The latest book by Carrie West and Phillip Wright to be published by Igotus Press UK is now underway. 'Round About the Cauldron Go' is another insider's look at how an Old Craft coven operates ... watch this space ...
We often get asked why a large number of Craft celebrations are held on the night before an event – such as Mid-Summer Eve rather than the night of Mid-Summer Day. In the ancient world the day was observed from sunrise to sunrise and the night belonged to the day that came after it, not the day that came before it – i.e. Mid-Summer Night. Similarly some folk refer to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Christmas Night. Dawn, from an Old English verb dagian: ‘to become day’, is the time that marks the beginning of twilight before sunrise.
The Romans were originally an agricultural people and just as their year revolved around the seasons, their daily life was organised relative to the position of the sun in the sky. The day began at sunrise (solis ortus); this was preceded (i.e. before the day started) by about 30 minutes of twilight (diluculum) that followed first light (prima lux).
All this is, of course, related to ancient history – simply because all animals and plant life becomes active with sunrise the original start of day, while at dusk things will start closing down. In between was the midday signifying maximum Sun or the life-affirming force moving the seas, planet, life, etc - on the other hand midnight was the deepest time when the life-affirming force was missing. Nocturnal creatures were therefore seen as going against the natural laws.
The ‘witching hour’ – accompanied by shadows, tricks of the light and strange shapes that suddenly, somehow, appearing more eerie than usual, were said to come into their own at this time In folklore, the witching hour or devil’s hour is a time of night associated with supernatural events. Creatures such as witches, demons and ghosts were thought to appear and to be at their most powerful – like Macbeth’s ‘secret, black, and midnight hags’.
Once again, it is the understanding of these things that strengthens our link to the Ancestors.
A year in the life of an Old Crafter with Melusine Draco
August: Yellow Glints the Harvest
Under the summer sun the mountains change colour and the guests start to arrive, which means outings and eating out in favourite places. One of the most popular of our days out is a trip to Cahir Castle – one of the largest castles in Ireland on an island in the River Suir. The 13th century castle was sited near an earlier native fortification known as a cathair (stone fort), which gave its name to the place. During a visit one of the Coven Elders and I were strolling by the river discussing certain developments that were in the offing and, as if in answer to our questions, a heron that had been perched on the castle ramparts flew off. Instead of flying over the bridge, the heron flew into one of the darkened arches and out the other side to perch on the edge of the weir – and provided an answer to our dilemma. An Old Craft witch needs to be on her contacts at all times or the message could have been overlooked.
Lammas is a most important Old Craft festival and if we study the amount of folklore attached to corn, bread and the harvest we can see why there are all the rural superstitions about corn-dollies, the last stook to be cut, and the Harvest Supper. Originally it was held on 1st August, or about halfway between the Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox. Lughnasadh is the Gaelic equivalent marking the beginning of the harvest season (not just one day) and was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, corresponding to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and the English Lammas.
Lughnasadh is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and has pagan origins, being named after the god Lugh. Much of the activities would have taken place on top of hills and mountains and involved great gatherings that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, match-making, trading and visits to holy wells. Evidence shows that the rites included an offering of the ‘first fruits’ – a feast of the new food, of bilberries, the sacrifice of a bull, and a ritual dance-play in which Lugh seizes the harvest for mankind and defeats the powers of blight. The naming also demonstrates why there are the differences in labeling the various festivals in the pagan calendar – since it depends on whether the group’s roots are Gaelic, Brythonic, Norse or Anglo-Saxon …
Tadhg’s Journal comments that it’s good to celebrate the time with a loaf of bread – home-baked or perhaps, something special bought from a local shop. “Maybe eat this special bread after your main meal one evening, with lashings of butter on it, and eat slowly, savouring each bite as an act of deep meditation, deep reverence and with deep thanks-giving. Rituals don’t have to be lavish and complicated. Simple ones, with intentionality go a long way. Why not invite family and friends along?”
Spell-Casting & Divination
It is believed to be unlucky to turn a loaf upside down, after helping oneself from it. If you turn a loaf of bread the wrong way you will turn someone out of the house, or bring ill luck.
The Witch’s Loaf Spell
Traditional witches are honour-bound by the ‘breaking of bread’ and the ill-wishing of anyone breaking that trust can be reversed by placing the offender’s name skewered with a rusty pin or nail, inside a new loaf. The loaf can then be fed to carrion birds (making sure they cannot injure themselves on the nail); or burned in a very hot oven making sure it is placed upside down.
August is also the time for local agricultural shows that attract people of all persuasions, for this is where we can meet sympathetic folk with communal interests and expertise. The County Shows are much more of a tourist attraction, but they provide a great day out with something for everyone. Local events are often one of the highlights of the farmers’ calendar where they can indulge themselves in the pleasures of the stock ring without the mucking out, and have a little tipple in the beer tent. They can inspect agricultural machinery they can’t afford, and have a little tipple on the trade stands.
There are all sorts of local produce to sample, including local cheeses, sausages, home-made pies and pickles, with the ‘Best of Show’ often destined for the local butcher’s slab come Yule. Despite the predominantly agricultural slant, the fairs provide a most enjoyable day out for all the family and offer the opportunity to rub shoulders with local people in a party atmosphere that even the most persistent rain can’t dampen. On a more local level the fair will be a one or two day affair, somewhere between a County Show and village fete and often a lot more fun.
I can recall one show where the local mink hounds were billed as putting in an appearance in the show ring. The wagon backed into the area, the huntsman turned out in royal blue with red gaiters blew his horn and the hounds tumbled out on to the grass. And that was the last we saw of them. They picked up a scent and hurtled out of the ring, out of the show-ground and disappeared completely. There was a lot of yelling and horn-blowing, but we never saw them again for the rest of the day!
And talking of hounds…
Feast of Cromn Dubh
Originally a pre-Celtic god of the harvest and the Underworld, Cromn Dubh walks the earth accompanied by two black dogs. This suggests the origins of the diverse folklore legends of those many large black, mythological dogs that have roamed the British countryside for centuries. Perhaps his ancient feast day on the 7th August is a good day to give your canine companion a special treat in honour of the harvest, when dogs would have a field-day chasing prey from the corn cutting.
