1 - Living Witchcraft

There have been many books written on witchcraft. The early ones were mostly propaganda written by the various Churches to discourage and frighten people from having any connections with what was to them a hated rival - for witchcraft is a religion. Later there were books setting out to prove that this craft had never existed. Some of these books may have been inspired or even written by witches themselves. Latterly there have been many books dealing in a scientific way with witchcraft by such writers as Dr. Margaret Murray, R. Trevor Davis, Christine Hoyle, Arne Runeberg, Pennethorne Hughes and Montague Summers.

Mr. Hughes in his most scholarly book on witchcraft has, I think, clearly proved what many knew: that the Little People of the heaths, called fairies or elves at one period, were called witches in the next, but to my mind all these books have one fault. Though their authors, know that witches exist, none of them seems to have asked a witch for her (1) views on the subject of witchcraft. For after all, a witch's opinions should have some value, even though they may not fit in with preconceived opinions.

Of course there are good reasons for this reticence. Recently I was talking to a very learned Continental professor who was writing up some witch trials of two hundred years ago, and he told me that he had obtained much information from witches. But, though invited, he had been afraid to go to their meetings. Religious feeling was very strong in his country and if it were known that he was in communication with witches he would be in danger of losing his professorship.

Moreover, witches are shy people, and publicity is the last thing they want. I asked the first one I knew: 'Why do you keep all this wonderful knowledge secret? There is no persecution nowadays.' I was told: 'Isn't there? If it were known in the village what I am, every time anyone's chickens died, every time a child became sick, I should be blamed. Witchcraft doesn't pay for broken windows!' (2)

Now I am an anthropologist, and it is agreed that an anthropologist's job is to investigate what people do and believe, and not what other people say they should do and believe. It is also part of his task to read as many writings as possible on the matter he is investigating, though not accepting such writings uncritically, especially when in conflict with the evidence as he finds it.

Anthropologists may draw their own conclusions and advance any theories of their own, but they must make it clear that these are their own conclusions and their own theories and not proven facts; and this is the method I propose to adopt. In dealing with native races one records their folklore, the; stories and religious rites on which they base their beliefs. and actions. So why not do the same with English witches?


[1] Witches are as often men as women, but in English a witch is always called 'she', so I will use that word, and the reader must understand it to mean either male of female,

[2] See Note 1 (page 188).


I must first explain why I claim to speak of things note generally known. I have been interested in magic and kindred subjects all my life, and have made a collection of? magical instruments and charms. These studies led me to spiritualist and other societies, and I met some people who claimed to have known me in a past life. Here I must say that, though I believe in reincarnation, as most people do who have lived in the East, I do not remember any past lives, albeit I have had curious experiences. I only wish I did.

Anyhow, I soon found myself in the circle and took the usual oaths of secrecy which bound me not to reveal any secrets of the cult. But, as it is a dying cult, I thought it was a pity that all the knowledge should be lost, so in the end I was permitted to write, as fiction, something of what a witch believes in the novel High Magic's Aid. (1) This present volume has the same purpose, but deals with the subject in a factual way.

Many people ask me how I can believe in magic. If I explain what I believe magic to be, I go a long way towards an answer. My view is that it is simply the use of some abnormal faculty. It is a recognised fact that such faculties exist. So-called calculating boys are famous, and very many people have the faculty under hypnotic control to calculate time most accurately.

While asleep they are ordered to do something at, say, the end of a million seconds; they will know nothing of this order in their normal state, but their inner consciousness calculates it and at the end of the millionth second they obey the order without knowing why. Try to calculate a million seconds in your waking state, and say when it is up, without a watch, and you will see what I mean.


[1] Published by Michael Houghton, 49 Museum Street, London, W.C.1.


The powers used are utterly unlike any mental powers we know. And exercising them is normally impossible. So, if there are some people with some abnormal powers, why should there not be other people who have other forms of abnormal powers and unusual ways of inducing them?

