Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book News continues ...

Just been notified that The Secret People: Parish-pump witchcraft, wise-women and cunning ways will be released 30th September, so watch this space.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Latest book news ...

There are now two new books in the pipeline for Moon Books - The Secret People: Parish-pump witchcraft, wise women and cunning ways and Pan: Dark Lord of the Forest and both due out later this year.  Will keep you posted ...

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TRY BEFORE YOU BUY ...


EXTRACT FROM TRADITIONAL WITCHCRAFT FOR FIELDS AND HEDGEROWS

Pathworking Exercise

Within traditional witchcraft one of the most potent times for magical or meditational working is at dawn and dusk. As we have seen, of particular interest to the witch are the boulders, trees and streams that serve to denote the limits of land ownership, and often supplemented by man-made markers,
including banks, ditches, walls, double-hedges and tracks. These boundaries mark the magical division between time and place — the place of time between times, and it is here we will attempt our next exercise. Gone are the days when we could roam the countryside at any time of the day, or we may not have physical access, so we can perform this psychic exercise in the safety of the home.

Firstly, we need to visualise a ‘field margin’ that we can recreate on the astral at any time. It may be a favourite spot a where the field is flanked by a stream; a large boulder in the over-grown margin, moved to its present location by glaciers in the last Ice Age; or the green cave of a double hedge. Our picture book will provide us with images that can focus the mind’s eye like a camera lens as we stand at the edge of a wood, looking out to where mist still lingers over the stubble field; an avenue of beech trees; or a winding cart track between tall banks of wild flowers. This is our ‘jumping off’ point where we can visualise ourselves before embarking on a pathworking.

Pathworking is an astral journey for the purpose of magical/mystical instruction whereby the witch has no control over the outcome or sequence of events. This state is usually reached via visualisation where the witch sets the scene on a conscious level and then allows herself to be drawn into an involuntary journey of discovery and/or revelation. So … at dusk or dawn, make yourself comfortable and set up your Circle according to your own working method, and begin by visualising your chosen ‘field margin’. Concentrate on the images before you and allow yourself to be drawn into the scene …

No one can predict the results of a pathworking, or where the journey will lead, since each individual’s results will be different. Much depends, however, on what we have in our mind prior to the pathworking, and this will influence the direction or outcome. Since we are using the technique in search of magical or mystical instruction, it should not be used for a personal gratification or mere thrill seeking. Remember to ensure you are properly ‘earthed’ when returning from any pathworking by consuming sweet biscuits and a warm drink, since nothing dispels psychic energy like food!

Traditional Witchcraft for Fields And Hedgerows is published by Moon Books
www.moon-books.net



Thursday, March 24, 2016

SYNESTHESIA – by Alex Bay



I am a synesthetic dancer and performer (and Witch). My synaesthesia is that I can `see` music. As clear as day. As different coloured shapes that are full of motion. The deep brown/black round heavy shape of a bass drum,comes into vision as I hear the sound. Then fades away at the same time that the sound stops. The ticks of a high-hat look like white and black quick lines, like a hair clip. Of course, leaving behind any personal experiences you have had with a certain sound, which may effect how you feel about it. We can talk about sound in a synesthetic way.

Everyone knows that repetitive beats that are low, keep you grounded but out of your normal self enough to do the work. Mix grounded low bass with some evocative sound for male energy work (think Wardruna, maybe?).  Whereas flowy, soft, pan pipe sounds can evoke the feminine. Personally I like my Feminine a bit wilder and stronger than a pan pipe. But we're all different.

So, we know that deep, earthy sounds are grounding. Obvious, yes? Grounding to just you? Or do they affect the energy of your working space also? If you are after a highly energetic group working, that involves fast movement and a culmination of a super fast, arms raised blast off. Then probably best not to include any grounded noises at all. You may be able to work with it, or even against it, but your fighting every single atom of energy that has been made heavy and thick by that drum bang.  I can see why Wiccans use a bell (light, high vibrating sound and energy), and why Yogi's use a Singing Bowl (still high energy but so smooth and grounding. Also constant, like meditation). What kind of worker are you? What is your aim for your practise?

I teach dance also, and one of my current classes is a very evocative, deep and sensual practise. The music of which is crucial for the class energy to go smoothly. I see this `line` that has to stay throughout the class as a temper, texture and also a power to it. The music has to have this is in common.

