10 - What Are Witches?
Mr. Hughes says: 'Witchcraft proper only exists where the powers called upon are consciously felt to be evil ones, and those concerned in the operation are seeking aid from some force exterior to accepted conditions and beliefs.' If this is true, then the witches of whom I have been speaking are not witches at all.
What are they then? They are the people who call themselves the Wida, the 'wise people', who practise the age-old rites and who have, along with much superstition and herbal knowledge, preserved an occult teaching and working processes which they themselves think to be magic or witchcraft. They are the type of people who were burned alive for possessing this knowledge, often giving their lives to turn suspicion away from others. At Castletown we have a memorial to the nine million people who died by torture in one way or another for witchcraft.
These Wica generally work for good purposes and help those in trouble to the best of their ability. Of course whatever you do in this world you tread on someone's toes; if a witch raised a good crop of corn in the old days, people complained she was deflating the prices. I think it unwise to lay down the law without knowing the subject.
Mr. Hughes goes on to say: 'The physical powers of a witch are those of a prehistoric people. How far good deeds done for evil ends are permissible is a question for theologians.' I think the answer to this statement lies in the Jesuits' reported dictum: 'Evil deeds are always permissible for a good purpose, or when they are to the benefit of the Order' - which is also a matter for the theologians.
I think the witch is justified in using any physical power she has if it is used for the good of her community, provided she is injuring no one. Mr. Hughes says that the witch used and sold poisons. Possibly; but the present-day ones have no real knowledge of them. They know vaguely that hellebore is deadly, as they know weed-killer is, but they do not know the correct dose of either, and they do not know where to get hellebore.
In the Middle Ages whenever typhus fever broke out, as it did very frequently, it was a stock thing to say the witches or the Jews had poisoned the wells. Just because a witch may use a prehistoric cure to heal a sick child, it does not necessarily mean that it is done for an evil end. Some individual witches may have done wrong and evil things, but they are not the only ones who can be blamed for that.
The most obvious form of doing evil is by sympathetic magic, the making of images. This is done all over the world; if the victim knows it is being done and firmly believes that it will kill him, then he can frighten himself to death. A witch may make an image and frighten people with it if they believe that she has the power to kill. Any person may do it and the effect may be much the same, so this form of evil is not exclusive to witchcraft.
In 1318 the Bishop of Troyes was tried, the evidence showing that he had made a wax image of the Queen of France, and that after doing various indignities to it, burned it, and so the Queen died!
Mr. Hughes goes on to say (page 146): 'Witches cast spells, they raised havoc, they poisoned, they aborted cattle and inhibited human beings, they served the Devil, parodied Christian practices, allied themselves with the King's enemies, they copulated with other witches in male and female form whom they took to be incubi or succubi, they committed abuses with domestic animals.
More, they did these things consciously in the belief that they served a diabolical master and challenged heaven. Their motives were confused, their impulses were bemused, the proceedings more and more remote from any common original practices, yet they did them, and the reasons for what they did lie in the earliest religious beliefs.'
I presume he thinks he knows what he is talking about, so let me reassure him that to the best of my knowledge most of these accusations are false. Witches did cast spells, to stop Hitler landing after France fell. They met, raised the great cone of power and directed the thought at Hitler's brain: 'You cannot cross the sea,' 'You cannot cross the sea,' 'Not able to come,' 'Not able to come.' Just as their great-grandfathers had done to Boney and their remoter forefathers had done to the Spanish Armada with the words: 'Go on,' 'Go on,' 'Not able to land,' 'Not able to land.' Is that allying themselves with the King's enemies? I am not saying that they stopped Hitler. All I say is that I saw a very interesting ceremony performed with the intention of putting a certain idea into his mind, and this was repeated several times afterwards; and though all the invasion barges were ready, the fact was that Hitler never even tried to come. The witches told me that their greatgrandfathers had tried to project the same idea into Boney's mind.
At the time of the Spanish Armada the invading force was off the coast before the cult really heard about it. They knew it was useless trying to get at King Philip; he was out of touch with and could not change the Armada's course, and they had not the slightest idea who was in command. The only thing they could do was to send out a general idea: 'Go on,' 'Go on,' 'Go on,' 'You cannot land,' 'You cannot land,' and hope it would take effect. If they could have raised a storm, they would have done so, but they did not know how, though naturally they would pray to their gods to bring disaster to the fleet and this would probably include storms.
I doubt if witches ever raised havoc; at least I've never heard of their doing so, and I and they do not know how they would set about it; I would like information on the subject - dates and places, please? I cannot say no witch ever inhibited any human beings, or aborted cattle, any more than I can say no Bishop ever killed anyone by magic or poison. I have no knowledge of witches doing these things, but I do know of the Bishop of Troyes, and of the Borgia who was a Bishop before he was Pope.
