at Lammastide. The loaf was blessed, and in Anglo-Saxon England it might be employed afterwards to work magic: a book of Anglo-Saxon charms directed that the Lammas bread be broken into four bits, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the garnered grain from rot and vermin. In many parts of England, tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords on or before the first day of August. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is referred to regularly, it is called ‘the feast of first fruits’

The Chronicle is an account of events in Anglo-Saxon and Norman England; a compilation of seven surviving interrelated manuscript records that provides the primary source for the early history of England. The original manuscript was created late in the 9th century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great (c871–899). Multiple copies were made of that one original and then distributed to monasteries across England, where they were independently updated. In one case, the Chronicle was still being actively updated in 1154 and seven of the nine surviving manuscripts and fragments now reside in the British Library. The remaining two are in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

The ninth century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; the 10th– century Anales Cambraie; Chronicle of Aethelweard and even earlier sources such as the 8th-century historians, St. Bede of Jarrow and Nennius of Bangor, all shed light on the conversion of the pagan Anglo-Saxons, and each of them in turn referred to the 6th– century writings of Gildas the Wise. These are among the primary sources used to study who the early pagan Anglo-Saxons were – and how it was that they came to abandon their ancestral religion in favour of Christianity.

Lughnasadh’s pagan origins are mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature, the festival being named after the old Celtic sun-god Lugh. It involved great ‘in-gatherings’ that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking and trading – and visits to holy wells – with many of the activities taking place on hilltops and mountains. According to folklorist Máire MacNeill, evidence shows that the religious rites included an offering of the ‘first fruits’, a feast of the new food and of bilberries, the sacrifice of a bull and a ritual dance-play in which Lugh seizes the harvest for mankind and defeats the powers of blight. In Wales, Gŵyl Awst marks the first harvest, because there is a second harvest at the time of the Autumn Equinox.

Old Lughnasadh: Irish: Lúnasa; Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal; Manx: Luanistyn is the Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man and was originally held about halfway between the Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox; over time, however, the celebrations shifted to correspond to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and the English Lammas. According to the Julian calendar, 14th August is the day to connect magically with the Ancestors for a true first Old Craft harvest celebration when ‘Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood’.

This is also a season of renewed growth in some trees during July and August in the northern hemisphere, and Lammas growth on trees can be really pretty. On oaks it tends to be lime green but is often tinged with red and it brings the trees to life again, and makes the woods and hedgerows look refreshed.  Lammas growth declines with the age of the tree, being most vigorous and noticeable in young trees. It differs in nature from spring growth, which is fixed when leaves and shoots are laid down in the bud the previous year. The Lammas flush is free growth of newly-made leaves throughout the tree.

It was beneath the oaks of the New Forest that King William Rufus went hunting on 2nd August in the year 1100, and was killed by an arrow through the lung, though the full circumstances still remain unclear. The earliest statement of the event was in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which noted that the king was ‘shot by an arrow by one of his own men’. According to an unidentified ecclesiastical account, a charcoal burner took the King’s body, placed it on a rude cart, covered it with a ragged cloth and conveyed it to Winchester.

The body was said to have dripped blood along the entire route, an idea consistent with the belief that the blood of the divine sacrifice must fall on the ground in order to fertilize it. The king was mourned not by the Christian nobles but by the largely pagan common folk, who lined the roads of his funeral procession and followed the body to the grave; thus giving voice to the legend that William Rufus’s death was a ritual sacrifice as part of the dying-god fertility cult since he was descended from a pagan leader on both sides of his family. Many of his friends and close associates were also openly heathen, and his chief advisor was Randolf Flambard, recorded in the Chronicles as the son of a witch.

Along with the Mid-Winter Festival, the celebration of the Harvest is one of the most important celebrations in the Old Calendar and, like Yule, is celebrated over a number of weeks until the full harvest has been gathered in – culminating in a community In-gathering or Harvest Home. That a working knowledge of the natural tides was requisite in traditional witchcraft is shown by Paul Huson in Mastering Witchcaft (1970) and later by Patricia Crowther in Lid Off the Cauldron (1981).  And yet apart from the monthly moon cycle, much of this teaching is absent from contemporary pagan writings. 

In truth, the ‘dark tide’ first begins to stir at Lammas, the time of fruition and harvest when the crops are gathered and fruits begin to ripen. Under the new style calendar, Lammas would be celebrated on 1st August; since we still follow the old calendar, so would perform the Lammas Rite on 12th August.  We’re heading towards the Autumnal Equinox, when the two tides of summer/winter, bright/dark, god/goddess stand equally opposed so – the bright tide will start to wane, the dark aspect ever increasing – and traditionally Lammas was essentially a male-oriented ritual. The goddess-imagery now begins to fades into the background until the fires of Candlemas and the Vernal Equinox call her forth once again; with a shared celebration of fresh bread and wine/beer she takes her leave and future Coven rites reflect the god’s power.

In ye olden days, the Lammas celebration was exclusively a male affair with the women waiting outside the Circle in order that they may – or may not – be invited to participate in the rite.

Within CoS we tend to keep things simple at Lammas and wait for the ‘big event’ at the Autumnal Equinox when the feast should be a full scale, bells and whistles, Harvest Home supper.  Weather-wise, however, Lammas is still basically a summer event and fresh-baked crusty bread goes with all sorts of seasonal food; if it happens to be cold a thick home-made soup goes down just as well.

It is also a great time for implementing one of those other popular pagan institutions – Pot Luck – that is a communal gathering where each coven member contributes a different, often homemade, dish of food to be shared. The pot-luck supper is a great idea in theory: but in practice, it still needs organizing. What if the dishes clash? What if everyone brings lasagna? If you’re a Type-A personality, like most Dames and Magisters, tell people what to bring, especially if you intend eating outside.  This dispenses with any difficulties.

