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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Meaning Of WitchCraft Pt.3

The Meaning of Witchcraft by GERALD GARDNER
Part 3


Eileen Power, in her book, Mediaeval People4 says, speaking of the peasants:

They used to spend their holidays in dancing and singing and buffoonery, as country folk have always done until our own more gloomier, more self -conscious age. They were very merry and not at all refined, and the place they always chose for their dances was the churchyard; and unluckily the songs they sang as they danced in a ring were old pagan songs of their forefathers, left over from old Mayday festivities, which they could not forget, or ribald love songs which the Church disliked. Over and over again we find the Church councils complaining that the peasants (and sometimes the priests, too) were singing ‘wicked songs with a chorus of dancing women’, or holding ‘ballads and dancing and evil and wanton songs and such-like lures of the devil’; over and over again the bishops forbade these songs and dances; but in vain. In every country in Europe, right through the Middle Ages to the time of the Reformation, and after it, country folk continued to sing and dance in the churchyard.

She continues:

Another later story still is told about a priest in Worcestershire, who was kept awake all night by the people dancing in his churchyard, and singing a song with the refrain ‘Sweetheart have pity’, so that he could not get it out of his head, and the next morning at Mass, instead of saying ‘Dominus vobiscum’, he said, ‘Sweetheart have pity’, and there was a dreadful scandal which got into a chronicle.5

However, I have never heard of a present-day witch meeting being held in a churchyard; I think those sensation-mongers who have described present-day witches as forgathering in graveyards are guessing, and their guess is a few centuries out.

Actually, witch meetings today may take place anywhere that is convenient, and only people who have been initiated into the cult are allowed to be present. The actual proceedings would probably greatly disappoint those who have been nurtured on tales of blood sacrifices, drunken orgies, obscene rites, etc., etc. Witches do not use blood sacrifices; and only the type of mind which considers all recognition of the Elder Gods and their symbols to be “diabolical” would call their rites “obscene.” There are, on the other hand, people who consider many of the Church’s beliefs and practices to be an insult to Divinity; a woman once told me, for instance, that she thought the Church of England’s Marriage Service so disgusting that she could never bring herself to submit to it. Much depends upon one’s point of view in these matters.



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4. Penguin Books, 1951.
5. The chronicle in question was that of Giraldus Cambrensis, Gemma Ecclesiastica, pt. I, c. XLII.


The taking of wine during the rites is part of the ceremony; it consists usually of two glasses at the most, and is not intended to be a “mockery” of anything, still less a “Black Mass.” In fact, witches say that their rite of the “Cakes and Wine” (a ritual meal in which cakes and wine are consecrated and partaken of) is much older than the Christian ceremony, and that in fact it is the Christians who have copied the rites of older religions. In view of the fact that such ritual meals are known to have been part of the Mysteries of the goddess Cybele in ancient times, and that a similar ritual meal is partaken of, according to Arthur Avalon in Shakti and Shakta, by the Tantriks of India, who are also worshippers of a great Mother-Goddess, there seem to be some grounds for this statement.

In the old days, they tell me, ale or mead might be used instead of wine, any drink in fact that had “a kick” in it, because this represented “life.” I wonder if this is why Shakespeare used the expression “cakes and ale” as a synonym for fun which was frowned on by the pious?

It is a tradition that fire in some form, generally a candle, must be present on the altar, which is placed in the middle of the circle, and candles are also placed about the circle itself. This circle is drawn with the idea of “containing” the “power” which is raised within it, of bringing it to a focus, so to speak, so that some end may be accomplished by raising it. This focusing of force is called “The Cone of Power.”

Incense is also used, and I have read in Spiritualist literature that “power” is thought by some mediums to be given off by naked flames, by a bowl of water, and by incense. All these are present on the witches’ altar. I once took a photograph of a witches’ meeting-place while a rite was being performed there; this included none of the people present, deliberately, but merely the altar, etc., and part of the circle. When the photograph was developed it showed “extras” in the form of ribbon-like formations, some of which appeared to proceed from the candles. I assured myself that there was nothing in the composition of the candles, which could account for this phenomenon, nor was there anything wrong with my camera. A copy of this photograph is on display in the Museum.

