1 - A New Moon and a New Dream
What Traditional Witchcraft is really about on its practical side is the hidden powers of the human mind These can be aided by traditional knowledge of techniques which will bring them out and develop them, but basically the powers of witchcraft, shamanism, magic or whatever one likes to call it are latent in everyone This is one of the first things I was taught by Gerald Gardner also so it is something about which there is a general agreement as a basic teaching
The Rebirth of Witchcraft
As we approach the end of the century, many people are looking for new directions, in life, in philosophy and in religion. Some have set out on strange paths, beckoned on by the ideas and practices of foreign cults. Others have looked for a more homely, familiar tradition to follow, but this latter path is overgrown and lost in the modern world. Yet the longing remains. Somewhere there is a form of religious expression which appeals to the heart, is without dogma, brings the seeker close to the deities, from which spiritual comfort, healing and guidance may be received at first hand.
Since the 1950s such a faith has been re-emerging under the title of 'Witchcraft'. Witchcraft is not just a pagan religion, however, for it has at least two other interesting components. One is magic and the other encompasses a wide array of traditional crafts, from using herbs in healing to making talismans and charms.
Witchcraft, as a religious impulse, has never gone out to recruit or convert those of other faiths, nor does being a witch prevent you following an orthodox belief as well. Today there are Catholic witches, Quaker and Church of England witches, as well as Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist witches.
The paganism of modern witchcraft is an expansive philosophy which holds all aspects of life as sacred. Its mythology includes many forms of gods and goddesses, both Classical pagan, like the pantheons of ancient Egypt, Greece or the Celtic and Norse lands of the North, as well as the magically born, annually dying and sacrificed hero gods, which can include Attis or Jesus. It is necessary to study all scriptures and holy books, and mythologies too, to reassess their teachings and values for the current world.
It is often thought that witchcraft involves the worship of a character which the Christians call 'Satan', but this is not true. The Satanists are not pagan witches but derive from Christianity, perverting the usual understanding of Good and Evil of that religion. Witches, on the whole, do not have any kind of evil deity. They worship Mother Nature, the Great Goddess who also rules over the triple phases of the Moon, and all the Waters, be they springs, rivers or oceans. Her consort, divine Son and Champion is the Lord of wild and tame creatures; he is the Hunter, the Corn King, the dying and reincarnating Sun God, bearing the antlers of the stag or the sun's rays upon his brow.
Each of these deities rules over patterns of change, the natural rebirth of the Earth's green bounty in spring, its summer burgeoning, autumnal decay and winter rest. The Goddess is the Earth beneath our feet, our home and the substance from which our physical bodies are created. She is the water that refreshes and cleanses us, and the moonlight which, with its ever-fluctuating light, enriches our dreams, and if we are wise, awakens our magical powers of psychic vision. The Sun God lights up our world, giving it life, warmth and vital energy. Ultimately, it is from the Sun's power that we receive our food for all green things are fuelled by solar reaction, and where there is no light there is no life as we know it.
In witchcraft there is no sense of 'having to believe' in an Earth Goddess and a Sun God, but each one who comes freely and of their own will to the Old Religion will come to know, through personal revelation and religious experience, that mighty powers can be encountered and prayed to, from whom guidance, strength and healing can be genuinely received. The seasonal festivals which mark the passing year enact the lives of the Goddess and her Son/Consort, bringing their energies into the sacred circle so that they may be communed with by all who seek them. There is no dogma, just a body of myths and legends handed down by country folk, the original paganus, in song and rhyme, in dance and mime, in tale and half-remembered calendar custom or traditional fair.
In earlier times, when almost everyone worked on the land or at crafts and skills connected with natural produce, a sequence of seasonal events punctuated the turning year with feasts and festivals, gatherings and partings. In each village there would be a number of families pursuing inherited crafts: the blacksmith, the baker, the cobbler and, probably, the wise one/herbalist/witch. Just as the blacksmith would teach the magics of his skill with metals to his sons, so would the healer/witch teach her children, so that the old knowledge would be passed down, within the family, to both men and women.
