‘I must go down to the sea again


I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying
.                                                [From ‘Sea Fever’ by John Masefield]

Masefield’s poem is a magical chant all in itself. I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide /Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; It is the perfect introduction to those natural tides that witches call upon to power their magic – the solar and the lunar tides; the ocean and the earth tides; coupled with the atmospheric tides that make the Earth bounce.

Since the beginning of time, when man first stood on the shoreline and wondered at the vastness of the ocean, it has been recognised that the tides (the periodic rise and fall of great stretches of water), had something to do with the moon. Neither did it take him long to calculate that the usual interval between them was about 12½ hours; roughly half the time the moon takes to circle the earth. Nowhere else on earth was Nature’s power and glory so much in evidence.

In Sea & Seashore, Sir Isaac Newton’s words are used to explain the tides as being due to the moon’s gravitational pull on the water, lifting it to form a bulge resembling an enormous wave-crest. There are in fact two such bulges, one on the side of the earth facing the moon, and the other on the earth’s far side, for there the moon’s pull draws the earth away from the water. Between the two bulges the water is lowered, as though in the trough between these gigantic wave-crests. The friction between the water and the rotating earth slows the movement of these bulges, so that instead of being exactly beneath the moon, they lag a little behind. For this reason, high tide, as the bulge is called, does not occur exactly when the moon is overhead, but somewhat later.

The sun’s gravitational pull similarly raises tides akin to, but less powerful than those caused by the moon. Their period is about 12 hours instead of the 12½ – but the two interact. At full and new moon, when the sun and moon are in a straight line with the earth – this recurs at intervals of about a fortnight – they co-operate to produce an especially powerful spring tide. This has nothing to do with the annual spring season: spring tides occur throughout the year and rise higher and fall lower than usual, although the lowest spring tides of the year occur around the Spring or Vernal Equinox. At the first and third quarters, when the sun and moon form a right angle with the earth (again, roughly, at fortnightly intervals) – the pull conflicts, making a neap tide whose range is unusually small.

In mid ocean, the tides, like ordinary waves, are simply a rhythmic rise and fall of the water. On the continental shelf, however, they act like the waves on a beach, and become a bodily rush of the water towards, or away from the land. The rising water produces the tide’s flow or flood; its fall is the ebb, and between them, when the tide is almost at a standstill, there are brief periods of slack water. This rise and fall takes place twice every day, but high or low tides occur about 50½ minutes later each day and alter drastically throughout the month. While most shores have two high tides every day, some have only one, and some none at all.Instead of one great progressive tide circling the earth, there are a number of local tides, differing greatly in the areas they cover, and the sea-witch learns to recognise the importance of knowing about them from both a magical and safety point of view.

Besides the familiar tides of the ocean, there are those other examples to take into account: earth-and atmospheric-tides. Earth-tides refer to the alternating slight change of shape of the Earth due to the gravitational action of the sun and moon, and atmospheric tides of the alternating slight motions of the atmosphere, which have the same cause and effect. The moon draws away the envelope of air that surrounds the Earth to produce the regular daily atmospheric tides.

Joint research by a team from the Ordnance Survey at Newcastle University and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory at Birkenhead has revealed more evidence of the effects of these earth-tides. The results show that parts of western Britain and Ireland, for example, ‘bounce’ by about four inches and that this movement is caused as tides ebb and flow twice daily! The nationwide survey also showed that the deformation of the Earth’s crust varies across the country and that the eastern side is much more stable than the west.

According to a spokesman for the project, when the tide is in, the extra weight of the water on the continental shelf pushes the adjoining crust down a few inches. At low tide, the Earth springs back. ‘Because tidal ranges are greater on the south-western side of the British Isles, that is where the biggest bounce can be found.’ The western tip of England, west Wales, the Western Isles and southern Ireland, have the biggest range of movements. Again, we have scientific proof of cosmic influences on the very earth on which we stand, so magical working can be timed to coincide with these natural movements for greater effect.

High tide, just before the water pressure is at its greatest, would be the best time for positive or drawing magic.

Low tide, when the tide has turned and the earth is about to ‘bounce’ back, is the time for banishing or reducing magic.

