The Pagan Sun and the Witches’ Moon

Micha Brusilovsky (2000) - Garden of Eden/night

Paganism, neo-paganism and witchcraft are all labels that seem to be difficult to define and keep separate. In many ways, I do like things to be fluid and flowing in as tides and moon moves – but it can also be confusing to understand where the waters crosses the boundaries if we don’t really mange to separate the duck from the swan. Robert Cochrane who defined himself as a witch, or more correctly a pellar defied the label pagan given upon him. He not only commented upon the fluidity of the Craft itself but also defined it as a faith. He said: “The Faith is a belief concerned with the inner nature of devotion, and finally with the nature of mysticism and mystical experience” (The Roebuck in the Thicket, 2001: 56). In addition we should also remark his very pragmatic attitude towards rite and ceremony. This inner dimension of devotion is a classical trait in many religions who places importance on inner experience. For Cochrane it was this that rekindled the fire within so we could resonate with truth. Ritual should be designed so a greater perception of the godhead is revealed so this can be revealed within us, because in faith we find the true life. He says about modern witches in his article ‘Witchcraft Today’, ‘that these see the Craft of the Wise as simple pagan beliefs, full of old traditions which are appealing’ (ibid. 48). He clearly made a distinction between his own beliefs and the modern ones that he saw as a rekindling of ‘pagan beliefs’ – or neo-paganism. 

The term ‘pagan’ signifies someone who lives in the countryside and it might refer to aristocrats keeping summer houses there – but it does denote peasant. It is outside the cities the land was ploughed and cattle kept. There was a difference between the city dweller and the dweller in the countryside since Antiquity, both in customs and beliefs. Then like now the urban people considered the peasants to be rustic and superstitious. In this pagan fold we had yet other individuals that were subject for ambivalence amongst the pagans – and by extension the city dwellers. These were those who knew about herbs and prophecy. Weird people; not really of this world that possessed knowledge that aided in childbirth and sickness of men and cattle. The peasants went to them when they needed and spoke of them in awe and degradation when they had no need. 

Let us transpose this upon Norway, my homeland. When Christianity entered in the year 1000 it generated a division between the heathen worship and the Christian worship. White Christ was seen as the dragon slaying knight who would end with the heathen worship. This heathen worship was focused on some central deities – not because of a pantheon as we understand it today, but because they established a pragmatic hierarchy that proved beneficial for supporting life in the countryside. We must also add that prior to modernity – unbelief was not an option; it was only about ways of belief that resulted in some households and villages taking Thor, Tyr or Frey as patron. It was always because they proven efficient for the needs of the peasant and deities that appeared to be not working properly were easily replaced with a spiritual force that did its work. For the peasants the land under the Sun was important, because it was the fertility of land and cattle that maintained their life and in this they could prosper. The peasants were not occupied with the inner dimensions of their worship, much more about doing what was needed to meet their goals. It is here we find the so called witches, people with a profound mystical experience of what moves the day – namely the land as it unmasks itself by night. It is in this scope we need to understand concepts like ‘the blood’, ‘the mark’ and similar – it was people seen as being not quite of this world, meaning the world under the sun. 

In many ways we can perhaps understand this difference and mutual recognition between pagans and witches as being typified by the Titans and Olympic gods. If we see here the transition from the Titan Helios to the solar Apollo, or Sol Invictus, we see here that Helios was the father of Eos and Selene, basically the sun and the moon. The great difference between solar Apollo and Helios is resting in the fact that Apollo adorns himself with Helios – and is not the same, even if they share the solar attribute. 

Witches will adhere to these titanic influences – while pagans will prefer the more orderly Apollo, the Olympic quality so to speak. It is about a pragmatic use of what has been revealed for practical and simple ends. Here we also find the difference between devotion and worship. The Olympics worship their gods – the witches are devoted to their gods as they are with all kith and kin. It is a transition here from family and clan to a greater social system – and indeed, system is key. Pagans like system, because under the Sun the world is orderly – not so under the Moon, hence the lunar veil given to witches. 

Modern pagans or neo-pagans follow the Olympic mindset. They like pantheons and they like systems and order – because after all the regularity and predictability of the Suns course is what regulates the perspective. Witches, under the dictate of the moon is fluctuating much faster and draws nutrition from night, where mystery dwells in a resistance to conform to the solar order favouring the mystical experience Fate and faith gives to its children. As the titans were forced to the background and is now resting in mountains and woods, so did their children the witches. 

This actually means that there are few witches left and many people who define themselves as witches are indeed pagans by desiring systems and regulations and adhere to the needs of the world to restore it back to beauty for the sake of beauty and not because of the knowledge they hold of the secret design of the world and creation. 

Wicca, and I mean here classical Wicca and not any of the post Gardnerian eclectic deviations, is curiously in a crossroad between pagan and witch. The focus on order and system is clearly an Olympic trait, but the focus invites to ambiguity as it is the Lord and Lady of the Woods that are made object for worship – but not devotion. If Gardner had in mind ‘the Devil’ when speaking of ‘ol horny’ we might even suggest a traditional pedigree of a witch within this greater pagan veil. So quite simply, the matter rests in the hands of the Devil.