Everyone uses pot-luck to bring their favorite indulgent dishes, like pasta salads or macaroni and cheese bakes, but don’t be afraid to offer to bring something new.  Ideally, people almost always bring dishes that can be eaten off a plate and that’s fine: but the pot-luck plate often lacks crunch and brightness. Bring something fresh like a grain salad or a raw vegetable side dish for some variety.  If you’re going store-bought, bring cured meats and cheeses, or pick up a great nut mix.  Don’t forget that fresh produce is never better than during the summer, so take advantage and make a dish that highlights the produce of the season. A crisp veggie/salad tray fresh from the garden is a welcome addition to a spread that features mostly comfort foods; serve any dressings separately to prevent things from going soggy – or the beetroot salad escaping into the coleslaw!  And lots of fresh, crusty breads for this Lammas night.

Don’t forget that the Lammas loaf was made from the first corn cut that morning, and by night-fall the woman of the house would have had a freshly baked loaf waiting to be eaten.  The designs for Lammas loaves are varied and can be from a simple cottage loaf to a plait, or the more ambitious wreaths and corn sheaves – the latter often having a little mouse cunningly concealed at the bottom – like Mouseman furniture!  If we’re not bread-makers make a trip to the local bakers and fill a large wicker shopping basket with a selection of different breads and rolls that can be served with lashings of ‘real’ butter. 

Since I’ve never made bread that couldn’t double as a door-stop, the following recipe from A Witch’s Treasury of Hearth & Garden became part of our own Coven tradition and could be quickly prepared when time was pressing at the time of the harvest …

The Lammas Cake

8 oz self-raising flour with 1 teaspoon mixed spice

5 oz castor sugar and 5 oz butter

6 oz currants

6 oz sultanas

2 oz chopped peel

2 eggs beaten with 6 tablespoons milk

Mix flour and spices. Beat butter and sugar to cream. Beat eggs and milk together. Alternatively stir in flour and egg/milk mixture to the butter and sugar a little at a time. Add fruit and mix thoroughly. Line a loaf tin with grease-proof paper and bake the mixture for 1 hour at Gas Mark 5 (350F/180C) for 1½ hours, then at Gas Mark 2 (300F/150C).  Wrap the tin in a thick layer of newspaper to prevent burning.

It is from those last sheaves of Lammas corn that the stems for making the corn dollies are taken. Even today the corn dolly tradition is still followed in the UK, where most counties have their own designs and forms. The Stafford Knot, the Suffolk Horseshoe, the Yorkshire Spiral or Corn Drop are just a few of the old variations that survive today. While many don’t look like a typical ‘dolly’ in the general sense of the word, their care and crafting are still imbibed with intent and mystery, and a desire to protect the promise of the next growing season. Whatever shape or form they take, the ‘Spirit of the Grain’ is still a potent pagan custom and magical working, and we don’t have to be a farmer to take advantage of its talismanic power. It can represent success and bounty, and the fervent hope the future will hold prosperity and abundance. 

In European pagan culture it was believed that the spirit of the corn lived amongst the crop, and that the harvest made it effectively homeless.  James Frazer devotes some four chapters to the ‘corn mother and corn maiden’ customs in The Golden Bough. Among the customs attached to the last sheaf of the harvest were hollow shapes fashioned from the last stook of wheat or other cereal crop. The corn spirit would then spend the winter in the house or barn until the ‘Spirit of the Grain’ was ploughed back into the first furrow of the new season.

Smaller versions of this country craft were usually made for individuals and it is with these personal examples that we are most familiar. A countryman’s favour was usually a braid of three straws and tied into a loose knot to represent a heart. It was believed that if it had been made by a young man from straws picked up after the harvest and given to his loved one – and if she was wearing it next to her heart when he saw her again then he would know that his love was reciprocated.  Corn dollies were also made as a badge of trade at hiring fairs, where men and women would decorate them with a wisp of wool or horse hair to signify that they were a shepherd, for example, or a wagoner.

These annual hiring fairs were held later in the year, during Martinmas week at the end of November, in the northern market towns where both male and female agricultural servants would gather in order to bargain with prospective employers and, hopefully, secure a position for the coming year. The yearly hiring included board and lodging for single employees for the whole year – with wages being paid at the end of the year’s service. These fairs attracted all the other trappings of a fair, and they turned into major feasts in their own right, which attracted poor reputations for the drunkenness and immorality involved.

The corn dolly is another way of connecting with a tradition our Ancestors would have celebrated around Lammas-tide – even if we just take a bunch of corn stalks, trimmed and tied with a scarlet ribbon. What will our corn dolly represent? What promises, what hopes do we wish to manifest in the coming seasons? Will we make room at our altar or hearth for the ‘Spirit of the Grain’ to ward off the lean times? The magical power of the dolly is not merely the object itself, but the care and work put into it: a representation of the sacrifice we all make today to ensure a better tomorrow. Whatever form of greater increase and prosperity we desire, perhaps keeping the ‘Spirit of the Grain’ in a safe, warm place through times of slack and dormancy could help us stay opportunistic on our way to our own bountiful harvest!

Because it was common practice to break up corn dollies from the previous year and sow the grains in the spring with the new planting, it’s unusual to see many old ones around.  Since the corn dolly is a symbol of wishing wealth on the household, it is pointless leaving it to gather dust for years on end, particularly as the ‘wealth’ comes from the releasing of the Spirit of the Grain back into the fields to work its magic.  If we give a corn dolly to someone else, do make sure they understand that come spring they should take it outside and burn it, sprinkling the ashes onto the garden.

Lammas is still a time of excitement and magic. The natural world is thriving around us, and yet the knowledge that everything will soon die looms in the background. This is a good time to work some protective magic around the hearth and home.  This occasion celebrates the beginning of the harvest season and the cycle of rebirth, and can be done by a solitary practitioner or adapted for a group or coven setting.  It is an expression of gratitude for the change in seasons — from a season of planting to a season of harvest – that marks today’s observance.