The Cunning Men had their own Mysteries, trade secrets if you like, as did the women, which would help them discover lost cattle, cure sickness in mankind, beast or the land itself, oversee the loves and hates of their community, offering wise advice or charms and potions, as the client requested. They would be the keepers of the community's songs which spoke, since Celtic times, of every individual's lineage, his grandsires and traditional crafts. They would know the herbs that aided childbearing, or kept pregnancy from befalling. They knew the plants which would bring peaceful sleep, or death, or dreams of wild frenzy. They would watch the heavens, noting, in their own unwritten code, the births of children, deaths of the old, meetings and partings of lovers and their fingers were always on the pulse of village life, their dark eyes at the knotholes of the shutters, watching their narrow world go by.
Because they knew what was in the hearts of those who came seeking love potions, or vengeance or luck, they could barter or predict or manipulate the outcomes of any activities within their magically delineated patch. They held the secrets of life and death, and were feared or respected for their craft, their skills and their magics.
And these old unwritten wisdoms live on, hidden in the secluded and veiled world of 'Witchdom'. They are seldom found in books, for most of the old arts are trivial, the spells simple, the crafts are intuitive rather than learned in an academic way. They are seldom found in covens, either, for these modern groups of witches are directed by a High Priestess and a High Priest, in regular rituals often held, perforce, inside a house rather than out in the moonlight, where Mother Nature holds all in her thrall. The covens offer friendship and shared worship, regular activities and initiation for those who seek that path. But it isn't the only way. Many excellent books have been written for coven witches, spelling out their ceremonies, degrees, philosophies and mythology, but this offers only one side of the coin.
Social history is very quiet about the lives, beliefs and activities of the common folk. Historians have looked at kings and bishops, leaders in battle or cloistered monks, recording their view of history on vellum. No one bothered with the peasants, nor the secretive crafts folk, plying their individual trades to serve their own community. No one travelled very far from the place they were born, unless service to the lord of the manor entailed their enforced attendance on a battle, uprising or work on his lands held at a distance.
The few freemen, the journeymen carpenters, masons and clerics who did travel often huge distances to ply their specialist trades, were a fairly rare bunch, and they kept their own secrets closely. Many, however, protected and preserved the Old Religion wherever they went. Look in any old church and there you will probably find the Green God of Nature in the rafters as a Green Man, or the Goddess in her guise of deer or hare or rose of the world. These ancient pagan images have spent fifteen hundred years gazing down on followers of a newer faith below, yet they have not lost their magic.
Certain places in the wild have always held the aura of power: the summits of high and lonely hills, sacred springs within the hidden grove, deep caves, and the ancient, stone-encircled dancing grounds, recognised as holy by our long-lost ancestors, marked on their mind-maps which we, with awakened inner vision, may read anew. These are the protected places, the boundaries between earth and water, air and earth, this world and that of Witchdom, hidden only by a veil of dream. Go there alone, in the spirit of adventure and seek out the atmosphere, if nothing else.
Feel the energy of any such place, quietly, inside your head. Ask that the Guardian Deity of the sacred area come to you and sit for a few minutes in silence, relaxed, with your eyes closed. Listen with sharp ears for the tread of the Goddess's feet on the land of that other world, feel the brush of her silken veil, the warmth of her breath, like the touch of the breeze upon your cheek. Sense the arrival of the Lord of Wild Animals, the heavy tread of a stag or bull, the rasp of hairy hide upon a tree's rough bark.
These will not harm you, but welcome you upon the threshold of their realm. They will bless you and show you that there are other paths of faith, older gods, more immanent ones. They will not coerce or threaten, nor condemn the other ways we humans walk in our individual quests for religious understanding and a philosophy of life.
If you have a dream, to walk unfettered in the search for your true self, to find a way of living in harmony with the Earth and all Nature, to strive for balance between your own needs and those of the whole planet and the others who share it with you, perhaps one such direction may be found here. It is not for everyone. It is not something to be taken up as a momentary whim, or as a hobby or time-filler until something more exciting comes along.