Around the world there are thousands of miles of coastline: rugged cliffs, tidal-battered rocky shores, sweeping estuaries, gentle brackish creeks, golden sand and shingle beaches. Although each has an enchantment all of its own, few of us are fortunate to live near enough to the sea to use this dramatic shoreline as a regular magical working area. And yet, for a natural witch, born and bred by the sea, the beach and rocky shore are equally as magical as the inland woods and hills of more traditional approaches to witchcraft.

And even if we never went near the sea except for an annual summer holiday, most of us from Scandinavia, and around the British and Irish coasts to Iceland, can instantly recall the sonorous, chant of the daily shipping forecast that took us on a flight of fancy to the wildest coastlines around our shores. Broadcast four times a day, the radio brought us a brief moment of sea-magic, as wonderful and evocative as a Latin Mass …

Viking : North Utsire : South Utsire : Forties : Fisher : Cromarty

Forth : Tyne : Dogger : German Bight : Humber : Thames : Dover :

Wight : Portland : Plymouth : Biscay : Trafalgar : FitzRoy : Sole :

Lunday : Irish Sea : Fastnet : Shannon : Rockall : Malin : Hebrides :

Bailey : Fair Isle : Faeroes : South East Iceland …

This mysterious, but totally meaningless jumble of words, still has the ability to conjure up pictures of grey, heaving northern seas with lashing rain and gale force winds. By stark contrast, it also has the ability to evoke warm, family memories of childhood tea-tables, cosy firesides, and comfort food – although perhaps not for those who were being warned that a gale force-nine was headed in their direction.

This brief maritime detour is included to demonstrate how potent simple words can be; how a rhythmic recital can paint mind pictures in much the same way that an evocative piece of music can. And even if the US marine forecast doesn’t produce quite the same kind of enchantment, Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross, can summon images of this magnificent bird gliding effortlessly over the waves, a tireless companion of sailors in the southern seas.

This is the first lesson in sea magic …

The purpose of writing Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore was to introduce land-lubbering witches to the natural energies that can be harnessed and used to power our inland magic.  For this we need to add several natural history books concerning the seashore and weather lore to our magical library and, if we are near to the coast, we should make sure we have an up-to-date listing of the local tides. For those living inland, the daily broadsheet newspapers or the internet will supply general information about the daily (and river) tides. Or contact the harbor master on any of the great tidal rivers.

We need to familiarise ourselves with this new way of thinking about magical tides, and record the readings of our own witch-power exercises in a personal Magical Diary. Keep experimenting at different times and under different conditions until the process becomes automatic.

Instead of synchronising our magical workings according to any popular ‘wheel of the year’, try working with the natural tides that are having their effect on the earth and its atmosphere on a day-to-day basis.

Take some time to watch the sky, even if it’s through a windowpane, and try to become more aware of the changing clouds and colour patterns, and learn to understand what they are telling us.

A sea-witch works during the day as well as after dark, so if our trips to the beach are restricted to daylight hours, this will not cause any problems with our magical development. The seashore also offers opportunities for observing ‘portents’ or ‘sights in the heavens’ that are not always visible from inland. These phenomena, of course, demand a clear sky, and are best seen on moonless nights, although on the western shores it is possible to witness some of the most fantastic Turnereque seascapes imaginable, at any time of the day. Although they are natural phenomena, there is nevertheless a magical quality about witnessing such happenings, and a sense of being in the right place at the right time; to being privy to something special. The opportunity should never be missed ‘to stand and stare’ – even at a reflected chain of coloured lights from the esplanade, in the night-time waters of the bay.

I do not live near the sea, but it has always been a dream, should I ever decide to take my leave of the mountains.  In Wales I lived on a tidal river and trips to the coast were made on a weekly basis from the wide sweeping bay with its petrified forest, to the historic harbours.  Researching and experimenting with sea-witchcraft for the book was great fun and extremely illuminating when it came to encountering this wonderful world on a magical basis.  And although I do not live by the sea, there are those summer days when the wind is coming from the west and there is a sharp tang of iodine on the breeze coming in off the Atlantic which makes me think “I must go down to the sea again …”

Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore by Melusine Draco takes us on a magical journey and reveals how the inshore witches can learn to work with these primal energies even if they do not live by the sea.  From the creation of a sea-witch’s garden regardless of where we live to advanced path-workings with the ‘Power of the Deep’, no traditional witch should be without this book.  ISBN 978 1 84894 426 0 : Pages 150 : Price UK£9.99/US$16.95 : Available in paperback and e-book format it is the second in the Traditional Witchcraft series and published by Moon Books.