The floral tribute for this time of year is a huge vase full of dried grain stalks with as many different varieties as possible – wheat, oats, barley – these characteristic heads make a distinctive display that will last for weeks. Wheat is one of the oldest and most important of the cereal crops cultivated in Britain since prehistoric times, so its symbolism is timeless.

If working solitary, prepare a platter of fresh bread together with small dips of oil, honey, together with wine and spring water to symbolise the age-old offerings.  Think about the bounty that fills our life. What are we getting ready to ‘harvest’? Have we taken time over the summer to enjoy the fruits of our labour? How are we preparing to shift into the darkness of the coming months? 

Break the bread into large chunks and set some outside (or at your altar) as an offering. Have some of the bread yourself, first with olive oil, and then with honey. Wash it down with your harvest beverage and fresh spring water, and offer your thanks for the abundance of the coming harvest.   Mix the oil, wine, honey and water together and make a libation for the Old Ones by pouring it on the ground outside. 

We often forget that honouring the seasons and our Tradition do not have to be grand celebrations, full of complicated Compass casting, fancy rituals with bells and smells, and sumptuous feasts – yet!  Of course the Sabbats can include one or all of those things, but do they have to be? Of course not. Honouring the change of the season can be as simple as a lighted candle, a murmured invocation, and a libation. Just five minutes to reconnect with our beliefs, our deity and the land.

‘Wishing you all the joy of the Season’ – Melusine Draco

The Temple House Archive series

by Melusine Draco

Every book has a story behind the story of how it came to be written. It may be about a life-long passion, a personal journey, the need to share an experience or knowledge. It may have been fermenting in the brain for years, or sprung fully formed from a blinding epiphany. Whether it be fact or fiction, sometimes the story behind the story is almost as interesting as the published book itself …

Many of us cut our magical eye-teeth on magical fiction and the purpose of the Temple House Archive was to follow in the footsteps of Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley in creating a series of titles that were entertaining as well as instructional. 

I was always a great fan of The Legacy, that Canadian television series from the 1980s, and although the rather bigoted ‘light is right and anything that comes from the shadows is highly suspect’ attitude was irritating it provided great entertainment. What if …The idea festered for many years and there came along New Tricks and again the ‘what if …’ element reared its head for combining the esoteric with modern investigative procedures, together with the multi-casting story-lines of the CSI series, the idea for the Temple House series was born. What if …

If I’m completely honest the Temple House is pure indulgence – giving the opportunity to bring together all sorts of demons, degenerates and dire doings all under one roof and covering the realms of esoteric, suspense, horror and thriller. Where were these super-heroes coming from? They had to have an authentic and credible historical background. What if …

… the Temple House had been founded in 1586 in Elizabethan England 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 intelligentsia of the time. For my purpose he recruited the descendants of the Knights Templar. The Order had remained surrounded by myth and legend ever since its demise – but drawing on this 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 referred to in memory of the original nine founder members of the Order, had all to be specialists and magical practitioners in the diverse fields of occultism and its relevant histories. And it wasn’t easy to build up a team that were creatures of the modern world and not throwbacks to a bygone age, although they all had a highly developed sense of honour and obligation to tradition. The first thing that went was the location. No gloomy Gothic exteriors, crumbling castles or dank caverns – the Temple House would be located somewhere light and airy – in a smaller version of my own dream home: Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous ‘Falling Water’ perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean!

Yes, of course, the story-lines descend into darkness but the characters themselves are modern, forward thinking people who exist as a well-oiled machine. House of Strange Gods conjured up a traditional demon from the Abyss with various different sub-plots including a homicidal link to the past but it also weeded out one of the characters who wasn’t up to scratch and had to be replaced. Realm of Shadow weeded out a couple more as the story-lines acted out the process of natural selection; while Hour Betwixt Dog & Wolf stretched credibility beyond reason – as often happens.  This wasn’t my original intention but as any novelist knows, these things have a habit of developing a life-force of their own and whereas certain characters can’t cope with certain situations in real life, so the flaws are also exposed in a fictional world. They just don’t work! The Thirteenth Sign deals with a primitive African-cult manifesting in Central London; a haunted house in the West Country and an on-line business for curses by mail-order, while the latest title – PACT! – speaks for itself.

To assemble the cast I used my tried and trusted trick of ‘casting’ – who would I get to play those characters if it were a television series (regardless of age) – and to help with the creative process I gave the Temple House its own Facebook page. The page keeps readers up to date on the progress of the team’s latest adventures and arranges special offers on Kindle e-books and discounted prices on all paperback versions ordered direct from the printer. It also gives readers the opportunity to interact with the characters, suggest story-lines for future titles, and enjoy reading the additional information on the background research involved for the next title which, hopefully, will appeal to writers as well as readers.

I like to think that the series has an instructional element to the stories because there’s such a diversity to the phenomena that some magical explanation is required to trigger the reader’s imagination. Throughout the books the Knights Templar background is emphasised and so we get history, too, as well as magic. They’ve been fun to write and, I hope, fun to read, too …

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici), or more commonly known as the Knights Templar, were formed in 1118 and ‘destroyed’ in 1307 by royal decree when King Phillipe of France moved to have all Templars arrested and their assets seized. The Order has remained surrounded by myth and legend ever since – from searching and reputedly finding the Holy Grail; the Ark of the Covenant; sacred Gnostic texts even more dangerous than those found by the Dead Sea, or at Nag Hammadi in Egypt; to the timely disappearance of their naval fleet from La Rochelle and their treasure from the Paris Temple.

When creating characters for a novel, I use the ‘casting couch’ method by thinking to myself: which actor/celebrity (past or present) would I choose to play my character, and the choice is more likely to be reliant on a particular past role rather than the actor’s own personality. Very often this choice can also have a direct influence on the way the character speaks and acts within the parameters of the Temple House novels. This technique has proved highly successful for the Temple House series especially with such a large cast of major players and to make sure they all get equal ‘billing’. So … in ‘Meet the Characters’ is how I see them in my mind’s eye … or the people I would chose to play the parts.