Being a dog person and surrounded by dogs, it’s perhaps not surprising that I turned my hand to writing Aubry’s Dog: Power Animals in Traditional Witchcraft (2013) since I draw a tremendous amount of magical energy from my pack. The title came from an entry in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable that told the story of how Aubry of Montdidier was murdered in 1371, in the forest of Bondy. His dog, Dragon, showed a most unusual hatred to a man named Richard of Macaire, always snarling and ready to fly at his throat whenever he appeared. Suspicion was excited, and Richard of Macaire was condemned to a judicial combat with the dog. He was killed, and in his dying moments confessed the crime. A picture of the combat was for many years preserved in the castle of Montargis and ‘Aubry’s Dog’ became an expression for loyalty.
Again, dogs and man became companions a long time ago, and the dog’s attributes as a power animal include speed, agility, courage, protection, justice, nobility and loyalty. Dogs’ teeth are useful items to add to the contents of a witch’s pouch. Nevertheless, I think this is probably why I have no great love for Hecate, since she demands the sacrifice of dogs and puppies at every conceivable opportunity – perhaps she should re-locate to South-East Asia!
Our place of initiation is an almost inaccessible passage tomb whose entrance faces north-west in line with the mid-summer sunset. It is part of a vast sacred landscape dating back to the Bronze Age, signifying strong religious ritual dating back as far as 3,500 BC. Here our would-be Initiates make the long climb up to the stones at dusk – the time between times – to spend the night entombed in the ancient grave. This year the rite involves a husband and wife magical partnership and it will be interesting to see what their reactions are when they finally return to the cottage. Needless to say, the rite of initiation can be terrifying and our tomb generates some extremely powerful energies at any time – which is why it is said you either come out dead, mad or enlightened.
Having successfully completed the rite, the new Initiate is under no obligation to discuss the experience but I’ve always found that once the numbness wears off (and after a bottle of champagne to celebrate), they do wish to talk. There are so many impressions and questions that it’s usually breakfast time before the adrenalin starts to settle down. Initiation has a lasting effect and can take months before any degree of normality returns to the participant’s life.
I’m often asked by new Initiates: “What happens now? What comes after Initiation?” The answer is, of course, a simple one. Having come to terms with the spiritual and emotional changes that take place, the next step is the understanding and acceptance that we know nothing! This is the place of new beginnings and where we start learning anew – but from an altered level of consciousness. The difference is that from this perspective everything is viewed from a completely unparalleled standpoint, and the things that register in our inner-being are not the sensations we experienced before we stepped through the portal. Each experience is unique to the individual, and the visions/sensations encountered during those long hours in the tomb reflect the intensity of the faith each of us holds in our heart.
Unfortunately, many Initiates appear to think they are now Masters of the Magical Universe and will pontificate about anything and everything of a magical nature, as though the experience has given them the gift of omniscience.
By teaching others we also learn from the teaching process because we can now view situations by looking through other people’s eyes, and a good student will constantly ask questions that are not contained in the standard lessons. If Initiates approach students from a lofty position of superiority, or develop a patronising tone, it will not encourage new people to follow the Path. That is why one of the stages of preparation is to read through the lessons, starting from the first to see where we are now and how far we’ve come – because it is easy to forget what we were like in our early days. If nothing else, Initiation into the Mysteries should teach us to be humble.
For example, I chronicled my own experiences in Starchild: a Re-Discovery of Stellar Wisdom’ (2000). It had taken over ten years to write and encapsulated what I’d learned on the path up to and beyond Initiation into the Mysteries – it was a catharsis of all the jumbled and fragmentary magical and mystical information collected in the brain, purged and then drawn together to make a coherent whole. It was, I thought at the time – either through arrogance or ignorance – my Magnum Opus. Sixteen years later I put the finishing touches to Starchild II: Lights of the Veil, which demonstrated that the path of the Initiate is never ending in terms of learning. Starchild II did not render Starchild I obsolete – it was an extension of that original understanding – an affirmation, if you like. The first book was created out of the wisdom of the ancient Egyptian world and while the second emerged from more recent wider-reaching discoveries, it has revealed how our mystical roots have sprung from different strains of the same panspermiac seed.
Perhaps, however, the simplest and most profound comment on the subject comes from John Fowles in his novel, The Magus: “Mystery has energy. It pours energy into whoever seeks an answer to it. If you disclose the solution to the mystery you are simply depriving the other seekers of an important source of energy … [Man] needs the existence of mysteries, not their solution”. Who knows … ten years down the line there might even be a Starchild III!
I often wonder about some of the people who read my books and who have no compulsion in making scathing comments about the content. I don’t expect everyone to like my style, which can often come across as slightly abrasive, but I don’t appreciate being insulted or belittled by those with scant experience in the ways of the witch. It’s usually at this point I will repeat those famous words of Aleister Crowley who was no stranger to a bad press:
Test the average man by asking him to listen to a simple sentence which contains one word with associations to excite his prejudice, fears or passions – he will fail to understand what you have said and reply by expressing his emotional reaction to the critical word
For example, one reviewer for Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore (2012) complained that a spell ‘suggests throwing a plastic container into the sea and letting it go where the tides takes it’, followed by a lecture on ecology – which showed that the complainer hadn’t read the passage properly, or more importantly, even remotely understood its content.er with your charm and letting it go where the tides takes it . I'm wondering what you are thinking when you recommend throwing anything plastic in the ocean ? We have enough plastic refuse in our Oceans . This is not a very eco friendly recommendation for spell work . I urge you to re think this particular spell in subsequent editions.
I had included this charm of ‘confusion and chaos’, i.e. a curse that involved throwing a small medicine bottle into the fast current of an estuary to let the natural currents carry it where it would. I pointed out that there was no way of retrieving this charm, so there were to be no knee-jerk reactions when making the decision to cast it. And that if came back on the returning tide, then if must be retrieved and destroyed since the ‘powers that be’ had rejected the appeal. I also explained that retrieval could be extremely dangerous, so there needed to be sufficient justification for casting the charm [curse] in the first place or there could be serious repercussions, and the sender would only have themselves to blame.
