The Works of Nigel G. Pearson have largely focused on the world of plants, as in his eminent work The Devil’s Plantation published by Troy Books in 2016. This book is in a way followed up by the book Wortcunning: A FolkMedicine Herbal (Troy Books: 2018) that is actually two books in one. The larger part is a shorthand of folk magic herbs with their uses and associations, a sort of ‘shorthand’ or reference book for the more common of the many plants useful for the cunning one in the great variety of his or her work with healing or with the other side. A precise and great summary that is very useful.
The other part of this book is composed of the notes Nigel was given by a family group of witches in Susses in the 1980’s that gives a catalogue of properties and use of a great number of healing plants for a great number of ailments. Interesting is also to note that many of the more traditional witching poisons are limited to a warning of being poisonous and given the rulership of Saturn which certainly reads like a good way of protecting what needs to be protected. This is clearly a book that should be present in any library taking herbalism seriously. But there is also another offering here from Nigel, the revised and expanded edition of his 2009 publication Walking the Tides (Troy Books: 2017). I am most happy to see that masterful work finding a worthy presentation in how Troy Books has presented the revised edition, because this book does give an idea of how the mind of the ‘witch’ works in seeking out and understanding power manifesting in the visible and invisible realms.
What Nigel does in Walking the Tides is of such calibre that it serves as an inspiration for applying a similar approach to one’s own local geography vegetation and yearly cycles because it is by witnessing the festivities, the food, the plants, the climate, folklore, folk magical practices and so forth. By observing the activities of men, beast and plant the year round Nigel is presenting us for an idea of the energy of spirit of each month as it moves around in the British Isles and give to the world an example I think it is crucial to follow. To give one example, Yule, the December solstice that in the Northern hemisphere has the scent of cold, death and promise of resurrection through the mystery of winter, snow and cold… how this is different here in the Southern hemisphere where Yule falls on the midsummer with rain, heat waves and all of nature in full rigid fertility and flow. It feels wrong and it smells wrong and even more so when pagans down here in Brazil simply just ‘turn the wheel of the year around and make mid-summer at midwinter and so forth. The seasonal tides are far more complex than this….
And it is in giving an example on how to approach the seasonal changes where you live Nigel’s book is so inspiring and great. For me this book is a classic, and even more so it gives a model for how to think from the perspective of ‘Natural Craft’ for the sake of understanding, harvesting and using the powers making itself available to us in the year round. It was a book that rose the wish to speak with the author and so we arranged for an interview that we happily share with you here…
Interview with Nigel G. Pearson.
In your book “Walking the Tides” you define its content as ‘natural craft’, what made you choose this term instead of for instance ‘folk magic or ‘traditional craft’?
I was looking for a term that covered, or at least implied, a wider scope than “just” Folk Magic or Traditional Craft. Whilst it is of course true to say that both of these terms do cover fairly wide areas and topics within themselves, I wanted a term that also wouldn't put off people new to these areas. In my “day job” working in an esoteric and healing store, I often get to talk to people who are just learning about these subjects and have very little background knowledge to draw on – indeed, it was because of some of the questions that I was asked in the shop that I decided to write what became “Walking the Tides” in the first place. A lot of people didn't even know what an Oak or an Ash tree looked like, so to push them right in at the deep end, so to speak, with more esoteric terminology than was necessary, I felt would scare off the very people that I was hoping to get to read the book. Of course, I also hoped that people with a good background in the magical arts would also read it, so I coined the term “natural craft” with that aim in mind. It seems like a fairly gentle term, for those with little to no knowledge in that area, but to those with more experience, it would indicate the type of book that it actually was. In addition to this, I also wanted a term that gave me the opportunity to draw on aspects and topics that weren't normally addressed – I felt – in a book that dealt specifically with Folk Magic and Traditional Craft – of the Witch variety. I wanted to bring in such things as the birds, animals, trees and other plants, in both their esoteric and non-esoteric aspects. Subjects such as traditional fairs and wakes, seasonal recipes and drinks, whilst not being specifically esoteric in nature, I felt also had a place in a book of this type and could be included under this heading of “natural”. The Craft aspect, of course, may be understood in many different ways, magical, practical, esoteric and non and so I felt that the two terms together suited my purposes and that of the book admirably.
How would you explain the difference of importance for the crafter the tides of the Moon and the solar cycles?