Copulating with incubi and domestic animals is just a bit of nasty nonsense, as is the charge that witches were serving a diabolical master. This was simply invented at the time of the persecutions, when judges would not convict and so the Church had to make up some crime that would warrant death. Witches have their own gods and they believe they are good; what more can any Christian say? There may be confusion or, rather, slight differences between the rituals and practices in different covens, I do not know; but do, for instance, the practices of the British Israelites, the Mormons, the Calathumpians and the Plymouth Brethren form one harmonious whole? Yet are they not all of the Christian faith?
In the era of terror, just after the disastrous Children's Crusade, Pope Innocent III made surgery a crime. He denounced the old pre-Christian faith as heresy and witchcraft and set the Inquisition to crush it.
About nine million people suffered death by torture. The Dominicans, founded by St. Dominic, a devoted ascetic who whipped himself three times daily and used to pluck birds alive, were put in charge of the persecutions, and they spread the story of a conspiracy against Christ. Some people say they really believed some of the things they preached, but this I find hard to credit, though the more ignorant of their hearers might.
It is certain that from the orgy of persecution, as in the earlier cases of persecutions against the various sects of heretics, someone obtained enormous loot, and, of course, it is true that these people were guilty of worshipping their own god in their own way.
Some people say that the Church simply had written lists, and tortured witches and Knights Templar till they said 'Yes' to all charges, and this accounts for all resemblances. But this is only partly true. The important resemblances are not in the stock charges, but in little, unimportant things, and many of these resemble what is still done today in Africa, America and Madagascar, of which the Inquisitors had no knowledge. The fact is, the average person can tell a big lie, but cannot invent all the little details to deceive a good cross-examiner and so lets out bits of seemingly unimportant truth.
That is why soldiers if captured are told to give only their name, rank and number: not to try and deceive the enemy by giving false information, because in doing so they usually give out some true facts which help him.
Officers are taught to question prisoners, to pick out bits of truth from wildly impossible stories. Inquisitors were expert cross-examiners, but did not always realise the importance of little details that came out. Their business was to weed out heresy, and they did this thoroughly.
It is often said that witches have confessed to the most abominable practices. This is quite true, but it must be remembered why they did so. Paul Carus in The History of the Devil, page 323 (Archives of the International Folk Lore Association), calls the Malleus Maleficorum, or Witch-Hammer, the most infamous work ever written.
It advises beginning a trial with the question 'whether or not the person on trial believes in witchcraft', and adds: 'mind that witches generally deny the question.' If the culprit denies, then the inquisitor continues: 'Well then, whenever witches are burnt, they are innocently condemned.' A denial of witchcraft sealed the doom of the accused at once, for, according to the Witch-Hammer, 'the greatest heresy is not to believe in witchcraft' (haeresis est maxima opera maleficorum non credere).
However, if the accused-affirmed the question, torture made him confess. To plead ignorance was of no avail, for the refusal of a confession was counted a crime under the name maleficium taciturnitatis. There was no escape, and the best course for the victim on the rack was to confess all at once without a relapse into denials, for that at least abbreviated the procedure.
According to page 330, 'before the torture began, the accused was forced to drink the witch-broth, a disgusting concoction mixed with the ashes of burnt witches, and supposed to protect the torturers against the evil influence of witchcraft.'
The filth (carceris squaloris) of the, dungeons was used. The same page tells of the torture applied to a woman in the year 1631 on the first day of her trial.
Unfortunately he does not give the place, or whether it was by the Inquisition or the Reformed Church; but this is a translation from Konig, Ausgeburten des Menschenwahns, p. 130; also Soldan, Hexenprocesse, p. 269-70.
'(1) The hangman binds the woman, who was pregnant, and places her on the rack. Then he racked her till her heart would fain break ....
(2) When she did not confess, the torture was repeated ... he cut off her hair, poured brandy over her head and burned it.
(3) He placed sulphur in her armpits and burned it.
(4)Her hands were tied behind her, she was hauled up to the ceiling and suddenly dropped down.
(5) This hauling up and dropping down was repeated for some hours, till the hangman and his helpers went to dinner.
(6) When they returned her feet and hands were tied upon her back; brandy was poured on her back and burned.
(8) Then heavy weights were placed on her back and she was pulled up.
(9) After this she was again stretched on the rack.
(10) A spiked board was placed on her back, and she again was hauled up to the ceiling.
(11) The master again ties her feet and hangs on them a block of fifty pounds ....
(12) The master ... fixes her legs in a vice, tightening the jaws until the blood oozes out from the toes.
(13) She was stretched and pinched again in various ways.
(14) Now the hangman of Dreissigacker began the third grade of torture. (Note: No indication of what he did.)
(15) The hangman's son-in-law hauled her up to the ceiling by her hands.
(16) The hangman ... whipped her with a horsewhip.
(17) She was placed in a vice where she remained for six hours.
(18) She was mercilessly horsewhipped. All this was done on the first day.'