Synesthesia not only counts for music, its the way for all sounds for me. Your voice will have a texture colour and shape. (Something to try with your loved ones; talk to each other, see what you see). You don’t have to have synesthesia to figure out what you need. Although I do believe it can be brought on through attention and practice. And it's going to be different for everyone. Choose the next Solstice/ Equinox. What colour and shape is to YOU. Write down those words. Now what sounds/music corresponds with those words to you? If you have been taught that Beltane is blue and Samhain is Purple then that may be hard to shake off.

The planets have their designated colours, and so do Elements and quarters. As for your personal symbols you need around you to cross the ditch, they have to be personal to you and your environment. To some, Lust is a powerful red, and pulsing, and deep. To others it is gold, like honey. Shimmery. To some, Lust can be a forest green, natural, fertile. You can choose music and scent to accompany how you `see` your aim in your working. If you can `see` your music. And it's not that hard to, once you start listening.

So, we have briefly, without going all quantum, covered that sounds may effect the energy of your working space as well as you. We have covered how to start seeing what you hear (voices I find are best to start working with, then music, then birdsong). Once you find music easy to see, move onto water. What colour, texture and shape is Wind? (That one is a toughie. Sometimes Wind is silent as it thuggishly pushes you down the street.).

Lastly, try shouting out and `seeing` your own voice. This will, funnily enough, be hardest to see, as your emotional state and also confidence may hinder you. You will feel, rather than hear. I am currently sitting by my fire, and feel very silly and embarrassed about shouting out for no reason. And all those colours and textures of my embarrassed voice will come through. Which is a hindrance.

But, if I were to work on, practice and decide on a neutral noise, than I could use. As a comparative, to the noises around me, or even the thickness of the stillness. It would be a great tool to use to sense the energy your surrounding area. Find your neutral noise, practise until it is consistent , see how it `looks` in different locations. Try not to choose something that will draw attention in the Wood at night. For obvious reasons. If you work indoors, something quick that will bounce off the walls will give the most information. If you really wish to increase this sensitivity skill, study kinaesthetic spatial awareness. By way of movement. Primal movement classes are very `in` and easy to find these days. Work with your body and your space, so you can `work` with your body and your space. `




ABOUT ALEX BAY
Alex is a open field and hedgerow kinda gal, and has been working with her local fauna since the late 90`s. She likes to give a wide birth to birds that she passes in the street so as not to interrupt them, but will always interrupt your conversation to reply to your pet

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

GREEN CARNATION


An extract taken from ‘Coven Working: How To Join or Set Up a Working Coven’ (Kindle edition) by Carrie West and Philip Wright.



Initially, it may seem strange that ‘straight’ magical partners are writing on the subject of gay magical practices in the context of general coven working, but on closer examination this is not as odd as it would first appear.  We always try to adopt an approach that is integrated, non-judgemental and avoids the overtones of justification that often accompany the majority of gay and lesbian writing, while still managing to examine gay magical energies from a purely practical and functional perspective.  It is quite difficult keeping all the balls in the air  (if you’ll excuse the expression) but it is also possible to integrate gay members into a mixed coven with the minimum amount of fuss, if folk are of a mind to do so.
     As experienced practitioners, we have operated successful teaching groups for many years that have included men and women of all sexual persuasions without exclusion or bias.  During that time we have, of course, encountered problems and prejudices on both sides of the ‘gay divide’ and would say right from the start, that the refusal to welcome gays into a predominantly straight groups says more about the coven leader’s personal prejudices than it does about their magical teaching capabilities. There are a number of difficulties and misunderstandings that do arise with regard to gay and lesbian magical practice within Craft, but hopefully our ‘four-penny worth’ of advice will help to reassure both gay pagans and those straight pagans who claim (quite wrongly) that gays have no place in a modern coven.

