Old Craft for a New Generation Mélusine Draco

I recently read a response on an application form for Coven of the Scales to the question “What do you understand by the term traditional British Old Craft?” The response was that “‘Witchcraft is whatever you want it to be?” It might if we are talking about eclectic paganism … but within Old Craft if there is no natural ability for communicating with the spirit world, divination, recognizing and reading the omens, healing, cursing and moving between the worlds, then there is no witch. Added to this, Old Craft is extremely selective when it comes to prospective members and will reject any who prove themselves unsuitable for the Path.

Magic – whether of the folk or ritual variety – does not conform to the whims and vagaries of contemporary fashion and, like science, it has its own laws and lore that must be adhered to if a successful outcome is required. As ritual magician David Conway warns in his The Complete Magic Primer, to go through the ritual motions with no clear idea of what they are all about is mere superstition, not magic.

In any case, a witch should expect more from his or her magic than mere signs and wonders. If these are all he is after, he would be better advised to take up conjuring, which is far less trouble. The real rewards of magical study are not temporal benefits but a spiritual maturity which affords a more profound understanding of the universe in which we live. The form of traditional witchcraft practiced by the Coven of Scales teaches that the basic tenet of belief, although not a religion, does have a highly defined spiritual element to its practice. Also that Old Craft is fundamentally animistic – the belief that every object, animate and inanimate, has its own life-force, or energy. Here there is no separation between the spiritual or physical world, where ‘spirit’ exists in all flora and fauna (including humans); geological features such as rocks, mountains, rivers and springs; and in natural phenomena such as storms, wind and the movement of heavenly bodies. It is the understanding that a small quartz pebble can link us with the cosmic Divine.

Those members of CoS who have successfully passed through the first portal are usually mature individuals who have seriously studied other paths and traditions but were not comfortable with the contemporary dogma and questionable sources. Because let’s make no bones about it, today’s pagan interpretation of witchcraft often belongs to a revivalist tradition and should not claim to be anything else. Nevertheless, the seasonal rituals and celebrations need to be as close as they can to the beliefs of our Ancestors without falling into the trap of lumping all the deities together in one ageless pantheon … and expecting the magic to work!

These simple tenets of faith need to be enshrined in our memory because they allow us to perceive the simplicity at the heart of creation.  Much of this may be seen as playing with semantics, but in truth, the god-forms themselves have changed greatly down through the millennia. It is only by studying myths, legends and folklore, and pulling all the strands together that we can appreciate just how much these have altered.

The spirits of the landscape that are the true focus of the ancestral beliefs of Old Craft have remained constant; they have not altered their form and have only grown more powerful with age. These well-springs of magical energy have not been contaminated because few have known of their existence – apart from the native shamanic practitioners [witches] who have kept the secret down through the ages. In more secluded spots, the spirit-energy of the ancient Britons survives in remote ancient monuments, isolated lakes, the rural landscape, and in the depths of the surviving Wildwood with which our hunter-gatherer Ancestors would have been familiar.

When the native shamanic practices went into the shadows, these powerful energy spots were deemed unholy and feared by the locals – and as such passed into folklore as those things that are “never fully remembered and yet never fully forgotten.” Those people who come to us are looking for the Path back to the Old Ways and learning how to connect with this timeless energy that “speaks” to them on a variety of different levels. In the light of all this, it might be felt that Old Craft has no place in modern paganism since it is both elitist and hierarchical but our answer to that accusation has always been: “How can you teach yourself what you don’t know exists?”

It is pointless stripping away all the ancient magical formulae to shoe-horn ancient wisdom into a pre-prescribed contemporary system in order to make it easier to understand, when the interior workings that drive the whole have been declared redundant. The ancient symbols, sigils, formulae, analogies and metaphors remain an integral part of the spiritual journey; just as magic is an amalgam of science and art and the stepping stone to the Mysteries. These symbols are so ancient that they are firmly entrenched in the collective subconsciousness and it would be a mistake to discard them purely because they are not understood – or worse still – misunderstood.

During the recent BBC History of Magic programme that unveiled rare books, manuscripts and magical objects from the British Library’s collection and forthcoming exhibition, were revealed some of the traditions of folklore and magic which are at the heart of the Harry Potter stories. J K Rowling said of the exhibition: “The British Library has done an incredible job. Encountering objects for real that have in some shape or form figured in my books has been quite wonderful and to have several of my own items in the exhibition is a reminder of twenty amazing years since Harry was first published…” And she was honest enough to admit that although she had thoroughly researched her subject, some of the magical stuff was made up!

The worlds of J K Rowling and J R R Tolkein are fabulous stories, full of magic and glamour (in the magical sense) but they are wonderful works of fiction and fantasy – not reality. Nevertheless I suspect that many of those original “kiddy converts” have now swelled the ranks of the pagan community but where do they go to discover authentic witchcraft? Our own ‘converts’ discovered for themselves that there was a dearth of material available and it took them many years of searching before they discovered there were other approaches to witchcraft than popular Wicca. Just as not every member of a Christian congregation came be a priest, so not every pagan can be a witch since according to tradition this is some innate ability that manifests in the ways of the Craft.