It is a hard journey, first within to the deepest and darkest recesses of your own heart, where all your failures, cruelties, selfishness and hurt lie uncovered, like some hidden dragon's hoard. This is the treasure of experience, through which you must pick your way, seeking the precious jewels, the holy relics, the forgotten or abandoned parts of you, the childhood ambitions, abilities and skills which every witch would value.
Did you used to be able to fly in your dreams? Your wings are here. Could you judge character and motives, even when you were too young to have the words to tell this truth? Those words and insights are also here. Here are the desires to heal, to do good, to see fairies face to face, to ride the unicorn or shining serpent, to meet with the heroes or kings and queens of ancient myth. Here is your own Holy Grail.
The object of this book is not to spell out for you some ancient formula which will magically make you a 'witch', but to show you the paths along which you may walk in order to discover for yourself some of the many arts, crafts and religious aspects which the followers of the Old Religion used to have. Only the touch of the Goddess or the God can awaken your witchly ancestry within you, and that you will need to seek, when you are ready.
In order to succeed you may need to change some of your ideas, and cast a few long-held theories out of the window. You will need to consider your responsibilities as one who works with power. You will need to see what ordinary commitments you may have to give up in order to devote time, energy or some other personal resource to your new-found interest. Nothing is gained for nothing. You will have to pay for your knowledge with dedicated and long-term effort, with patience and with small sacrifices of things you care about.
This book is intended to be a loose course of instruction, with areas of work to be tackled month by month. Turning to the end and trying out the suggestions there will not instantly make you a witch; it will just show your youth in spiritual matters which, like all other arts and skills, have to be learned step by basic step. Read the whole book through, see if it awakens old knowledge within you, or shows you, through those sudden flashes of insight, that you have simply forgotten much of the wisdom you had in other lives, or that dwells within your family's genetic legacy to you.
Because our country-dwelling ancestors had no truck with calendars or digital watches, this series of lessons is set in moonlong chunks, to be worked on from the day after each new moon, through the waxing phase to full moon, and through the waning until the day of the dark of the moon. Because we are literate and need to remind ourselves with written notes or computer entries, one of the first things you will need, when you are ready to seriously follow the instructions here, is a new diary or large-format book.
It will become your personal log of progress or you could call it a 'Book of Illuminations'. To begin with you will need to know when there will be a new moon. It is far better to stick your head out of a window as it gets dark and look out for the moon, so she may show you her current phase. Remember, in the Northern hemisphere, the moon is a [symbol 02 p7a] crescent as she waxes, and a [symbol 01 p7] shape as she wanes, and from one new moon to the next is 29 and a bit days. For convenience, this is usually taken as four weeks of seven days.
Before we used the Roman names of the months, country folk measured time passing by nights and moons. Around the country some fragments of this old lore endure, like calling the full moon of September the Harvest Moon, October the Hunter's Moon and so on. We still use the expression 'a fortnight', meaning fourteen nights, not days! Each lunar period was given over to some specific agricultural activity, weather permitting.
There were times for sowing seed, for haymaking, cutting the corn, weeding, gathering fruits of orchard and woodland, for worrying about poor harvests and for rejoicing after rich ones. When there were no convenient shops to supply the bread and little money to buy food, the relationship with the Earth Mother was felt very closely. These days we seldom suffer such hunger, or concern for the coming of spring.
The stresses of modern occupations cannot be compared with the fear of starvation, the desperation when the weather prevented the sowing of seed or reaping of harvests, or when the winter woodpile was depleted or the last peats burned, long before the snows had melted from the cottage roofs.
Begin to look around you and see in what ways the moon has affected your life, your home or even your job. Get out after dark and try to see the phase of the moon in the sky. Is the moon visible from your bedroom window, and does her light shine upon your face. What do you know about her phases? Is she the same the whole world over? What about astronauts landing on her surface, she who is a Goddess and bringer of psychic visions?