Firstly: An individual’s sexuality is an extremely personal and intimate thing.  Our sexual preferences are our own affair and not something that is up for open discussion – especially if our inclusion or exclusion from a group may be dependent upon it.  In fact, all over the world there are thousands of ‘straight’ magical groups, covens, orders and organisations operating with members who, unbeknown to the majority, are gay. This secrecy usually stems from the homophobic attitude still prevalent within Western society and the mercurial reaction with which so-called friends can respond once the truth is out in the open.  It’s not just in Craft that we hear the words: ‘I quite liked him/her until I found out s/he was gay!’ as if the person referred to was guilty of some heinous crime, or had some highly contagious disease.
     Subsequently we now have a gay and lesbian community inside the wider pagan community because they feel the need for a separate identity.  The result may have created a new pagan club-culture but it does nothing to solve the magical problems that arise from same-sex covens.  This schism was widened a few years ago when a leading pagan journal openly announced that homosexuals could not be witches.  It was a stance that the late Bob Clay-Egerton was quick to question in What You Call Time:
     “When I first commenced my studies in the days of illegal witchcraft, I was taught before my initiation that anyone who commenced the practice of Craft in sincerity, formal initiate or not, was a witch.  This would imply that a homosexual can be a witch.  The homosexual, or trans-sexual will probably find major obstacles put in their path if attempting to join a coven and may find it easier to find acceptance among magicians than they will among witches.
     “Sexuality, to my mind, is not a physical but a mental and instinctual thing.  The problem is not in the mind of the trans- or homosexual pagan but in the early conditioning by socio-religious mores of pagans not yet sufficiently advanced to be able to stand apart and look with the eye – not of morality and sexuality – but with the eye of spirituality … I wonder if we all, male and female, do not have quite a bit of both sexes in our individual makeup.  I do know personally of one High Priestess who, from firsthand experience of working with homosexual and heterosexual members, is prepared to consider such applications for admittance into the Craft based on ability rather than gender.”
     Successful magical equilibrium, requires that everyone takes into account the dual masculine-feminine energy that is contained within us all.  Those whose magical training has only been at a superficial level often have difficulty in looking at this aspect of god-power beyond the concept of god/goddess and man/woman. This is usually due to the ‘fertility’ aspect of most modern earth-based spiritualities not being able to see much further than the traditional gender roles and the fertility of the god/goddess in terms of Nature and procreation. 