And although we draw upon the natural energy from the landscape, we are even closer to those sentient beings we refer to as the Ancestors who represent our culture, traditions, heritage, lineage and antecedents; they trace the long march of history that our predecessors have taken. When those of a particular Tradition pass beyond the veil, their spiritual essence merges with the divine spirit of the Whole, which in turn gives traditional witchcraft the continuing power to endure – even past its own time and place in history. It therefore remains the duty of an Old Craft witch to ensure that they keep adding to the strength of belief, which, in many instances may already have endured for hundreds of years

So yes, in the twenty-first century you can view witchcraft as being whatever you want it to be but please don’t pretend to be following the Old Ways – because those “old ways” still matter.

First published in Magical Times 2019:

Melusine Draco is an Initiate of traditional British Old Craft and the Khemetic Mysteries and author of over fifty titles, many currently published with John Hunt Publishing, including the popular Traditional Witchcraft series published by Moon Books and a contributor to their latest anthology, What is Modern Witchcraft?  www.moon-books.net  Or contact www.covenofthescales.com for more information.

Power Animals Closer To Home

According to general belief, a power animal is a broadly animistic and shamanic concept that has entered the pagan lexicon, and where a particular creature acts as a protector or guide. These ‘spirit animals’  carry meaning, wisdom, and power and finding out what your spirit animal or totem means is like a going on a journey. Meanings will be revealed as you deepen your personal connection with it and there are various techniques to help you go beyond generic animal symbolism and connect with the true essence of your power animal. Power animals do not have to be mammals and can be reptiles, insects or even sea creatures, especially if you live within lose proximity to that particular element.

We all have our own personal totem-power animals but there are certain flora and fauna that have special meaning with Old Craft per se. These are particular animals and plants that transcend the personal and belong to the collective awareness of Old Crafters. Some may actually be an individual’s power-animal; others may appear as messengers from Otherworld even though they are not actively considered as a personal totem. The message, however, should not be ignored if any of these creatures cross our path. For example:

The most common and most obvious are the various members of the Corvus family: crows, rooks, ravens, magpies and jays. Noisy, raucous birds whose odd behaviour may contain a warning. For cowans (i.e. non witches) these birds are considered unlucky but as with a lot of superstitions, the meaning is often reversed from the Craft perspective. The old folk-rhyme “One for sorrow, two for joy …” is equally applicable for both crows and magpies. Magpies, jays, crows, rooks and ravens were all particularly feared if they seemed to be focussing their attention on a particular person or household – but this attention would be seen by a witch as a different kind of message.

The shy, elusive brown hare has long been synonymous with witchcraft; the emblem of the three hares joined by the ears is also an ancient image and one chosen as a logo for Coven of the Scales’ Arcanum course. As far back as Julius Ceasar writing ‘The Conquest of Gaul’, he recorded that the native Britons would not eat hare meat and attributed this to mean that the creatures were sacred; in Christian times the hare was considered unlucky and often viewed as witches in disguise. She was sacred to the goddess Eostre but in more recent times, this holy hare has been replaced by the ‘Easter bunny’.

The grass snake was considered unlucky and/or evil but its skin was nevertheless believed to have curative powers and used in a variety of domestic medicinal preparations. In traditional British Old Craft a witch would wear a snakeskin garter as a badge of rank and according to legend, this is the foundation for the origins of ancient Order of the Garter. As one historian observed: “Only at the instigation of a king as powerful as Edward III could such a famous order of chivalry have as its symbol an article of ladies’ underwear.” The story goes that the Countess of Salisbury dropped her garter and the king picked it up and placed it around his own leg – the gesture inferring that the garter was more than a simple frippery and that its significance suggests that the Countess was a witch and now under the king’s protection.

Weasels and stoats are often interchangeable but both are deemed to be unlucky and have a strong connection to Old Craft. They were probably avoided because of their ferocity but the skins were used to line cloaks and the ‘ermine’ became a badge of rank for the nobility. These ferret-like creatures often appear in old wood-cuts as witches’ familiars.
Needless to say, in traditional British Old Craft we also work with these sacred creatures in the wild, such as the brown hare, the grass snake, raptors of all shapes and sizes, and various members of the crow family – all of whom bring omens, messages and warnings on the wind to us all because they are ‘tribal’ creatures rather than personal power-animals.  And yet, lurking in the undergrowth is my own favourite wild power-animal – the stoat – a tiny, ferocious creature capable of tackling prey many times its own weight.  Or am I giving too much away!

In general terms, for an Old Craft witch the completion of an outdoor spell-casting or magical working should be followed by the bark of a dog/fox; the cry of an owl/hawk, or the croak of a frog/toad to indicate that the spell had ‘gone home’. Endorsement of this sentiment can also be found in Leyland’s notes to ‘Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches’. And if a particular type of flora (or fauna) is listed in compendiums of superstition as being unlucky, then it’s a safe bet that there was originally a connection to witchcraft or pre-Christian beliefs. Holly, ivy, blackthorn and whitethorn are all traditional Old Craft trees and deemed unlucky in many parts of the country. The oak, however, has been adopted as a multi-cultural symbol of strength and national pride. These traditional symbols of Old Craft are with us constantly, regardless of our own personal choices, and we should recognise – and honour – them as such.