I am continually being asked various questions regarding the witch cult, and I can only answer: Nearly all primitive people had initiation ceremonies and some of these were initiation into priesthoods, into magic powers, secret societies and mysteries. They were usually regarded as necessary for the welfare of the tribe as well as for the individual. They usually included purification and some test of courage and fortitude - often severe and painful - terrorisation, instruction in tribal lore, in sexual knowledge, in the making of charms, and in religious and magical matters generally, and often a ritual of death and resurrection.

Now I did not cause the primitive people to do these things; I simply hold that witches, being in many cases the descendants of primitive people, do in fact do many of them. So when people, for example, ask me: 'Why do you say that witches work naked?' I can only say: 'Because they do.' 'Why?' is another question, the easy reply being that their ritual tells them they must. Another is that their practices are the remnants of a Stone Age religion and they keep to their old ways. There is also the Church's explanation: 'Because witches are inherently wicked.' But I think the witches' own explanation is the best: 'Because only in that way can we obtain power.'

Witches are taught and believe that the power resides within their bodies which they can release in various ways, the simplest being dancing round in a circle, singing or shouting, to induce a frenzy; this power they believe exudes from their bodies, clothes impeding its release. In dealing with such matters it is, of course, difficult to say how much is real and how much imagination.

As in the case of dowsing, if a man believes that when Insulated from the ground by rubber insoles he cannot find water, this belief inhibits him, even though the insoles contain no rubber, whilst wearing insoles made of rubber - though he didn't know it - he can find water, as many experiments prove.

It is easy to imagine that a witch who firmly believes, that it is essential to be naked could not whip up the final effort to attain the ecstasy without being naked. Another, however, who did not share this belief might, though partially clothed, exert sufficient energy to force power through her face, shoulders, arms and legs, to produce some result; but who can say that she could not have produced twice the power with half the effort had she been in the traditional nakedness?

All we can be sure of is that in ancient times it was recognised that witches did so and even journeyed to their meetings in that costume; but in later times the Church, and more especially the Puritans, tried to hush this up and invented the story of the foul old woman on a broomstick, to replace the story told at so many witch trials of wild dances in the moonlight by beautiful young witches.

Personally I am inclined to believe that while allowing for imagination there is something in the witches' belief. I think that there is something in the nature of an electromagnetic field surrounding all living bodies, and that this is what is seen by some people who call it the aura. I can sometimes see it myself, but only on bare flesh, so clothes evidently obstruct its functioning; this, however, is simply my own private belief.

I think a witch by her formulae stimulates it, or possibly creates more of it. They say that witches by constant practice can train their wills to blend this, nerve force, or whatever it is, and that their united wills can project this as a beam of force, or that they can use it in other ways to gain clairvoyance, or even to release the astral body.

These practices include increasing and quickening the blood supply, or in other cases slowing it down, as well as the use of will-power; so it is reasonable to believe that it does have some effect. I am not stating that it does. I only record the fact that they attempt these effects, and believe that sometimes they succeed.

The only-way to find the truth or falsity of this would be to experiment. (I should think that slips or Bikinis could be worn without unduly causing loss of power. It would be interesting to try the effect of one team in the traditional nude and one in Bikinis.) At the same time one might heed the witches' dictum: 'You must be this way always in the rites, 'tis the command of the Goddess.' You must be this way so that it becomes second nature; you are no longer naked, you are simply natural and comfortable.

The cult, whether in England or elsewhere, starts with several advantages. First, it usually obtains recruits very young and slowly trains them so that they come to have the sense of mystery and wonder, the knowledge that they have an age-old tradition behind them. They have probably seen things happen and know they can happen again: instead of mere curiosity and a pious belief that 'something may happen', inhibited by an unacknowledged but firm belief that 'it will never happen to me'.