The complainer had made several adverse comments (including an Amazon review) about the casting of small plastic medicine bottles into the briny ... but nothing at all about cursing, or showing any understanding of the positive-negative aspects of using this method of casting a curse. Curses generally have a much greater environmental impact than small plastic bottles and the whole point of the exercise was missed because the words: ‘throw a small medicine bottle into the current’ excited the passions of the reader.
There were enough safeguards in the text to make even the most inexperienced of readers stop and think whether it was worth the effort, or risking the dangers of the sea in order to get even with some real or imagined enemy. And if you’d got it wrong and the sea returned the bottle, then there was even further risk to life in attempting to retrieve the offending container. And it was hardly envisaged that thousands of junior-league pagans would be cursing and hurling plastic bottles into the briny just because it was written in a book! All magic has an element of risk to the practitioner and time would be better spent making sure they understood what sort of spell they were undertaking – and if you don’t understand it, then don’t do it!!
The nicest thing, however, that’s ever been said about the Traditional Witchcraft series is that they have the feel of a textbook, written by a poet. I confess, I’m no poet but I often find that poetry contains its fair share of magical truths and use it frequently to illustrate a point, or even to use its rhythm to drive home a spell – or curse, as in The Gage adapted from Walter de la Mare’s poem of that name in By Spellbook and Candle: Cursing, Hexing, Bottling & Binding (2012).
The Gage offers an example of an extremely powerful curse but again we must fully understand what we’re doing before implementing this form of magical retribution. For example:
O mark me well!
For what my hound befell
You shall pay twenty-fold,
For every tooth
Of his, i’sooth,
Your life in pawn I’ll hold.
Here we are bringing down a curse that is twenty times the number of teeth in the dog’s mouth, which for an average healthy, adult dog is around 42! This means that the magical practitioner must weigh in the balance whether the punishment fits the crime. After all, it would be rather extreme if someone had merely given your dog a clout for attempting to ravish their prize-winning bitch! That said, this curse used against any act of cruelty against a dog – intentional or unintentional – might be seen to be justifiable and one I would not hesitate to use. Cursing, like most areas of magic, is a question of personal responsibility and/or morality but once thrown it cannot be retracted.
What is a Magical Truth?
This is a term used to describe a profound piece of information, wisdom or philosophy that is pertinent to all magical paths and traditions, regardless of origin or ethnic background. These are usually discovered in non-magical books of both fiction and non-fiction. As Allen Bennett observed it’s that moment in reading when you come across something … “a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
The writer probably hasn’t the remotest connection to Craft, ritual magic or mysticism but suddenly there is this illumination, an idea that triggers your own train of thought along magical (or mystical) highways and byways you’d never thought to travel. That’s why I love Chet Raymo’s books because they are full of magical truths from the pen of a most unlikely source: a Catholic school-educated Professor of Physics and Astronomy. In fact, my recommended reading lists rarely contain titles by magical practitioners because as St Bernard of Clairvaux pointed out: “More things are learned in the woods than from books; trees and rocks will teach you things not to be heard elsewhere.”
Another Magical Truth that we have all probably experienced at one time or another, is the inability to move forward, no matter how hard we try – and many years later we come to the understanding that we have come up against an insurmountable barrier that only Fate will remove when she is good and ready! This train of thought was also experienced by Aleister Crowley and he recorded it in his Confessions:
Throughout my life I have repeatedly found that destiny is an absolutely definite an inexorable ruler. Physical ability and moral determination count for nothing. It is impossible to perform the simplest act when the gods say ’No’. I have no idea how they bring pressure to bear on such occasions; I only know that it is irresistible. One may be wholeheartedly eager to do something which is as easy as falling off a log; and yet it is impossible
Fate and the future may not be cast in stone – but they are not a push over, either! When this kind of mysterious barrier is encountered the best thing we can do is retreat from the field and forget about going on until the ‘powers that be’ are good and ready to permit it.
August is always a pleasant time in the Glen and I try to take the month off – weather permitting. It’s a time for thinking and relaxing on the sun-lounger with a Pimms and a floppy straw hat, plotting the next book, or whatever I have in mind for the garden. So far, this year has produced that large gravelled expanse to conceal waste-ground that was neither use nor ornament at the side of the cottage. With the clever use of painted wooden pallets and colourful pots of shrubs it no longer resembles a pub car-park but has been transformed into a pleasant sheltered Italian-styled terrace with a fabulous (but rarely seen) view of the mountain range. It is low maintenance and a highly effective way of utilising poor land that can now be used as a sun-trap.
There are now eight swallows’ nests in the kennels and barn which should compensate for the three lonely birds who managed to return out of the forty plus that left here the previous autumn. There are a couple of late broods still left to fledge and I hate the thought that these brave little birds stand no chance of surviving that long flight to Africa and will undoubtedly perish along the way. In the meantime, I push these dark thoughts aside and enjoy the noise and bustle of those who are growing stronger with each passing day. It’s Nature’s way but it’s still sad to think of all those losses.
Paying a little bit of homage to my Shinto upbringing I observe the ceremony of Toro Nagashi in which lanterns lit with candles are set afloat in memory of the dead. This ancient custom takes place at the end of the festival of Obon in mid-August. The spirits of the departed loved ones (the Ancestors) are said to return for the period of Obon; they are sent back to the spirit world in this sombre and moving ceremony of floating lanterns. I don’t have access to open water so I put tea-lights in every glass container I can muster and the effects after dark are truly spectacular. Then the idea drifts in on the night breeze that I should use another small area of rough ground at the rear of the cottage and create a private Japanese meditational garden for myself! …
Earth Mysteries and Magic
The terms ‘gateways’, ‘portals’ and ‘doorways’ speak for themselves, and as a witch’s magical ability develops these psychic ‘gateways’ will begin to open – maybe in one, or even several directions simultaneously. Personal advancement along the Old Craft path depends on an individual’s willingness to pass through or stay put, since these gateways open as a result of personal progress – serving as an indication that the time has come to move on and to climb to the next level.