Unwisely, however, domesticated animals are generally not considered power animals because they already in service to human beings. Traditional British Old Craft tends to have its roots in both shamanic practice and the animistic belief that everything possesses a spirit-energy connecting us to the Divine.  In this context, a power (or totem) animal acts as an individual’s guide and/or guardian for both the spiritual and temporal worlds; in some cases it may also impart the animal attributes of its species to a person under its protection.  We often tend to think of a power animal as an exotic creature of the wild and as a result, overlook those animals that live in close proximity to us and often share our lives – our pets who already provide us with physical and emotional benefits.

Cats are now the most popular of domestic pets and yet even the most placid and complacent family tabby is only a whisker away from the wild; a genetic study concluding that domestic cats are descended from African wildcats (Felis silvestris lybica) from around c.8000 BC.  In Grimalkyn: The Witch’s Cat, Martha Gray has charted this progress in magical and mystical terms and reveals how we are able to draw upon this power and enhance our magical workings by harnessing this elusive feline energy.  By understanding the evolution of the cat family, she shows how we can utilise the level of ‘cat power’ needed to cure a headache, or walk the death-path having been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The cat adopted as a power-animal represents independence, cunning, dexterity, agility, sensuality, inscrutability and ferocity – energies that can be extremely useful within the magic circle.

The domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is the 18-31,000 year old descendant of a now extinct European Wolf and has been the most widely kept working, hunting, and pet animal in human history; in Aubry’s Dog, I examine the power-attributes of a creature that has been both guide and guardian since.  Packed into this little book are some of the most potent magical workings, spells, curses and conjurations in British witchcraft including summoning the hounds of hell and the mighty Shugal. Dogs (and I have my own ‘pack’ of greyhounds at home) are a force to be reckoned with in the psychic realms, and the person who has a dog (in whatever form) as their power-animal is unlikely to come to any harm.  To put dog-power in its true magical perspective, however, we need to recognise which breeds are the aristocrats in terms of our own ancestral associations – as well as theirs.  And just as importantly, when working with wild dog energies we must refrain from attempting to give them the characteristics of the domestic dog.  The dog adopted as a power-animal represents speed, agility, courage, protection, justice, nobility and loyalty and if you choose to walk this Path, it’s guaranteed you’ll never look at your dog in the same light ever again.

My other domestic power-animal is the horse, which has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today.  In Black Horse, White Horse, I view them from a magical perspective, where the horse is a symbol of terrestrial or chthonic power being projected into the heavens and integrated with the sky gods in most of the ancient religions.  In this book I’ve included the real horse whisperers, superstitions, magical lore and perspective together with equine rites, rituals and the Blacksmith’s Curse.  The horse adopted as a power-animal represents power, speed, courage, nobility, freedom and chthonic forces; and those ‘harnessing’ this particular type of energy for magical working will find that it is enhanced considerably with half-a-ton of horse power behind it.

But when we look at our choice of power animal, do we ever stop to think of the negative aspects of these creatures?   If they have chosen us, are they recognising the negative elements that lurk inside us all if we are honest with ourselves.  Negative in this context does not, of course, mean bad or evil – it is the natural balancing side of the coin that regulates the Universe.

Many folk will look upon the wolf as an animal that stimulates all different kinds of emotions – they are awesome, scary, magnificent, pack oriented and free.  On their ‘dark side’ , however, they will bully and drive out the pack’s punch bag; in their natural environment they will kill the family pet, and research has shown that the most dangerous wolf is the one that has been reared in close proximity to humans!   Does your power-wolf see these traits in you?

Predators are high on the popularity list for totem and power animals and yet they are often chosen by those who refuse to accept that Nature is always red in tooth and claw – and that humankind is the greatest predator of them all.   We might consider that our power animal is proud and strong but do we accept that it is also a highly efficient and conditioned killer who hunts to stay alive, because these are the elements we call upon when harnessing the magical power of the creature.  When we conjure up the ‘Hounds of Hell’, for example, we are calling upon the combined instincts of the pack to hunt down and extract our revenge on our enemies.

Even small creatures such as the robin will kill a rival in defence of its territory and cute little garden frogs behave like a hoard of rampaging Vikings during the mating season!   When calling upon the protection or guidance of our power animal we are using the wild natural energy that the creature manifests on a psychic level for our benefit but we cannot pick and choose which elements we wish to utilise.  We cannot focus on the warm, cuddly aspects and ignore the over-amorous or rending of flesh with sharp teeth if we wish our magic to succeed.

In Nature animals are merely living according to the habits of their species, for unlike humans, animals are not calculatingly evil or deliberately cruel.  So, stand back, and take an objective view of the power animal that shadows you on the astral and ask yourself – who chose who, and for what reasons?