Personally, I wouldn't say that either one was more important than the other, merely that they are different in type and, possibly, function to the magical worker or Crafter. These tides can be viewed from a few different angles, depending on the emphasis of the work, or indeed, of the Crafter. The tides of the Sun are more obvious in their manifestation, but also conversely, can also be very subtle. It goes without saying that the Solar tides create our yearly cycle, our seasons, our major weather patterns and the Sun itself provides the energy by which all life on Earth exists. The solar tides can be seen as the governing force behind major works of magic, in that it is usually by them that the timings of most esoteric work is begun and ended. By starting a major piece of work at an appropriate solar tide, we not only reap the benefit of that tide – ride the wave of energy if you like – but can have it manifest roughly at a time of our choosing, if taking this into account. This is often one of the reasons why some people think that their spell/magic has not worked, in that they haven't taken into account the time they began and the longer time for manifestation involved when using a solar tide or energy. However, this can also be the benefit of working with solar tides, in that a seed idea/sigillum may be set, and left to germinate of its own accord; in fact it is often better if we ignore and forget the fact that we have done it at all and leave it to manifest in its own time. The solar tides can be likened to the great waves that crash upon a seashore and carve and sculpt the rocks and the sand, in a fairly obvious manner.
The Lunar tides I see as being much more subtle in nature, but also possibly having a much more deeper and far reaching effect. It sounds trite to say, but if the Sun can be seen to work upon the outer, obvious and conscious levels, the Moon can be seen to work on the inner, deeper, more subconscious levels of the psyche. The Moon deals with the hidden and unseen (generally) effects in the world and on people and is used by Crafters when working with those levels in mind. It can be said that the Moon tides can be utilised for more short-term magic than the Sun and therefore are of more immediate use to the Crafter.
What is the importance of the tides of the Moon for the crafter?
This is a subject I am hoping to cover in depth in a future work, as I have already written on the Sun tides in “Walking the Tides”, but I'll give you a flavour now. It is well known that the Moon governs the tidal rhythms of the Sea and other watery bodies on the Earth, can regulate menstrual cycles in humans and animals and also other bodily rhythms. It is also well known that many Witches and Crafters regulate a lot of their magical rites to the phases of the Moon, because of these influences and the effect they can have. It is less well known why we use these tides in our work. It is true that the Moon reflects the light of the Sun, but it also has a much more subtle effect, due to its gravo-magnetic pull on our psyches, as well as our bodies. It is a more intimate, immediate and shorter scale effect that the Sun and, hence, much more visible in its magical effects. Within the Traditional forms of Craft, the Moon has been seen to represent many deities, both male and female, but most of these deities have one thing in common and that is that they deal with the secret, hidden, underground forms of magic and expression; this gives the key, to my mind, why the Moon's influence is so important for the Crafter. We are workers in shadow, we don't stand out in the bright light of day amongst the rest of society and shout about our abilities and presence; we work in the dark and pull the hidden strings that work behind the screens of reality. The Witch or Crafter is the underdog, the lurker in the background. The Moon teaches us to be subtle in our work, not loud and brash; in the darkness are the seeds of great things and we utilise these tides to our own advantage. Whilst not being strictly Traditional Craft, I consider the novels of the occultist and writer Dion Fortune to give the clearest insights into the importance of the Lunar tides, particularly in her novels “The Sea Priestess” and “Moon Magic”. Whilst perhaps a bit stilted and outdated to the modern mind, she gives very graphic examples of the effects of the Moon tides and how to work with them in these books and I would thoroughly recommend them to anyone wishing to get some basic knowledge on the subject. Dion Fortune herself states that this is Witch magic and makes no bones about it.
What can we learn from the world under the Sun and how can we utilize this knowledge for magical ends?
The answer to this one is never ending really! Any and all things under the Sun have both their exoteric and esoteric values and uses. Within “Walking the Tides” specifically, but also another work of mine, “The Devil's Plantation”, I try to get across the point that by learning about the physical aspects of a plant, animal, spirit, stone, etc. we can also access the non-physical, or esoteric aspect of that thing and can incorporate it into our working body of knowledge. Subsequently, by applying this knowledge in our work, we come to learn more about the interconnectedness of all things and, hence, our place within the manifest world. That the manifest world – under the Sun – also has an unmanifest side is made abundantly clear by working with the energies that we learn about and hence, also, we come to learn of our own connection to that unseen side of Life and our own place within it. Having learnt this, we may attempt to manipulate these things and energies for our own, magical, purposes, at the same time gaining greater insight into the workings of the world(s) that we live within.
The theme dealt with in “Walking the Tides” is that these worlds operate in a cyclical manner and, by taking note of the rhythms, seasons and revolutions, we can learn more about the inner workings of life beneath the Sun, the better to use them for our own, magical, ends and purposes.
You make a difference between observance and celebration throughout in Walking the Tides, why is this distinction important?