As one reader commented in a review of the first books: “What interested me the most was the group dynamic of the ‘Nine’. Their skills and knowledge are vast but they’re united by a deep sense of trust in and commitment to each other. This focus and dedication is also applied to combating forces of evil, both human and non-human. They watch each other’s backs. The characters come across as being quite believable and likeable. I took a shine to many of them … Two have Templar lineage, the others consist of specialists in the fields of forensics, archaeology, anthropology, theology, medieval history, classics, and communications. The group comprises of people ‘blessed’ with natural psychic abilities and those with such gifts thrust upon them by accident. They are a tight knit band, which is always necessary for any group work, more so in the pursuit of paranormal anomalies.”

Aliona de Foresta: Professor of Archeo-astrology is Hereditary Head of the Temple House, author and television personality descended from Guy de Foresta, Master of the Templars in England on three separate occasions between 1275 and1288. Initiate of the Egyptian Mystery Tradition and an authority on ancient stellar-associated religious belief and cosmogony. Widow of Phillipe Middleburne; mother of Luc, heir to the Middleburne Estate and twin sister to Guy de Foresta, who preferred to build boats than take over the Temple House when their father Laurent de Foresta died. Both Aliona and her brother are highly intelligent – highly volatile – and devoted to each other; while Luc is constantly driven round the bend by her ‘fussing’.

     Perhaps not surprisingly, she is still my favourite character as she is the lynchpin for the whole Temple House Archive series. She is not always a likeable or sympathetic personality but she has the necessary steely character required to be the hereditary Head of an ancient esoteric Order. She was the first of ‘the Nine’ to come alive having seen Janette Suzman in a similar role in an old Morse episode where she played a dynamic 50-ish professional woman with elegance and conviction. Neither can anyone do ‘exasperation’ quite like Suzman and the younger members of the team often get the opportunity to produce this reaction in their leader. She is fiercely loyal to her ‘troops’ and would defend them to the hilt, regardless of the cost.

     As one reader observed: “She’s a strong female character who knows her own mind; as a trusted and respected leader whose team trusts her implicitly. I thought this was an excellent portrayal of a female character in a position that many authors would have assigned to a male. I would trust her and have faith in her decisions, which I can’t say of many people who profess to be leaders! I think Janette Suzman would have been spot on as regards ‘casting’.”

Robert Sands ‘Monsignor’: Emeritus Professor of Theology, Cambridge

Robert specialises in Norse and Anglo-Saxon languages and culture. He is a widely published authority on alternative religion, new religious movements, cults and heretical sects. Also of Templar lineage – Robert de Sable, Master 1191-1193 – he is Aliona’s greatest friend and Luc’s godfather, and originally brought into the Temple House by Laurent de Foresta following the collapse of his marriage. He is the lover of Christine Kemble, many years his junior, who has managed to inject some brightness into his formerly austere existence and whom he marries after his near-fatal shooting [Realm of Shadow].

     One reader commented: “He’s rather an enigmatic character and as an academic hasn’t got a lot of time for airy-fairy theories and conjecture. I like the spirited debates he has with JJ Dee and his wife but he’s obviously a good natured soul underneath. What a brain! And what a pedigree!”

     Robert is one of the Temple Elders and don’t ask me why – but rock star Bryan Ferry just kept popping up as ‘Monsignor’! Well, he had to have something of the illustrious past etched into his face and I couldn’t get rid of the mental image of the craggy Mr Elegance himself. Neither the reality nor the fictional character appear to suffer fools gladly and while Professor Sands wouldn’t be wearing the glam attire the singer used to favour, he nevertheless is the epitome of his own brand of the immaculate turnout. He’d also got to have something about him to attract a young and attractive wife.

John James (‘JJ’) Dee: Medieval History

JJ holds the rank of ‘Adeptus’ in a Western Ritual Magic Order and a Temple Elder, is an acknowledged expert in the interpretation of the Western Qabalah, esoteric acronyms, sigils and symbols – and demonology. Specialises in icon identification and symbology; contemporary usage and examples – medieval Inquisition and related church affairs. Frequently liaises with the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit at Quantico, Virginia. An excellent chef and connoisseur of good food and wine, with a dry sense of humour to match, he is the only person to win both Mastermind and MasterChef – and usually finds himself acting as ‘exorcist’ to some of the more unsavoury manifestations from the Abyss.

     As unlikely as it sounds, the person that fitted this role to perfection in my mind’s eye was the television cookery writer Nigel Slater with his characteristic all-black outfits, specs and floppy hair; his relaxed, laid-back attitude translated perfectly as an excellent foil for his more seriously minded contemporaries.

     The comment’s been made that: “I think JJ, apart from being a very smart guy and an accomplished magician, is a mighty fine cook. The best traits in a guy any woman could want. Although Andy and Will are ex-military, it is JJ who can stand and look real danger right in the face and hold his ground. And I love his sense of humour. He doesn’t take himself too seriously unlike the other characters.”

Dr Gabrielle Fox – Temple House Medic

Dr Fox is an authority on folk and alternative medicine, traditional wort-lore, altered states of consciousness and historical witchcraft. She also acts as the team’s medic, forensics specialist and connoisseur of Gothic literature and cinema – an interest that she shares with Jack Daws. Close friend of Aliona de Foresta, Gabrielle, along with JJ and Robert, is another of the Temple Elders.

     This was a difficult character to ‘see’ for a very long time as she kept coming out too much like her good friend Aliona de Foresta – then I discovered the beautiful Melina Kanakaredes, the Greek actress in CSI: New York and everything fell into place. It was almost like transporting her from one character to another and the join was seamless especially the Anglo-Greek side to her personality. This is a technique I always use when creating characters because it makes it so much easier to see them in the mind’s eye and lessens the risk of them not acting true to form. It’s no wonder the THA macho-man, Will Burl, falls for her – and I didn’t even see that one coming!

