Review of “Traditional Wicca: A Seeker’s Guide”

If you are looking for a clear explanation of lineaged, initiatory witchcraft, this is it. If you are looking for a coven, thinking of joining a coven, or merely curious, I would recommend reading this book. Even if you are an experienced Wiccan initiate, you could benefit from the perspectives offered in this book.

If your coven is open to seekers, this book should go straight to the top of your recommended reading list, for seekers, new initiates, and even old hands. It’s clearly written, engaging, well-structured, and scholarly.

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New book part 2: The Night Journey

The night journey: witchcraft as transformation

Paperback, 364 Pages
Price: £15.99
This book is aimed at witches who want to deepen their engagement with their Craft. It explores modes and types of ritual; how rituals work; the uses of sound and silence in ritual; the witch’s journey through life; the stages and pitfalls of the inner work. It shows how Queer Witchcraft is an inherent aspect of the archetype of the witch; how witchcraft relates to the land; witchcraft as resistance to oppression; working with ancestors; the witch’s pact with spiritual powers; the relationship between madness, shamanism, and witchcraft; and the concept of the night journey, another very old image from the history of witchcraft; how to use insights gained from the practice of witchcraft in everyday life; group dynamics; being a coven leader; teaching and learning in a coven; egregore, lineage, upline, and downline; power and authority; the process of challenging oppression; how to evaluate your Craft; the meaning and purpose of ‘spirituality’, religion, and magic; the archetype of the witch and what it means.
When I was writing Dark Mirror, I didn’t realise until I stitched all the files together that I had written 150,000 words. So I thought the best thing to do would be to split it into two books, and this is the second of the two. Its focus is more on traditional witchcraft, the land, and resistance to oppression. I chose the title partly because a friend commented that she really liked the phrase, partly because the concept was so central to ideas of witchcraft in past centuries, and partly because of its resonance with other esoteric traditions.

Witchcraft Traditions

When Gerald Gardner coined the term “the Wica” (originally spelt with one c), he seems to have intended it to refer to any and all witches. Subsequently, the term has come to be used by some people to mean only witches initiated into Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca, and has been used by others to mean anybody who identifies as Wiccan, and a whole spectrum of meanings in between those two terms. This can make it confusing for people to understand what is meant by any individual using the term Wicca.

[Estimated reading time: 10 minutes. Contains 2020 words]

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New Book Coming Soon!

Dark Mirror – the inner work of witchcraft

And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know that thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless thou knowest this mystery: that if that which thou seekest, thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.

― Doreen Valiente, The Charge of the Goddess

Inner work is a name commonly given to the inner processes that happen in ritual. However, the best kind of inner work also has an effect outside the individual and outside the circle. When rituals are focused only on self-development, they tend to be a bit too introspective. Ritual is about creating and maintaining relationships and connections – between body, mind, and spirit; with the Earth, Nature, the land, the spirit world, the community, and friends. It is also about creating, maintaining, and restoring balance. It is about making meaning. Telling our stories and reclaiming our history from the oppressors. Weaving a web of symbolism, story, mythology, meaning, community, and love to stand against the ennui and emptiness of relentless consumerism. Creating loosely held but welcoming community, a community that welcomes and celebrates diversity (of body shape, skin colour, physical ability, neurodivergence, sexual orientation, gender expression and identity, biology, cultural background, age, talkativeness or lack of it, and so on). Creating strong and authentic identity to resist the pressures of consumerism and commercialism and capitalism. Weaving relationship with other beings: humans, animals, birds, spirits, deities.

So the inner work of ritual may be intrapersonal, interpersonal, restorative, or community-building. The kinds of relationships that ritual helps to maintain may be of various different kinds – friendships, erotic relationships (including kinky ones), patron/client relationships. Inner work might be meditation, visualisation, prayer, magic, balancing archetypes within the psyche, lucid dreaming, healing, connecting with the body, or attunement to Nature.

Dark pool, Beanley Moss Beanley Moss is an area of poorly drained conifer plantation where natural depressions have accumulated peat and developed bog vegetation. A few, like this, have formed small bodies of open water. This, and a large surrounding area of heather moorland and associated marshes, has recently been notified for SSSI status by English Nature

Dark pool, Beanley Moss. © Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. [CC-BY-SA 2.0]


 

Table of contents

  • Introduction: the inner work

Coming to the circle

  1. The Pagan worldview
  2. Creating sacred space
  3. Raising energy – synergy, resonance and polarity
  4. Magical names
  5. Archetypes and the inner work
  6. The Mysteries
  7. Evocation and Invocation
  8. Use of symbols in ritual
  9. Spell work
  10. Magical tools

Embodied Spirituality

  1. Relationships and Consent in Wicca
  2. “Ye shall be naked in your rites”
  3. The erotic and spirituality
  4. Inner aspects of the festivals
  5. Grounding and centering
  6. Making an altar
  7. The Hearth
  8. Food in ritual
  9. Labyrinths; Meditative walking; Pilgrimage
  10. Gardening
  11. Spirits of the land
  12. Meditation, Visualisation, Contemplation
  13. Poetry, Storytelling, and Reading
  14. Cultivating the virtues

Between the worlds

  1. Modes and types of ritual
  2. Sound and silence
  3. The Moon
  4. The witch’s journey
  5. Queer Witchcraft
  6. Witchcraft and the land
  7. Witchcraft as resistance
  8. Working with ancestors
  9. The Pact – relational polytheism
  10. Madness, shamanism, witchcraft
  11. The night journey

Bringing it all back home

  1. Inclusive Wicca
  2. Group dynamics
  3. Being a coven leader
  4. Teaching and learning in a coven
  5. Egregore, lineage, upline, downline
  6. Power and authority
  7. Rites of passage
  8. Challenging oppression
  9. Evaluating your Craft
  10. Brimful of Asha

Appendices

  • Model guidelines for group discussion
  • Coming-out ritual
  • Recommended reading

Fraud, and why it matters

What is a fraud?