Secondly:  We need to examine the viewpoints of gay pagans – and for this we are extremely grateful to the former editor of Hoblink for allowing us access to the magazine’s archive, which gives gay pagans the opportunity to speak for themselves.  One letter struck a very positive cord, which may also cause a large number of straight pagans to think quite carefully.
     “A few years ago, a couple of friends and I formed a gay coven. We had all met through a larger mixed group, but the formation of a specifically gay group aroused considerable opposition from the more traditionally-minded elements of the Craft.  They really needn’t have worried.  Firstly, the group included a number of individuals who left when it became clear that they weren’t likely to achieve their own ends.  Secondly, and far more importantly, the group failed because it did not have a central myth around which to build the group’s identity, or to focus group-work.
     “That experience left quite a deep impression on me and so for the last few years I have worked solo.  However, I believe that the same dilemma still faces almost all gay men who become involved with the neo-pagan groups. Whether the same problem confronts lesbians, I don’t know …  Sadly, one sees so many groups today that attempt to revive ancient religious ‘mysteries’ that don’t have any relevance to the lives of their members. In the end they become fancy dress parties, performing sometimes charming, but utterly meaningless rituals.
     “I say this because I believe the danger of gay men falling into this trap is very real.  Once again, I can only speak from my own experience, and I know only too well that I find it very difficult to relate to a culture dominated by heterosexual values.  But I also know that I am not alone in this.  My personal belief is that gay men are physically and psychologically different from straight men.  Moreover, we have our own distinctive patterns of behaviour and our own cultural values (however shallow some may appear!).  They do not always sit well with the accepted values of conventional society, hence the charge of moral turpitude so  often levelled against us …”
     Our reaction on reading this particular piece, was how tragic that such a magically perceptive young man had been forced to work solitary when his concept of magical energy was probably more heightened than most straight pagans (both male and female) we’ve encountered.  This latter point was driven home by the claim in a subsequent issue, that magical energy didn’t ‘give a monkey’s who it is flowing from and to as long as those people are in tune and have ‘perfect love and trust’ for each other’.  Sorry … but yes it does.  Just like the positive, negative and earthing wires in an electric plug need to be chanelled correctly, or you run the risk of short-circuiting the whole house!
     One young man who applied to join our coven, bit the bullet and admitted right from the start that he was gay. This wasn’t bravery, he simply didn’t want to waste time attempting to integrate with a group of people who may possibly reject him if, and when, his sexuality became common knowledge.   For us this wasn’t a problem.  Over the years we’ve worked with every permutation of sexual persuasion including hetero- and homosexual, lesbian, bi-sexual, transsexuals and transvestites and each one has been a magical challenge – for us, as well as our students.  
     At the moment, within the coven we just happen to have a transsexual, a bi-sexual and two homosexuals – and each one requires a different perspective on their own particular approach to magic.  Don’t think for one moment that we get it right every time – we don’t – but at least we’re willing to give it our best shot!  Our way is to treat each person as an individual, and get them to operate initially within the Circle as normal men and women, and to forget about the subtle nuances that make them different from the ‘straight’ members of the coven.  
     What we have found is that ‘straight’ people are frightened of homosexuality, simply because it makes ’em nervous.  A man may normally engage in physical contact in the form of back-slapping but if the  recipient was known  to be gay,  he would immediately refrain from any bodily contact in case he was: a) thought to be making sexual overtures, or b) any onlookers might assume him to be gay.  We also know that people always fear what they don’t understand, and the thought of joining in The Mill, holding hands with a homosexual, would probably give most heterosexual males a fit of the vapours!  Women tend to be less paranoid, but there are still a large number who would it offensive if they found a gay man in their group.  Lesbians, on the other hand, tend to excite prurient curiosity rather than revulsion.
     In the beginning we found ourselves having to combat members’ stereotypical attitudes that gay men were automatically ‘pansies’ (to coin an old-fashioned phrase), i.e. the limp-wristed, girlie types caricatured by stand-up comedians.  One of our gay lads is a six-footer, built like a brick lavatory and works as a scaffolder, balancing precariously hundreds of feet above the City pavements – anyone want to call him Alice!!?  The other is a stockbroker, with a beautiful home and a partner with whom he’s lived for the past 15 years, and without any outward sign that he happens to be gay. 
     Contrary to popular belief, not all gay men are hairdressers or in the least bit ineffectual, and on a superficially magical level, there’s nothing different about them at all.  For group working they participate in just the same way as any straight man.  Similarly, the first year of study is identical for anyone joining the coven, regardless of gender.  This doesn’t mean that we blithely carry on as if there were no differences at all, but because of the way individuals respond to the set selection of tasks and magical exercises – again regardless of gender – we are able to gauge the direction their magical leanings will take.  And it is on this level that the magical dissimilarities of the individual will manifest.   It is not unusual, for example, for a perfectly normal, ordinary woman to exhibit decided masculine traits on a magical level, but this does not mean that she has any latent lesbian tendencies!
     As the young man pointed out earlier in this chapter, gay culture does have its own distinctive patterns of behaviour and values, and it is not until we get onto the next level of magical practice that any real problems may arise.  Contemporary paganism has become imbalanced, inasmuch as the Goddess is all, and we can see where gay men would have a problem sublimating a female ‘fertility’ image.  As he also pointed out, gay culture does not have a ‘central myth’ around which to build an image for the purposes of belief/worship, and this can play havoc within group work in terms of coven harmony and equilibrium.  This is why Bob Clay-Egerton suggested that ritual magic might be a more appropriate Path … we would add that shamanism is also an area where gay men can come into their own ... as it were.
     For these reasons, it is not possible to offer any off-the-cuff, quick-fix solutions about the correct way to integrate gay men (or lesbians) into a predominantly straight group, since much depends on their own personal magical energies and how they handle them.  An experienced magical practitioner will have little difficulty in analysing the best way to proceed with a programme of learning, but those with little or no true magical ability may cause more harm than good, both on the personal and psychic levels.   Again, we can only reiterate that the refusal to welcome gays into a predominantly straight group, says more about the coven leader’s personal prejudices than it does about their magical teaching capabilities.
     Trans-sexuals, on the other hand, can have even the most experienced practitioner scratching their head.  During the period of change (both chemically and surgically), a trans-sexual’s body and mind has a lot to cope with on the physical, never mind trying to experiment with altered states of consciousness while being pumped full of hormones! From personal experience, we would say that it would be inadvisable for anyone undergoing a sex-change to indulge in any deeper levels of psychic or magical working until all the ‘i’s’ have been dotted and the ‘t’s’ crossed.  Magic can be dangerous and this is one of those areas where even experienced practitioners can get it wrong, so keep things on a superficial level until there are distinctly recognisable energies to channel.
     The bi-sexual girl in our group, doesn’t have any problems with magical identification, simply because she is a pretty, feminine creature, who merely enjoys sex with both male and female lovers.  What she does bring to the coven is a happy, relaxed attitude to sexuality, which results in a lot of good-natured banter between everyone, without anyone feeling threatened or uncomfortable. And laughter is the key to solving most problems within any group, magical or not.