     One reader singled her out: “She’s quietly competent but still manages to exude an aura of strength when required out in the field. She strong, dependable, highly intelligent, adaptable and has a good sense of humour – teamed up with Jack Daws they make a formidable duo.”

James ‘Jack’ Daws: Archaeology/Anthropology

A self-opinionated graduate of University College, specialising in prehistory and archaeo-acoustics – the acoustic qualities of prehistoric and medieval construction, and auditory sensibilities – experiencing the sensation of hearing sounds where there is no identifiable external cause. Aficionado of classic cinema, vintage horror films and literature; and a highly experienced climber – a passion he shares with Chrissie Kemble, Andy Ambler and Will Burl.

     I’m also a great fan of young Johnny Depp who is greatly underrated as a comic actor and I needed someone in the team to be a bit of a clown when the need arises. He’d drive me barmy but as a character he’s credible when it comes to getting folk out of a tight corner – and can always be relied upon to say the wrong thing!

     Our proof-editor likes Jack Daws who specialises in archaeo-acoustics: “What a way to hear blasts from the past! He’s cheeky, helps the team to bond and I imagine somewhat of a hunk! He loves old horror movies, too, so a great character to cuddle up with!”

Andrew ‘Andy’ Ambler: Former SAS, intelligence operative, communications and crypt-analysist. Shot in the head during active service and developed extremely accurate psychic abilities as a result. Originally seconded to the Temple House from MI6 [House of Strange Gods] but now a fully-integrated member of the Nine who shares a climbing interest with Jack Daws and Christine Kemble and his old comrade in arms, Will Burl. Often out of his depth with the occult nature of their work. He has a dry and soldier’s ‘black’ sense of humour, and is fiercely loyal to Aliona de Foresta.

     The character was originally based on a real ex-special forces soldier whom I met many years ago minding a couple of Russians at a conference in London but like the rest of us he would be a lot older now! So … who would fit the role today and it had to be Daniel Craig: not particularly good looking but soooo much animal magnetism, and appears to be a bit of a sour puss at times despite the odd flashes of humour. Forget the tux … he’s best when casual, dishevelled and a bit grubby! A fellow author commented: “Oh, the ex-SAS man [Andy Ambler]. Definitely sexy and cool and loads of common sense.”

Christine Kemble is a Doctor of Geology and leading researcher into electromagnetic phenomena – the strange effects associated with the earth’s magnetic field, with a keen interest in the magical lore of gemstones and ‘earth mysteries’; aka author Crystal Kemble. An experienced climbing companion of Jack Daws and lover (and later wife) of the eminent ‘Monsignor’, Robert Sands. Chrissie has a bright, bubbly personality and an infectious laugh that manages to defuse even the grimmest of situations.

     I was looking for a complete contrast to Aliona de Foresta and Gabrielle Fox but it had to be someone who was as academically sound and who provided the statutory (but not ditzy) blonde. She’s happier being one of the boys but her female friendships are equally as important; and she’s fearless when it comes to field-work. She’s the fourth member of the Temple House ‘climbing club’ with Jack Daws, Andy Ambler and Will Burl and absolutely dependable in a crisis … jump to Amanda Redman who plays the indomitable Sandra in New Tricks and the cast was complete – especially as the original idea for THA came from a blend of New Tricks, CSI and the old 1970s series The Legacy.  One reader has gone for Christine Kemble: “She’s my kinda girl – clever, attractive, witty and a tom-boy to boot!”

Wilbur Burl: Another former Special Forces soldier and former comrade in arms of Andy Ambler [House of Strange Gods], originally appointed as security officer for the Temple House and elevated within the Order because of his courage and adaptability. Romantically involved with Gabrielle Fox and a member of the TH climbing club. There’s a good-natured, on-going competitiveness between the two soldiers except in dress – Will wouldn’t be seen dead in Andy’s cut-offs and faded military t-shirts.

     This role had to go to good-looking American actor (and former fashion model) of Criminal Minds fame – Shemar Moore. In real life the actor is of mixed race and in the books Will has a Caribbean-Greek ancestry. There’s also a lot of good-natured sexist leg-pulling that can only work successfully between a group of highly confident and warm-hearted people who genuinely care about each other.

Timothy Brown: An emotionally underdeveloped teenage psychic who lost his parents in a boating incident and was washed up on the Temple House beach. His remarkable abilities are wide reaching but completely untrained; a probationary member of the Temple House team. Although possessed of an extremely high IQ, he nevertheless has the social and emotional outlook of a schoolboy on account of his parents keeping him isolated on account of his ‘strangeness’ [Hour Betwixt Dog & Wolf].

     I needed a sort of River Pheonix-pretty boy look for this new character to provide a complete contrast to the older males … so had a flick through ‘young blond models’ on the internet and this was the closest I could find.

Barbara Ford-Harrington: Retired librarian from the Bodleian Library at Oxford and a traditional Old Craft witch. She joins the Temple House team following a case involving some of her strange neighbours. An excellent researcher and a highly suitable replacement for former team member Maurice Morgan and a valuable colleague of JJ Dee and Robert Sands.

     I had a sort of mature Angela Rippon-type for this character who wears her long blonde hair caught up in a knot; she wears country tweeds and sensible shoes but is in no way plain or dowdy. She brings with her an amiable beagle called Wilf. [Hour Betwixt Dog & Wolf]

PACT! is the fifth title in the series and due for publication in September 2021 by Ignotus Press UK. For more details see


“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

Melusine Draco’s Woodland Walks

Traditional Witchcraft for Woods and Forests

Root & Branch: British Magical Tree Lore

Hunter’s Wood is a dreamscape that a witch can visit at any time, should we feel the need to harness the timeless energy of the Wild Wood, regardless of time or season. For visualisation purposes, the Wood is approximately ten acres in size, flanked by a fast running stream to the east and a long ride, or track, to the west. A ride is a treeless break in forested areas used in ancient times for the hunting of deer – hence the name of this wood. The stream feeds a woodland pool with a slow trickle during the summer months, but when the winter rains come all the accumulated dead leaves and twigs will be swept away by the torrent. The southern edge of the wood opens onto a huge cornfield, in the centre of which is a large mound, crowned by a stand of three Scots pines; while to the north there is a wide expanse of marshy heathland with its alder carr. Narrow paths criss-cross the wood: some are old and man-made, others are animal tracks, but all will lead us deeper into the woodland realm.