What it comes to, then, is this: certain people were born with clairvoyant powers. They discovered that certain rites and processes increased these powers, thus they became useful to the community. They performed these rites, and obtained benefits, and being lucky and successful were looked at with envy and dislike by others, and so they began to perform their rites in secret. Power which can be used for good can be used for evil, and they were tempted perhaps to use this power against their opponents, and thus become more unpopular. As a result calamities would be laid at their doors, and people would be tortured till they confessed to causing them. And who can blame the children of some of those thus tortured to death for making a wax image of their oppressors?

That, in brief, is the truth about witchcraft. In mid-Victorian days it would have been shocking, but in these days of nudist clubs is it so very terrible? It seems to me more or less like a family party trying a scientific experiment according to the text-book.

I should like at this stage to deal with the view, not infrequently held, that witchcraft has connections with diabolism. Mr. Summers himself appears to think the question is settled because the Roman Catholic Church said the cult was diabolic, and Mr. Pennethorne Hughes's book also gives the impression that witchcraft is a cult of evil. Mr. Hughes says (page 128):

'As the cult declined, any sort of common practice must have been lost, until by the nineteenth century the indoor practitioners of self-conscious diabolism merely conducted the Black Mass of inverted Catholicism. At the time of the trials there was clearly some sort of formal service quite apart from the crescendo of the fertility dance. It would, in a Catholic Age, be very like the known pageantry of the Church's own celebrations, with candles, vestments and a parody of the sacrament.

It might be conducted by an unfrocked priest using hosts with the devil's name stamped on them instead of Jesus, and the defiling of the Crucifix-to insult Christians and please the Devil. The Devil himself received praise and homage. A liturgy of evil would be repeated, there would be a mock sermon and absolution made with the left hand and an inverted cross.'

Those who attended these meetings he dismisses in the following way (page 131):

'Some were perhaps dissipated perverts and had shame or guilty pride; some were just members of a primitive stock, already disappearing, but still following the ways of their fathers, knowing the Church disapproved yet finding physical and psychological satisfaction. Some were ecstatic. "The Sabbat," said one, "is the true Paradise"'

Mr. Hughes does not say why he thinks they should have given up their own rites, which were made for a definite purpose and which produced definite results simply to parody those of an alien faith. I have attended many of these cult rites, and I declare that most of what he says is simply not true.

There may be a fertility dance, but the other rites are simple, and with a purpose, and in no way resemble those of the Roman Catholic or any other Church that I know. True, sometimes there is a short ceremony when cakes and wine are blessed and eaten. (They tell me that in the old days mead or ale was often used.) This may be in imitation of the early Christian Agape, the Love Feast, but there is no suggestion that the cakes turn into flesh and blood. The ceremony is simply intended as a short repast, though it is definitely religious.

The priestess usually presides. Candles are used, one to read the book by and others set round the circle. This does not in any way resemble the practice of any other religious sect I know. I do not think that can be called 'imitation of the Church's pageantry'.

There are no crucifixes, inverted or otherwise, no sermons, mock or otherwise, and no absolution or hosts save for the cake and wine mentioned. Incense is used, but this has a practical purpose. There is no praise or homage to the Devil, no liturgy, evil or otherwise, nothing is said backwards, and there are no gestures with the left hand; in fact with the exception that it is a religious service and all religious services resemble one another, the rites are not in any way an imitation of anything I have ever seen. I do not say there have never been diabolists. I only say that, as far as I know, witches do not do the things of which they have been accused, and knowing what I do of their religion and practices I do not think they ever did.

Naturally it is impossible to speak for all of them. I have seen in print that priests and clergymen have been convicted of every crime there is in British law, and in the Isle of Man priests have been convicted of singing psalms of destruction against people (vide the Isle of Man N.M. & A. Soc. Proceedings, vol. v, 1946), which is a new crime to me at least; but this does not mean that the majority of priests and clergymen are criminals.