Sometimes this transition can be difficult and painful but in magical learning everything has a reason (and a price!), so we must never ignore the opportunity, no matter how strange or vague it feels. The price of an Old Craft practitioner’s progress can be exacting but I believe the end result is well worth it; to ignore it will only result in personal loss (in terms of both spiritual and mystical development). In time, the same situation will return and the trial begins all over again. If the opportunity is not taken, it may be many years along the line before it occurs again, in which case there are many years lost in an individual’s progress as it will be akin to starting anew; or it may not occur again in this lifetime.
Gateways or portals can appear in the Circle; during meditation; or in a dream, but we should not be afraid of these blinding flashes of inspiration, as they only appear when the ‘powers that be’ feel that we are ready for them. For an experienced witch it may be a boot in the bustle to suggest they have spent long enough at a particular level and that it is time to take the next step. Not taking the chance on these new openings will be the individual’s loss, since those who have chosen not to pass through these gateways, even after many years of practice, remain at exactly the same level as when they first began. Their magic and understanding has never altered; their progression halted due to their own fear and misunderstanding. They have tried to batter down the door for years without success; the true witch finds that the door swings open at just the lightest touch of a finger when the time is right.
Magically speaking, passing through the portal also brings awareness that there are all manner of other different currents and movements on the planet that affect us on a deeper magico-mystical level, as I observed in Traditional Witchcraft and the Path to the Mysteries (2015). Let us also consider for a moment the comment made on television by British astronomer and physicist Professor Brian Cox that every blade of grass has 3.8 billion years of history written into it. Or what we often blithely refer to as ‘earth energy’ that can produce a mild tingling sensation, which sets the pendulum swinging; or a burst of warm energy in our hands and feet. But do we stop to think that this could be caused by the swirling molten layer under the Earth’s crust, creating the electro-magnetic field that surrounds the planet by the spinning outer crust around the solid part of the inner core? Or is our Elemental Earth just a quiet ramble in the countryside and a container of sand marking the northern quarter?
We may sit meditating by a rippling stream, watching the sunlight dance in the water as it trips over the stones and pebbles in its path – but do we allow our minds to explore the greater picture of where that crystal clear water comes from? Do we realise that this stream began its brief chapter of life being drawn up as vapour from the ocean and falling as rain on the hills and mountain sides, before flowing down into the river valley, bringing rocks and stones tumbling in its wake? Do our magical energies focus on the stream; the rainfall on the mountain; or the ocean? Are we constantly aware of the force of that water-flow throughout the seasons – the spring floods, the summer drought, the clogging of the channel with autumn leaves, and the frozen surface in winter? Or does our concept of Elemental Water begin and end with the symbolic bowl of tap water marking the western quarter of our magic Circle?
Similarly, nothing on the planet can live without clean, breathable air but the witch needs to think beyond soft summer breezes and rainbows after a spring shower. Air is the stuff from which tornados and hurricanes are made; it brings puffs of cumulus cloud or a billowing thunderhead some ten miles high; not to mention the thousands of feet high dust storms that are created when a monsoon collides with dry air currents above it; or the sirocco, the Mediterranean wind that comes from the Sahara and can reach hurricane speeds. Or is our Elemental Air merely the smoke from a perfumed joss stick or bowl of incense marking the eastern quarter in our magical workings?
Fire, even in its most modest form, has the capacity for destruction – a box of matches in the hands of a child, a fallen candle, or a carelessly discarded cigarette. On a grander and more epic scale, we are well acquainted by television coverage of devastating wildfires destroying anything that stands in its path, the eruption of a volcano, or the power of solar winds that reach out from the sun to interfere with electronic equipment here on Earth. Or is our contact with Elemental Fire restricted to a candle burning at the southern quarter of our Circle?
These, for example, were just some of the lessons taught by Bob and Meriem Clay-Egerton in the Coven of the Scales. That it was not necessary to rely on group dynamics, psycho-drama, ritual, Circle casting, chanting and dancing to generate magical energy because it is there, all around us on a permanent basis. It means that a natural witch can be on his or her contacts in seconds; knowing what type of energy, or ‘witch-power’ is needed to cure a headache, or channel the strength to walk the death-path with confidence after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. It really is a belief that can move mountains – if the application is right – and all witches draw on this natural energy to cause change through the application of Will.
In more simplistic terms, ‘witch-power’ is similar to the energy raised by Tai Chi – and that is widely used within art and sport without any magical significance whatsoever. It is a perfectly natural energy or force that can be harnessed or tapped into on a daily basis – to a greater or lesser extent. A true witch can generate the magical powers necessary by channelling this natural energy from the natural world – in its widest possible sense. Coven working produces the same energy by artificial means via psycho-drama and group dynamics. Old Craft uses both methods, of course, but if a solitary witch needs to be instantly on his or her contacts, then it could be a long wait between coven meetings.
The Kitchen Journal
This simple cake was quickly prepared when time was pressing at the time of the harvest. Traditionally the cake or loaf was made from flour ground from the first cutting from the field. This is a time for thanksgiving and contemplation of the past year’s work, symbolised by the season [A Witch’s Treasury of Hearth & Garden].
The Lammas Cake
8 oz self-raising flour with 1 teaspoon mixed spice
5 oz castor sugar and 5 oz butter
6 oz currants
6 oz sultanas
2 oz chopped peal
2 eggs beaten with 6 tablespoons milk
Mix flour and spices. Beat butter and sugar to cream. Beat eggs and milk together. Alternatively stir in flour and egg/milk mixture to the butter and sugar a little at a time. Add fruit and mix thoroughly. Bake for 2½ hours at Gas Mark 5 (350F/180C) for 1 hour, then at Gas Mark 2 (300F/150C).
Circle Working: Harvest Magic
The ritual observance for the month of August should reflect the spiritual quality surrounding harvest time and the ritual for August should be a celebration of the good things that have happened during the year. Lammas or Lughnasadh is a sympathetic magical ritual designed to guarantee that there would be enough food during the winter, by displaying and eating the finest of the harvest. It is a time for consideration of matters concerning money and to think of the older members of the family. A casual open air supper of cheeses, pate, pickles and fresh bread would be a simple way of observing the festival, even if your company isn’t necessarily made up of Craft people. Share some of your bounty with your guests in the form of home-made jams, pickles and preserves.