This Wood is old. It has grown old alongside humanity and bears the evidence of its passing; generations of witches have wandered in secret glades, gathering herbs and plants at the midnight hour. Near the woodland ride, we discover other signs, particularly in the shapes of the trees that tell of the history of the wood and what it has been used for. The word coppice comes

from the French, couper, meaning ‘to cut’ and the most obvious signs of past coppicing is the presence of ‘many-trunked’ trees growing on the site of old coppice stumps. It was also important in past times to keep livestock out since they would destroy the young shoots and so the area was surrounded by a ditch with a large bank inside, which was often fenced. Old woodland may also have the remains of a stone wall used to protect the coppiced area. In Hunter’s Wood, the remnants of the bank and wall can still be seen where the ruins of the charcoal burner’s cottage disappears under a tangle of briar and bramble.

A witch should know that the efficiency of the woodland’s eco-system depends on how much of the sun’s energy can be utilised by the green plants and converted into carbohydrate. The tallest trees of the wood, which form the ‘canopy’, are the first to receive the sun’s rays and what grows beneath this layer depends on how much light can filter through to be tapped by other more

lowly plants. In beech woodlands, there is very little, but oak and ash are relatively light shade-casters and a lush growth of plants can exist beneath them. Immediately beneath the canopy will be tall bushes and small trees, which form the second or ‘shrub-layer’ of the wood.

Growing beneath the shrub layer is a mass of herbaceous plants that form the ‘herb layer’, so vital to a witch’s traditional wort-lore. Many of these plants come into flower early in the year, or have developed large flat leaves to make the most of what light is available. The lowest layer of all is the ‘ground layer’ of mosses and liverworts, which remain green throughout the year and are actively growing even in winter.

Another clue to woods that were once coppiced is the abundance of spring flowers. The regular tree cutting 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; bluebells spread very slowly on heavy clay soils, so a carpet of them under trees could also be the clue to old woodland. Primroses, violets and wind-flowers are found here – all part of the medieval witch’s medicine chest.

Wild flowers also 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 hunter-gatherer ancestors this reawakening of the woodland contributed to the mystical significance of the many rites and rituals associated with the season. A further 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. 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 such flowers in a hedge also suggests that it originated as part of a wood, since these species do not readily colonise hedgerows.

The deeper we penetrate into the Wood’s interior we come to the denser shade of a holly thicket and even on the brightest summer’s day, little light filters through the overhead canopy. This part of the Wood is imbued with a strange atmosphere and, as in so many natural places that people have left alone, a witch enjoys the frisson of nervous wonder. The woodland floor is bare except for dried prickly leaves and a scattering of boulders covered entirely in the rich velvet green of a variety of mosses. Here the stems and branches of the holly trees are almost pure silver-white, not the dingy pewter colour of urban trees – and the holly possesses magical protective powers that can be used in amulets and talismans.

Nearby we find an old beech tree that is so hollow it is amazing the blasted trunk can support the massive branches and rich canopy. This once handsome giant of Hunter’s Wood is coming to the end of its life but each year it sprouts the delicate veil of green leaves that tells us spring is well and truly here again. In the folds of its hollow trunk, we can shelter from summer showers; eat beechnuts in the autumn and remain safe and dry as the winter snow drifts down through the branches. Whenever we pass this way, we greet the old tree as though it were a friend and hope it survives the next winter’s gales.

The Sacred Places

It is said that the forest knows all and is able to teach all; that the forest listens and holds the secret of every mystery.

Since ancient times, woods have been places of sacred groves and nemorous temples, including those of the Druids and Iceni. Sir James Frazer refers widely to sacred groves and tree worship in

The Golden Bough, while Old Craft teacher, Mériém Clay-Egerton wrote extensively on the subject of trees and produced some highly evocative pieces relating to her experiences:

To me this was a place that had obviously been held as a sacred area for so very long now that it had in its turn breathed this very atmosphere itself and so projected this onto a mind which was prepared or conditioned to be both sympathetic and empathetic to various woodlands and their forms of existence … it resembled what I might envisage as a naturally constructed ‘cathedral’. Here lived and breathed holiness and beauty …

The Wild Wood, however, is the dark, untamed part of natural woodland where unearthly and potentially dangerous beings are still to be found. This is not everyone’s favourite place and many urban witches never get over an ‘atavistic fear of Nature uncontrolled’. Historically, the term ‘wildwood’ is the name given to the forests as they were some 5,000 years ago, before human interference, and the pollen records for that time confirm that elms made up a substantial component of the wildwood, along with the oak, birch and lime.

On a magical level, the Wild Wood refers to those strange, eerie places that remain the realm of Nature and untamed by man. Ancient gnarled oaks, festooned with ferns and draped with lichen, carry an air of solitude and remoteness that is deeply unnerving – here birdsong and the trickle of running water are the only sounds to break the stillness. It is the Otherworld of the ‘unearthly and potentially dangerous’. It is the realm of Pan and the Wild Hunt. In modern psychology, it refers to the dark inner recesses of the mind, the wild and tangled undergrowth of the unconscious. Here, among the trees, we are never sure that what we see is reality or illusion.

Mériém Clay-Egerton described the strange half-light that anyone who walks in the Wild Wood will immediately recognise.