Shaman Pathways: Black Horse, White Horse by Melusine Draco

ISBN: 978 1 78099 747 8 (Paperback) £4.99 $9.95

 Shaman Pathways: Aubry’s Dog by Melusine Draco

ISBN: 978 1 78099 724 7 (Paperback) £4.99 $9.95

 Pagan Portals: Grimalkyn: The Witch’s Cat by Martha Gray

ISBN: 978-1-78099-956-2 (Paperback) £4.99 $9.95

 

A Hagiography of Craft by Melusine Draco

There nothing more tiresome that biographical details of someone who is desperately trying to create a life of importance and yet when it came to writing The Secret People I found myself in the invidious position of recording memories of a country life-style that had almost disappeared when I was still a child.  You might even say that I grew up surrounded by ghosts of the past – which was the perfect jumping-off point for where I am today!   Although there have been those critics who claim those memories to be ‘romanticised’ … for example:

A few years ago, I attended a Welsh Game Fair with a group of friends. In the main arena, one of the attractions was a chap who was simulating all the old poacher’s tricks for the entertainment of the crowd. His display was cleverly contrived by using a series of elastic lures to make the fake ‘rabbits’ streak across the field into the long-net. It was so convincing that two visiting whippets joined in the fun, much to the delight of the crowd and the embarrassment of the owner. I’d been watching the display with a view to writing an article about it but instead of taking in the details of the here and now, my subconscious mind was re-living my own memories of poaching that had been long forgotten.

Like Faust’s madeleines, it was the running of the long-net that triggered the memory. A long-net was some two foot high and some 20 feet long, and held up right by cut hazel sticks … how did I know they were hazel sticks? Because it had been my job to carry them. The story goes back to my pre-school years and my father left baby-sitting for reasons I can’t now remember. He’d done the 1940-45 stint in North Africa and Europe and it took a long, long time to get the need for an adrenalin buzz out of his system. Being a countryman, he turned his hand to a spot of DIY recreational therapy (i.e. poaching) because that was the way you coped in those pre-counselling days.

It was a fine night with a poacher’s moon; myself (aged about four) and the dog (about the same age) were bundled onto the motorbike and off we went into the darkness of the woods for a few hours of illegal hunting. This happened several times until my mother found out – then there was all hell to pay and my night-time excursions were stopped. Today, social services would consider leaving a four year old alone in the dark holding a poacher’s net, the act of extreme neglect, if not cruelty. For me, it represents ultimate trust in the person closest to me. The long-term effect is that I have no fear of being alone in remote places during the hours of darkness – which was just as well when I lived in Wales and used to roam about the fields at midnight with the dog, star-watching. Or where I live now in the Galtee Mountains. [Taken from Life-Writes – Compass Books]

The Secret People is my recollection of growing up in a rural environment where older people lived life that still relied on herbal preparations and ‘simples’ and poaching for the pot – and if that is classed as ‘romantic’ in some eyes then so be it.  I feel myself privileged to have experienced a rapidly disappearing way of life, and damned lucky to be able to remember it … and in CRONE! to share many of those enduring memories that have accompanied me through life.

EXTRACT from The Secret People: Parish-pump witchcraft, Wise-women and Cunning Ways.

The Secret People is a wander down memory lane and a step back in time; it is that ‘other country’ of the past where parish-pump witches, wise women and cunning folk still travel the highways and byways of a bygone era. Their voices can still be heard in the recipes and remedies handed down via an oral tradition, and now giving new knowledge to the next generation of pagans. It was a world where men went out with a ferret in a box and a long-net, accompanied by a silent long dog for a companion under a ‘poacher’s moon’. From ‘owl-light’ until dawn these people walked silently in the woods and along the hedgerows, watching and waiting to collect Nature’s bounty to be used for the benefit of themselves and their neighbours. From them came the introduction to spells and charms, divination and fortune-telling; the language of birds and the movement of animals – all grist for the witch’s mill. Mysterious horsemen might share secrets of horseshoe nails and thunder-water; while countrymen lived by weather, the seedtime and the harvest.

Few of The Secret People could be called traditional witches by any stretch of the imagination, and many would have been mortally offended to be referred to as a ‘witch’ or ‘pagan’. Few parish-pump witches would have thought about the skills they possessed since these were natural abilities, and even fewer wise women and cunning folk would have had any concept of the sombre and often dangerous rituals required for the raising of energy needed in the practice of true witchcraft. Theirs was a knowledge that filtered down in the form of spells, domestic plant medicine and country lore, imparted to offspring, friends and neighbours, who in turn handed it down to their children … and so on down through the generations. In fact, in his Dialogue Concerning Witches & Witchcraft (1603) George Gifford observed that local wise women ‘doth more good in one year than all these scripture men will do so long as they live’.

Most, however, would live by the Church calendar, inveigling saints to add potency to their healing spells, or to guide a hand in locating missing property; with many of the protective charms being aimed at deflecting malevolent witchcraft! Most old ladies in the parish seemed to have a wide repertoire of fortune-telling tricks to amuse young girls looking for a husband, not to mention the applied psychology of already knowing their neighbours’ business, which made divination with playing cards and tealeaves a push-over, and even up until recent years the village fete always had a fortune-telling tent. And since the early Church calendar had been formed around the agricultural year, the men folk of the village had no problem with presenting themselves, their animals, and produce from the harvest for blessing.