The great reservoir of “power,” according to the witches, is the human body. Spiritualists generally share this belief. Upon the practical means used to raise and direct this “power” I do not propose to touch; but that it is not a mere flight of fancy to believe in its existence is proved by some of the researches of modern science. The radiesthesia journal, The Pendulum, for March, 1956, carried an article called “Living Tissue Rays,” by Thomas Colson, from the Electronic Medical Digest. This told how Professor Otto Rahn of Cornell University had described to a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at Syracuse, New York, how yeast cells can be killed by a person looking intently at them for a few minutes. The yeast cells were placed on a glass plate and held close to the person’s eyes. The Professor explained this by saying that certain rays were emitted from the human eye, which were capable of producing this result. For several years, he said, scientists had been reporting discoveries that living things produce ultraviolet rays. In the human body they had been found coming from working muscles, and in the blood.


The fingertip rays of several persons at Cornell killed yeast readily. The tip of the nose was discovered to be a fine ultra-violet ‘tube’. Then came the eye. Human rays are not always harmful. From some persons they are beneficial to tiny plants. There seems to be no difference in the kind, but the volume differs. When large, it is lethal to yeast. The same person emits it at different rates. He may be ‘killing’ at one time and ‘benign’ at another. The right hand appears to radiate more than the left, even in left-handers. . . .

These body rays seem to be given off most strongly by the parts of the body which are replaced most rapidly, such as the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. . . . The tops of the fingers are very strong emitters of this energy. . . . The back gives off the least energy and the abdomen and chest slightly more. The sex organs in both sexes and breasts in women emit these rays quite strongly.

The first scientific proof that there is a personal electric field, a sort of electrical aura, within and in the air around a living body, was announced to the Third International Cancer Congress. The report was made by Dr. Harold S. Burr, of Yale University. . . . Human eyes are powerful electric batteries. This discovery, showing that each eyeball is an independent battery, was announced to the National Academy of Sciences in 1938 by Dr.Walter H. Miles, Yale University pathologist. . . . The fact that eyes produce electricity has been known to science since 1860, when it was discovered in frogs, but the source of this electric power, its variations and especially its high power in human beings, is little known.

The above extract gives the reason for the witches’ traditional ritual nudity. To their Christian opponents this was mere shamelessness; but students of comparative religion know that, apart from the practical magical reason given above, nudity in religious ceremonies is a very old and worldwide practice. This is, in fact, yet another indication of the witch cult’s derivation from remotest antiquity.

It may seem strange that the beliefs of the witch and the discoveries of the man of science should ever find a realm in which they could meet and touch; yet this is not the first time such a thing has happened. The doctor who introduced the use of digitalis into medical practice bought the secret from a Shropshire witch, after taking an interest in her herbal cures.

The witches’ belief that “the power” resides within themselves, and that their rites serve to bring it out, is the great difference between them and the practitioners of “ceremonial magic,” black or white. The latter proceed by the invocation or evocation of spirits, sometimes of demons, whom they seek to compel to serve them. This is not the witches’ way, though they believe that helpful spirits, human or otherwise, come of their own accord to assist in their rites, and that those present who have developed “the Sight” (i.e. clairvoyance) may see such spirits.

A popular belief about witchcraft, which is nevertheless erroneous, is the idea that a witches’ coven must consist of thirteen people. Actually, it may consist of more or less than thirteen people; but thirteen is considered to be the ideal number. This may be because it is the best number of people to work in the witches’ traditional nine-foot circle; six couples and a leader. Or it may be because witchcraft is a moon cult, and there are thirteen moons in a year and thirteen weeks in every quarter, each quarter of the year having its Sabbat. The four great Sabbats are Candlemass, May Eve, Lammas, and Halloween; the equinoxes and solstices are celebrated also, thus making the Eight Ritual Occasions, as the witches call them. On the great Sabbats all the covens that could forgather together would do so; but apart from these great Sabbats, minor meetings called Esbats are held. The word “Esbat” may come from the old French “s’esbattre,” meaning “to frolic, to enjoy oneself.” Traditionally, the Esbat is the meeting of the local coven for local matters, or simply for fun, and it is, or should be, held at or near the full moon.