CRONE! by Melusine Draco is published by Ignotus Press UK and available direct from the printer as a special price. ISBN: 9781788760010 : Paperback : Pages: 216 : Published 21 September 2017
AUGUST: [OE] Weod-mōnaþ ‘Plant month’. [OHG] Aran-mānod ‘harvest month’. The Irish-Gaelic and Scottish-Gaelic names for the month, Lunasa and Lunasdel, refer to the festival of Lughnasadh (in honour of the pagan god Lugh) on 1st August, which became synonymous with Lammas in traditional witchcraft. Before the changes to the calendar August was the Harvest Moon – some traditions use this name for the full moon following the Autumn Equinox. In the 14th century misericord calendar it was shown as the time for reaping and the start of the harvest leading up to the Harvest Home. The tree representing August is the Hazel, a holy tree connected with fire, fertility, knowledge, divination and poetry. It is a favourite wood for a water-diviner’s rod and one of the nine sacred woods used in the Beltaine Fire.
1st Lammas or Lughnasad the harvest season traditionally used to begin on 1st August and was called Lammas, meaning ‘Loaf Mass’ when farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and gave them to their local church; Lughnasadh, the Celtic feast day of the god Lugh. Today: Celebrate the day by serving a lunch accompanied by new crusty bread, which should be broken apart by hand.
Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, ‘loaf-mass’), is a holiday celebrated in some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere, usually between 1st August and 1st September to mark the annual wheat harvest – the first harvest festival of the year. On this day it was customary to bring to Church a loaf made from the new crop, which began to be harvested at Lammastide. The loaf was blessed, and in Anglo-Saxon England it might be employed afterwards to work magic: a book of Anglo-Saxon charms directed that the Lammas bread be broken into four bits, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the garnered grain. In many parts of England, tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords on or before the first day of August. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is referred to regularly, it is called ‘the feast of first fruits’
2nd Lammas marks the date on which the English King William Rufus was killed while hunting in the New Forest in 1100. Some say he was a pagan sacrifice, others claim he was assassinated by order of his brother and successor Henry I. Today: Make a pilgrimage to the Rufus Stone in the New Forest that marks the spot where William Rufus died.
5th Official Start of the Oyster Season: It was said that anyone eating an oyster this day would not lack for money for the remainder of the year. Today: If you don’t fancy raw oysters, try adding them to a beef pie and share the wealth-drawing wish among the family.
7th The Feast Day of Cromn Dubh, the pre-Celtic god of the harvest and the Underworld. He is usually accompanied by two large black dogs. See 28th July. Today: Provide a special treat for the family dog.
12th Old Lughnasadh: Irish: Lúnasa; Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal; Manx: Luanistyn is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Originally it was held about halfway between the Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox. Over time, however, the celebrations shifted to correspond to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and the English Lammas. Today: Is the day to connect magically with the ancestors for a true Harvest Home celebration.
16th Rush-bearing. In the Middle Ages, before carpets, rushes were used as floor-covering. Many villages held a special summer ceremony when the rushes were harvested. In some villages, they made rush sculptures, called bearings, and carried these in a procession. Rush-bearings are still popular in Cumbria and other parts of north-west England, being held on the 5th of the month.
22nd Anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth and the death of Richard III, last of the Plantagenet kings in 1483. Today: Light a candle in memory since the Tudors were not as sympathetic to practitioners or those accused of witchcraft.
23rd Vertumnalia celebrated in honour of the Roman god of orchards and fruit, Vortumnus, who presided over the changing seasons of the year. Great bonfires were lit at night in his honour and excessive merrymaking took place. Today: Time for a celebration of the fruit harvest with bottles of wine and homemade cordial.
24th [OS] St Bartholomews’ Fair (or the great Smithfield Fair) was held in West Smithfield between 1133 and 1855 – the only real fair to be held within the City of London. The Fair gave rise to two well-known saying: A ‘Bartholomew doll’ referred to a tawdry, overdressed woman like the flashy, bespangled dolls offered for sale at the Fair; and a Bartholomew pig was a very fat person because one of the Fair’s chief attractions used to be a pig, roasted whole and sold piping hot. Today: Possibly the last chance to take the family out for a last treat before the end of the school holidays; especially if older children are leaving for University. Celebrate the new beginnings.
Weather-lore: ‘Thunderstorms after St. Bartholomew [24th) are mostly violent.’
27th Official date for the Roman invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar in 55BC. accompanied by 10,000 men of the 7th and 10th Roman Legions. According to archaeologist, Francis Pryor, all the Romans can take credit for was wiping out a 10,000-year old island culture quite unlike any other in the ancient world! Today: Perhaps this is a time to remember those who perished attempting to repel the Roman invaders.
Witchcraft (unlike Wicca) is not a religion – it never has been, simply because it’s an individual’s natural ability that distinguishes him or her as a witch. In other words, a witch is born, not made. It just isn’t possible to learn how to become a witch if we haven’t got these abilities, although it is possible to learn how to hone and develop latent or suppressed psychic talents, under the right tuition. And there is no age limit for these discoveries – in either the young, middle-aged or old.
Wicca, on the other hand, is fast becoming accepted as the ‘new pagan religion’ with its doctrines drawing heavily on an eco-feminine shadow-image of Christianity. This again is nothing new, since Christianity itself absorbed many of the existing pagan festivals and celebrations into the Church calendar (including an identification of the Virgin Mary with Isis), and contemporary paganism is merely reclaiming its own. But in reality, even in the days before the Christian invasion, not all of the pagan populace were skilled in the Craft of witches.
To use a natural analogy, the differences between witchcraft and paganism per se is to liken them to the relationship between the domestic and the wild cat. To the casual observer there is little difference. Just as the similarities between the modern wild cat (felis sylvestris) and the house cat (felis catus) are so great and the differences so few, that it is difficult to establish any authentic genealogy. There is evidence that wild cats have mated with domestic cats and domestic cats can survive in the wild having gone feral, but they don’t usually move far from human habitation and will quickly revert if given the opportunity. The wild cat, however, cannot be handled or tamed; even as a small kitten it is extremely ferocious.