 The Secret People would have greatly outnumbered the practitioners of traditional witchcraft since the practical abilities that define a true witch are bred in the bone and not everyone can lay claim to the lineage. The skills of The Secret People can, however, be learned and perfected with practise and for those who struggle to find a label with which to empathise, it is hoped the lessons taught here will help the reader to establish some sort of identity that sits comfortably with them.

Today, under the ubiquitous umbrella of paganism, the parish-pump witch runs the occult shop in the high street, the wise woman dispenses Reiki healing and the cunning man has become a professional tarot reader. The countryman’s world has disappeared under a sprawl of urban housing and ring roads, while the poacher has yielded his domain to the brutal gangs who slaughter wildlife on a commercial scale – even the poacher’s dog, the lurcher, has found his niche in the ‘fly-ball’ event at Crufts!

And yet…the knowledge of The Secret People is still there for the learning, if only we know how to search for it and rediscover our identity.

The Silent People by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books. ISBN: 978 1 78535 444 1 226pp  UK£13.99/US$22.95 http://www.moon-books.net

 

 EXTRACT from CRONE! A Year in the Life of an Old Craft Witch

On reflection life is good and it’s not everyone who can live the witch’s dream of retiring to a small, isolated cottage in a river valley in the shadow of a wild mountain range. Since I’m country born and bred, it’s more like returning to my roots but life’s rich tapestry has certainly had its fair share of snags, runs, holes and endless thread-pulling along the way. I’ve lived in the Glen for over ten years now and although my original pack of greyhound companions has been reduced drastically through old-age, I’m still pack-leader of five … not forgetting Harvey my intrepid little mongrel!

The Glen is ideally suited to the type of magic we teach in Coven of the Scales simply because we are not over-looked – psychically or magically – and nothing is allowed to interfere with the daily routine of interacting with Nature on a full-time basis. The cottage is on the opposite side of the Glen to the mountains, on the wooded Slievenamuck Ridge with a lush valley and the River Aherlow running between. The view of the mountains is never the same two days running and at certain times of the afternoon, the slopes are bathed in a strange, ethereal light that is nothing short of enchanting. Each morning I can stand at the bedroom window and stare out with the feeling that this is an ever-lasting holiday – and one I often share with members of the Coven.

The Galtees (Na Gaibhlte) are Ireland’s highest inland mountain range, a high ridge which rises up almost sheer from the surrounding plain, the highest peak being Galteemore. As far as the geology is concerned, two major periods of glaciation affected the area and the rounded summits of the Galtee peaks were formed due to the higher parts being above the ice. The constant freeze-thaw action on the higher rocks gradually wore the peaks down to form the stony, scree covered summits we see today. This glacial action also formed corries on the higher slopes, which are now five mysterious glacial lakes. These mountains have many secrets not easily discovered: cliffs, lakes, bogs, streams, archaeology, wildlife, sheep, wonderful wild plants and ancient history.  If anyone is familiar with my Magic Crystals, Sacred Stones (Axis Mundi), they will understand how important these geological features are to our magical teaching.

As a result of being surrounded by all this beauty, I’ve now gone into Crone-mode, which in magical parlance means that I can do and say what I want, when I want, and no one can object, since they must sit at my feet and drink in the pearls of wisdom I dispense with every breath … even if they are the senile, verbal wanderings of an aging crank. Seriously, the Coven has been told that if I do get to that stage ‘Do not revive!’ must be entered on the medical chart! Today, I am blessed with a crowd of wonderful people in the Coven from all over the world; all of whom are bright, intelligent and talented – not a witchy outfit to be seen amongst them with the Craft ‘mark’ tastefully concealed – and all dear friends.

In truth, we as practitioners of Old Craft are less concerned with ritual and dogma, and more focused on natural energy-raising techniques, which we use to channel or direct spells and charms according to the nature of the working. As I’ve often said, Old Craft witches do not worship Nature but we are certainly proficient at working in harmony with it … and are highly spiritual beings on this level, too. Unlike the majority of modern pagans, however, we accept Nature as being red in tooth and claw and do not seek to impose our will on the natural scheme of things – even if Beltaine is delayed because the hawthorn comes into bloom a month late! And you can’t have a true Beltaine celebration without the fragrance of May blossom in the air … if you understand my meaning.

We also accept the timeless concept of the hunter and the hunted, and the essential inter-action of male-female energy. Old Craft is not generally seen as gender specific but its beliefs do tend to lean towards the male aspect since the female aspect remains veiled and a mystery – as she should be since this is the ancient and fundamental ‘Truth’ behind the Mysteries. Coven of the Scales is not a true sabbatical tradition but it remains an initiatory Mystery one, and what it does share with the other pre-Wiccan traditions is a common feature of extreme selectivity when it comes to prospective members – and the willingness to reject those proven unfit for the Path. Needless to say, this unpopular and confrontational stance has often led to thorny relations between other so-called ‘traditional’ groups, but it has encouraged a sanctuary-like environment where creative magical collaboration can unfold according to the design of each individual member of the Coven.

All this ‘tradition’ has now funnelled down to a tiny, remote cottage in the Glen that offers members of the Coven a warm welcome, a magical learning centre and a spiritual home, hopefully, for many years to come. We have our own Neolithic site where we interact with the Ancestors and, unlike many other ancient monuments, these ancestral energies have not been polluted by the unwelcome tramp of tourism. Here I can live the life of an Old Craft Crone according to the tenets of my belief and periodically welcome friends and fellow travellers to share in my magical world.