Where do writers get their ideas from?

The second most common question a writer is asked, is ‘where do your ideas come from?’ [The first is: ‘Do you make any money from it?’] Experienced writers don’t go looking for ideas; ideas come to them. An experienced writer just has the knack of spotting what makes a good story … or what will make a good story once it’s been given the right spin … because none of us, if we’re honest, will let reality get in the way of a saleable piece of work.

All editors are looking for an element of action, drama or surprise, even in non-fiction. It’s what catches their attention and makes them pause to read further; and the key to any editor’s heart is originality. Not necessarily a new departure in style or genre, but a refreshing and original slant on a popular theme that gives it the X-Factor!

 The X-Factor

Witchcraft (unlike Wicca) is not a religion – it never has been, simply because it’s an individual’s natural ability that distinguishes him or her as a witch. In other words, a witch is born, not made. It just isn’t possible to learn how to become a witch if we haven’t got these abilities, although it is possible to learn how to hone and develop latent or suppressed psychic talents, under the right tuition. And there is no age limit for these discoveries – in either the young, middle-aged or old.

Wicca, on the other hand, is fast becoming accepted as the ‘new pagan religion’ with its doctrines drawing heavily on an eco-feminine shadow-image of Christianity. This again is nothing new, since Christianity itself absorbed many of the existing pagan festivals and celebrations into the Church calendar (including an identification of the Virgin Mary with Isis), and contemporary paganism is merely reclaiming its own. But in reality, even in the days before the Christian invasion, not all of the pagan populace were skilled in the Craft of witches.

To use a natural analogy, the differences between witchcraft and paganism per se is to liken them to the relationship between the domestic and the wild cat. To the casual observer there is little difference. Just as the similarities between the modern wild cat (felis sylvestris) and the house cat (felis catus) are so great and the differences so few, that it is difficult to establish any authentic genealogy. There is evidence that wild cats have mated with domestic cats and domestic cats can survive in the wild having gone feral, but they don’t usually move far from human habitation and will quickly revert if given the opportunity. The wild cat, however, cannot be handled or tamed; even as a small kitten it is extremely ferocious. In appearance it is difficult at a distance to distinguish a wild cat from a large domestic tabby that has gone feral, but (as with witchcraft and paganism), the subtle differences are there, if you know where and how to look.

For example: Paganism (including Wicca) has developed a very strong com-munity spirit in recent years, with everyone at public events joining hands to celebrate the festivals, organized around the nearest weekend coinciding with a formal Wheel of the Year. Pagans believe that information should be available to all, and that everyone has the right to access all esoteric knowledge. Many pagans are highly suspicious of witches and some will deny that they practice any form of magic at all. Paganism caters for teenagers within the community and actively encourages them to attend the fairs, buy the books and any appropriate accoutrements. Pagans claim to worship Nature in the persona of ‘the Goddess’. The generally accepted pagan motto is: ‘And it harm none, do what you will’.

Witchcraft is not bound by social rules and conventions, only by the personal morality of the individual, and is governed solely by the natural tides. Any form of magical working or spiritual observance tends to be of a solitary nature, or in the company of tried and trusted people. Witches believe that esoteric knowledge should be kept hidden because it is impossible to convey the meaning of the ‘true mysteries’ without the appropriate teaching. Traditional witches are now rarely seen at pagan events, and hold that any ritual equipment will be acquired as and when it is necessary. The witch learns his or her Craft along the way, and pays homage to Nature but in a more abstract form that the textbooks will allow, something along the lines of Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’

‘To see a World in a grain of sand,

And a Heaven in a flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour’

The Old Craft motto is ‘Trust None!’ although it could well be taken from the motto of several Scottish clans: ‘Touch not the [wild] cat without a glove’.

Which path will you ultimately tread?

And what aspect of it will you eventually write about?

One of the first instructions I usually give at a writers’ workshop is to always discard the first idea that comes into your head. And while you’re at it, discard the second … and third idea, too. This is because a hundred other writers will have had an identical thought for an article (poem or short story) stimulated by something seen on television, read in a magazine or newspaper, or heard on the radio. We may not consciously realize that this has been the source of our inspiration but the seed has been planted firmly in the deep recesses of the brain … and this is why reference books can spark off all sorts of ideas.