Nor do I think it fair to call witches disappointed perverts. They may truly be said to be followers of a primitive religion, already disappearing; they are following the ways of their fathers, knowing the Church disapproves of their practices, but finding physical and psychological satisfaction. And cannot the same be said of the Buddhists or Shintoists? They have ancient, and to them good rites, and they are not in the least concerned if others disapprove. All that matters to them is, are they on the path? I have learnt tolerance in the many years I spent in the East and if anyone finds true paradise in the Buddhist rites, the Sabbat, or the Mass, I am well content.

If I were permitted to disclose all their rituals, I think it would be easy to prove that witches are not diabolists; but the oaths are solemn and the witches are my friends. I would not hurt their feelings. They have secrets which to them are sacred. They have good reason for this secrecy. I am, however, permitted to give one sample of their rites. It tells little, for, apart from the rites, they themselves know little.

For one reason or another they keep the names of their god and goddess a secret. To them the cult has existed unchanged from the beginning of time, though there is also a vague notion that the old people came from the East, possibly as a result of the Christian belief that the East is the holy place whence everything came. In this connection it should be noted that witches start in the East when forming the circle, and the representative of the god or goddess usually stands in the East. This may simply be because the sun and moon rise in the East, because of the position of the altar, or for some unknown reason, since actually the main invocations are towards the North.

I have been given no reason for this; but I have an idea that in the old days they thought their paradise lay in the North, as they hold that the Northern Lights are the lights of their paradise, though this is usually thought of as being underground, or in a hollow hill. It is worth noting, too, that Scandinavian mythology makes the North the dwelling-place of the gods, and that in Gaelic myth the South, often camouflaged as 'Spain', is evil or hell. Presumably, therefore, its opposite, the North, is paradise.

I have seen one very interesting ceremony: the Cauldron of Regeneration and the Dance of the Wheel, or Yule, to cause the sun to be reborn, or summer to return. This in theory should be on December 22, but nowadays it is held on the nearest day to that date that is convenient for the members. The ceremony starts in the usual way. The circle is cast and purified, the celebrants also being purified in the usual manner, and the ordinary business of the cult is done. Then the small ceremony Is performed (sometimes called 'Drawing down the Moon') so that the High Priestess is regarded as the incarnation of the goddess. The Cakes and Wine ceremony follows.

Then a cauldron (or something to represent one) is placed in the middle of the circle, spirit is put in and ignited. Various leaves, etc., are cast in. Then the Priestess stands by it in the pentacle (goddess) position. The High Priest stands on the opposite side of the cauldron, leading the chant The others stand round in a circle with torches. They are lighted at the burning cauldron and they dance round in the 'sunwise' direction, i.e. clockwise. The chant I heard was as follows, but others are sometimes used:

'Queen of the Moon, Queen of the Sun,
Queen of the Heavens, Queen of the Stars,
Queen of the Waters, Queen of the Earth
Bring to us the Child of Promise!


[1] The sun, thought of as being reborn.


It is the great mother who giveth birth to him,
It is the Lord of Life who is born again.
Darkness and tears are set aside
When the Sun shall come up early.

Golden Sun of the Mountains,
Illumine the Land, Light up the World,
Illumine the Seas and the Rivers,
Sorrows be laid, Joy to the World.

Blessed be the Great Goddess,
Without beginning, without end,
Everlasting to eternity.
I.O.EVO.HE Blessed Be.'

They dance round furiously, crying:

Blessed Be LO. EVO.HE Blessed Be.'

Sometimes couples join hands and jump over the blazing cauldron, as I have seen for myself. When the fire had burnt itself out the Priestess led the usual dances. This was followed by a feast.

Is there anything very wicked or awful in all this? If it were performed in a church, omitting the word goddess or substituting the name of a saint, would anyone object?