I was always glad to go deeper into the apparent gloom because I would be beyond one of the woodland’s outer barriers

Although it is impossible to describe the sensations of the Wild Wood, no one who has walked there can remain unchanged by the experience. Nevertheless, even witches are not always welcome in this tree-filled wilderness. Hostile forces can physically bar our entrance into the inner sanctum of the wood, just as Philip Heselton describes in Secret Places of the Goddess. ‘The undergrowth is a thick tangle of briar and bramble, giving the aura of a place ‘set apart for mysterious concealment’. Entwined with these almost impenetrable barriers, are tufts of tall ferns, the seeds of which can be used to cast a witch’s cloak of invisibility. We must learn to heed the signs, however, for Nature does not always allow humans to pass.

Nevertheless, Traditional Witchcraft for the Woods and Forests takes us on journeys of discovery through Nature’s ownwoodland ‘calendar’ and, hopefully will reawaken the dormantsenses that coursed through the veins of those witches who livedlong ago in these ancient places. In a series of guided meditationsand pathworkings, we will learn how to reconnect with the spiritof the landscape and learn to walk softly through the woodlandsof both the physical and the astral realms. We will come to understandthe gift of Nature’s bounty, and make use of the materialsthat will ultimately lead to an intimacy with wild things that canonly come about through close contact and familiarity.

Throughout our long history, forests have been places of shelter, providing food for man and fodder for the animals; the wood for fuel (i.e. warmth and cooking) and for making weapons and other utensils. At the same time they have also been places of fear, where the temperamental Faere Folk, wood sprites and elementals lurked in the dappled shadows.  Even today, few places can rival an English oak wood in early summer for peace and beauty with its carpet of primroses and bluebells. Or the cathedral-like majesty of the autumn beech wood with the sun’s light filtering through the leaves. Or the brooding quiet of the ancient holly wood. Perhaps it is not surprising that our remote ancestors performed their acts of worship in forest clearings and woodland glades, for this is where they came face to face with ‘Nature’ – however they chose to see it.

So come and walk with us awhile … take my hand, child, and I will take you safely through the Wild Wood

Traditional Witchcraft for Woods & Forests (A witch’s guide to the woodland with guided meditations and pathworking) is published by Moon Books : ISBN 978 1 84694 803 9 : and Root & Branch: British Magical Tree Lore ISBN 978 1 78697 447 1 published by Ignotus Books are both by Melusine Draco.

Time Capsule

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.

New release


Many years ago, I featured a cover picture on my Facebook page, showing dozens of hag-stones washed in sea water, and received a message from someone asking how I managed to create so many without shattering the pebbles! Apparently the sender had been trying for years to make them by drilling the holes in order to sell them online! Wrong … in fact, according to cheating by drilling a hole through any old stone you pick up is liable to bring you curses and pestilence and other undesirable occurrences. 

  A hag-stone is an elusive and extremely magical stone tumbled by tides and winds over time to create a naturally forming hole through them. Hag-stones are special because they are rare to find and are also called adder-stones, faerie-stones, Odin-stones, eye-stones or witch-stones. Most are caused by water eroding weakened spots on the stone until a hole occurs, though many are created by wind, erosion, and weathering alone. They can also be formed as a result of the boring of a bivalve mollusk called a ‘piddock,’ whose shells look like angel wings. Or, as a result of smaller stones repeatedly grinding into the stone’s surface caused by weathering or water pressure. Or, more rarely from the deterioration of an embedded crinoid fossil.

First, however, we need to start with the geological aspects of the hag-stone. These small witch-stones all have naturally formed holes in them but they originally came from the bed-rock of the Earth, having been chipped off by impact, tectonic activity, glacial movement, seismic eruptions and weathering. So the original rocks that make up the small pebbles from which our hag-stones are formed may, in some places, be over 3 billion years old; the actual pebbles are probably only a few thousand years old since it only takes a relatively short time (geologically speaking) for streams and rivers to transport them. 

     As rocks are weathered and otherwise broken up, they go through many stages. Pebbles start off as part of a much larger formation of bed-rock in the ground. A crack formed and water flowed through; later, this chunk was broken off by some natural process and has been worn down, probably by being tumbled in a river, or by waves, until it became fairly round and smooth. Pebbles are very common along the lower boundaries of the last glaciers. The rocks get eroded by ice and water, getting smaller and smaller as they are borne along. Most of these pebbles will be rounded off over hundreds or thousands of years.

     Beach pebbles form gradually over time as the ocean washes over loose rocks; the result is a smooth, rounded appearance with colours ranging from translucent white to black, and including shades of yellow, brown, red and green. Some of the more plentiful pebble beaches are found along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, beginning in the United States and extending down to the tip of South America in Argentina. Other pebble beaches are found in northern Europe (particularly on the beaches of the Norwegian Sea), along the coast of the U.K. and Ireland, on the shores of Australia, and around the islands of Indonesia and Japan – and here hag-stones of all sizes and colours can be plentiful.

     Inland pebbles (pebbles of river rock) are usually found along the shores of large rivers and lakes. These pebbles form as the flowing water washes over rock particles on the bottom and along the shores of the river. The smoothness and colour of river pebbles depends on several factors, such as the composition of the soil of the river banks, the chemical characteristics of the water, and the speed of the current. Because a river current is gentler than pounding ocean waves, river pebbles are not usually as smooth as beach pebbles. The most common colours of river rock are black, grey, green, brown and white and hag-stones tend to be much rarer.

     A large number of hag-stones are made of flint and in some of the old Victorian compilations about superstitions, customs and folklore, they are often described as a ‘flynt stone with hole’. This has led a lot of folk to believe that other types of stones with a hole are not true hag-stones but there is no written rule that says that a piece of limestone or sandstone with a naturally occurring hole does not have the magical properties of a hag-stone. In truth, it is about the essence of each individual stone and its geological properties – but it has to have a hole that has been weathered over a long stretch of time.

     From a magical perspective, hag-stones are generally used as protective amulets to deflect negative energy and their additional properties are governed by the type of stone they are made from. Flint is the most common type found in Western Europe and, as a result, these stones have traditionally been seen as the ‘real’ hag-stones described in the old books. Flint is not tied to any geological period and has been formed ever since the pre-Cambrian period, but almost all flint found in Europe was deposited in the period that we call Cretaceous when the world was a vastly different place.