When thriller writer Sally Spedding was sent the Dictionary of Magic & Mystery to review, she wrote: “I admit that I don’t normally ‘read’ dictionaries, but this one by Mélusine Draco really is as gripping as any thriller. The proverbial page-turner, with its tantalising introduction and often startling entries. Every fiction or non-fiction writer should give this wonderful reference book space on their desks, not only to show what lies beneath our present day, so-called ‘civilisations,’ but also as a conduit to what may well lie beyond. To step from their comfort zones and give their work ambition, fresh interest. A need to take the reader on more unusual journeys. I found myself making excited notes on Podomancy, Cramp Rings and the Angel of Death – and already wondering where these different springboards could lead.”

The Dictionary of Magic & Mystery – compiled by Melusine Draco : ISBN 978 1 84694 462 8 : 3333 entries : 370 pages : Available in paperback and e-book format UK£12.99/US$22.95 : Kindle £4.35

The Traditional Witchcraft series … revisited by Melusine Draco

As Trevor Greenfield, the protective spirit and guiding light of  Moon Books never tires of reminding me, I am the Moon Books Matriarch, having published my first book with them in January 2012 (the first month the imprint started) and 23 books later I’m is still there with a new title (Sexual Dynamics in the Circle) out in March 2021.  

In fact, my first book for John Hunt Publishing was for the O Books imprints, Mean Streets Witchcraft, but this was re-packaged two years later as the first in the ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ series for Moon Books as Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living. For the witch whose career confines them to an urbanized environment, regular Craft practice may often seem like a futile gesture, especially if home is a small, gardenless-flat. Even the suburbs can be magically incapacitating, if there is constant noise from traffic and neighbours. People work long hours; often setting off for work and getting home again in the dark during the winter months, without having the opportunity to notice the subtle changing of the seasons. Weekends are a constant battle with family commitments, domestic chores and socialising. It’s no wonder that the urban witch has little time or strength left for magical and spiritual development.

There are, of course, others who find themselves having to remain town and house-bound because of age or disability; because they are caring for an aged/infirm parent, or partner; or because they have small children.  Urbanisation often provides on-the-spot facilities to make things easier on the domestic front but it cannot give the one thing that a witch needs most – privacy and spiritual elbow-room unless we learn to look at our surroundings from a different perspective. 

I am a Welsh witch and I come from a place midway between the mountains and the sea, but I have not lived in my homeland now for many years. It would be untrue to say that I never experienced what the Welsh call hiraethus, that indescribable feeling of longing and home-sickness but, as we all know, in magical terms there is always a price to be paid for our Craft. During those long years, my career and domestic life has taken me to London (where I lived for 20 years), to the industrial Midlands and to a totally urbanised area of East Anglia, before moving to Ireland.  Not once, in all that time (until I came to Ireland) did I return to the luxury of wild, open spaces – it was all concrete and asphalt. But not once, in all that time, did I stop being a true witch.

In my experience, the greatest problem an urban witch faces is that an urban environment is not user-friendly when it comes to psychic activity, but then we don’t always have a choice of where we are going to live if someone else’s needs have to be catered for, too. Mostly I have been confined to renting small terraced cottages and flats, often with little or no garden to give that extra bit of space. I make this comment merely to demonstrate that my Craft activities have not been conducted in a round of luxurious city apartments and picturesque Grade II listed town houses!

Under these circumstances, for me the key words have always been: acclimatise, adapt and improvise. Any animal, plant or person that is uprooted and transported to another environment quickly learns to acclimatise if it is going to survive. I have adapted to my surroundings and drawn on whatever material/energy there is to hand, even if it is not what I’ve been used to working with. I improvise by drawing on existing knowledge and experience. So … Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living was conceived out of necessity with a view to guiding others facing similar problems.

The series has maintained a steady readership over the years, and has provided a background for recommended reading for those on the Arcanum foundation course, since potential questers often come to the Coven of the Scales having read one or more of the books.  Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore reflects our teaching that is dependent on the understanding of the natural tides that affect our planet: Earth, lunar, solar, oceanic, atmospheric, electro-magnetic, liminal and astral … All these natural tides are what power our magical abilities and improve our chances of helping to maintain the Sacred Order (balance/harmony) of our faith.

