3 - Witch Beliefs

Exactly what the present-day witch believes I find it hard to say, I know one who goes to church at times, though she is, at best, only an occasional conformist. She firmly believes in reincarnation, as many Christians do. How she or they reconcile it with the Church's teaching I do not know. But, to begin with, the belief in many different heavens, each with their different god, is not unusual.

The cult god is thought of as the god of the next world, or of death and resurrection, or of reincarnation, the comforter, the consoler. After life you go gladly to his realms for rest and refreshment, becoming young and strong, waiting for the time to be reborn on earth again, and: you pray to him to send back the spirits of your beloved dead to rejoice with you at your festivals.

That they believe something of this sort is clear from the myth of the goddess which forms the central part of one of their rituals. It is a sort of primitive Spiritualism.

Witches have no books on theology, so it is difficult for me to discover all they actually believe. With all the thousands of books there are on Christianity I find it difficult to define Christian beliefs. Transubstantiation, for instance. On the other hand, it is easy to give the central idea or myth, which I believe is defined as being a story which affects people's actions. Strictly speaking, in this sense the Myth of Christianity lies in the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and few Christians differ about this. The Myth of Witchcraft seems to be the story of the goddess here quoted. I am forbidden to give her name, so I will call her G.

The Myth Of The Goddess

Now G. had never loved, but she would solve all mysteries, even the mystery of Death, and so she journeyed to the nether lands. The guardians of the portals challenged her. 'Strip off thy garments, lay aside thy jewels, for nought may ye bring with you into this our land.' So she laid down her garments and her jewels and was bound as are all who enter the realms of Death, the mighty one. (1)

Such was her beauty that Death himself knelt and kissed her feet, saying: 'Blessed be thy feet that have brought thee in these ways. Abide with me, but let me place my cold hand on thy heart.' And she replied: 'I love thee not. Why doest thou cause all things that I love and take delight in to fade and die?' 'Lady,' replied Death, ' 'tis age and fate, against which I am helpless. Age causes all things to wither; but when men die at the end of time, I give them rest and peace and strength so that they may return. But you, you are lovely. Return not; abide with me.' But she answered: 'I love thee not.' Then said Death: 'As you receive not my hand on your heart, you must receive Death's scourge.' 'It is fate, better so,' she said, and she knelt. Death scourged her and she cried: 'I know the pangs of love.' And Death said: 'Blessed be,' and gave her the fivefold kiss, saying: 'Thus only may you attain to joy and knowledge.'

----

[1] See Note 2 (page 188).

----

And he taught her all the mysteries, and they loved and were one; and he taught her all the magic's. For there are three great events in the life of man - love, death and resurrection in the new body - and magic controls them all. To fulfil love you must return again at the same time and place as the loved ones, and you must remember and love her or him again. But to be reborn you must die and be ready for a new body; to die you must be born; without love you may not be born, and this is all the magic.'

This myth upon which its members base their actions is the central idea of the cult. Perhaps it was coined to explain ideas and rituals already conceived, and to explain why the wiser, older and more powerful god should give his power over magic to the goddess. It is very easy to say this is only the story of Istar descending into hell, but the point of the story is different.

Again you can say it is simply Siva, the god of Death and Resurrection; but here again the story is different. It is quite possible that the stories of Istar and Siva have influenced the myth, but I think that its origin is most likely Celtic. In Celtic legends the Lords of the Underworld did prepare you for rebirth, and many living people are said to have entered their regions, formed alliances with them and returned safely, but it needed great courage; only a hero or a demigod dared to risk it. Celtic mysteries assuredly contained rituals of death and resurrection, and possibly visits to the underworld with a safe return. I think St. Patrick's Purgatory in Lough Derg was a Christianised version of this legend.

