On Ye Olde Traditional Crafte

“It is a simple fact that not all people are Initiates. Magick is not for all. Admittedly, in a theoretical sense, Magick could be used by everyone and some might argue that all people use it if only in an unconscious manner. This is no more than theoretical speculation aimed at a rosy picture of the world in which everyone is equal. The plain truth is that Magick is practised only by the few, even amongst occultists” - Andrew Chumbley, from “Opuscula Magica Vol. 2”

I haven't read much 'witchcraft' books in the past, therefore my Work has always been pretty eclectic. It is only now becoming more refined and broadened in it's sources of inspiration. Because I had to discover all this stuff for myself, none of would ever had made sense until I succumbed to 20 years of Tantric meditation and magick. I always assumed these were initiatory systems... if I was to know it, someone would present themselves to me, and I left it at that. There are many traditions becoming more accessible, growing in numbers, and sharing thanks to technology and ease of information flow. I never thought I would see books about Tubal Cain and non-Wiccan books on witchcraft, authors treating it like the Arte it IS instead of religio-play.The books revealing hidden workings and inner sanctuaries are being published by smaller, independent presses; with high quality paper, inks, and handcrafted binding making some titles almost completely unattainable except to the elite magick workers who can afford it. One book, written less than 20 years ago, had such a limited number of printings is now worth almost $10,000! Luckily some brave soul scanned it’s entirety and I was able to read the pretty poetic grimoire.

So what exactly makes this new wave of witchcraft “traditional”, especially when Wiccan derivatives have been around only since Gerald Gardner’s inception of Wicca in the 1940’s? Well, we need to look at this timeline a little further back, what was referred to as ‘cunning’ work dating back to probably the 16th century. It differs from the modern traditions in two ways, that I can tell: 1) traditional witchcraft is based on folk remedies and spells that were fully accessible to average people, sometimes referred to as ‘low magick’, and 2) modern witchcraft is very much based on the Golden Dawn and Theosophical ideologies of ‘high magick’. Combining the remains of pagan folklore with converted Christian prayers of the conquering religion, these traditions carried on in hidden sight. Most of these kinds of spells include the use of Psalms, invoking angelic spirits and sometimes even conjuring the Devil in pact-making rituals. This poses some problems for modern day witches, who often tend to be practicing Pagans or Animists in their religious persuasion.

'The Witches' - woodcut by Hans Baldung Grien, 1510

'The Witches' - woodcut by Hans Baldung Grien, 1510

It is contradictory and harmful to our spirituality, invoking beings we neither acknowledge nor believe to exist for the sake of blasphemous or heretical powers. It is understandable WHY our predecessors did this, for the same reasons other synchronized religions such as Vodou developed: to mask pagan Spirits in the cloaks of the colonizing religion for fear of persecution. For those witches who include ‘archetypes’ and other psychological tools in lieu of actually attending to Deities and Spirits, this poses no threat to their practice. All adversarial be-ings through the course of human history are the SAME thing, in this atheistic current of Left Hand Path , easily avoiding the cultural responsibilities associated with them. It’s safe, being only aspects of one Self instead of accepting the polytheistic and animistic tendency of experiencing Spirits outside one’s own imagination. But for those of us who accept these critters as another aspect of divine energy in an otherwise interconnected universe, these angels/demons and other creatures of El (this includes the Devil) are the flipside of the same Christian coin. By aligning myself with these creatures, I enter the domain of YHWH and that is just NOT going to happen. In my opinion, any witch doing this and claiming to be ‘pagan’ really needs to step back and sever those monotheist ties...or be more honest with themselves. Not to say you cannot practice witchcraft and be a Christian; the proof is in the pudding but who is providing the recipe?

In an attempt to understand this path of witchery, I’ve dedicated the past few years to reading whatever materials I could get my hands on. I’ve asked friends for recommendations, found books on Scribd that I could not afford or purchase, and was given materials from authors themselves. This is no different than what I did in my early days of magickal study. Hell, I read and researched for two years before ever casting a circle because I like to be well informed; no diving head first into un-chartered spiritual territories. Below are the authors I have read and what I have taken away from their materials. No, I have NOT performed any of the rituals or spells because even as a well seasoned witch, I am still trying to work out HOW to do them within a Pagan context. I am also discerning of an author's sources, as the success of a path shows in the fruit it bears.