(Note: They have left out No. 7 from this list. I do not suppose it was any less painful than the others.)
From Archivob Hist. National, Inquisition de Tolado, Leg. 138, quoted in H.G. Lea History of the Inquisition of Spain, Vol. Ill, p. 24. Reports taken of the Examination under torture. After long torture the inquisitor would say: 'Tell all.'
'If I knew what to say, I would say it. Oh, Senor, I don't know what I have to say. Oh, Oh! they are killing me - if they would tell me what - Oh, Senores, Oh, my heart, ... loosen me and I will tell the truth; I don't know what I have to tell - loosen me for the sake of God - tell me what I have to say - I did it, I did it - they hurt me, Senor - loosen me, loosen me and I will tell it ... I don't know what I have to tell - Senor, I did it. ... Take me from here and tell me, what I have to say. ... I don't remember, tell me what I have to say - O wretched me; I will tell all that is wanted, Senors - they are breaking my arms - loosen me a little - I did everything that is said of me. ... What am I wanted to tell? I did everything - loosen me, for I don't remember what I have to tell. ... Oh, Oh, Oh, tell all.' And again the cruel voice would say: 'Tell all.'
When a poor wretch was tortured enough, they would dictate to him what to say, and whom to implicate. The average person conveniently forgets that this was done, if indeed he ever knew; but witches do not forget that this or similar treatment was meted out to their ancestors, and the days of persecution are not over, at least in many places, so the witch still keeps underground.
Aldous Huxley in his most enlightening book The Devils of Loudun tells (page 177) of the tortures and death of one Grandier in 1634 on the charge of bewitching some nuns. The particulars are taken from the Court Records and are authentic:
'In the presence of two apothecaries and several doctors Grandier was stripped, shaved all over and then systematically pricked to the bone with a long, sharp probe ... the pain was excruciating and, through the bricked-up windows, the prisoner's screams could be heard by the ever-growing crowd of the curious in the street below. In the official summary of the counts on which Grandier was condemned, we learn that owing to the great difficulty in locating such small areas of insensibility, only two out of the five marks described by the Prioress were actually discovered ... Mannoury's methods, it may be added, were admirably simple and effective. After a score of agonising jabs he would reverse the probe and press the blunt end against the person's flesh. Miraculously, there was no pain, the devil had marked the spot.
Had he been permitted to go on long enough, there is no doubt that Mannoury would have discovered all the marks. Unfortunately, one of the apothecaries (an untrustworthy stranger from Tours) was less complacent than the village doctors whom Lou-bardemont had assembled to control the experiment. Catching Mannoury in the act of cheating, the man protested, in vain. His minority report was merely ignored. Meanwhile, Mannoury and the others had proved themselves most gratifyingly co-operative.'
Page 235: 'The judges saw the defendant only three times in all. Then, after the usual pious preliminaries they rendered their decision; it was unanimous. Grandier was to be subjected to the "Question", Ordinary and Extraordinary ... With a rope round his neck and a two-pound taper in his hand, ask pardon of God, the King and Justice ... then burnt alive. ... He was stripped, in a few minutes his body was hairless ... "his moustache and little beard, now eyebrows," said the Commissioner. "Now the fingernails, you will now pull out the fingernails ...." '
Page 244: 'He was bound stretched out on the floor, his legs from knees to feet enclosed between four boards; of which the outer pair were fixed, the inner ones movable. By driving wedges into the space between the two movable boards it was possible to crush the victim's legs ... the first wedge was driven home between the knees, then another was inserted at the feet. When this was hammered to the head ... a third was inserted immediately below the first .... At the second stroke of the fourth wedge several bones of the feet and ankles were broken ... a fifth wedge was inserted.
The prisoner asked: "Father, do you believe on your conscience a man ought merely to be delivered from pain, to confess a crime he has not committed" ... "you have been a magician, you have had commerce with devils" was the answer. When he protested once more he was innocent, the sixth wedge was hammered home, then a seventh, then an eighth; the bones of the knees, the shins, the ankles and feet, all were shattered.'
Page 249: 'The two-pound taper was placed in Grandier's hand and he was lifted down from the cart to beg pardon, as the sentence had prescribed, for his crime, but there were no knees to kneel on. When they lowered him to the ground, he fell forward on his face.'
He was finally burnt alive, care being taken to see that his death was a most painful one.
After the lesser people were liquidated, the persecution turned to where there was more loot still to be found, and among others the Knights Templar, who had done so much for Christendom, were charged with heresy, with many of the stock charges and with unnatural vice. How far they, or some of them, were technically guilty is ground for dispute, but very many were doubtless innocent of any conscious heresy.