Other rites I am forbidden to give because they are definitely magical, though otherwise they are no more harmful than this. But they do not wish it to be known how they raise power. The dances that follow are more like children's games than modern dances - they might be called boisterous and noisy, with much laughter. In fact, they are more or less children's games performed by grown-ups, and like children's games they have a story, or are done for a certain definite purpose other than mere enjoyment.

I am also permitted to tell for the first time in print the true reason why the important thing1 in all their ceremonies is 'Casting the Circle". They are taught that the circle is 'between the worlds', that is, between this world and the next, the dominions of the gods.

The circle such as it is shown in pictures may or may not be used. It is most convenient to mark it with chalk, paint or otherwise, to show where it is; but marks on the carpet may be utilised. Furniture may be placed to indicate the bounds. The only circle that matters is the one drawn before every ceremony with either a duly consecrated Magic Sword or a Knife, the latter being the Witches' Athame or Black-Hiked Knife, with magic signs on the hilt, and this is most generally used. The circle is usually nine feet in diameter, unless made for some very special purpose. There are two outer circles, each six inches apart, so the third circle has a diameter of eleven feet. When drawn, this circle is carefully purified, as also are all who celebrate the rites. Watches attach great importance to this, for within the circle is the gods' domain.

It Is necessary to distinguish this clearly from the work of the magician or sorcerer, who draws a circle on the ground and fortifies it with mighty words of power and summons (or attempts to summon) spirits and demons to do his bidding, the circle being to prevent them from doing him harm, and he dare not leave it.

The Witches' Circle, on the other hand, is to keep in the power which they believe they can raise from their own bodies and to prevent it from being dissipated before they can mould it to their own will. They can and do step in and out if they wish to, but this involves some loss of power, so they avoid doing so as much as possible.

People try to make me say that in the rites skulls and other repulsive things are used. I have never seen such things; but they tell me that in the old days sometimes, when the High Priest was not present, a skull and crossbones was used to represent the god, death and resurrection (or reincarnation). Nowadays the High Priestess stands in a position representing the skull and crossbones, or death, and moves to another position, a pentacle, representing resurrection, during the rites.

I expect the old village herbalist type of witch may have used skulls and bones and other things to impress people because they were expected to. They were good psychologists, and if a patient was convinced that only a nasty-tasting medicine would do him good, then the witches' draught was sure to taste horrible - and consequently it cured. If the people firmly believed that mumbo-jumbo with skulls and bones, gave the witch power to cure or kill, then the skulls and bones would be there, for witches are consummate leg-pullers; they are taught it as part of their stock-in-trade.

It is often thought that the performance of the Black Mass is part of the tradition of witchcraft; but to use the late Dr. Joad's words, 'it all depends on what you mean' by the Black Mass. I understand it to be a, blasphemous parody of the Catholic Mass. I have neither seen nor heard of this in connection with the cult, and I do not believe it ever existed as one of their rites. Rites are performed for certain purposes. These take time, but when they are finished the assembly have a little meal, then dance and enjoy themselves. They have no time or inclination for indulging in blasphemy. Has anyone ever heard of people wasting time in troubling themselves to go through a parody of a Buddhist or Mohammedan rite?

Another thing I have always understood is that to perform a Black Mass you needed a Catholic priest who would perform a valid transubstantiation: God so present in the Host would then be desecrated. Unless it were a valid communion there could be no desecration. I should be surprised to find a Catholic priest among witches nowadays, though in the past many are said to have been members of the cult It has been suggested that witches did not really celebrate the Black Mass but that people become witches by obtaining hosts, either by stealing the reserved sacrament from the churches or by receiving the communion and keeping it under their tongues and then putting it in their pockets; this was then taken to the rites and desecrated.