If we step back for a moment into those distant childhood memories and visualise a day at the seaside – but strip away the images of crowded tourist beaches and focus on the sound of the movement of the sea. If we need any reminder, we hold a large seashell to our ear and summon up the voice of the waves. In the depths of our subconscious mind this sound will be a low, muted purr as small waves lap at the water margin; or the roaring of breakers against a sea wall; or the sly, insidious murmur as the tide begins to turn along narrow channels and between sand banks. In fact, we can never encounter the sea in any of its moods, without being aware of its movement; the waves on its surface and the tides and currents, which send it swirling around the globe.

No series on the Craft would be complete without Traditional Witchcraft for Fields and Hedgerows, because for both countrywomen and witches the hedge was a veritable treasure house: a source of food, drink, medicine, shelter, fuel and dyes, while numerous superstitions arose around many hedgerow plants. After feasting on the autumn harvest of elder and blackberries, birds turn to rosehips and haws, then sloes, and finally to ivy berries and this is where we become familiar with our totem animal or bird in its natural habitat.

Unlike the traditional wort-lore of witchcraft, however, folk or domestic plant medicine was the everyday use of plants by ordinary people to cure minor wounds and ailments. In fact, the use of common native plants in everyday home medicine is now almost obsolete, largely because it was mainly a DIY collection of first aid remedies, often passed on orally, rather than a written record. As a result, even many of today’s witches are unaware of the therapeutic effects of ordinary kitchen herbs. With proper care and caution, the same herb used to flavor cooking can be used in a more concentrated form to relieve pain.

Simple home remedies did not require any accompanying magical ritual to make them work; a countrywoman would merely pick the necessary plants from the garden or hedgerow to make a preparation for the family’s fever, or to treat a wound. It doesn’t matter whether we refer to ourselves as witch, wiccan, or pagan. Whether we belong to a coven, or consider ourselves to be a ‘solitary’ but important part of the larger pagan community … when we observe what we can view as ‘field Craft’, more often than not, we tend to work alone. The benefits of being a solitary witch means we can work whenever we feel like it, regardless of the date on the calendar, the phase of the moon, or what anyone else considers to be a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time of the day. The only ‘rule’ we need to learn and obey, is the relentless call of the natural cyclic tides of Nature … nothing else.

No book ever written can teach us how to become a witch. Only Nature can do that. Only Nature can coax out those long suppressed abilities and give us back the freedom to be a witch, releasing the knowledge of the Elder Faith back into the world. So let’s walk through the fields and along the hedgerow together and discover Nature as she moves through the year …

My favourite and not because it’s the best-selling title in the series, Traditional Witchcraft for the Wood and Forests reflects the natural type of landscape in which I feel the most comfortable. First and foremost, forests and woodland have played a mystical role in all cultures where trees have dominated the landscape. Trees bring Nature right up close and personal and, as a result, the whole of the natural world becomes a ‘tangled web of enchantment’ to a true witch’s eyes. Most of us are familiar with what we call ‘broad leaved’ woodland … that is to say, forest made up predominantly of trees whose leaves are basically flat, as opposed to being needle-shaped like those of the conifers of the evergreen world. These trees are mostly deciduous (with the exception of the holly, box and strawberry tree), and shed their leaves when winter approaches, lying dormant until the warmth of spring stimulates new growth.

Before we begin to practice the Craft of the wood-witch, however, we must learn to look at trees with different eyes, because there is still a sense of mystery and enchantment in the woodland world. Each month of the year imprints its own beauty on the trees, and in time, we will become aware of every subtle nuance as part of this sacred mantra, with each month bringing different plants for a witch to use in her magical workings. The spring shimmer of birch and beech bursting into life … the cool of a summer glade filled with the whispering of the leaf canopy … the rich hues of autumn … branches glistening with hoare frost in the winter sunshine …

The aim of Traditional Witchcraft and the Pagan Revival was to provide a sympathetic approach to the evolution of witchcraft as a historical reality, rather than as mere circumspection – or wishful thinking. By combining scholarly writing and recent archaeological findings with a ‘quality of fascination’, I hoped it would prove to be a pleasure to read and a source of new insight for those who would follow the tradition of the Elder Faith. It shows that witchcraft did (and does) exist, and traces the origins and true nature of the many different contemporary pagan beliefs back to their roots. And, what is equally as important, to understand is when outside foreign influences were grafted onto indigenous pagan stock by getting the late Michael Howard (The Cauldron) to check the finished typescript for error!