Do you think you might like to become a pagan, or develop the powers of a 'witch'? What will your family or workmates think? Will you meet with fear or derision from them? Who should you tell about your new interest? Who do you know who might be able to help you or share your experiments? Are there already any witches in your circle of friends and acquaintances? Would any of them have anything to say, or help to offer?
Do you really wish to belong to a coven, to undergo initiation and become part of a fairly secret society? Or are you content in your own company, happy to wander around in natural surroundings, enjoying sunlight and the life of trees and herbs, of birds and wild creatures? Do you crave company, someone to pour out your troubles to, or give you encouragement in any of your wilder schemes? All these questions are important, because if you really do set out to become a 'witch' or follower of the Old Ways, some parts of your studies will set you apart.
You will probably lose a few friends, not because they come to fear you but simply because you no longer have the time and energy to devote to some shared activities. Some of your friends might scoff at your pagan ambitions, or make fun of your intentions in front of others, if they get to hear about your interest in witchcraft. Others might try to cause trouble in your job, or stir up bad feeling, through a lack of understanding of modern pagan ideas.
You might encounter Fundamentalists of one sort or another, or those out to save your soul from some invented harm, and you will be well advised to consider what responses you might give to such people, if they turn up on your doorstep. Suggesting that you could turn them into a bat might seem to be a good idea at the time but such threats, even made in fun, can be taken too seriously by religious fanatics in whose faith there is little fun, light or laughter.
Among those of the Craft, however, you should find great joy, a real sense of fun and a lightness of spirit which can prove cheering when you feel lonely or despondent, because your meditations are barren, and the moon of your intuition is dark. Even if you are studying alone, you ought to be able to laugh at yourself. Think back to how you would see yourself as a witch, with the regulation pointed hat, the broomstick, cauldron and black cat.
Do you imagine it would be amusing, huddled around a cauldron over the smoky fire, conjuring spirits to visible appearance, or brewing potions of bits of frog and noxious herbs in the company of cackling sisters of the art? Again, history has a little by way of explanation about the archetypal picture of the old witch, warts and all. When the first books with woodcut illustrations were printed in the 15th century, an old dame accused of witchcraft, was depicted.
She was dressed at the then height of fashion, in a long dark skirt, shawl and lacy cap topped by a tall hat with a round brim, a costume typical of Welsh ladies to this day, if you look at holiday postcards from that principality. Unfortunately, the image persisted, long after the fashions changed. The old lady, with her walking stick, trendy attire and her pet cat, became everyone's idea of how the witch is supposed to look. Pity that picture is now about six hundred years out of date!
In the Middle Ages, keeping an animal as a pet, whether it was a cat to keep down mice or a dog to hunt the odd rabbit for the pot or even a toad or lizard, was thought to be very strange, and it is on the evidence of such a relationship that some poor old souls were accused, and even sometimes hanged, for their supposed involvement in witchcraft. Today some witches are vegetarians or even vegans, neither eating nor wearing animal products or having them in their homes. Many belong to animal protection or rescue services. Again, the suggestion that witches, then or now, killed animals or used their blood in spells is totally wrong.
They would probably have eaten meat, when they could get it, for in the winter especially the country folk had a very poor diet compared to our modern, vitamin-enriched, prepackaged and out-of-season fare. However, the symbolic objects associated with the archetypal witch figure still have a relevance in today's Craft. Some covens have cauldrons, broomsticks, even cats, because members of the Old Religion have always been practical and kindly people. Objects which have both a practical and a magical use have always been sought by witches.
Some of these are natural charms, fossils in the shape of a leaf or an arrow-head collected from the fields or river banks to act as protective amulets. Pebbles with an eye shape turn up all over the world as charms against being 'overlooked' by someone with an evil eye. Perhaps a similar charm ought to be discovered to attach to computers to prevent hackers and ward off computer 'viruses'. Who knows what new arts the New Age witch might need to develop!
The old cauldron was the ordinary cooking pot, yet it could also be used to brew up herbal or magical potions, or the simmering water in the dark iron pot would make an excellent scrying mirror for seeing into the future. The broomstick, whose homely task was to sweep the floor, became a magical wand, and a swept area in the earth or rushes of a simple cottage floor became the magical circle wherein the witch could call up her powers to see at a distance, to seek answers to questions, to raise the energy for healing or blessing a charm. If you take up these old arts you will need to gather a few basic tools around you.