Mr. Hughes goes on to say that the witch cult conducted a Black Mass where Christian practices were ridiculed and the Devil received homage and praise. Again, let me assure him that though I have been to many Sabbats I have seen nothing resembling the practices he accuses us of, unless he is thinking of the ceremony of the 'cakes and wine' which may be an imitation of the ancient Christian Agape, the love feast, though I think it is much older. I do not say that the Black Mass has never been celebrated, but I do say that it is not done by witches, to the best of my knowledge.
We must accept the fact that, though the cult is very interesting and in part extremely fine, it is primitive, and when people 'let loose' in any community, then things are bound to happen and they do things which they would not normally do on their own. This is doubtless very distressing to the Puritans; but then Puritans rather glory in being 'distressed' at things and I can see the witches' point of view.
We talk a great deal of religious freedom, of our rights, and the liberty of the subject, but we still deny all liberty to witches. They are still persecuted just because some snooper was shocked by finding people in some lonely place dancing naked round a fire at night many hundreds of years ago. People are still being shocked these days at what they see on the beaches and elsewhere, and rush to the newspapers to complain, but they are usually laughed at for their pains. Beaches are public property and people may have a right to complain, but the sabbat was a private party and they could only have been seen by people snooping in the hope of being shocked.
Witches have for hundreds of years held their meetings in private; they are people who want release from this world into the world of fantasy. To certain kinds of person the relief gained has been of enormous benefit and these occasional nights of release are something to live for. Among primitive people dancing was the usual religious expression. In witch tradition it was the necessary preliminary to the climax of the sabbat, the producing of power; it may have had other objects, to bring joy and to express beauty.
This was SIN to what Chesterton called 'that gang of revolting Calvin-ists', though St. Thomas Aquinas only says: 'All dancers are not necessarily damned.' Some people may have blundered into a sabbat and been shocked, but the Anglo-Saxons are notorious for being easily shocked and complaining to the powers that be.
I am told that in the olden days witches had knowledge of a herb called Kat which, when mixed with incense, would release the inner eye, the subconscious, but unless another herb, Sumach, was mixed with it, it could not be used for long as it would produce hallucinations. If you used both correctly, it was possible to leave the body. Unfortunately they do not know what these herbs were; but both are said to grow in England.
It is said that if man breathes incense with Kat in it, then woman becomes more beautiful, so it is possible that it contained wild hemp. Sorcerers used something for the same purpose and their mixture contained hemp and many other ingredients to tone it down. Many primitive races use drugs to obtain elevation of the spirits, Coca in South America, Peyotil in Mexico and many other substances. They have a varying effect on the nervous system, bringing about what might be the opening of the inner eye or perhaps hallucinations. Alcohol has the effect of increasing precognition, as the Society for Psychical Research records prove.
Another charge made against witches, the Templars, the Waldenses, the Gnostics and many others was the 'Osculum Infame'. This may have been a stock charge against anyone the clerics disliked, and seems to have been used on the principle that any stick is good enough to beat a dog with. It was first used against all the various sects of heretics, then against the Knights Templar. Witches do not kiss the Devil's posterior, first because they never kiss anyone's posterior and, secondly, because the Devil is never there for anyone to kiss.
I cannot make it any clearer than that, can I? As I have said, there is no pact with the Devil or with anyone else. This, I think, arose from the Faust type of legend which may have been coined by clerics to frighten people from thinking of engaging in magical practices, or possibly to explain why people who performed magical experiments of the more or less permitted Key of Solomon type, without using a medium, usually did not succeed.
These stories were usually fabricated in order to boost the power of some saint and were to the effect that a sorcerer, after years of failure, had made a pact with the Devil, selling his soul for so many years of wealth and power. When his time came he prayed to the particular saint, who called up the Devil and by force or trickery got the pact back. The sorcerer then promptly gave all the profits of his sorcery to the saint's shrine and died in an odour of sanctity.
The story of these pacts is rather naive, but there was a belief in them, and Grimoires, textbooks of semi-Black Magic, were printed, professing to tell one how to raise the Devil and conclude a pact with him, and at the same time to trick him. This was usually done by a play of words, giving him your body and soul, whether you be buried inside or outside the church, and then getting buried inside the church wall, that is, neither inside nor outside - in other words, cheating him. They seemed actually to have thought that the Devil was too simple or too ignorant to buy the book and read it for himself.
Since writing the above, I have read of a trial in France, where a clerk was employed by a mysterious man dressed in black to copy one of these books. It was seriously alleged in court that this man in black was the Devil, trying to obtain a copy of this book, to learn how to safeguard himself against such trickery. The accused was found guilty of attempting to aid the Devil and was executed.
This shows how childish were some of the charges, resembling the sort of thing the Nazis and the Communists accused people of doing, and getting confessions in the same way by the most atrocious tortures. I suppose these books were sold to the type of people who believe nowadays in sixpenny fortune-telling pamphlets; they were made to sell, and the most famous among them was the Grimoire of Pope Honorius.