I’ve been asked why Pagan Revival was the fifth in the series rather than an introduction, and the reason for this is because it’s not until a quester has acquired a reasonable amount of background knowledge about Old Craft that these questions demand answers. Unfortunately, in the rush to establish the many different forms of 20th century revivalist paganism, the element of curiosity has often been suppressed in favour of historical ignorance. Anything that is non-Christian in origin is immediately embraced as ‘pagan’, despite the fact that much of it had little to do with the indigenous people of the British Isles. It also leads to the acceptance of ‘fakelore and fantasy’ as a basis for a considerable amount of contemporary thinking. Reviewing one of these pseudo-history books in White Dragon magazine some years ago, the editor wrote: ‘Books like this pose more of a danger to paganism than the Christian Right will ever do, because they are the enemy within, subverting the Mysteries and dumbing down for spirituality’s equivalent of the day-time television audience.’ Ouch!

From a 21st century standpoint, however, much of what now passes for pagan belief has jettisoned its former labels of ‘occultism’, ‘witchcraft’ and ‘eccentricity’, and now boasts a diverse doctrine, suitable for pre-pubescent schoolchildren to venerable pensioners, from all walks of life and cultures. On the traditionalist’s side, this hard-won respectability means that, in many cases, both the genuine magical and Mystery aspects of the original Sacred Order have been abandoned in favour of a wholesome image more reminiscent of the ad-man’s fictitious ‘Oxo family’ than of the real-life Lancashire Witches.

It must be said from the onset that there is nothing wrong in anyone embracing a neo-pagan life-style. What we should try to do, however, is put into some kind of perspective the impact of the magico-religious links with our ancestral roots when we choose to follow a path or tradition that is alien to our own genius loci the collective or natural spirit of old Pretannia. Whatever numerous contemporary authors may tell us, the Celts were not the indigenous people of these islands; modern Wicca is not synonymous with traditional witchcraft; traditional British Old Craft is not a myth; and subsequent invading cultures did not impose blanket religious conversions on a conquered people.

The kernel of the Elder Faith, however, is a belief in a definite association of force (or energy) within specific localities, and the notion of natural universal energy influencing cause and effect. The belief embraces the notion that spirits (or natural energy) inhabit everything in Nature – every hill, tree and stream, every breeze and cloud; every stone and pool has its own ‘spirit’ – although there are no authentic pagan ‘scriptures’ on which we can rely for guidance or comparison. We should not, however, take this to mean that an Old Craft witch is spiritually backward, or lacking in tradition. The most amazing thing for us to consider, is that all this wondrous insight into the metaphysical and mystical world would have been passed down via an intuitive oral tradition, amongst people with no (or little) formal learning.

In reality, it is possible to perceive ourselves as spiritual beings without being at all religious, because spirituality is how we ‘feel’ about the meaning of life – it is the quest for the hidden mysteries and need not necessarily manifest in religious terms. Lacking in intellect but not in application, the witch of yesteryear would probably have fully understood the sentiments expressed in a collection of spiritual essays dating from 1897, The Treasure of the Humble, wherein the author writes about Ultima Thule – the extreme limit – which also can be applied to the Mysteries of the Elder Faith today.

‘We are here on the borderland of human thought and far across the Arctic circle of the spirit. There is no ordinary cold, no ordinary dark there, and yet you shall find there naught but flames and light. But to those who arrive without having trained their minds to these new perceptions, the light and flames are as dark and cold as though they were painted. This means that the intelligence, the reason, will not suffice of themselves: we must have faith.’

Even in more modern times, however, it is not surprising that ‘Trust None!’ remains the creed of our Sacred Order and it has preserved its Mysteries by not divulging its rites and practices. No matter what a publisher’s blurb may claim, there are no genuine traditional British Old Craft rituals, rites of passages, spells, charms or pathworkings in print, for one simple reason – any traditional witch committing any of this knowledge to paper for public scrutiny would be in breach of their own Initiatory Oath. This still carries the ultimate penalty for treachery and betrayal. Admittedly, there are ‘smokescreens’ that may offer a parody of the genuine thing – but the gnarled roots of the Elder Faith remain firmly in the shadows, where they belong. Although there may be a variation in formulae from region to region, the underlying Mysteries remain the same, and the only way to know about the Mysteries is to have experienced them first hand.

