As mentioned briefly in chapter 1, “Hallowing the Compass”, the Traditional Crafter is sometimes referred to in a specialist way as a “Hedge Rider”. This is an old Anglo-Saxon term referring to the fact that the Witch spends much of their magical time and work beyond the boundaries of what we usually refer to as “normality”. Much of the Crafters work involves entering worlds and realms that the average person has never dreamt of, let alone visited and the “Hedge" referred to is the symbolic barrier between this world and those others. The reasons for journeying to these other worlds are various; it may be that another realm is a better vantage point from which to cast a spell or make a charm (and we have touched upon entering light trance in the previous chapter). It may be that the Crafter wishes to meet with various spirits or deities, native denizens of those other worlds, the better to further their knowledge or abilities. It may also be that they can obtain added energy or insight by visiting different realms, or it just might be that a better understanding of this world in which we all live can be achieved, by viewing it from a different angle or vantage point. The reasons are many and will probably vary with the individual, but the fact remains that entering different levels or areas of reality - working in trance or "Entering the Twilyte” as it is sometimes called - is a major part of the Traditional Crafter’s work.
We always work on ourselves first, because change comes from within. But there’s another very pragmatic reason […] If you set about changing the universe to your liking, and then change yourself, the universe may not be to your liking anymore, and you’ll have to change it again. If you change you first, you don’t have to do so much work, and as I’m inherently lazy, it seems like a much more sensible way of doing things.
It could easily be said that one of the major differences between the modern revival referred to as ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ and the other modern revival known as ‘Wicca’, is that Traditional Witchcraft draws on ‘folkloric material’ and is largely ‘shamanic’ whereas Wicca is more of a fusion of Western Occult ceremonial and natural magic traditions. Whilst the term ‘shamanic’ is hotly debated both within scholarly and witchcraft circles it does at least seem clear that the term is cautiously embraced by the most influential scholars on the topic, the work of such people as Ginzburg and Wilby, texts that have greatly influenced the revival and self conception of ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ (especially Ginzburg but I anticipate the same for Wilby’s work as it becomes disseminated and assimilated into the occult group consciousness).
The exposition of the ‘shamanic’ dimension that Ginzburg worked so hard to establish in his books is what saves the study of the trial records from the excesses of ‘Murrayism’. And the realisation that these testimonies were often to things encountered during spirit flight rather than in normative waking consciousness helps to make sense of the elements of the seeming impossible that occur in them. Emma Wilby took this work still further via a detailed comparison between the maleficium practiced during spirit flight by a witch like Isobel Gowdie and the ‘dark shamans’ of the Amazon Basin.
I believe that to properly navigate the ‘deep myth’ of witchcraft, and unearth the legacy of its occult wisdom we need to understand its shamanic substrata. But we need to understand the term ‘shamanic’ or perhaps even better ‘ecstatic’ in terms of a latent but universal potential within human nature, rather than strictly in sociological or anthropological terms. An ‘ecstatic’ is a type of mystic who leaves or transcends the flesh in powerful visions and has congress with another world. But a ‘shaman’ is one who uses this ability to perform a service for their community. We can see as we go along that many of these witches from the past fell into the latter category and that nearly all of them at least fell into the former.
Whilst the state of ecstasy is usually described as ‘transcending the flesh’ it is important to note that the witches’ ecstatic vision grows out of the flesh as a plant does from soil. There may be visions of flying through the air, or going in through doors underground, but right from the beginning it will help us in our journey if we understand how rooted in biological experience vision is. Intensely sensual experiences (sensual as in ‘of the senses’) are involved in reaching trance for most people. Drumming, dance, sexual intercourse, imbibing helper plants and even being ‘lifted’ by spirits, all produce intense sensations and chemical releases in the body. Understanding these responses and how the bodily experience of our ancestors might have differed from our own can only help us in finding the keys to our own ecstasis. It will help us to remember the old maxim ‘as above so below, as within so without’, for it shows us a world where microcosm mirrors macrocosm.