To my mind, this distinction marks and underscores a difference in the type of event you are acknowledging, the very type of energies involved in the timing of the event. There are occasions when you want to celebrate the mere fact of Existence, of Life, of Being, which is a thing to be treasured and taken note of. Such times would be the feelings of the fresh rush of new energies at the beginning of the year, celebrating times like the Vernal Equinox or May Day. These times can also include celebrations at the end of seasons and to give thanks after hard work well done, such as the successful bringing in of the various types of harvest at Lammas or the Autumnal Equinox. Then there are the times that do not need or require joyous outpourings, when it is more appropriate to quietly mark the event, in the recognition of its inner and, perhaps, personal, meaning. The difference is, perhaps, like the difference between the Solar and Lunar tides, outer and inner. All things need marking to some extent or another, but some things need marking in an obvious way, others in a less obvious, but still important manner. Sometimes the Observance of a thing or time can be much more personal and hence, perhaps, more meaningful. At other times the joining with like-minded folk to mark an event just needs a communal release of energies.
These methods of marking and recognising times and events also indicate the type of meaning that they have for us. All of them are equally important – else they would not need marking – but recognising them in different manners allows us to consider their meanings in different ways. For different people their meanings may be different – I may choose to be relatively restrained and quiet at All Hallows, whereas another person may feel the need to sing and dance – but all need considering for their inner meaning and effect on the individual. It is this contemplation of the inner meaning which, I feel, is the essential point here – what does this time of year/event actually mean? - and differentiating between Observance and Celebration brings that point home in a more obvious way. If we have no understanding or appreciation of why and what we are marking, then surely there's absolutely no point in doing it at all.
Likewise you make a distinction between protection and placation, why is it important for the crafter to be mindful about these distinctions in our work?
The distinction between these two points is often not obvious and can, sometimes, cross-over or be one and the same thing in actuality. In general, I would term “protection” as any thing or action that wards or guards a person or place from malign or unwanted energies. These energies may be deliberate or not, as in the case of contact with the Fey and other beings, who may be inimical to humans, just by their very nature and not out of any intention or spite. “Placation” I would define as the making of some form of offering, in reparation, be that food, drink, music, or other appropriate gift to a being that has been harmed or slighted, either intentionally or otherwise, with the aim of creating an amicable or at least non-antagonistic relationship again.
I would say that it is important to know the difference between these two things, as the use of the wrong one in any given situation could cause exactly the opposite effect to that originally intended. For example, if a gift were erroneously given to a being in placation when there was no need, then that being could continue in it's actions against or to the Crafter (or a client perhaps), who then had no warding or guard against them. Likewise, to create a form of protection against an entity that had no intention of harming anyone, but who had already been slighted in some way, could exacerbate the situation and make it much worse. Fine lines run through all forms of magic and it pays the Crafter well to learn the differences between situations and act accordingly. By doing this, they also come to learn more about themselves and their reactions in any given situation, which can only aid them in the advance of their Craft learning and experience.
In my work, I am often consulted by people, Crafters and non, who believe that their house or flat is haunted, or otherwise “contaminated” by unwanted energies, and seek my advice on how to cleanse or banish these energies. My first response is often to try to make contact with the supposed being or spirit causing the problem, by making an appropriate offering (usually simply a bowl of bread, milk and honey), such that the spirit is acknowledged and accepted. In nine times out of ten, this is all that is ever needed (as long as the offerings are kept up regularly), and nothing more detrimental occurs. In this case, the offering can be seen to act as both protection and placation.
You also give much attention to saints in your work, how do you understand the saints importance for the crafter?
I think this is, or can be, a very personal matter, but for me, I see it like this. Some of the Saints we know were originally deities of the indigenous populations before they were converted to Christianity. Most of the rest were once human beings that have come to be venerated for their “holiness”, ability to perform miracles, compassion, learning or other above-normal attributes. I don't make a distinction between the two; both have equal standing for me. Most of the Saints are either associated with a particular geographical place, an ability or talent, or both of them together. Over the hundreds of years that they have been venerated, deity or human, they have become an individual spiritual entity in their own right, a receptacle and repository of both spiritual and physical energy and power which, if they so wish, they may “lend” to a Crafter for their own ends. Approached in the right manner, in a certain way, the Crafter may gain the use – for a time – of this store of energy and direct it towards the ends and aims they wish to achieve. This may be physical, such as bringing about healing, finding a lost object, gaining a job, restoring fertility to a piece of wasted land, or a person. Or it may be used for a more spiritual end, such as inner vision, journeying to non-corporeal realms, understanding the Mysteries and the inner workings of the Universe.