Because of its occult (i.e. ‘hidden’) nature, traditional British Old Craft methods really do differ from region to region, so the opportunity of being in the company of genuine, traditional witches meant that late-night magical discussions were all part of the invaluable exchange of information that Old Crafters enjoy when meeting with those of their own kind and calibre. It was usually well past midnight when the cauldron would be well and truly kicked over; the dross discarded and the rare elixir of knowledge at the bottom shared and savoured.

In fact, the whole Traditional Witchcraft series was deliberately structured along the lines of a foundation course, so that any would-be traditional witch had a step-by-step guide to follow. Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living was the first in the series and, as the title suggests, aimed at the majority of pagans who live in an urban environment rather than insisting that a witch must live in the country before they can learn about traditional Craft. The second step was revealed in Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore that teaches the importance of understanding and working with those natural tides within our own environment, even if we do not live by the sea. Step three, Traditional Witchcraft for Fields and Hedgerows, examined what most of us would think of in terms of traditional Craft, and brings us back into the comfort zone where we feel safe and secure – before step four casts us back out into the more hostile world of Traditional Witchcraft for the Woods and Forests – the magical energies differing quite considerably between these four environments.

The historical view of Traditional Witchcraft and the Pagan Revival was left until step five, because it’s not until we’ve been studying traditional Old Craft for a while that we start to notice both the differences and the similarities between the various pagan disciplines. We want to know where our own beliefs come from; to trace these antecedents; and to understand why some of our ways are often diametrically opposed to those of other traditions we read about – and why. That is the reason for the fifth book in the series being written as a magical anthropology; simply to make sense of some of the things we’ve noticed but never fully understood. Traditional Witchcraft and the Path to the Mysteries, the sixth and last in the series, is a voyage of discovery and, as with every journey, it is essential that we understand where we are now and where we want to be. We need proper direction unlike that popular old Irish saying: ‘If I wanted to be going there, I wouldn’t be starting from here!’

Not that this method of teaching has always been favourably received. Some feel that Old Craft is portrayed as elitist, but as Daniel A Schulke observed in his introduction to this author’s contribution to Hands of Apostasy (‘Spirits and Deific Forms: Faith and Belief in British Old Craft’); ‘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.’ Others claim there is nothing new contained within the books, or that there are no great revelations in the text, ignoring the fact that Old Craft learning is about 40 percent information and 60 percent intuition; but it’s also about realizing when intuition is telling us that we don’t have all the information. There are books claiming to reveal the ‘secrets’ of the Elder Faith – but intuition should tell us that if the secrets can be revealed in the reading of just a couple of books, then the author cannot have much to tell. The real secret is that there are no secrets, only a system of revelation that eventually leads to a series of enlightening experiences, guides or teachers, to further ourprogress along the Path to the Mysteries.

It was Andy Lloyd Book Reviews that first put the Traditional Witchcraft series into its proper perspective:

“The ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ series provides varied information about what it means to be a practising witch in modern times. In places, it feels like a guide, or self-help book. But there is much more to it than that. What strikes me is the amount of science running through the books. To understand nature is to live as a part of nature, and ultimately to become one with its changing patterns and cycles, to synchronise one’s own psychic or magical energy with natural tidal forces and the elements. So a witch, like no other religious practitioner that I’m aware of, must study her environment carefully, and attune her life to it … The learning is multi-disciplinary, and feels almost as if one was studying a textbook written by a poet … it has that sense of quiet wonder about it, supported by education, knowledge and, above all, wisdom.”

The complete ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ series is published Moon Books in both paperback and e-book format.  Go to www.moon-books.net for more information and ordering.

Book News … new release

Sacrifice to the Gods by offering, oblation and libation by Melusine Draco

This is the first 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 under 25,000 words, each title will be packed with information and instruction rather than puffed out with superfluous wordage and regurgitated text borrowed from other publications.  The 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. 

Sacrifice, like death, is one of the great taboos of modern society. The notion that human sacrifice could be considered a most holy act is almost inconceivable.  Yet the evidence for human sacrifice in north-west Europe, derived from both archaeology and the testimony of Classical writers of the first centuries BC/CE, has to be confronted.  The term ‘sacrifice’ has become so firmly engrained in the human psyche – or racial subconscious – that even in this modern day and age, it automatically conjures up images of bloodshed regardless of context. 