Primitive man dreaded the idea of being born in another tribe, among strangers, so he prayed and performed rites to ensure being born again at the same time and the same place as his beloved ones, who would know and love him again in the new life. The goddess of the witch cult is obviously the Great Mother, the giver of life, incarnate love. She rules spring pleasure, feasting and all the delights at a later time with other goddesses and has special affinity with the moon.

Before an initiation a charge is read beginning: Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who of old was also called among men Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite and many other names. At mine altars the youth of Lacedaemon made due sacrifice. Once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full, meet in some secret place and adore me, who am queen of all the magics ....

For I am a gracious goddess, I give joy on earth, certainty, not faith, while in life; and upon death, peace unutterable, rest and the ecstasy of the goddess. Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice ....

The charge I think came from the time when Romans or strangers came in; it explains a little which would not be known to all in the old days, and identifies the goddess with goddesses of other lands. I think a similar charge was a feature of the ancient mysteries.

I am forbidden to give any more; but if you accept her rule you are promised various benefits and admitted into the circle, introduced to the Mighty Dead and to the cult members.

There is also a small 'frightening', an 'ordeal' and an 'oath'; you are shown certain things and receive some instruction. It is all very simple and direct.

* * *

Among the most common charges against witches is that they denied or repudiated the Christian religion. All I can say is, I and my friends have never seen or heard of such denial or repudiation. My opinion is that in the early days everyone was of the old faith and regularly worshipped the old gods before they were initiated. To people like the Romans and Romano-Britons it would only be worshipping their own gods who had become identified with Celtic ones, so there would be nothing to repudiate.

Possibly during the persecution times if unknown people turned up at a big religious meeting they would be questioned to see if they were spies and might be asked to deny Christianity, as a sort of test. They would never initiate anyone, take him into the circle, unless they knew him well as one of the old faith. When the persecution grew fierce, the cult dived underground and practically only children, born and bred into the cult, were ever initiated. I can well believe that sometimes, if someone not of the blood wished to come in, he might be questioned; but it is as much use to ask the average postulant to deny Christianity as to make him deny a belief in Fidlers Green, which old sailors used to tell about: the paradise where old sailors went, which lay at the far side of Hell.

So I think it possible that though there may have been cases of people denying Christianity, these were very few. To say it is 'proof because many witches were tortured until they admitted repudiating Christianity is like saying that similar testimony is proof that they flew through the air on broomsticks. My great trouble in discovering what their beliefs were is that they have forgotten practically all about their god; all I can get is from the rites and prayers addressed to him.

The witches do not know the origin of their cult. My own theory is, as I said before, that it is a Stone Age cult of the matriarchal times, when woman was the chief; at a later time man's god became dominant, but the woman's cult, because of the magical secrets, continued as a distinct order. The chief priest of the man's god would at times come to their meetings and take the chief place; when he was absent, the chief priestess was his deputy.

In this connection it should be noted that there are certain rites where a man must be the leader, but if a man of requisite rank is not available, a chief priestess belts a sword on and is thought of as a man for the occasion. But although woman can on occasion take man's place, man can never take woman's place.

This may derive from the time of the associations of Druidesses of whom the Romans spoke as witches. Whether these were true Druidesses I do not know. It seems to have been a separate religious organisation, possibly under the rule of the chief Druid, much in the same way that there was a priest or someone who might turn up at a witches' meeting and be acknowledged chief who came to be called 'The Devil' in mediaeval times. I think the use of the witches' circle, in magic, may have come from the Druid, or rather the pre-Druid, people, who built Stonehenge and Avebury and who made use of it to concentrate the powers generated.

It is a direct descendant of the circles used in the prehistoric cave magic, though of course it may have come from the East. The Romans suppressed the Druids in the areas they effectively occupied, but I think it possible that a women's section may have carried on even there, perhaps in secret; or maybe they were tolerated and some Romans and Greeks who belonged to the various mysteries, particularly that of Mithras, finding similar organisations, became members, so the goddesses became identified with their classical goddess; hence the wording of the charge.

Back

TOC

Next