CRONE! By Melusine Draco is published by Ignotus Press UK. ISBN: 978 1 78876 001 0 UK£7.95  https://www.feedaread.com/books/CRONE-9781788760010

Coarse Witchcraft – “a funny and clever book”

The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy: introduced by Melusine Draco

I’ve often said that Coarse Witchcraft is like Marmite … you either love it or hate it.  Fans of the Coarse Witchcraft series are aware of the story behind the trilogy. How the authors were unhappy with the proposed ideas for publishing the first book as dark humour instead of the rather intense, polemic typescript they had originally submitted. They finally agreed for the text to be given to me (as a fellow Old Crafter) to ghost-write and Coarse Witchcraft: Craft Working was duly published – generally provoking more good natured laughter about British witchcraft at the time than we could have expected in our wildest dreams. Even esoteric author and long-time chum, Alan Richardson, said of the book: ‘Coarse Witchcraft made me laugh out loud in more than a few places. In fact, I think it is the first book of its kind; although it pokes fun at modern excesses and can laugh at itself, it still manages to teach the real stuff at a very high level.’

There was almost enough material left from the first book to launch a second: Coarse Witchcraft 2: Carry On Crafting, with plans for a third. It was dedicated to all those Crafters who believe that reverence should be tempered with mirth and merriment – and was as equally well received as the first. For reasons that will become apparent, the third (and last) title, Coarse Witchcraft 3: Cold Comfort Coven has been a long time in the writing. Despite the popularity of the first two books, the original authors decided to hand all copyright back to the ghost-writer who had created the series (if not the characters themselves), with the proviso that the real names of those people should never be revealed -and retire from the scene.

 Cold Comfort Coven is written in the same vein as the previous titles, and in its own way continues the unexpected, but true, story of the Coven from the numerous notes supplied by, and lengthy conversations with, the original members. In its own way, I think the Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy represents a small but important capsule of Craft history during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s that we have been lucky enough to preserve for the next generations of witches. MD

Extract from Coarse Witchcraft: Craft Working

St Thomas on the Poke is a small market town, as yet still unspoilt by the march of progress despite its close proximity to the south coast. And, despite an even closer proximity to the New Forest, the Coven lays no claim to any hereditary association with the legendary Dorothy Clutterbuck or the ‘New Forest Witches’. The Coven has been in existence for many years prior to the birth of its current members and will no doubt continue long after their deaths. Our family has farmed the land for centuries and, although that future can no longer be guaranteed, our branch of Old Craft will survive simply because we prefer to remain in the shadows and keep our teaching pure.

In spite of our ‘privacy’, our own small group is often beset with problems and difficulties of both a personal and magical nature, just the same as any other close grouping of people. Although head of the Coven, mine is not a blood-right. Three years after my mother’s death, father re-married; a year to the day his new wife was delivered of a son and promptly died. Some say the child was so ugly that the poor woman died of embarrassment. Be that as it may, as a result of this brief interlude, my father acquired a second son and a mother-in-law who was to be the bane of both his life and, subsequently, mine. Local people never understood why ’Squire (as my father was known) married Elizabeth Jay but I can now answer that question in all honesty, since it is no longer of importance. Like Jacquetta, the old Duchess of Bedford who snared Edward IV for her daughter, Granny Jay is a witch and, although she’s never actually admitted it, she used those powers to get Elizabeth into my father’s bed. In fact, Granny introduced most of the local children to the Old Ways (including my wife and myself), weeding out those who had a natural aptitude for careful nurturing when they came of reasonable age.

On my return from agricultural college following the unexpected death of my father, the old lady (whose personal habits and hygiene had always been questionable but now resembled those of an incontinent ferret) announced that I had been chosen to succeed the dead ‘Man’. Since Roger, my stepbrother, was of her blood, I felt the honour should go to him but Granny muttered that the boy was a moron who couldn’t find his own arse with a road map and a flash-light. She wasn’t, she added, having that sort of person messing up a hundred years of tradition. Despite her unprepossessing appearance, Granny was (and is still) not a force to be trifled with, as many of her neighbours have discovered to their cost. Mine was not to refuse.

Our Coven at present numbers the traditional thirteen although we have, in the past, had many more and often many less. Apart from my wife, Gabrielle, who serves as Dame and myself, there are our children, Richard and Philly, who are currently trekking around India during their gap year from university. (The Old Witch saw to it that they were introduced to the Old Ways at a very early age, even though I threatened to personally strangle her when I found out.) Guy and Gerry run the esoteric shop cum art gallery in the town centre and serve as our specialists in herb-lore. Priscilla and Adam at Bramble Cottage who, apart from keeping everyone supplied with honey and helping out with the livery stables, act as the Coven’s instructors. Then there’s Helena, our seer and diviner, whose jams and preserves are legendary within WI circles – but unlike Granny, hers is a tranquil madness.