In media-speak, any reference to ‘sacrifice’ in connection with pagan rites and practices is almost immediately and erroneously conveyed as involving animals, babies or virgins!  In other words, media reporting provides the narrative that forms the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it is supposed to be fully understood – even if it is misleading and inaccurate. To the detractors of pagan beliefs, however, the term ‘sacrifice’ usually refers to killing animals or harming humans – because they fail to understand that in a pagan sense, what is always offered in sacrifice is, in one form or another, life itself, a a means of preserving the Sacred Order.

Sacrifice is a celebration of life, an acceptance of its divine and imperishable nature. In the act of sacrifice the consecrated ‘life’ of an offering is released as a sacred link that establishes a bond between the sacrificer and the divine power. Through sacrifice, energy is returned to its divine source, regenerating the power or strength of that source; life is fed by life. Hence the words of the ancient Roman sacrificer to his god: ‘Be thou increased (macte) by this offering’.  Needless to say, it is an increase in this divine power that is ultimately beneficial to the sacrificer because sacrifice is the merging and guarantee of the reciprocal flow of the divine life-force between its source and its embodiment.

Often the act of sacrifice involves the destruction of the offering, but this destruction is not in itself the sacrifice. The destruction (or consumption) of a food-drink offering at an altar’s fire is the means by which the deity receives the offering.  Thereby, a sacrifice is the total act of offering and not merely the method in which the rite is performed. 

So, sacrifice as a sacramental communal meal may involve the idea of the god as a participant in the feast, or being identified with the food consumed; it may also involve the idea of a ritual meal, at which either some agrarian event such as the springtime (Beltaine) and the harvest (Lughnasad) is repeated, or the sacred rites of the seasons are symbolically renewed – the Summer and Winter Solstices.  Although the fundamental meaning of these sacrificial rites is that of affirming a bounteous and fruitful relationship with the sacred power and of establishing humankind in the Sacred Order, the rites have in more modern times assumed a multitude of different forms and intentions.

Sacrifice to the Gods looks at the latest archaeological findings from the Ancient World to see how these offerings can be interpreted for modern pagan use, so that we can fully understand what is permissible and what was forbidden in times past, so that our sacrifice is acceptable to our gods, regardless of the Path or Tradition we follow.

Sacrifice to the Gods by offering, oblation and libation by Melusine Draco is published by Ignotus Books ISBN 9781839457012 : Paperback : Pages: 102 :  £6.85 : Published13 January 2021. Available from the printer at a special discounted price from https://www.feedaread.com/search/books.aspx?keywords=Sacrifice%20to%20the%20Gods

E-book format will be available from Kindle shortly

Ten Voices of Influence by Melusine Draco

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

Dion Fortune

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

Richard Cavendish

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

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

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

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

Paul Huson

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

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

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

Chris Bray

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

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

Bob & Meriem Clay-Egerton

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

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

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

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

Chrissie Sempers

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

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

Michael Howard

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

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

T C Lethbridge

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

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

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

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

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

Aleister Crowley

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

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

Margaret Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Year, Old Calendar, Old Ways

Creating A Magical Link to the Old Beliefs

Compiled by Melusine Draco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give way, give way, ye gates and win

An easy blessing to your bin

And basket, by our entering in.

May both with machete stand complete,

Your larders, too, so hung with meat,

That thou a thousand thousand eat,

Yet ere twelve moons shall whirl about

Their silvery spheres, there’s none my doubt

But more’s sent in than was served out …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


WRITER@WORK – Winter draws on …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melusine Draco

Winter Solstice 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Coarse witchcraft, by definition, is a spoof on bad Craft practice, parodying clichés, every kind of misplaced dramatic performance and Circle disaster. These three books, each with its own mix of disaster and hilarity, take their name from journalist Michael Green’s coarse acting/rugby treatment, resulting in a chaotic catalogue in which everything that can go wrong in the Circle does so.   But as esoteric author and long-time chum, Alan Richardson, said of the book: ‘Coarse Witchcraft made me laugh out loud in more than a few places. In fact, I think it is the first book of its kind; although it pokes fun at modern excesses and can laugh at itself, it still manages to teach the real stuff at a very high level.’

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

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

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


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

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

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