This is not the excuse to take your cheque book to the nearest occult emporium and lay out large sums of money for esoteric artefacts, equipment, robes, incenses, knives and what-not. If you really want to master the Crafts of the Wise you will do far better to look in your garden shed, in the kitchen drawer, or in the attic for forgotten treasures which your new-found arts will require.
Your first acts of magic, if you are one of the rare folk who actually do want to align themselves with the traditional arts and reawaken the creative powers of the Old Religion within themselves, will be to get out of doors as much as you can. At first it might seem strange, walking along familiar streets among houses and shops, perhaps, with ancient or modern buildings, or perhaps in the countryside. (On average about 85% of people interested in witchcraft in Britain today live in towns or cities or other urban areas!)
The difference is that you will actually be opening your eyes and looking. Look at the buildings, what are they made of? Look at the people, where did they originate? Look at the trees, the plants in gardens or parks, are they common to the land or new fancy species introduced recently? Look at the roads and lanes, are they straight or curving, following a buried stream perhaps, or some other ancient boundary? Where is your nearest flowing water, be it stream, river or even the sea coast? What do you know about the tides and their relationship to the moon? Become curious about everything, for that was certainly one of the assets of every traditional witch. Seek to know about your community, its needs, its desires, its good and bad points, and above all, seek out your local magical spots.
There is no obvious way of locating the most sacred place in your area, and as you are different from me, there is no way of explaining what it might feel like to you. Perhaps you will feel a tingle on the skin, a feeling of heat or cold, or sense the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. Places to go and examine, even in your untrained and unmagical state, should be any kind of spring of water, the oldest church and its churchyard, particularly ancient trees, historic buildings, ruins or, of course, any local standing stones, circles, tumuli, barrow mounds, hedges, green ways, hill forts, hill figures, Roman roads or even older causeways.
If nothing else is suitable in your home area, go to the top of the highest hill and start by watching the sunset or the sunrise. Take a picnic, take grandma and the kids, go and visit, in a relaxed and watchful mood, any such place with ancient associations. Note down the phase of the moon when you make your journey. Sit quietly and ponder, muse or daydream, asking silently in your heart that you might understand a little of the magic or sacredness of the place. Gentle, new thoughts will drift through your head.
Ideas will seem to spring from nowhere. Be silent, still and patient. Feel the earth beneath you, the sky above, and the eternal balance in which they stand. Feel the ages rolling back so that the people of the past, with their forgotten wisdom, may speak to you inside your mind, or drift their shadows across your distracted eyes. Be at peace, seek the calmness and enduring qualities of a big, healthy tree, ask for the voice or energy of a bubbling brook or the surging sea. Request the freedom of spirit to soar with the gulls or skylarks, and see what happens. What ever you do, try to understand the old ways, the simplicity and immediacy of events in your ancestors' lives. Rediscover the skills they might have had, the crafts they practised, the way they lived in reasonable harmony with the earth taking only what they needed and harming her as little as possible.
These may seem like very small steps to take, but you will be surprised at how much you can discover by peeping over a few walls, examining the shape of your home town, looking out for the sorts of natural things which might well have been sacred to our ancestors. There is a simple logic to the things they considered holy, if you think about it. The sun raised and ripened the crops on which all life depended; the springs of fresh water offered to quench the thirst of man and beast, in summer droughts and winter snows. There is a life force in spring water very different from that in processed tap water, as is obvious from the increasing popularity of bottled spa and mineral waters. Our ancestors named this life force, found in healing springs and herbs, 'virtue' and valued its effects.
We are a literate people and fill our memories with telephone numbers, 'trivial' facts and figures, which may be useful on quiz programmes but are not a lot of help when it comes to the application of magical arts. So it is necessary to begin to build up new memories, data banks and bits of knowledge to apply to our new-found witchly crafts. Obviously, this is not going to be suddenly regained by sitting at the feet of our arcane grandparents, nor can we conjure back the simpler ages when all knowledge was absorbed, day by day, at our mother's knee, so we have to turn to books.