I also don't see the Saints as being “owned” by any one religion or belief system. For example, most people think of the Saints as being part of Catholic Christian practice, Protestants having mostly got rid of their observance with the Reformation and modern pagans not acknowledging them at all. But, as spiritual beings in their own right and – I would say – above such petty distinctions as human belief systems, they are there to help and aid anyone who cares to approach them in an appropriate manner. They are intermediaries, intercessors if you like, able to have a foot in more than one world and to help those of us who can't see as far as they can. As a Witch, I have no problem in asking St. Botolph for help in finding knowledge on a certain matter if I need to, as I don't think he cares that I'm not a baptised Catholic, and I don't mind that he is! Saints that are closely associated with a particular place, such as a well, spring or grove can also pretty much be viewed and interacted with as if they were the genius loci of the place they inhabit, giving all the benefits, advice and energy that one would normally expect from such a Being, so the Crafter is well served if they approach the Saint in that manner also.
How would you describe the Fey and their importance for the crafter?
I view the Fey (or Elvish folk, as I see them as the same people), as a race of beings who are on a parallel evolution to ourselves, who partake of a more non-corporeal or ethereal reality than we do. According to the Teachings that I have received from various Traditions and from my own, personal experiences with them, the Fey came into being just as humans did, but after a different manner and with a different evolution. They live within the energy body of the Earth, both physical and non, and are able to wholly cross back and forth as they will. Thus it appears to us that they are able to shape-shift, or change their appearances as they partake of a different type of physicality to us. They live their lives just as we do, but according to much different rules and laws of existence to ours, such that it seems that they can sometimes be hostile or cruel by our standards. I believe that this is not so, merely that they are following their own values and morals that do not happen to coincide with ours; indeed it has been said by them that we seem cruel and heartless by their standards. They are not much concerned with us generally and will bypass us if possible, being encountered only by chance or where/when it suits them, rather than us. They can be found in all countries of the world, conforming to the customs and cultures of those countries, as viewed by us humans, but always Other.
The Fey have always been important to Crafters as both teachers and exemplars of different ways of living, as holders of arcane or esoteric knowledge and for their working knowledge of the ways of the Earth, animals, plants, stones and minerals and of the healing arts. Because of their physical nature, they are much more aware and knowledgeable of the secret aspects of the inner workings of our planet than we are and have been instrumental in passing that knowledge on to select and selected individuals over the centuries. Some Crafters have come across the Fey deliberately or by accident, others have been contacted directly by them, but usually for their own reasons. Because of their different viewpoint, they see Time differently than us and are sometimes willing and able to give knowledge and teachings on the divinatory arts and the workings of seership; many a lucky Witch has been taught their trade by the Faerie Folk.
It is also held as a belief by some that the Fey, or at least some of them, are the post-mortem spirits of actual humans, residing in that realm until it is time to move on. I consider this highly probable and in my experience, contact with such beings can be highly valuable. They are able to teach the Crafter aspects of life after death, how it works and the lessons we can learn in preparing to enter that realm. The awareness of the inner life of the planet can be greatly enhanced by contact with the Fey and it is of great value to the Crafter to be able to see, feel and experience this life, the better to apply its lessons in their work.
Two other themes goes as a red thread throughout Walking the Tides, stars and greenwood, why such importance is given to these two elements?
Both of these themes are treated with importance, as they are very graphic and integral markers of the cycling of the seasons, the main theme within the book. The wheeling of the stars above, mirrored by the changing foliage of the trees throughout the year, ideally exemplifies the images and energies I was trying to capture. I consider both of these areas to be of great use to the practical Crafter or Witch and they can tend to be overlooked in modern practice. Although subjects such as astrology and astronomy are very popular, there is very little information or attention given to the energies that dwell behind the popular concepts of them. The stellar energies that emanate from the constellations themselves, rather than just the astrological signs, are not well known or considered, let alone worked with; the same can be said of the individual stars themselves. As I talk about in “Walking the Tides”, the lore that goes with many of the stories about the constellations and signs bears study and contemplation, for the esoteric truth behind the more obvious tales that everyone knows. These truths may be taken note of and incorporated into the Crafter's own life and lore, the better to gain knowledge and understanding of the hidden realms.
Likewise, the knowledge of the trees and the lore deriving therefrom can greatly benefit the Crafter in their work. As mentioned previously, a lot of people don't know what an Ash or an Oak tree look like, let alone the differences between them, their uses and esoteric lore and yet they claim to be Crafters/Witches and practice magic. The lore of the greenwood has long been an integral part of the Traditional Witch's working knowledge; what tree to use for what application, magical, healing or practical. The bark, leaves, fruit and nuts, let alone the roots of the tree and the animal life within the branches, as well as the indwelling spirit, all have their own uses and applications to the working Crafter. This also changes from season to season and can be exceedingly usefully incorporated into the Crafter's practical repertoire and esoteric knowledge.