Nigel Jackson was the first author to expose me to this path of witchcraft, a result of researching the Man in Black. His titles “The Call of the Horned Piper” and “Masks of Misrule” were great academic introductory materials for a historical background, making it easier to trace these connections with the modern Traditional Witchcraft practices. Mummering, stag hunting and stang riding...all have festivals roots that are still part of British culture and heritage. The thing is though, these deep cultural connotations pose another problem: they are essentially  spirits of place, genii loci, and local Gods. The ancestral hunts of horned spirit-men vary by location, but is presented primarily from it’s European perspective. There is not much mythology of North America involving such a spirit, except in Native American stories of horned serpents and some chthonic kachinas.

Andrew Chumbley is an author I have found to be both practical and direct with his writing. I like his methodology and thanks to my background in tantra,  I am 'getting' it. He uses academic and religious terms I understand, which is a huge bonus when being an ‘outsider’ to this topic. I particularly enjoyed his book “Mysticism, Initiation, and Dream”, obviously because of my experiential interest in dreams. He goes into a multi-cultural exploration of oneiric initiations, which is similar to the spirit travels of Traditional Craft. This also reaffirmed my nocturnal adventures I had been doing without prompting from some coven. Whilst I enjoy the flowery language of Chumbley’s other materials, and appreciate the hidden meanings, it will require much more concentration (not to mention a fuckton more money) before I can sink my teeth into it.

A few books were not academic in approach, which was slightly refreshing but sometimes more confusing. One book that was badly recommended to me, only because it was VERY much a beginner’s book (which kind of insulted me) was “Treading the Mill”. Much of the praxis was just simple eclectic Wicca stuff that was really reminiscent of old Scott Cunningham books...who I LOVED and read cover to cover in my early years of witchcraft. Not to say I did any of the Wicca stuff, but his reference books and specialty grimoires providing a great starting point for early mastery of what we used to call kitchen witchery. Explaining simple grounding techniques, glamour magicks, basic trance and circle casting, evoking  the elements and other critters out there was super redundant for me, but would be excellent for any beginner. What did catch my attention was how it’s introductionof the term “Treading the Mill”, which was new to me. I have never been one of those witches who raises a “cone of power” with singing and dancing in circles...I can do it seated, doing things astrally; tantricism really focuses more on the internal visualization versus strictly outside ‘doing’. The imagery of some peasants walking in circles, pushing a mill to grind grains is not really something I find empowering. The act of actually doing that and baking magick bread might be something to consider, but engineering a shaft from which to blast a portal for Deity to come through is not necessary to my praxis... they are already compelled through mantra and invocation.

Another author I wholly enjoyed was Gemma Gary, who writes primarily from the Cornish perspective. She includes a lot of folkloric craft, local remedies spiced with local legends and Christian masks. Tutelary spirits from the Western lands of the British Isle, the artwork and rituals presented in Gary’s books “The Black Toad” and “The Devil’s Dozen” are evocative, connecting with the reader on a very deep level. Simples, curses, and charms are all delightfully dark...but the rituals working with the “Old One” lead me to be more puzzled than interested. Living in suburban America it’s a little difficult for me to run around graveyards at night (normally locked up and patrolled by security), or circumambulating churches (someone would call the police). Searching out solitary wild places, building small fires and communing with the night might be possible for a woman like me if I was sure to carry a pistol for protection against sexual assault. That being said, it will have to be reserved for special trips to the mountains or back to my hometown….for here in the western U.S. there are still lonely places, desolate and deserted with creatures very much like the ones shared with our overseas cousins.

The term 'witch' as it is claimed today is a fairly new phenomenon and has a very different meaning than it's original intention for the past three millennia. Magick does not need religion to work. That is where modern 'witches' get confused...and also why it can easily mesh with any religion in the world. Every culture has witches because there are evildoers in every culture. There are also healers too, who rarely ever self-identified as 'witches'. Only in the modern Western world have some 'reclaimed' this title...and for shock value usually. Midwives and and herbalists were just that, healers; and today we STILL have some who would never say they are 'witches'. But there are some who can call ourselves by no other word...for our work is an Arte. A gifted talent, we either blossom or ignore. It is also a learned craft, one that can be developed with guidance from another who has already mastered the Arte. Either way on the crooked path takes real practice, modern flexibility and an unquenchable curiosity.