On the Traditional and Old Craft(s) and what it means for me~
- Gede Parma (Fio)
Earlier this year, during the Hallows, at the feast of the old Celtic holy day known as Samhain, also my mother’s birthday, and her mother’s birthday, I was initiated into the Anderean Thread of Old Craft. What can be called Old Craft is also called by some, and more frequently, called ‘Traditional Witchcraft’. It is important to understand that when one refers to Traditional or Old Witchcraft it is not just another expression of ‘non-Wiccan’ as a spiritual and/or magical identifier, and neither is it a monolith. Traditional Witchcraft/Old Craft is an umbrella term, like ‘Paganism’, for a collection of practices, traditions and threads that hold certain values and draw upon a corpus of well-reddened European magical lore and technique that is storied by the phenomenon that is the Witch.
I have been working with such material for nearly as long as I have consciously known that I am a Witch, and worked to sew myself into the greater narrative of the Witch, as well as revealing to myself how I was already connected as such. The WildWood Tradition of the Craft, which I am also initiated into, while first and foremost identifies simply as a tradition/expression of Witchcraft moreover any particular designation, can also be regarded as Traditional Craft in various ways, especially relating to one of the key traditional manifestations of Craft – communication directly with the Spirits and Powers of the Witch/Craft and through testing, challenge, initiation and heuristic revelations, re-membering the Witch/Craft. What we now pass as a corpus of lore and practice is red and strong and still sings from the Deep Well that will ever, as long as there are folk to notice and pay attention and sing back, give forth treasures to those cunning and open enough to know how to behold and receive them. We continue to evolve, grow and deepen.
There are certain features, and some would say ‘aesthetics’, that are tell-tale signs of the various forms of Old Craft. These are Witchcrafts full of primal lust, endless desire, poetry, teeth and fangs, claws and dirt, blood and shit, blessed beauty and terrible dreams. This is a Witchcraft that cultivates sorcerously the societal shadow that has been cast over Witches throughout history and works, in an almost Tantric way, to liberate the original power from twisted, tabooed and in some cases tormented pieces of our the human soul and nature. One clear example is the Witches’ attitudes to sexuality and sensuality – ideally they are not repressed, though in saying that all forms of sexuality are honoured, as well as asexuality, and it concerns Sovereignty of Self above all. Another example often cited is that many Traditional Witches will refer to the Devil, and not as the popular Christian interpretation of Satan – the origin of Absolute Evil. This is one of the divergences that Traditional Witchcraft as a modern movement – contemporary to the Wiccan revival – has with Wicca.
Wiccans are adherents, celebrants and practitioners of an oath-bound, lineaged-initiatory mystery religion which is also necessarily a magical practice that can be called Witchcraft in my opinion, and is definitively Pagan. Though it can be observed that while Wicca clearly has links to traditional Craft material (see works of Donald H. Frew, Philip Heselton and Frederic Lamond and though controversial, the Pickingill Papers) its centre seems to be in a magical priesthood that has more in common with the realities and narratives of classical Mystery cults, like the Greek and Roman Isian cults, and also seemingly Neo-Platonic ancestry in both philosophy and practice (see Donald Frew). Traditional Wiccans, early on, went to some pains to make out that the Craft, while being a serious and intensive pursuit, also had nothing to do with Satan and the Devil in the Christian sense. However, this has become more of a trend with Wiccans of the non-traditional and variously-eclectic type. One might suggest however that this was most common from the 80s onward when Wiccans were deeply concerned with the impact of the ‘Satanic Panic’ on their civil liberties and those of the associated growing contemporary Pagan community. Interestingly, both Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders, two early proponents of the major Wiccan traditions (Gardnerian and Alexandrian respectively) both mentioned the Devil in the context of the Craft and indeed Sanders is filmed adoring and praying to Lucifer in a Black Mass (subverting the Catholic Mass) in the documentary-film ‘Legend of the Witches’, as well as cursing a victim to death employing a fith-fath. Interestingly this counters some claims made by some traditional Witches concerning Wicca and its practitioners that Wiccans are light and fluffy – as it were, it is often quite to the contrary. I personally, having many delightful and deeply-devoted friends in both Wicca and the Old Craft (sometimes people belong to both ‘movements’), have no problem either way. However, I think criticisms of the ‘white-washing’ or rather sanitisation of Witchcraft(s) stand.