The whole question of belief in such pacts intrigues me, because a certain number of specimens do exist. It would seem that the belief was that at the last day, as at a great trial, the soul swore that it had never used any sorcery; it was on the point of gaining Heaven, when suddenly a Devil would produce the missing document from his files. It would be admitted as evidence, proved to be the accused's signature, and the Devil would win the case and the soul.
Now each coven is independent, and during the fierce persecution the members of some of them may have used some sort of pact to bind them together; but this would not have had any diabolical associations, if only because this would have had the most disastrous results if found. Again, when the Hell Fire Clubs were in vogue amongst freethinkers two hundred years ago, it is just possible that there were some witches among those who attended them, and that they may have helped to make up some of the ritual which was a bit of fooling and which included pacts. But it is as true that there may have been butchers and bakers and candlestick-makers who might have done the same; that would not mean that all members of these trades concluded pacts with the Devil.
Members of these Clubs might have been interested in things phallic, as they interested Aleister Crowley fifty years ago. He belonged to the witch cult; he certainly knew about it and he may have had some hand in reconstructing rituals. If he did, he kept his oaths of secrecy and never gave a hint of it away in any of his many writings.
In ancient times probably many magicians, amongst the scholars and learned men, before and during the fall of Byzantium, came West and many may have made contact with the cult; also men who read forbidden books would be apt to come to the only places where they could meet people with free minds, the houses of the witches. Later Rosicrucians and Freemasons might have attended. They might not have known that their hosts were witches in all cases, though they would have known there were places where they might discuss things reasonably without fear of being tortured and burnt.
There are resemblances to Freemasonry in certain parts of the rites which I think can-not be due to chance, so I think the one influenced the other. And it is probable that all these people may have brought some new ideas into the cult; but I think the only great changes were made in Roman times when contact was made with the mysteries, although this is all guesswork on my part. I can only judge on the evidence I can find.
The cult seems to use a crude numerology - whence obtained I do not know. The numbers 3, 5, 8, 13 and 40 are thought good or lucky and all these numbers have significance attached to them. There are three working tools which are essential and nothing can be done without them; that is, something to cut and stab with, something to strike with and something to bind with.
There are five others, all of which have their special uses and are only needed if that particular kind of work is being done. For an initiation all eight must be present and the initiate is told the use of, and holds, each in turn. Because three and five make eight, many things must be in eights; but eight and five make thirteen, so thirteen is another good number; but since five eights, or three covens and a leader, make forty, forty is a good number and certain things must be forty. The coven traditionally consists of twelve witches and a leader, probably because it is a lucky number and because there are thirteen moons in a year.
I think I must make this clear: that the word coven is used in two senses. First, it is a band which may be of any number of initiated people who have a common leader, who hold meetings and celebrate the rites. The leader may be a man or a woman, but a high priestess (whom they may borrow from another coven, if they have not got one of their own available) must be present to celebrate the rites.
In the old days there were numbers of people who would come to the meetings who were of the faith but were uninitiated (not received into the circle, or taught the secrets). I think that in the old days there was no real secrecy about what the initiation consisted of; anyone could see and hear it much as one may see a baptism or marriage. But unless you undergo the marriage or baptismal rites you are not married or baptised; neither does knowing how a marriage is performed give you power to marry someone else.
Secondly, a coven can also mean the people who celebrate the rites in the circle. Traditionally, this consists of six perfect couples and a leader; preferably the couples are husbands and wives, or at least betrothed. That is, they should be lovers, in sympathy with each other, as this gives the best results. They can give me no reason for this number of thirteen, except custom and that 'more would make the rite too long, as each has to do certain things in turn'. Also six couples and a leader is the most that can work in a nine-foot circle - and you do not become giddy so easily in a larger one. These dances are intoxicating, and this intoxication is the condition for producing what they call magic.
The only time I have seen a larger circle used was when we tried to work on Hitler's mind, and that was a totally different operation: 'Sending Forth', performed in an entirely different way, needing as many people as we could get together and plenty of room to work in.
In these degenerate days six perfect couples are not always available, so others are taken in to make up the numbers. These are all 'purified' as soon as they enter the circle; other initiates present, and children, would sit outside and watch the proceedings. Later these would probably be purified and taken into the circle to receive the sacred meal. When the rites in the circle were finished, all would join in the feast and dance.
If there were, say, twenty initiates present with two qualified priestesses and there was enough room, they tell me they might form two covens and have two circles, with one common leader to keep them in time, and that in the old days at large meetings in the open air they might have many such circles; but I have never seen more than one. Nowadays numbers are so few that practically everyone comes into the circle, though I have seen a man sit outside, refusing to come in because his girl was not there that night.
They tell me that in the old days they often used to choose the prettiest young girl suitable to represent the goddess at large meetings. She was known as the Maiden. She was made a sort of acting high priestess and treated with the greatest honour and would often act as sort of hostess to distinguished visitors (i.e. the Devil if he turned up), but the real power remained in the hands of the true priestess, who usually worked all the magic. Often the Maiden was the high priestess's daughter and would take the place of her mother in time and there was sometimes some mystification over this; seeing the resemblance at a distance ignorant visitors believed that the high priestess became young again at the meetings.