During my lifetime there has been much trouble because priests and missionaries have destroyed or desecrated figures of heathen gods, and I also believe that some eminent Nonconformist churchmen have obtained consecrated hosts and held them up to ridicule. But I have never heard that so doing made diem witches, and I do not think that witches ever do it or did it. On the other hand, there have been many instances of consecrated hosts being made use of in unorthodox ways by people who were not witches; to stop fires or volcanic eruptions, for instance, or to wear round the neck as personal charms, to bring good fortune, avert evil and, especially, to checkmate attacks by vampires; but all this was done by believers. A witch would not do these things, since she believes she can fabricate much more powerful charms of her own.

I believe, however, that sometimes the Black Mass is performed. Once I doubted it; but in February, 1952, I was in Rome and was told that some unfrocked priests and nuns celebrated it at times. My informants said they could arrange for me to see it done properly by these unfrocked priests and nuns, but that it would cost me about £20; I had not enough foreign exchange or else I would have gone, so as to settle the question to my own satisfaction. I think it was probably a show put on for the tourists, though I was assured by responsible people that it was not.

In short, I believe that people may perform Black Masses at times for a thrill, or with evil intent; but I do not believe that these people are witches, or know anything about witchcraft. Incidentally, I met more than one witch in Rome, though witches have to keep underground, and they knew nothing of this Black Mass.

Being initiated into the witch cult does not give a witch supernatural powers as I reckon them, but instructions are given, in rather veiled terms, in processes which develop various clairvoyant and other powers, in those who naturally possess them slightly. If they have none they can create none. Some of these powers are akin to magnetism, mesmerism and suggestion, and depend on the possibility of forming a sort of human battery, as it were, of combined human wills working together to influence persons or events at a distance.

They have instructions in how to learn to do this by practice. It would take many people a long time, if I understand the directions aright. If these arts were more generally practised nowadays, we should call most of them spiritualism, mesmerism, suggestion, E.S.P., Yoga or perhaps Christian Science; to a witch it is all MAGIC, and magic is the art of getting results. To do this certain processes are necessary and the rites are such that these processes may be used. In other words, they condition you. This is the secret of the cult.

I do not say that these processes are the only way to develop these powers. I presume that professional clairvoyants, for instance, have some method of teaching or training to bring out the powers which they naturally possess. It is possible that their method may be superior to that of witchcraft; possibly they know the witches' system and all the teaching it involves and keep it as a trade secret.

Witches are also taught that in some mysterious way 'inside the circle they are between the worlds' (this world and the next), and 'that which happens between the worlds does not concern this world'. To form this battery of wills, male and female intelligences are necessary in couples. In practice these are usually husband and wife, but there are younger people who often form attachments which usually end in marriage. There are also, of course, some unattached people, or some whose respective spouses are for some reason or other not members of the cult. I have heard fierce purists declare that no married man or woman should belong to, or attend, any club or society to which their respective partners did not also belong; but such strict views are not part of witchcraft.

Witchcraft was, and is, not a cult for everybody. Unless you have an attraction towards the occult, a sense of wonder, a feeling that you can slip for a few minutes out of this world into the other world of faery, it is of no use to you. By it you can obtain peace, the soothing of jangled nerves and many other benefits, just from the companionship, but to obtain the more fundamental effects you must attempt to develop any occult power you may have. But it is no use trying to develop these powers unless you have time and a suitable partner, and it is no place to take your maiden aunt, even if she is romantic; for witches, being realists, have few inhibitions and if they want to produce certain effects they do so in the most simple way.

Although most of their activities have been for good, or have at least been harmless, certain aspects gave the Church in England and the Puritans the chance to accuse them of all kinds of immoralities, Devil-worship and cannibalism, as I have shown. Torture sometimes made poor wretches confess to these impossibilities, in order to lead the questioning away from the truth. The fact that their god had horns caused him to be identified with the Devil.

The fact that witches were often people of some property worth looting supplied the incentive; rack and branding-iron did the rest. Christian fear and Christian fire prevailed. The few remaining members of the cult dived underground and have remained secretive ever since. They are happy practising their lovely old rites. They do not want converts: converts mean talk: talk means bother and semi-persecution. All they desire is peace.