Extract from Traditional Witchcraft for the Woods and Forests
“It is said that the forest knows all and is able to teach all; that the forest listens and holds the secret of every mystery”. [Lore of the Forest]
Since ancient times, woods have been places of sacred groves and nemorous temples, including those of the Druids and Iceni. Sir James Frazer refers widely to sacred groves and tree worship in The Golden Bough, while Old Craft teacher, Mériém Clay-Egerton wrote extensively on the subject of trees and produced some highly evocative pieces relating to her experiences:
“To me this was a place that had obviously been held as a sacred area for so very long now that it had in its turn breathed this very atmosphere itself and so projected this onto a mind which was prepared or conditioned to be both sympathetic and empathetic to various woodlands and their forms of existence … it resembled what I might envisage as a naturally constructed ‘cathedral’. Here lived and breathed holiness and beauty …”
The Wild Wood, however, is the dark, untamed part of natural woodland where unearthly and potentially dangerous beings are still to be found. This is not everyone’s favourite place and many urban witches never get over an ‘atavistic fear of Nature uncontrolled’. Historically, the term ‘wildwood’ is the name given to the forests as they were some 5,000 years ago, before human interference, and the pollen records for that time confirm that elms made up a substantial component of the wildwood, along with the oak, birch and lime.
On a magical level, the Wild Wood refers to those strange, eerie places that remain the realm of Nature and untamed by man. Ancient gnarled oaks, festooned with ferns and draped with lichen, carry an air of solitude and remoteness that is deeply unnerving — here birdsong and the trickle of running water are the only sounds to break the stillness. It is the Otherworld of the ‘unearthly and potentially dangerous’. It is the realm of Pan and the Wild Hunt. In modern psychology, it refers to the dark inner recesses of the mind, the wild and tangled undergrowth of the unconscious.
Here, among the trees, we are never sure that what we see is reality or illusion. Mériém Clay-Egerton described the strange half-light that anyone who walks in the Wild Wood will immediately recognise.
“I was always glad to go deeper into the apparent gloom because I would be beyond one of the woodland’s outer barriers.”
Although it is impossible to describe the sensations of the Wild Wood, no one who has walked there can remain unchanged by the experience. Nevertheless, even witches are not always welcome in this tree-filled wilderness. Hostile forces can physically bar our entrance into the inner sanctum of the wood, just as Philip Heselton describes in Secret Places of the Goddess. The undergrowth is a thick tangle of briar and bramble, giving the aura of a place ‘set apart for mysterious concealment’. Entwined with these almost impenetrable barriers, are tufts of tall ferns, the seeds of which can be used to cast a witch’s cloak of invisibility.
We must learn to heed the signs, however, for Nature does not always allow humans to pass.
Nevertheless, Traditional Witchcraft for the Woods and Forests takes us on journeys of discovery through Nature’s own woodland ‘calendar’ and, hopefully will reawaken the dormant senses that coursed through the veins of those witches who lived long ago in these ancient places. In a series of guided meditations and pathworkings, we will learn how to reconnect with the spirit of the landscape and learn to walk softly through the woodlands of both the physical and the astral realms. We will come to understand the gift of Nature’s bounty, and make use of the materials that will ultimately lead to an intimacy with wild things that can only come about through close contact and familiarity.
Traditional Witchcraft for the Woods and Forests by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books in paperback and e-book format.