They say that in the old days there were rules that there must not be more than one large coven in a certain area, so as to prevent arguments as to who should belong to whom; but they are uncertain about these rules now. It is certain that long ago there was some sort of central authority, exercised by a common leader, whom the Church called the Devil, but they know nothing of this nowadays and would not know how to recognise him if he turned up.
They have no regular system of passwords, that I could discover, to recognise each other by. But at initiations there are certain words required to pass you into the circle, and there are certain catch-phrases that could be used as such; of course a knowledge of the mysteries would prove you were initiated. Actually, they all know each other, or are introduced, so they do not need passwords.
In Italy witches are said to say 'six and seven' as a password, because it would be dangerous to say thirteen; these numbers of course add up to thirteen.
In England I could understand their saying five and eight for the same reason, but actually they mostly know each other in the coven and so do not need passwords; they very often do not know of the existence of other covens.
In ancient times at least the leaders were always of the old races - the people with the natural powers of hyper-normal control of the body by simple auto-intoxication. As the Normans began to form alliance with the people of the heaths, some of them, probably those who had an inherited witch tradition, seem to have taken office.
It would be, of course, the most intelligent of the Normans, perhaps those with fairy wives, who lived with the people of the heaths but whose children might come to the towns. Then the mixed race thus formed seems to have taken over some of the priestly functions. They probably had to work hard to condition their bodies to obtain the results which came easily to their mothers, but would at least have some power The Normans were politically minded and as they realised they were losing political power, to prevent themselves from being entirely submerged in the new nationalism they infiltrated into the old cult.
These never attained the same powers of hypernormal control as the older race, but the mixed breed vastly improved their own race. The town-dweller thus had his own priesthood, which had most of the old traditional knowledge; but the great priests would still be among the people of the heaths, well known to all.
Often a mysterious masked figure, sometimes dressed in skins and with horns, would appear at the great ceremonies. Most likely it was whispered that he was a great lord, though the more ignorant might think he was a god or devil. Actually he probably would be an important Norman, who protected the people of the heath in everyday life. As an important visitor he would be hospitably entertained and act as the mate of the local high priestess, who was possibly his fairy wife.
In all probability there would be a large congregation of the people of the heath and also there would be many of the local people, the farming, cattle-keeping or fisherman type, who, although perhaps nominally Christian, attended the seasonal dances in honour of the old religion and practised the more or less recognised fertility rites, much as they attended church services or danced round the maypole.
These were not really witches in any sense; fertility was what they wanted. 'Good crops, good fishing, good luck.' They would attend the meetings of any god who was good to them, and 'goodness' to them was the quality of one who helped you when in trouble and who had merry festivals. They were no theologians. A good life now and a good life in the next world were enough for them: it didn't matter what the god's name was.
The secret of who the masked man was would be kept from them. There would also be a number of the gentry, lesser nobles, or their sons and daughters and many of the clever artisan class who, not rich, were at least comfortably off and lived much better than their neighbours.
Many of these, perhaps, did not bring their wives unless they were of the fairy stock or were broadminded and enjoyed the fun. But if their daughters were of the 'bright young things' type they would come, possibly to father's disgust. Some at least of these would be initiated; but if they wanted release into the ecstatic state they would have to obtain the help of someone of the old stock; in other words, 'go to a witch'. That is, they might know or guess the formula, from seeing it done, but they had not the special short cuts nor the long and arduous spiritual discipline to sublimate the body and isolate the spirit.
They may have guessed what even witches knew vaguely, that there were certain parts of the body, some of which nowadays we speak of as the ductless glands and the spinal ganglia, which could be stimulated. They knew of breath control and that the slowing down of the blood supply in certain parts, and the stimulating of it in others, would produce certain results, and that concentration and a firm, unquestioning belief, or suggestion, all had effects.
Perhaps they did not recognise where one began and the other ended, but they used them all together and called and thought of them all as 'the craft', or magic. They also knew there were certain incenses which aided this concentration to develop spiritual vision and induce a clairvoyant state.
In mediaeval times many ingredients came from the Near East, but originally the most potent herbs seem to have been local ones, and among these some were poisonous. This knowledge of poisons, as I have said, is not necessarily evil; it is how that knowledge is used that matters.
To use it to gain a trance state harms no one except yourself. But as a weaker people are sometimes tempted to use these methods against oppressors, poison would occasionally be used by them. That it was not done on any large scale is proved by the fact that there was no large death-roll among the active persecutors of the witches.
Whilst England was at best but semi-Christian, this happy state of give and take prevailed. The parish priest in the country districts winked at what happened; he often attended the merrymakings himself. Priests and even Bishops often performed fertility rites themselves. If a priest put on a mask and went to the dances he might be unknown - or he might be well known and not care.
