“In what generally passes as witchcraft today there is as much illusion and unresolved desire as there is in the outside world”
- Robert Cochrane
(The Roebuck in the Thicket. Capall Bann 2001: 50)
It is troublesome this word; “witchcraft”. It is troublesome because it refers to a craft that essentially remains nameless. It is troublesome because the word ‘witch’ have been subject for a myriad of definitions over the ages that is still in transformation.
Until the 60’s the understanding of the nature of the witch was shrouded in some degree of danger and ‘evil’. Ambiguity was abundant in this icon tied to the craft of peasantry and the work of land and earth, this figure who knew how plants could cure and kill and could speak with the denizens of ‘the other side’.
With the popularization of Wicca the idea of the witch has been yet again reshaped and is today often understood to be someone involved with cults of fertility connected to earth. As time changes so does our concepts and ideas of the meaning behind things and appearances and we see that more and more traditional witches are finding the understanding of the term ‘witch’ in its contemporary rendering to be inaccurate and refrain from using this word as a denominator for their craft. The craft remains the same, but apparently the attempts of modern pagans of whitewashing ‘witchcraft’ as something fertile, good and kind has managed to shape the contemporary understanding of witchcraft.
Julio Caro Baroja writes in one of his books the following:
“We must try to imagine ourselves in an environment that is not merely primitive but primeval – elemental – looking at things around us for the first time. Our environment will clearly be a rural one, and the most basic things in it will be blue sky, sun and moon, day and night, and the earth herself” (‘The World of the Witches’ Uni of Chicago Press. 1964: 4)
He is here commenting on the naked field which provides the witch with a compass for understanding its own environment, the very womb from where the witch surges and what kind of world he or she enters. Baroja is of the opinion that we need to gain a type of ‘first sight’ – i.e. a perception of the world rooted in source where moon, sun, land, sky and night present themselves as mysteries ready to be unbridled and communicated with.
A constant theme in Baroja’s work is the focus on diabolism and the focus on the Devil himself and how we approach spirits of nature in conformity with our needs. This important diabolical factor has for centuries been controversial, given the tendency of Christian dogma to degrade the body and material nature in favour of an attitude that renounces the pleasures of our nature. Naturally the ‘Devil’ as the silver Tzar, the god of Earth becomes the negative pole in a dualist dichotomy that sees Nature and Body as an antithesis of godliness. With the secularization of Western society this dualism has become more of a whisper and echo moving beneath the soil on the earth we walk, but it is still there, this ambiguity we find in plants that heal, kills and open the fair realms to the other side...
Baroja comments further about the icon of the witch:
“The witch of country areas is usually an old woman, an outsider, who is both feared and despised, and who has some knowledge of quackery. She foretells the future from time to time, and maybe finds consolation in the dream world which certain European herbs can give her” (ibid: 254)
The transformation from this icon to the contemporary one where the witch is someone who worships a horned god and a mother goddess in the scope of fertility brought into the cycle of the eight Sabbaths is today prevailing. But witchcraft is about possessing the ‘first sight’ that paves way for a ‘third sight’, where the spirits of night, house and hearth is revealing themselves in a figuration that provides intense an deep understandings about the world we live in.
In the recent anthology about Traditional Witchcraft, Serpent Songs, I comment in the foreword:
“Traditional Witchcraft is a set of practices born from need, land and blood. It is the art of working one’s fate and the art of working hedge, hill and mound for one’s benefit or that of a group or conclave of people and their needs.”
It is in these premises we find witchcraft still alive in a variety of cultural expressions – because culture and land provides the canvas of need whereupon we inscribe our craft – and it is in homage to this legacy and this diversity Serpent Songs set out to give voice to the shadows as the stone of beginnings softly bleeds snakes upon the land...
Serpent Songs can be ordered directly from Scarlet Imprint as a hardback, paperback and ebook: http://scarletimprint.com/serpentsongs.html