In the context of witchcraft, it is someone who deliberately and knowingly seeks to deceive others about the origins and nature of their tradition, or claims that they were initiated by a genuine practitioner of a tradition, but they weren’t. In other words, they lie about their origins to make themselves seem more authentic.

Examples include claims that a tradition calling itself Wicca, or possessing a Gardnerian book of shadows, is older than Gardner, or used the word Wicca before Gardner; these should be treated with extreme caution. (There are witchcraft traditions that are pre-Gardner, but they mostly don’t call themselves Wicca.) Claims that a tradition has an unbroken initiatory lineage back to ancient pagan times are also fraudulent. Claims to an unbroken initiatory lineage stretching back any earlier than 1900 should also be treated with extreme caution.

Why does this matter?

If you are going to trust someone enough to engage in transformative and powerful ritual with them, you want to be able to take them at their word. You want to be sure that they know what they are doing, that they have been taught a tried and trusted set of techniques, and that you are not going to be asked to do something that is massively outside your comfort zone.

If someone lies about something as simple as where they got their initiation from, or the origins of their tradition, how can you trust their word about anything else?

It has been observed that fraudulent claims about origins, and fraudulent claims of initiation, are often accompanied by abusive behaviour. I don’t think an implausible origin story should automatically be seen as a sign of potential abuse, unless it is accompanied by other warning signs of abusive behaviour.

It is advisable to seek external confirmation that someone’s story (either about their initiation, or about the origins of their tradition) is true. Get a vouch from other Wiccans.

In a previous article, I mentioned that the Frosts were never part of Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca. Indeed, they never claimed to be. However, Gavin Frost did claim to have invented the word Wicca before Gardner did, and the Frosts claimed to be running “the oldest Wiccan school in the universe” (if you don’t believe me, look at their blog, it is right there in the header).

What is not fraudulent?

Any tradition or group that does not lie about its origins is not fraudulent.

A tradition that cannot trace its initiatory lineage to Gardner or Sanders, but doesn’t claim to, is not fraudulent. There are many Wiccan and witchcraft traditions, particularly in North America, that do not claim lineage back to Gardner or Sanders, but do call themselves Wicca. That is definitely not fraudulent. Wicca is a useful term for ‘softening’ the word witchcraft in areas where fundamentalism is rife. It is not fraudulent to call yourself a Wiccan if you don’t have a Gardnerian or Alexandrian lineage – as long as you don’t lie about your origins, lineage, or initiations.

Some Gardnerians and Alexandrians object to anything outside their traditions being known as Wicca. That is a different argument, and should not be confused with fraudulent origin stories.

A person who has been lied to by their initiators, but believed the story, and repeats in in good faith, believing it to be true, is not fraudulent. A bit gullible perhaps, but not deliberately lying about their origins.

A tradition that possesses a Gardnerian book of shadows, and thereby believes itself to be Gardnerian, but doesn’t have a lineage back to Gardner, and doesn’t claim to – not fraudulent; not actually Gardnerian by the standard definition of the term Gardnerian, either; but not actually fraudulent, because it is not lying about its origins.

Witchcraft traditions that are not fraudulent include (but are not limited to) Reclaiming witchcraft, Feri witchcraft, Bread and Roses, 1734 witchcraft, Clan of Tubal Cain witchcraft, Central Valley Wicca, Georgian Wicca, Wiccan Church of Canada, Blue Star Wicca, Mohsian Wicca, Kingstone Wicca, Algard Wicca, to cite some well-known examples. None of these traditions claim to be much older than Gardnerian Wicca; they have clearly traceable origin stories, and don’t claim a lineage that doesn’t exist.

There are clearly some traditions of folk witchcraft that do pre-date Gerald Gardner, but not by more than fifty years, as far as I am aware. Claims of origins back in the mists of time should be treated with extreme caution.

Some groups are not entirely sure of their early history. In these cases, an honest answer to a question about origins would be, “We don’t really know for certain, but to the best of our knowledge and belief, what happened was this…” If new evidence comes to light which refutes the origin story, the members of the tradition accept the new historical information. For example, if contemporary Alexandrians and Gardnerians discover that Sanders or Gardner made something up, we admit it, and don’t seek to cover it up.

Once Ronald Hutton had traced the historical origins of Wicca (in The Triumph of the Moon: a history of modern Pagan witchcraft), the vast majority of Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccans accepted the new information and stopped claiming older origins for Wicca. Subsequent research by Philip Heselton has shown that Gardner’s story that he was initiated into an existing coven was true (and they sincerely believed themselves to be reincarnations of nineteenth century witches). I believe that Gardner sincerely believed he had stumbled upon something really old, whose fragmentary nature he sought to supplement based on his reading of Margaret Murray’s work and The Key of Solomon.

Conclusion

A fraud is someone who deliberately and knowingly seeks to deceive others. If you can’t trust their word, it would be inadvisable to trust them about anything else.