As might be expected from a moon cult, the leading part in the ceremonies is played by the High Priestess, or Maiden. She has the position of authority, and may choose any man of sufficient rank in the cult to be her High Priest. In France the Maiden was sometimes called La Reine du Sabbat; in Scotland she seems to have been called the Queen of Elphame (i.e. Faery), and one old witch-trial has it that “she makes any man King whom she pleases.”

Apart from the theory that the “fairies” were actually the primitive People of the Heaths, the smaller, darker aboriginal folk displaced by the Early Iron Age invaders, which I treated of in Witchcraft Today, there is another connection between them and the witches. In the popular mind, after the advent of Christianity the old Celtic Paradise to which the souls of pagans went when they died became the “Realm of Faerie,” and the God and Goddess who were the rulers of the After-World became the deities of the witches, who held to the Old Religion, and also were considered as the King and Queen of Faery. Hence the High Priestess of a witch coven, who is considered as the Goddess’s living representative, would naturally be called “the Queen of Elphame.”

The original “Fairyland” was the pagan paradise, and the “fairies” of early romances, are very different from the dainty miniature creatures of later tales and children’s stories, made up when their original significance had been forgotten. This is made abundantly clear by the descriptions given in the anonymous old English poem, “Sir Orfeo,” of which the earliest MS. we have dates from the early fourteenth century. It is reminiscent of the Greek story of Orpheus and Eurydice, but with a happy ending instead of a tragic one, and contains a fine description of “The proude courte of Paradis,” which was entered apparently through a hollow hill or rocky cave, and of its rulers, “The king o’ fairy with his rout,” and his queen, the White Goddess; “As white as milke were her weeks” and so brightly shining that Orfeo could scarcely behold them.

A. E.Waite, in his introduction to Elfin Music, an Anthology of English Fairy Poetry6 says: “The Elizabethan age commonly identified the fairies of Gothic superstition with the classic nymphs who attended Diana, while the elfin queen was Diana herself, and was called by one of the names of that goddess, that is, Titania, which is found in the Metamorphoses of Ovid as a title of the uranian queen.” He states further that “. . . the original fairy of Frankish poetry and fiction was simply a female initiated into the mysteries and marvels of magic.”

A third ingredient in the tales of “fairies” is, of course, actual non-human nature spirits which some people claim to be able to see, and it is fascinating for the student of folklore to disentangle these different strands that weave through old stories and beliefs.

The High Priest of a witch coven is, as we have seen, chosen by the Priestess. He is the person whom the Inquisitors and witch-hunters of old times used to call “the Devil,” as being either an actual supernatural devil or else his human representative. Witches are constantly being accused of “worshipping the Devil.” Now, when we use that word “Devil,” what picture automatically forms itself in most people’s minds? Is it not that of a strange looking being who seems to be partly human and partly animal, having great horns on his head, and a body covered with hair, although his face is human? Have you ever stopped to wonder why this picture should automatically come into your mind in this way? There is not one single text in the Bible which describes “the Devil” or “Satan” in this manner. The only place in which you will find such a personage described is, curiously enough, among the gods of the ancient peoples. Here you will find quite a number of Horned Gods, and sometimes Horned Goddesses too, who were not, however, beings of evil, but deities beneficent to man. The reason why people picture “the Devil” in this way is because from the very earliest times the Church has taught that the Old God who possessed these attributes was the enemy of the Christian God, and hence must be Satan; and people have got so used to this concept that they have never stopped to question it.

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6. Walter Scott, 1888.

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