In appearance it is difficult at a distance to distinguish a wild cat from a large domestic tabby that has gone feral, but (as with witchcraft and paganism), the subtle differences are there, if you know where and how to look. For example: paganism (including Wicca) has developed a very strong community spirit in recent years, with everyone at public events joining hands to celebrate the festivals, organized around the nearest weekend coinciding with a formal Wheel of the Year.
Pagans believe that information should be available to all, and that everyone has the right to access all esoteric knowledge. Many pagans are highly suspicious of witches and some will deny that they practice any form of magic at all. Paganism caters for teenagers within the community and actively encourages them to attend the fairs, buy the books and any appropriate accoutrements. Pagans claim to worship Nature in the persona of ‘the Goddess’, while the generally accepted pagan motto is: ‘And it harm none, do what you will’.
Witchcraft is not bound by social rules and conventions, only by the personal morality of the individual, and is governed solely by the natural tides. Any form of magical working or spiritual observance tends to be of a solitary nature, or in the company of tried and trusted people. Witches believe that esoteric knowledge should be kept hidden because it is impossible to convey the meaning of the ‘true mysteries’ without the appropriate teaching. Traditional witches are now rarely seen at pagan events, and hold that any ritual equipment will be acquired as and when it is necessary. The witch learns his or her Craft along the way, and pays homage to
Nature but in a more abstract form that the textbooks will allow, something along the lines of Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:
‘To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour’
The Old Craft motto is ‘Trust None!’ although it could well be taken from the motto of several Scottish clans: ‘Touch not the [wild] cat without a glove’. Which path will you ultimately tread?
The ‘X’ extract taken from the collection of essays in The Dictionary of Magic & Mystery compiled by Melusine Draco and published by Moon Books. Available in paperback (370 pages) and e-book format. www.moon-books.net
The Magister or Man in Black (not a member of the Johnny Cash fan club) partners the Dame/Lady and in Old Craft will, more often than not, be the actual leader of the group. He invokes the ‘Horned God energy’ into the ritual, which is represented by the knife. Some larger groups will have both Magister and Man in Black but sadly neither rarely have a place in modern Wiccan working.
Needless to say the Magister has his own particular difficulties to contend with and most of these revolve around assuming what is essentially, an Alpha-male position. After all, the Magister is the earthly representation of god-power, symbolised by the ritual knife and the keeper of the Coven stang! Primatologist Frans de Waal, who popularised the term ‘alpha male’ back in the 1980s, however, says that we’ve been using the term all wrong and that the best leaders are those who rise to the top by being generous and kind to others because they know respect will help them maintain their position.
Unfortunately, many bearing the title who seek the media spotlight are attention-seekers who fall short of anyone’s vision of a Magister - never mind an alpha-male! In reality, the Magister more often than not attracts a lot of unwanted attention from the female members of a coven and finds himself in the position of having to literally beat them off with the stang. And once repulsed, it is not uncommon for the rejected party to start spiteful rumours of predatory behavior and sexual advances on social media – while the poor Magister’s only concern is dreading the moment should the Dame arrive and the whole thing gets blown out of all proportion.
Unlike the Dame, a Magister doesn’t have a specific shelf-life, and although he is symbolically representative of the Dying God, while his is still firing on all six-cylinders he is secure in his position. There may come a time, however, when he feels he’s just had enough and should his Dame/Lady choose to step down, then he, too, often takes the opportunity to retire gracefully with her rather than work with a new Dame with whom his energies may not be compatible.
In a perfectly run coven, the Magister’s job is to support the Dame – who is often his wife and usually trained as his magical partner – and to represent the god within the Compass. Coven of the Scales has always be god/male oriented, which often causes problems with newcomers who believe that the goddess is ‘All’. Call us old-fashioned but we still believe in the gender dynamics that have powered witchcraft since time immemorial – and does not lend itself to gender politics because the differences and similarities between the sexes are all part of the equilibrium of magical working.
During the autumn and winter months he is also the Guardian of the goddess as she sleeps and whereas during the spring and summer the Coven rituals are Dame-led; during autumn and winter it’s the Magister’s duty to lead the rites, which are by token more masculine in essence through the turning of the year until Candlemas. Perhaps it is understandable why it is difficult for many pagan/Wiccans to get to grips with Old Craft practice that refuses to be emasculated – even for form’s sake! Similarly, this approach also goes a long way to explain why some magical workings benefit from a male dominant partner with the female playing a submissive role, while other rites are more successful with the female taking the dominant role and the male remaining submissive, depending on the nature of the ritual involved.
Traditionally, the Magister and the Dame would have ritually charged the cup at the beginning of the rite but this overt sexual gesture is now only performed when the couple work together in private, particularly when involving those not of the Inner Court, or in long distance workings. The Magister as keeper of the stang is the guardian of the spirit entrance to Otherworld; he is the leader of the Wild Hunt by proxy when crossed arrows are mounted on the shaft. All these ideas and more can be found in Frazer’s The Golden Bough but there is also the unspoken, hidden meaning that comes from deep within the Craft that tells us: ‘What you learn, you learn from me, as I choose to reveal it unto you’.
By excluding the god from the lore and rituals of Old Craft we are denying those who come after, the age-old instruction of magical balance and harmony … and a coven with no Magister is, as our EOS Principal Melusine Draco, frequently comments, only singing half the Mass!
Often called ‘High Priestess’ by certain Wiccan factions. In Traditional and Old Craft the Dame (sometimes Lady or Maid) generally directs operations, dedicating the Circle and leading the chant/dance. She embodies ‘Goddess energy’ that is represented by the chalice. Some traditions will have both: one appointed as the Dame/Lady, and the Maid her successor. The Dame holds the position for as long as she is able (traditionally retiring when reaching the menopause) and then steps down to become the Crone. Thus the Coven benefits from having guiding members at different levels of experience. Problems arise, however, when the Dame refuses to step aside or there is no one suitable to replace her and the coven energies stagnate.
The position of Dame can be seen a poisoned chalice to those who have stepped into someone else’s shoes since the role is something that may seem attractive at first but becomes unpleasant. Having initially been regarded as advantageous and an honour it is later often recognised to be disadvantageous or even harmful … and not necessarily of her own making. Witches, like any other group on the planet do not like change, and the new Dame runs the gauntlet of having to fill the previous title-holder’s place, to an accompaniment of resentment, allegations of lack of experience/magical competent and/or a total lack of respect.