In my opinion those who maintain or speak of a Witchcraft that is always positive, healing, explicitly peaceful and harmless or not dangerous-in-the-least are either kidding themselves or completely misled. On the ‘other side’ those who fall into a distinctly uncommon camp of painting all of the Craft as inherently diabolical, malevolent, and devoted to arts of blasting, binding and severing the life-force of all and sundry, are deluded and likely sick. These frustratingly dichotomous views do not take into consideration the inherently and rampantly Christian/Abrahamic dualistic moralism inherited from Zoroastrian cosmology that paints all manner of things into opposition based on absolute good and absolute evil and servants of either in eternal war. Witchcraft arises from the collective folk memory of the European peoples and lands, and has also absorbed and touched non-European influences and traditions as well, as Europeans have emigrated into others places and non-Europeans have emigrated into Europe or places now populated by people of European descent and ethnicity.
A core reality for traditional Witches and Old Crafters is that the land is central to our spiritual cosmologies and spirit-working. If we are unable to be where we are with ignited awareness and allow for the meeting of the traditions we carry and the spirits in the land we may fall folly to playing ‘games’ or worse still ignoring what is most vital to the Craft – the fleshy, corporeal, manifest reality which anchors the Witches’ World and arises from the Realm of Deep Myth and Story. To be able to look at the great and twisted tree in the valley near our home and say that is the Witches’ tree and this meadow/field/clearing is the Sabbat Field/Bloody Acre/etc. is to make Story with Place and be filled with the divine numen which opens the gate to the Spirits and touches the mythopoetic, unlocking deep psychic doors and linking us in with the greater Red Thread of All Witches – a ‘Brotherhood of the Other’ as Lee Morgan, an author and traditional Witch, has named it. Where we are is ‘it’ and while there are intrinsically-fraught dilemmas in this modern colonialised, post-industrialised, agriculturally-sustained world, we must begin where we are with all the poison, seething and singing shadows, severed ties, dispossessed wounds, and political fracked-up-ness. In fact, who better than the Witches, who in the way I live and teach the Craft, are often Shamans*, to sing the soul pieces back home in the age-old practice of soul-retrieval and to reach for a renewed wholeness and bless it. Wherever we are, we can only do it with the land and amongst and definitely at the edge of the People. This is both to empower our work as Witches – edge-dancers, hedge-riders, liminal-plane-seekers – and to ensure we do not disturb the social requirement for stability and sustainability in the greater collective. Witches, shamans, seers, healers, artists, must exist within society AND at the edge of it, blurring into the Otherworld, in order to effectively perform the sorcerous and soulful strategies which help align and balance the human communities with the agitating, inspiring and radical influences of the Otherworld of Spirits. While it’s not as clean-cut as we might like to think, the ‘warding of the Hedge’ is an important task and not to be undermined!
The Land is also gorgeous, radiant, healing and desirous of communication with those who are becoming a part of the land consciously and subconsciously, as well as those who already are. When we cast the Circle, draw the compass round, open to the Crossroads, and conjure and sing to the Spirits, we do so upon the Land and with the Land, eventually as the Land (that is the aim); opening to allow the Wild Currents and Powers ride us as we ride them into Blessed Ecstasy and Vision which is our birth-right as human beings, and definitively so as Witches. Many Witches I know and work with intimately, and I can attest to this personally, have experienced certain uncanny gradual mergences with the Powers of the Craft as they settle into and deepen into the Mysteries of the Lands we dwell in.
As I make my move to the island of Bali in Indonesia I am curious to observe how my Witchcraft settles into and interacts with the continuous and quite ‘loud’ magical activity of the human communities on the island as direct communication with the Spirits and Gods is a daily occurrence and enshrined as significant and wholly ‘normal’.
To be a Traditional Witch is to be actively-engaged with the spirituality of the Land and to link in with a legacy that holds us AND breaks us open. In fact, much of the work of the Witch is to necessarily and consciously step into what is uncomfortable for each of us and to be present, vulnerable, alert and to pay attention. We cultivate the art of surrender and enjoin with the Awe-Full Nature of the Infinite…
~To be continued~
*Shaman – originating from the Tungus dialect word ‘saman’ meaning ‘wise one’, ‘one who is raised in Ecstasy’, and also referring to the spirit-working, seeing, healing, limiting, binding, soul-retriever priest-sorcerers of Siberia. These folk are found in every human culture on the planet. I hesitate to call myself a ‘shaman’ specifically, because of the cultural implications; but I do identify much of the legacy of the Craft as shamanic, and I also teach a two-year course called the ‘Shamanic Craft Apprenticeship’.