"Sooner or later, however, we always
come to the question of what Old Craft witches believe. Even if we accept that true Craft is not a
religion – because it’s an individual’s natural ability that
distinguishes a witch – then does this mean that traditional witches have no
Not at all. Back in the good old days, after most pagan
agricultural festivals and celebrations had been absorbed into the Christian
calendar, the local wise woman might even have been seen as a church-going,
card-carrying member of the parish.
This idea is borne out by the fact that, even today, traditional Craft
persists in using the old Church calendar names for the major festivals that
remained very much part of the agricultural year despite the repackaging.
And despite attempts to
re-introduce the use of Celtic names in the 1980s, genuine old Craft
incantations still call on Christian saints, many of whom had strong pagan
associations before being ‘adopted’ by the Church. This practice is considered
to be an integral part of traditional witchcraft and widely quoted in popular
books of the 1970s. [Similarly, the use
of Celtic seasonal names is still commonplace in Ireland, but not connected in
any way to modern pagan belief.] This
is also true of both the Romany and practitioners of voodoo/Santeria; both of
whom have a strong magical culture that is performed under a thin veneer of
An old-fashioned witch might not
have had the enquiring mind or educational opportunities of her 21st
century counterparts, but she had the advantage of absorbing an oral tradition
that had persisted for hundreds of years. Lacking in intellect but not in
application, the witch of yesteryear would probably have fully understood the
sentiments expressed in a collection of spiritual essays dating from 1897 [The
Treasure of the Humble], wherein the author writes about Ultima Thule
– the extreme limit – and which also can be applied to traditional Craft.
We are here on the borderland
of human thought and far across the Artic circle of the spirit. There is no ordinary cold, no ordinary dark
there, and yet you shall find there naught but flames and light. But to those who arrive without having
trained their minds to these new perceptions, the light and flames are as dark
and cold as though they were painted.
This means that the intelligence, the reason, will not suffice of
themselves: we must have faith.
The kernel of a traditional
witch’s faith, however, is a belief in a definite association of force (or
energy) within special localities, and the notion of natural energy influencing
cause and effect. The term ‘animism’ was first coined in the early 18th
century by Georg Ernst Stahl to describe his philosophy of a world soul; the
word anima, meaning ‘breath’, which in Latin came to have the secondary
sense of ‘soul’ = breath of life. The
belief embraces the notion that spirit [or natural energy] inhabits everything
in Nature – every hill, tree and stream, every breeze and cloud, every stone
and pool has its own ‘spirit’.
According some anthropologists, animism is the grass roots of all
religion, and so the theory was consigned to the box of ‘primitive thought’ …
but it’s the nearest we can come to understanding what presses the spiritual
buttons of the traditional witch.
We should not, however, take this
to mean that Old Craft is spiritually backward. The most amazing thing for us to consider, is that all this
wondrous insight into the metaphysical world would have been passed amongst
people with no (or little) formal learning.
In reality, it is perfectly possible to perceive ourselves as a
spiritual beings without being at all religious. Spirituality is how we ‘feel’ about the meaning of life – it is
the quest for the hidden mysteries and need not manifest itself in religious
In all honesty, there is little
altruistic about traditional Craft. It
can best be described as having a tribal mentality in that it believes in
protecting its own, but with no obligation to mankind in general. In view of the historical backlash, even in
more modern times, this is not surprising.
“Trust None!” remains the creed of traditional Craft and it has
preserved its Mysteries by not divulging its rites and practices. No matter what a publisher’s blurb may
claim, there are no genuine traditional Old Craft rituals, rites of passages,
spells, charms or pathworkings in print, for one simple reason …
Any traditional Crafter committing
any of these to paper for public scrutiny would be in breach of their
Initiatory Oaths - and this still carries the ultimate penalty for treachery
and betrayal. Admittedly, there are
‘smokescreens’ that may offer a parody of the genuine thing - but the
gnarled roots of traditional Craft remain firmly in the shadows, where they
belong. Although there may be a
variation in formulae from region to region, the underlying Mysteries remain
the same, and the only way to know about them is to have experienced them first
Broadly speaking, nearly all
traditional witchcraft employs the use of ritual, symbol and ceremony as a
means of representing and communicating with forces underlying the universe and
man – the macrocosm and the microcosm.
Or, in much simpler terms, to quote that old adage of Evan John Jones
which had originated with Robert Cochrane.
“If one who claims to be a Witch can perform the tasks of
Witchcraft, i.e. summon the spirits and they come, can divine with rod,
fingers and birds. If they can
also claim the right to the omens and have them; have the power to call, heal
and curse and above all, can tell the maze and cross the Lethe, then you have a
Extract from Traditional
Witchcraft for Urban Living by Mélusine Draco, published by Moon Books, in
imprint of John Hunt Publishing