The position of Dame in Old Craft is not an hereditary one. The likely candidate has been studied, watched and groomed by the out-going incumbent and deemed to be a good and able choice. The bad grace of the existing members is therefore not only hurtful and embarrassing to the in-coming Dame but also downright insulting to the retiree whose judgement they are questioning!
When Philip and I hived off from CoS to start our own coven it was rather disconcerting to be expected to follow in the footsteps of Meriem Clay-Egerton, who was a Grade-A witch of the first water; just as it must have been for Melusine Draco when inheriting the whole shebang on the deaths of the couple. Coming originally from a ritual magic background there was a lot of criticism over her right and/or ability to run an Old Craft coven and there was a lot of disgruntled folk around who chose to take what should have been a private in-house problem into the public arena.
There are, of course, always those who know better and we finally decided to disband our own group last year after it became obvious that there was none suitable to take over when we retired. The general consensus of the group was that the role of Dame should be given to someone who (in our minds) was totally inappropriate despite the length of service and who had the magical aptitude of an amoeba and was a perfect candidate for HPS Syndrome! It was obvious, that if we allowed this to happen the coven would rapidly degenerate and so we formally and officially disbanded the group after almost thirty years. Yes, it was sad but better than have it operate as a travesty of its former self.
That was why we were delighted to be invited to re-join the mother-coven and find that it was going from strength to strength under its new leadership but still remaining true to the aims and objectives envisioned by Bob Clay-Egerton so many years ago. Since I’m joining Melusine in the EoS Crone-room we can provide a welter of magical expertise for James and Julie (and any CoS) members to draw upon as and when necessary. Remember that although deep-rooted, the surface growth is a tenuous blossom and without the support and respect of the coven members for their Dame, Old Craft covens easily whither and die.
SUMMER: Calan Haf-Beltaine
The whole essence of traditional British Old Craft is closely bound to the natural tides that govern our planet. When we organise our own coven activities, these are focussed on drawing down an elemental power to synchronise with the traditional Sabbats/Esbats, thus ensuring the coven develops a ‘group mind’ of its own that nonetheless periodically needs to be recharged via group ritual. This also explains why Old Crafters synchronise those rituals to coincide with the Old Julian Calendar that links us directly to the power of the Ancestors. Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood’. The modern Gregorian calendar is now fourteen days out of alignment and had been thirteen days apart since March 1900 – but magically as miss is as good as a mile!
A witch needs to be on familiar, operational-terms with the times and tides of the witch’s year – not just the solar and lunar tides but the oceanic, earth and atmospheric tides that can also enhance our magical workings. We must also understand that some tides are more beneficial than others for recharging the ‘group mind’ of the coven so that we as individuals can draw upon the currents of elemental power to energise our spells at any time. This elemental power is marked in the charting of the stars, and while the stars are not generally used as sources of power they can act as a celestial barometer for the calendaric ebb and flow. This is the witch-power we channel when we work magic – either singly or as a group – and it makes sense to take these various different tides into consideration and utilise them to our best advantage whenever we can. There’s nothing to stop us from working against the tide but this is self-defeating when it is easier to go with the flow.
Four great fire festivals are marked by the Equinoxes and Solstices of the solar year, with the four traditional lunar celebrations of Beltaine, Lammas, Hallowe’en and Candlemas making up the eight Sabbats/Esbats of the witch’s year. Fire festivals also mark the beginning of each quarter of the solar-tide cycle with Candlemas marking the end of the reign of the Holly King and the first stirrings of the bright tide of summer. At the turbulent tide of the Vernal Equinox, the bright and dark tides are equally balanced with the bright tide on the increase; Beltaine marks the beginning of summer, which reaches its height around the Midsummer Solstice. From here it begins to wane.
Philip Wright and Carrie West
Every good reference book is both a product and a reflection of its time. The Dictionary of Magic & Mystery is not just another compendium or dictionary of occultism: it is a jumping-off point for further research. Here, the reader will find the ancient and modern interpretation for magical and mystical terms, together with explanations for the differences between the varied (and often conflicting) approaches to magic. You will also find both the common, the regional, and the obscure, because even popular usage can often distill the true essence from original meaning. There are historical and archeological references that are essential in helping to put the past into perspective, whether we are talking about witchcraft, ritual magic, or the different paths and traditions from the East. Added to all this information are some of the sacred sites that are associated with our pagan past; together with thumbnail sketches of the well-known (and sometimes dubious) personalities who have been associated with the pursuit of magical knowledge throughout the centuries. This is an example of one of the mini-essays that complement the entries:
Lammas and the Harvest Home
During the autumn of 1621 the settlers at Plymouth Colony gathered to give thanks for the harvest after their first year in the New World. That was America’s first Thanksgiving, but it has grown into probably the most important family occasion of the year, where everyone gathers to enjoy a meal of roast turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Its roots, however, have their origin in the traditional Harvest Supper – or Harvest Home – of the English farming community.
In truth, the practice of holding a Harvest Festival service was only established in the 19th century in an attempt to control the Harvest Home celebrations, which the Church of the time considered too raucously pagan!
Harvest celebrations were some of the holiest of the pagan year. Traditionally, the harvest continued for most of August from Lammas, when bread was made from the first corn to be cut; right through to the last fruits being gathered in early September. Any housewife worth her salt would be bottling fruit, making pickles and jams, drying herbs and preparing potions from the natural harvest in the hedgerows for the months ahead when the fresh ingredients would not be available.
There has always been a spiritual quality surrounding harvest time: a celebration of the good things that have happened during the year. A perfect time to gather friends and family together for a celebratory supper in a spirit of thanksgiving, whether we are urban or rural dwellers, market trader or stockmarket trader. And although the American celebration is held on the fourth
Thursday in November, a Harvest Home should be around the Harvest Moon, or Autumn Equinox.
A typical 17th century Harvest Supper would have consisted of ‘… puddings, bacon or boiled beef, flesh or apple pies, and then cream brought in platters… hot cakes and ale…’ A Witch’s Treasury for Hearth & Garden brought the menu up to date with home-made soup, honey-glazed ham, apple pie with cream and a selection of cheeses, served with celery, accompanied by good beer, cider or robust red wine. To set the atmosphere, display any freshly prepared produce for decoration as this will be your own harvest festival. If you’ve made jams or pickles, give each guest a jar as a gesture of sharing.