When the State religion became officially and truly Christian, and the Church had obtained real power, these goings-on were frowned upon; all respectable folk were expected to conform to Christian principles, at least in public, and slowly this came to pass. The* respectable folk knew all about the happenings on the heath, but they regarded them much as the good burghers of Scotland did the Highlanders 300 years ago - as a horrid, godless, plundering clan, with whom no respectable person 'south of the Highland Line' would admit having relations. But these same respectable people traded with them, bought stolen cattle from them, asked them for help when in trouble, took refuge with them, and even intermarried with them and were quite proud of their relationship. When they went north of this line, the younger members of the community, in search of adventure or sweethearts, often went among these impossible people, and I think it was much this way too in England prior to 1220.
When the Pope made surgery and witchcraft crimes, practically everyone knew who was who, and the destruction of the Little People was easy. Then the town witches' turn came. These were easy, too, for they were the people who lived well and were worth looting. The majority were exterminated by various forms of torture. But they were also the people most valuable to the community, the people who made things, the blacksmith and the builder among others, the farmers who grew the food. The nobles probably protected those whom they could, but many nobles were themselves attacked and convicted, as was the Duchess of Gloucester and Margery Jourdemain, the Witch of Eye.
It is said that King Edward III saved one witch from certain torture at that famous incident to which the origin of the Order of the Garter was ascribed. He was dancing with the Countess of Salisbury when she dropped the ritual Garter which proclaimed her high rank in the cult. With Bishops about this was dangerous, so the King, knowing what it was, picked it up and put it on his own leg, saying: 'Honi soit qui mal y pense.'
The mid-Victorians, to whom a garter was slightly naughty, made pretty Christmas cards of the 'Blushing Countess'; but ladies of those times, and this lady in particular, were hard-boiled; it took more than a garter to make them blush. The King's quickness saved the situation and placed him almost in the position of their incarnate god in the eyes of his more pagan subjects. This was followed by the foundation of an Order of twelve Knights for the King and twelve for the Prince of Wales, i.e. twenty-six members in all, or two covens.
Froissart's words imply that Edward perfectly understood the underlying meaning of the Garter, for he says: 'The King told them it should prove an excellent expedient for uniting not only his subjects one with another but all foreigners conjunctively with them in the bonds of amity and peace.'
Dr. Murray points out that the King's mantle as chief of the Order was powdered over with one hundred and sixty-eight garters, which together with his own, worn on the leg, makes one hundred and sixty-nine, or thirteen times thirteen: that is, thirteen covens. I am told that long ago witches sometimes did have as many circles as this, with one common leader or timekeeper.
It is noteworthy also that the Black Book containing the institution of the Garter was taken away and destroyed not long after his death. I have seen two witch garters; they were of green snakeskin with gold or silver gilt buckles and were backed with blue silk. They were worn above the left knee. They are badges of rank.
In this connection, can anyone tell me exactly what is the meaning of the double SS on the collar of the Garter? It is sometimes said to mean the Virgin, sometimes the Holy Ghost (Sanctus Spiritus). The Order is dedicated to the Virgin, certainly, but I do not see how it can refer to her. Nor does it seem to be dedicated to the Holy Ghost. My reason for asking is that on all Athama and many other witch tools I have seen - and I have seen many besides those in my own private collection - there are a number of signs carved.
These are always the same and in the same order and have the same meanings. It is necessary to have these signs put on before they are consecrated. (In the burning times they would write them in ink and wash them off after consecration.) The third sign is SS: that is, two S's as used on the collar of the Garter. Witches have their own interpretation of this sign (and it is not the Virgin or the Holy Ghost).
Black is said to be a feature in the Order of the Garter. The Black Book, containing the original constitutions of the Order, is said to have been taken away for secret reasons before the time of Henry V, as mentioned earlier, and from this Black Book comes the important post of Black Rod. One would think that there must have been important reasons to conceal something before such a book could be taken away or lost.
The late Hargrave Jennings seemed convinced that there was some deep mystery here, but he apparently did not know, or if he did he did not mention this witch mark, which is also shown in the Key of Solomon. All this may be purely coincidence, and coincidence killed the Professor. But if no one mentions coincidences, there is little chance of finding further facts; and there is the undoubted fact that the garter is a badge of rank among witches, and further there is a prehistoric rock drawing in France supposed to represent a magical witch ceremony, twelve women dancing round a man who is stark naked except for garters. As stockings were not worn for several thousand years afterwards, these must have some meaning.
After the fierce persecutions it was generally impossible to hold the great rites, and they were only very occasionally celebrated. As the religious motives lessened, the rites were practised mainly by people who had an urge towards mystic learning, and as it was no longer possible to raise power in the grand and easy way other means to this end were cultivated. Besides the formula, it is necessary to have some innate power of hyperaesthesia or prevision which can be developed with practice. In the olden days one would see examples everywhere and know positively how it worked and could easily obtain the necessary herbs; and nowadays, even though everything is against it, this practice still goes on.