Thus when we try to re-imagine a shamanic universe with an Upperworld above a Middleworld all around us and an Underworld below it is easier to get in touch with if we are aware that they also exist inside our bodies. Whilst the Underworld and Upperworld also exist outside of us, and reach beyond us we are each connected to them and reflect the structure of the universe. What all this means is that an ecstatic path is both a path of the body and of transcending the body, it is not a matter of either/or, but of both.
The Upperworld is reflected in our heads and the Underworld deep in out guts and pelvis, we each are made up of the substance of stars and of the dirt and water we drink daily and thus no part of the cosmos is foreign to us. We are part of the earth, our consciousness grows out of our flesh, and yet there is that within us that goes beyond it and joins the cosmos. It is to this mystery that I allude when I speak of ‘shamanic’ or ‘ecstatic’ witchcraft.
And this picture below that I see people posting on Tumblr frequently was taken by Shiels and is a group of witches (one of whom is one of his daughters) attempting to conjure up the Owlman in Mawnan Woods, Cornwall.
This page holds basic exercises designed to prepare a magical student for visionary work. It also contains (once uploaded) basic visions to work with regardless of what type of magic you are learning. Visionary magic is a skill that uses the mind to move into different realms, communicate with various beings and to move your consciousness in to different things like rocks, animals, trees, etc. It is a form of magic that is used in formal ritual/ temple style magic as well as in more nature orientated folk/shamanic magic: It is a core skill that can be applied to any form of magic.
How tame we have become. How polite about our witchcraft. In our desire to harm none we have become harmless.
We have bargained to get a seat at the table of the great faiths to whom we remain anathema. How much compromise have we made in our private practice for the mighty freedom of being able to wear pewter pentagrams in public, at school, in our places of employment. How much have the elders sold us out, genuflecting to the academy, the establishment, the tabloid press. In return for this bargain we have gained precisely nothing. The supposed freedoms we have been granted are empty. Late capitalist culture simply does not care what our fantasy dress up life is like as long as we work our zero hour contracts, carry our mobile phones and keep consuming. The reason that social services are not taking your children away is that nobody believes in the existence of the witch. We have mistaken social and economic change for the result of our own advocacy. Marching in lock-step with what used to be called mainstream, but is now mono-culture, we have disenchanted ourselves, handed over our teeth and claws and bristling luxuriant furs. I will not be part of this process, because to do so is to be complicit with the very forces that are destroying all life on earth. It is time for Witchcraft not to choose, but to remember which side it is on in this struggle.
Often the true nature of [the witches’] pact is revealed by it being followed by carnal intercourse. It is thus revealed that what is happening here is not a selling of the soul so much as a distorted memory of a marriage ceremony. […] In this model we can find a workable approach to the witches’ pact that strips it of its unnecessary Christian baggage.
Lee Morgan, A Deed Without a Name: Unearthing the Legacy of Traditional Witchcraft
i assume owen is the one that looks like klaus nomi
he would be pleased to hear that tbh
he’s so funny when he does his makeup. he used to be my roommate before him and his husband moved to Oakland and he does his makeup the same exact way every time but it takes him like 3 hours. He used to DJ at my favorite club here and he was always late because it took him so damn long to do his makeup.
Many Traditional Crafters have an interesting relationship with dragons. Some see them as archetypes, some as being similar to the Gods, and some see them as living mythical beasts, in a very literal way. It is certainly true that myths and legends involving dragons are central to many of the traditional cultures from which British Witchcraft derives. In Sumerian and Babylonian mythology we have Tiamat, the Mother of Dragons, and even in the Ancient Egyptian Mysteries we can find the dragon tucked away – take a good look at the figure of Ptah found in the tomb of Tutankhamen, and you will see the markings of feathered wings wrapped around His mummiform body. Ptah, the Great Architect, and one of the oldest gods in the Egyptian pantheon, is a dragon.
But for us in Briar Rose, the dragon is a very personal thing, because we see drakes to a certain extent as "all of the above", but most importantly, we see the drake as part of our own make-up. Just as Orion Foxwood teaches that we have three selves, the Dream Walker, Surface Walker, and Star Walker, so in our kind of crafting we work with three aspects of self, the Drake, the Initiate, and the Crown.
For us, the Drake is the Underworld component of our being, the Shadow form from which we gain our power. So awakening the Dragon is an important part of our development,