Newcomers to the town, Madeleine and Robert were discovered like rare blossoms at a pub moot when Pris and Adam were forced to attend, due to Roger’s emergency hospitalization for haemorrhoids. (Granny unsympathetically observed that the doctors had obviously found a way to shut his mouth and give his arse a chance!) There’s Gordon, our stable ‘lad’ – an absolute marvel at animal healing and, finally, of course, there’s Granny herself.

Our real difficulties arise from Roger who, despite his grandmother’s unflattering pronouncement, formed his own coven in a neighbouring village. This means that Granny migrates between the two and although she disapproves of Roger’s modern approach (i.e. to let anyone and everyone ‘have a crack at the priesthood’) she spends most of her time with his group keeping an eye on things. ‘In case the daft bugger goes and kills somebody!’ The Old Witch also enjoys the atmosphere of seething hostility because Roger’s High Priestess is not his wife, and his wife disapproves of the one he’s chosen – for obvious reasons. Granny, of course, encourages Roger’s extra marital activities, and since Roger will roger anything with a pulse … well … the added spice (for Granny at least) is the fact that Roger’s brother-in-law is also the local vicar!

Although preferring to remain ‘private’, we do not work in isolation and are regularly in contact with other Old Crafters all over Britain. Because of my step-brother’s more liberal approach to craft-working on our doorstep, the members of the Coven felt that we should become more aware of what was going on in what is generally referred to as the ‘pagan scene’ at a more local level. Admittedly in doing so, we have added two new and valuable members to our group – so the effort was worthwhile.

Nevertheless, while we prefer not joining anything on a regular basis, we do make an effort to interact with the various goings-on in the area. This book is the result of the many conversations we’ve have, scenes we’ve witnessed, gossip we’ve exchanged and the experiences we’ve undergone, all in the name of Old Craft.

The names of the Coven members are those by which they have chosen to be known for the purpose of the book, for our true identities are no concern of anybody but our own. Neither will you find us in the telephone directory for we prefer not have our lives disrupted by the idly curious. Those who wish to have an understanding of our ways will seek us out when their time is right …

A few comments from others in the Craft:

“Granny muttered that the boy was a moron who couldn’t find his own arse with a road map and a flash-light.” Love it already and laughed out loud and it’s only page 4, but it doesn’t stop. Lot of humour, it’s wittily written and there’s a heavy dose of taking the er…Mick out of those in paganism who take themselves too seriously and of course the fluffy bunnies. I’d call this recommended reading for all newbies. Maria Moloney

The first part of this unique series,’ Craft Working’, was first published in 2002 by the late lamented ignotus press, followed two years later with ‘Carry On Crafting’. As occult author Alan Richardson commented at the time: “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.” The Moon Books edition published in 2013, includes the last part, ‘Cold Comfort Coven’ and as Melusine Draco (herself a former ignotus press author) observes in her Introduction: “In its own way the’ Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy’ represents a small but important capsule of Craft history that we have been lucky enough to preserve for the next generation of witches.” Ten years after the first part was published, the antics of the characters are still raising a chuckle, and still causing fellow witches to shake their heads in disbelief. Although based on a true story from the time of the 1990s ‘witch wars’ the books were re-written as humorous ‘faction’, and included contributions from other Old Craft witches who were only too eager to share the indiscretions of their own individual covens for posterity. All too often the pagan scene gets a little bit introspective and serious – ‘Coarse Witchcraft’ shows us that it is possible to combine mirth with reverence. Highly recommended. Carys Llewellyn

This is a funny and clever book,  that reads like fiction but to some degree isn’t. There’s a lot of experience and insight underpinning it, so that, without really revealing anything, it gives the newbie or wannabe witch a chance at spotting the fakes and fraudsters. It is also a really funny and engaging book. Nimue Brown 

The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy found it’s way to me and I am extremely glad that it did… This book is not only truly funny – it had me laughing out loud and shaking my head in despair at the same time, but it is also a very good reflection on what goes on within witchcraft groups. You will I am sure identify with most, if not all of the characters described within these pages because the fact of the matter is – this book is real, it is true life stories, it tells in a down to earth, no holds barred kind of way how witchcraft and the people that follow it roll. Truly entertaining but I also love the fact that it gets across the roots of witchcraft, how it is practiced by many, many people without all the fancy schmancy fluffy bits… If you want a good chuckle and also a good insight into the workings of a real coven you need to read this. This is Practical Magic meets The Good Life… Rachel Patterson

I’ve always been a fan of the first two Coarse Witchcraft books and howled laughing at the antics of the characters and the nutters they  encountered on the ‘pagan scene’. Now the long awaited third in the trilogy is finally out. These books hold gems of Old Craft wisdom and lore within the pages, a real must for anyone serious about British Traditional Old Craft instead of the new age shenanigins that pass for witchcraft nowadays. I’m glad the third, Cold Comfort Coven has finally been released and its plain to see why  it took so long to see the light of day. I laughed and with a heavy heart I read  the third and final part, as within any coven it only takes one bad apple to  spoil the whole barrel and I must say this ‘Poison Dwarf’ character obviously  has a lot to answer for. Over the years the characters had become like old  friends and the real sense of sadness was felt for Gabrielle as her life  dramatically changes with all round losses as she faces the future wherever the  Old Ones guide her.  Kerry Chadwick

 The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy is published by Moon Books

ISBN: 978 1 78279 285 7 : 254pp UK£10.99/US$18.95 – http://www.moon-books.net

What if all the self-improvement is pointless?