A very common but untrue charge against witches was that initiates were required to abjure Christianity. At the initiation a long charge was read which told the candidate what would be required of him; but there was no question of giving up any other faith. He was told that he would obtain benefits and help in the future life by the aid of the goddess, who asked nothing in return. The pact with the Devil is nonsense; the only promise is one of secrecy and to help one's brothers and sisters when in need.
One has to be formally introduced to the coven, though in name one is introduced to the Mighty Ones - the spirits of the dead members of the cult who have not been reincarnated and who are supposed to be present. I can see no real reason why one cannot be a good enough though unorthodox Christian and a witch at the same time. It seems to me easier than being a Christian and a Communist.
The Christian who thinks reincarnation heresy, who will not countenance any form of superstition and belongs to the Sabbath Day Observance League, would certainly not make a good witch. It is possible that the grandfathers of some of these people may have called their leader the Devil in the days when it was considered rather advanced to talk of the Devil. It may be argued that many witches confessed to signing pacts. Of course they did, and so would I if I were tortured long enough.
Recent experiments by the Nazis have proved that people can be made to say anything under torture. By confessing to dealings with the Devil they were quickly condemned and burnt, but they avoided giving away essentials. They confessed to using charms to gain good harvests, without mentioning the methods used, and always delighted in telling of the joyous side which was anathema to the religious.
It is noticeable that much of what our witches confessed to is borne out by the practices of the West Indian and Congo witches of today, and that things told by Arabian writers of long ago are practised by witches in Madagascar today. I think this must be more than coincidence.
In early days very many children were brought up as witches. It was a recognised fact that it was an hereditary cult, and therefore children were often executed with their mothers. In England in 1718, a witch, Mrs. Huke, was hanged along with her nine-year-old child, just as a witch burnt in Castletown died with her young son, the only reason being that he was the son of a witch. The Puritans were strong in the Isle of Man at that time and so obtained a conviction.
At other times the Bishops complained that it was impossible to get a Manx jury to convict witches, so they were usually put in the Bishop's Prison under Peel Castle until they died of cold and starvation. The Manx had a soft spot for witches, for they gave good medicines and love charms and they were, until Methodism came in, very highly respected.
Most of them were born into the cult, but sometimes outsiders were recruited from those wishing to gain occult powers, from those who came from curiosity, and I think mainly from those who fell in love with a member. Membership of the cult meant torture and death if discovered, but it promised certain times of happiness, a partial release from the everyday round of toil and boredom, and rest and comradeship with rebirth for those who still loved this world - in fact a chance of good things in this world, and a saving from purgatory and Hell in the next. They firmly believed in this and therefore risked initiating their children.
If these betrayed you, it meant torture and death for you. If they kept faith, someone else might yet betray them, with like result. But some of them thought more of the future life and the promise: 'If steadfast you go to the pyre, drugs will reach you, you will feel naught, you will but go to death and what lies beyond, the ecstasy of the goddess.'
The faith of the cult is summed up in a witch's book I possess which states that they believed in gods who were not all-powerful. They wished men well, they desired fertility for man and beast and crops, but to attain this end they needed man's help. Dances and other rites gave this help.
These rites were based on sympathetic magic, the idea that like attracts like, and also that 'what gave pleasure to man, gave pleasure to the gods'. Possibly they thought that the gods could feel man's pleasure. There was also the idea that the gods loved man and were pleased when he was happy, as opposed to the idea that god is. an angry god who hates man to be happy. In this book are the following verses, but no indication of who wrote them:
The Witch Remembers her Last Incarnation
I remember, O fire,
How thy flames once enkindled my flesh,
Among writhing witches caught close in thy flame,
Now tortured for having beheld what is secret.
But to those who saw what we had seen
Yea, the fire was naught.
Ah well I remember the buildings ablaze
With the light that our bodies had lit.
And we smiled, to behold the flames wind about us,
The faithful, among the faithless and blind.
To the chanting of prayers
In the frenzy of flame
We sang hosannas to Thee, our Gods,
Midst the strength-giving fire,
Pledged our love to Thee from the Pyre.
I think this shows what they believed. It is very often said: Oh, but witches were only executed because they were poisoners. Now I freely admit that there have been some cases of suspected poisoning, where witchcraft was also alleged; there have also been some cases of witchcraft where poisoning was alleged. But there were Very few of these; most of the cases were simply that witchcraft was alleged, either because there was some cause to suspect some connection with heresy, with fairies, or with forbidden knowledge, or because of personal spite, non-attendance at church, not giving enough money to the Church, or simply because they were people who were worth looting. Those were the discreditable reasons why they were convicted.