Should your talents lean more towards the arty, give each guest a corn dolly to take home. Corn has long been regarded as the embodiment of productivity and fruitfulness; a simple plait of corn straw tied with ribbon can be hung in the kitchen to insure a productive year to come. It would also be nice to think that the modern ‘wheel of the year’ isn’t always driven by the need to use the festivals for spellcasting. Before the end of the meal, make sure everyone has a full glass and propose a toast to your own equivalent of the ‘bounty of the harvest’, and ask your guests to join you in pouring a libation on the ground outside. Even in financially-troubled times, we still have something to be grateful for and if we can reintroduce the spirit of thanksgiving at the turning of the year, we will be reconnecting with the simple faith of our forebears.
‘Thanksgiving’ isn’t about preserving ye olde pagan ways with copious amounts of cider swilling, accompanied by endless verses of John Barleycorn, it’s about bringing together family and close friends for the purpose of celebration. An annual pilgrimage back to our pagan roots, or to wherever our pagan roots have been transplanted. We can gather around the simple kitchen table, or set the dining room glistening with starched linen, crystal and silver. There is no preset formula of observance… just the willingness to enjoy each other’s company, count our blessings and reflect on our good fortune.
The Dictionary of Magic & Mystery compiled by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books : ISBN 978 1 84694 462 8 : 3333 entries 370 pages : Price UK£12.99/IUS$22.95
JULY was [OE] Æftera Līþa ‘After Midsummer’ or ‘Second Summer’. [OHG] Hewi-mānod ‘hay(making) month. In some years a “leap month” was added to the calendar at the height of the summer, which was Thriliða, or the ‘third-mild.’ In the 14th century misericord calendar, it was shown as the time for baking the loaves for Lammas from the first flour to celebrate the start of the harvest. The tree representing July is the Birch, known as the ‘Lady of the Woods’ and used in the making of the besom.
Birch Magic: At night, when its silvery bark glimmers in the moonlight, the birch creates a majestic yet ethereal image. The tree’s loose, paper-like bark was held sacred by early man and excavations of Neolithic and Mesolithic grave-mounds reveal that rolls of birch bark were interred alongside the corpse, although their exact significance remains a mystery.
2nd The annual Boston Charter Fair has been held in the town since at least 1125 and has been a part of local life since the 12th century when Henry I granted the charter to the people of Boston. Today: If you live in the area take the family out for the day and enjoy this link with the past.
Weather-lore: ‘Dog Days (3rd) bright and clear, indicate a happy year.’
2nd Feast Day of St Swithun of Winchester. St Cewydd is the Welsh ‘rain saint’, like Medard in France, Gildas in Brittany and St Swithun in England he was associated with a pre-Christian rain superstition in July, when, if it rained on that day, it was believed rain would continue for 40 days. The feast day was originally 2nd July (later moved to 15th after the calendar change). Today: Why not visit Winchester and acquaint yourself with this ancient capital.
3rd Dog Days. The Romans called the six to eight hottest weeks of the summer caniculárȇs diȇs because the dog-star, Sirius, rising with the sun added to its heat; the dog-days bore the combined heat of the dog-star and the sun between 3rd July and 11th August. Today: In reality the British summer has often been described as three fine days and a thunderstorm!
4th The traditional festival of the Whalton Baal [Northumberland] that was held each year on ‘Old Midsummer’s Eve’, the alteration of the calendar in 1752 resulted in the date being moved by eleven days but country folk round about, however, went on celebrating the festival at the old time. Today: Hold a mini-fire festival of your own on Old Midsummer’s Eve (5th) to celebrate the Old Ways.
6th Old Midsummer’s Day: Time of Grace. The lawful season for venery, which began at Midsummer and lasted until Holyrood Day. The fox and wolf might be hunted from the Nativity to the Annunciation; the roebuck from Easter to Michaelmas; the roe from Michaelmas to Candlemas; the hare from Michaelmas to Midsummer; and the boar from the Nativity to the Purification.
7th Nones Caprotinae was generally known as a Roman picnic day, when celebrations dedicated to the goddess Juno Caprotina were held al fresco in parks or outside the city in the fields. Tents and temporary shelters made from branches would be set up so that the revels could continue all night and into the following day. Today: An excellent day for a picnic.
14th Mercanus began six days of markets and fairs when Rome would have been full of colour. Today: Make a point of visiting a local market and drink in the atmosphere.
Weather-lore: ‘St Swithin’s Day (15th July), if thou dost rain, for forty days it will remain’.
19th Honiton Fair in Devon goes back to the 13th century and is a three-day event held on the first Tuesday after the 19th July. Today: Make an effort to visit this famous fair.
23th Neptunalia: Honouring the Roman Neptune on this day would encourage ample rainfall for the crops and prevent drought. Neptune was an old Italian sea god and, as his festival falls at the height of summer, booths of foliage were erected to protect worshippers from the Sun. Today: A perfect opportunity for a picnic by the sea.
25th Furrinalia was a Roman celebration of feasting and drinking in honour of an early-Italian earth-goddess. Roman scholar and writer, Varro noted that the festival was a public holiday (feriae publicae dies). Both the festival and the goddess had become obscure even to the Romans of the Late Republic (mid-1st century BC) and that few people in his day even knew her name. Today: A perfect opportunity for a family summer picnic.
28th The Celtic festival of Domhnach Crom Dubh was held on the last Sunday of July. Known also as Crom Cruach or Cenn Cruach, at this time of year the ‘Dark, Crooked One’ rises from the underworld to abduct Eithne, the corn maiden, and carry her away on his stooped back. See 7th August. Today: Pay homage to this ancient Lord or the Harvest and God of the Underworld by pouring a libation at the edge of the cornfield.
Old Year, Old Calendar, Old Ways, compiled by Melusine Draco is published by Ignotus Press UK ISBN 978 1 78876 205 2 in paperback and e-book format. Available direct fro the printer at a discounted price.