Melusine Draco

I am generally amused by journalist Brendan O’Conner because he’s a sucker for the latest health/well-being fad and occasionally comes up with some thought-provoking comments – like the one above … For poor Brendan, the real shock of this heresy was that it came from one of the most avid and enthusiastic self-improvers he knew.   It left him reeling, he wrote, because if folk were to start questioning all these mid-life self-improvement regimes where did it leave them?

Floundering, I suppose.  Because the media is awash with quick-fix information on how to improve health, life-style and spirituality from feeding the gut with live bacteria to personal enlightenment.  The problem is, that once we adopt one of these life-style regimes it makes us feel good, and virtuous and happy that we are doing something to improve our minds, our bodies and our spirituality because self-improvement has become the new religion.

There was a time when we could unwind and switch-off with other like-minded souls.  Nowadays we’re encouraged to work so hard in an increasingly competitive world that we can’t switch-off or relax without some mindless activity; therefore we can’t sleep at night and, as Brendan O’Connor admits, he spends all his free time pursuing things that might help him relax and sleep at night! ‘So basically we spend much of our free time trying to make ourselves able for all the work and trying to undo what work has done to us,’ he added.

So … where does well-being start?  Obviously health, or rather fitness, is a good place to begin and to be able to quit while you’re ahead.  For most middle and older-agers the usual problem is the belly-fat: that lump that appears around the middle that can’t be shifted through diet or exercise. And herein lays the key to weight loss: the systematic supplementation of certain amino acids allows us to stimulate the body to produce enough fat-burning hormones – in a natural manner and in harmony with the body’s needs. Start trimming down the belly-fat and the rest takes care of its self because we now want to get back into looking and feeling good.

And physical activity doesn’t need to be complicated. Something as simple as a daily brisk walk can help us live a healthier life since it helps us to maintain a healthy weight; prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes; strengthens bones and muscles … and improves your mood.

This brings us to the self-improvement of the mind and spirit … a whole different ball-game whose rules cannot be learnt in five or ten easy steps – or a weekend course with some kind of diploma at the end of it. Spiritual disciplines require years of study to perfect if any level of true mysticism or spiritual erudition is going to be attained; and it takes more than thinking good thoughts or caring for the planet. It’s doubtful whether we are going to find enlightenment with a superficial attempt at meditation although it does no harm to get into the habit of sitting by ourselves in a bubble of calm on a daily basis … but let’s not kid ourselves that nirvana is just around the corner.

The MB&S phenomena is a multi-billion pound/dollar industry and it pays dividends to encourage the unwary to invest in all manner of spiritual enhancers, supplements, products, jewellery, accessories and clothing.  The true seeker needs a teacher to make sure they understand exactly what it is they are seeking because how can you teach yourself what you don’t know exists?

Melusine Draco is the author of Pagan Portals: Western Animism – Zen and the Art of Positive Paganism  ISBN 978 1 78904 123 1 UK£6.99/US$10.95 : 80pp.

“ … her take on Zen is completely unexpected and totally original. I don’t think she has ever failed to surprise and often startle me in her previous books.  This one is no different …”  Alan Richardson, esoteric author

Due for publication July 2019.

Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living

The Blank Canvass: Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living

For witches and pagans living in our towns and cities, winter is a blank canvass at which we can stand and stare in order to appreciate Nature’s art as she begins to add her colours in spring … and summer … and autumn.   Winter isn’t about bare bones because now we learn to see shapes and subtleties that we miss when leaves cover bare branches and flowers are in bloom.   The setting sun of the late afternoon offers a divinatory opportunity when starlings coming home to roost create those wonderful swirling patterns in the sky.

Winter city gardens are more than likely to display the remnants of last summer’s pot planting but in the sheltered cracks and crevasses it is possible to find a first snowdrop; or a tuft of new chickweed with its apple-green leaves and tiny white flowers that appear throughout the growing season. Flowering all year, round this straggly little wildflower can be found growing on disturbed ground, close to walls and on cultivated ground.

Used culinary and medicinally, chickweed is excellent raw used like sprouts, eaten in sandwiches, wraps, etc. and of course it’s a great base for salad. It’s also great cooked and makes a good substitute for spinach. Chickweed is cooling and drying so it has a long history of use in treating skin afflictions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, rashes, minor burns, boils, cuts, and insect bites. It’s also good as a compress for soothing hemorrhoids and varicose veins, while a compress, tincture, or fresh juice is used to draw out splinters.

Our blank canvass also offers the chance to find those hidden places within our urban environment in which to seek out those little bits of magic that we miss during the hustle and bustle of finer weather; hidden gardens, riverside walks and private corners that we can retreat to at any time for a moment of peace and tranquility away from the busy streets.   Even old buildings like pre-medieval churches – or ruins of such – can offer a step back into our pagan past, which is alive and well and living in our towns and cities.

Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living is published by Moon Books – www.moon-books.net    ISBN 978 1 84694 978 4  146pp Price: UK£9.99/US$16.95