     In the early Cretaceous age, the continents were in very different positions than they are today. Sections of the supercontinent Pangaea were drifting apart. The Tethys Ocean still separated the northern Laurasia continent from southern Gondwana; the North and South Atlantic were still closed, although by the middle of the period, ocean levels were much higher and most of the landmass we are now familiar with, was underwater. By the end of the period, the continents were much closer to their current configuration. Africa and South America had assumed their distinctive shapes; but India had not yet collided with Asia, and Australia was still part of Antarctica …

Flint hag-stones are often created when crinoids fossils deteriorate. The crinoid is an example of a marine animal that left a poorly fossilized image due to its delicate parts … They are an ancient fossil group that first appeared in the seas of the Middle Cambrian age, about 300 million years before dinosaurs and, since crinoids were not usually buried quickly, their hard stem-parts are far more frequently found as fossils. Crinoids are common fossils in the Silurian rocks of Shropshire; in the Early Carboniferous rocks of Derbyshire and Yorkshire; and in the Jurassic rocks of the Dorset coast and Yorkshire (Robin Hoods Bay).

     Flint is a hard, shiny, almost glassy, stone which is often pointed and flaky rather than smooth and rounded. It is formed from a complex process deriving from animals such as sponges, urchins and other marine animals in the sediments lain down to form the rocks. Because it is hard, and can easily form sharp edges, it was used as first human tools. If you find a flint hag-stone, you have good reason to be absolutely delighted with yourself! If it is flint then it could be the remains of a fossil that has been eroded by wave action; these in their whole state are usually a roughly spherical hollow flint with the inside encrusted with crystals.

     The magical properties are enhanced, depending on the type of rock that the pebble is composed of. Coming originally from mountains where rocks and minerals have been brought up from deep within the Earth’s crust, in many cases deep from within the mantle of the planet’s interior where metals and gemstones are formed. Most gemstones are found in igneous rocks and alluvial gravels, but sedimentary and metamorphic rocks may also contain gem materials. From a geologist’s point of view, however, hag-stones are mainly pebbles of sedimentary rocks that have a naturally occurring hole or holes in them.

     Some of the folklore stories link them to having been created by ‘serpents venom in the centre of the stone’, however, the scientific explanation might be less fascinating! The culprits behind the creation of those holes are, as we have seen, those common piddocks – with specially adapted oval shells that are edged with fine teeth, which they use to excavate burrows in rock. These creatures can bore holes into a rock by locking on with a sucker-like foot and then twisting its shell to drill. Their long oval shells are distinctively wing-shaped, giving piddocks their other common name of ‘angel wings’. Even more magically, during the low tide and in darkness, we may witness a weird bluish-green glow because the animals are bioluminescent.

     Anyone who has ever walked on the beach, especially in southern England, has come across flint. For most people it is not really an especially attractive or beautiful stone, despite the interesting shapes or beautiful colours – but no rock or mineral has had so much influence on human history as flint. This makes it one of the most important, if not the most important rock in human development. Flint is a cryptocrystalline quartz rock, ranging from black to grey and from red to brown – caused by contamination with chalk, iron or organic material. In England (actually across the whole of Europe) we find flint almost always as layers in chalk or limestone: sometimes in narrow bands, sometimes in thicker layers.

     Flint is always a marine deposit – a seawater deposit. Silicon dioxide, the building blocks of quartz, dissolves in water at high temperature (no worries, your quartz crystal really does not dissolve should you decide to wash it in warm water). Seawater normally contains little silica, and silica-containing water is often only seen after volcanic eruptions in the cavities in the solidified lava. That is why quartz geodes form here – but in seawater it has to come from somewhere else. The theory is that the silica from which flint is formed comes from animal remains: microscopically small skeletal particles of micro-organisms in the sea. Of all these animal fossils many have been found in flint. In addition to the organic origin, silica-containing water also enters the sea through groundwater in which silica is dissolved from the soil, and through clay particles that wash into the sea and dissolve in sea water. Flint is very ‘fossiliferous’ anyway and the fossils are often very well preserved: for example sea urchins, shells, ammonites, etc.

     Flint is created on the seabed. Many of these cavities were made by animals that lived in the seabed, such as crustaceans. These critters dug a way through the seabed and in these burrows flint eventually formed. Hence flint concretions can have the most amazing shapes. These petrified burrows are not fossils, after all they are not actual imprints or physical remains from the animal. We call these types of remains ichnofossils, trace fossils. Just like, for example, saurian footsteps or crawling traces of trilobites are ichnofossils. The ‘skin’ of a flint concretion is often white. Sometimes flint can also have beautiful bands. This is the so-called banded flint. In southern England, the colour of the rock sometimes tells where the flint comes from. In the Southeast, the White Cliffs area, the flint ranges from pale gray to black. Further west, towards Dorset, the flint becomes more reddish brown in colour.

     Fossils in flint also plays an historical role. Flint containing a fossil has sometimes been worked in such a way that the fossil had a prominent place in the tool. An example of this is a flint axe with a sea urchin from Homo heidelbergensis, which is 400,000 years old; and a Neanderthal axe from Norfolk with a fossil shell that is 200,000 years old. A recent study also shows that Neanderthals had an eye for the beauty of stone and that they kept exceptionally beautiful pieces of flint.

Hagstones by Mélusine Draco is the third title published in the ‘Arcanum series’ for Ignotus Books. 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. Based on the idea of those children’s ‘Ladybird’ books that often introduced us to an interest that lasted a life time and, 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 around 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 series will be aimed at those who have attained a certain level of magical competence and who don’t need to be spoon-fed basic instructions for Circle-casting with each volume and are therefore not written with beginners in mind.

Hagstones compiled by Melusine Draco for the Arcanum series, published by ignotus press uk : ISBN: 9781803020334 : In paperback and e-book format : Pages: 98 : Published: 23 June 2021: Price £6.68 : Order direct from