Of course, there are lots with the word 'witchcraft' in the title, but not all contain useful material for the solo student, or one who wants to walk unhampered in the old ways. Do look out for the books of Doreen Valiente, for she was one of the people most closely involved in the rebirth of 'coven witchcraft', being one of Gerald Gardner's High Priestesses, and it is her poetry which gave voice to much of the pagan ritual used in groups all over the world. She learned much of her own lore from the Sussex folk and wove threads of that traditional wisdom into some of the more public of her writings. Gerald Gardner, in his novel High Magic's Aid, and other books The Meaning of Witchcraft and Witchcraft Today, first brought together enough ideas to set in train the forms of witchcraft which are used by many covens worldwide today.
The various works of Stewart and Janet Farrar trace the varieties of coven craft spreading from the ideas of Alex Sanders, who mixed some of the arts of High Magic ritual into the fragments of craft knowledge he had accrued over many years. Read all such books with these questions ever in your mind, 'Can I imagine the simple, ordinary country folk doing this, using this instrument, or even being rich enough to possess a sword, for example? Would they gather in this way, have a structure of priests and priestesses, a regular calendar of feasts fixed by the days of the month, and not by Nature and her cyclic harvests?'
Whatever you read, try not to restrict yourself to just those books marked 'Witchcraft'. Look at country life, seasonal festivals, ancient religions, local customs and sacred places. As you read, jot down in your Book of Illuminations those facts, poems, ideas and odd bits of lore and folk magic that interest you so that you can come back to them, try them out and really understand them as your knowledge grows.
Read the chapter a couple of times and note the things which most seem to click with you. If you are going to follow the thirteen lessons month by month you will have to choose a day on which to start, preferably that after a new moon. Buy a large A4 notebook and a hardback spring-clip file to keep your pages in. You can decorate the cover, for this will become your personal Book of Illumination, so find a secret place to keep it in so that honest accounts of dreams, ideas, wishes and discoveries can be entered without fear of their being read by others. Later on, you will need to enter details of spells you have worked, indications about divinations and their outcome, and information on all sorts of things.
Go to the children's section of your library or bookshop and see what they have on Comparative Religion. You need basic information to understand what people believe, ordinary Catholic or Anglican Christians, Quakers, Methodists and some of the other world faiths, like Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Shinto, Islam and any others which interest you. You will also come across Greek, Roman and Egyptian religions from the ancient world, and they have close bearings on some aspects of modern paganism.
Become really nosy and curious about where you live, why it is there, what was there before. Find out what is sacred or special in the area, the origin of the place name. If you have contact with any old people, your grandparents or other elderly folk, ask them about how the place used to be, any local celebrations or curious customs. Look hard at things, as suggested in this chapter, especially out of doors. Watch the moon growing and changing her position in the sky, night by night, when the sky is clear. Go and feel the atmosphere at the nearest sacred place. How does it feel different?
Read up on the farming year, the old agricultural practices and the seasonal work. Find out if there is a local museum with old tools and kitchen equipment, or layouts of traditional cottages. Try to get the feel of a cruder, simpler past, and the people of long ago.
Ask yourself questions about what you know about witchcraft, what you believe it to be like, what it can do for you, and what you can offer to the Craft in return. Compare what you have read in books about pagan ideas with what you are finding out about the lives of people in earlier times. Write down notes on all you discover on the first pages of your Book of Illumination.
Here are a few books to get you going:
Vivienne Crowley, The Principles of Wicca (Thorsons)
Marian Green, Practical Magic (Lorenz)
Marian Green, The Gentle Arts of Aquarian Magic (Aquarian)
Prudence Jones and Caitlin Matthews, Voices from the Circle (Aquarian)
Starhawk, The Spiral Dance (Harper and Row, USA)
Doreen Valiente, Witchcraft for Tomorrow (Robert Hale)