When It Goes Wrong
The main problem (apart from unavoidable personal prejudices) cited by people who become irritated by the gay issue, appears to stem from psuedo-historical arguments concerning various different cultural views on homosexuality to present cases for and against, totally disregarding the fact that witchcraft, paganism and homosexuality have all been classed as social aberrance by the Church in its time.  Anyone doubting this should spend some time reading the non-pagan Sex, Dissidence & Damnation by Jeffrey Richards, former Professor of Cultural History at the University of Lancaster. Also citing the historical evidence of homosexual relations in Sparta, and feudal Japan, or claiming every well-known historical figure had homosexual tendencies, does nothing to validate the recognition of gay men and women in Craft.
     The ‘real’ problem, however, has nothing to do with an individual’s sexuality and everything to do with the personalities involved.   As one coven leader of our acquaintance exclaimed:  “I couldn’t care less which side of the divide people come from, providing they behave like civilised human beings.  I recently had to boot one chap out, simply because he was a thoroughly unpleasant character and was hell-bent on disrupting the group at every turn.  He started screaming that we were homophobic, and couldn’t get it through his thick head that he was being chucked out because he was an objectionable little shit!  The fact that he was gay didn’t enter into the equation.”
     Of course, the problem of homophobia is not going to go away and for anyone who is gay and who wishes to join a group, we would say keep your personal life under wraps until you’ve sussed out the magical capabilities of those running the coven.  With the best will in the world, we cannot force folk into welcoming others into what is, to all intents and purposes, a private group.  If the magical group dynamics are going to work, then it will only do so if all the participants are comfortable with each other and in harmony with their magical energies.

      Those operating covens and other groups should again be honest with themselves about their policy over admitting gays.  If you are operating a purely devotional group, as opposed to a magical one, then ‘gay’ energies will make very little difference to your festivals and celebrations.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

EXTRACT FROM TRADITIONAL WITCHCRAFT FOR URBAN LIVING


From:
Chapter One – A Pagan Perspective

If much of today’s pagan propaganda is to be believed, anyone who doesn’t live a stone’s throw from, or have regular access to the rural heartlands of England, is hardly qualified to call themselves ‘pagan’. And if the unfortunate town-dweller can’t be found at weekends rooting about in country hedgerows, then ‘witch’ is also a label to which they apparently have no right!

Tosh, tosh! And thrice tosh!

Yes, of course, we can haul out the old chestnut of ‘pagan’ deriving from the Latin pagus, which properly means ‘belonging to a village’ but it was used in a derogative sense, just as contemporary town dwellers might refer to country folk as ‘swede bashers’ or ‘carrot crunchers’. Long after the Christian Church was first established in the cities and towns (centres of learning), what they saw as idolatrous practices continued to be observed in rural districts and villages, so ‘pagan’ and ‘villager’ came to mean the same thing. Similarly, the word ‘heathen’ (from the Anglo-Saxon hathen, hath) referred to a ‘dweller on a heath or common’. Christian doctrine would not have reached these remote people until long after it had integrated town and city, and in both cases, ‘pagan’ and ‘heathen’ implied a lack of worldliness, sophistication and learning. It was intended as an insult.

In contemporary society, ‘pagan’ is now the accepted umbrella term for those who follow any eclectic, reconstructionalist doctrines of pre-Christian beliefs, while ‘heathen’ tends to refer more specifically to those of the revivalist Norse traditions. Ironically, the vast majority of followers of both traditions live in towns and cities. And let’s face it, people live in urban communities for a variety of reasons: the most common being the close proximity to work and/or family.

For the witch whose career confines them to an urbanised environment, regular Craft practice may often seem like a futile gesture, especially if home is a small, gardenless-flat. Even the suburbs can be magically incapacitating, if there is constant noise from traffic and neighbours. People work long hours; often setting off for work and getting home again in the dark during the winter months, without having the opportunity to notice the subtle changing of the seasons. Weekends are a constant battle with family commitments, domestic chores and socialising. It’s no wonder that the urban witch has little time or strength left for magical and spiritual development.

There are, of course, others who find themselves having to remain town and house-bound because of age or disability; because they are caring for an aged/infirm parent, or partner; or because they have small children. Urbanisation often provides on-the-spot facilities to make things easier on the domestic front but it cannot give the one thing that a witch needs most – privacy and spiritual elbow-room.

So how do we manage?
We get up close and personal. And we reject the textbook clich├ęs of what is, and what is not, recommended witchcraft practice. We do not follow stereotyping when it comes to when, where and how we perform our rituals simply because it may not be practically possible to follow the instructions to the letter.

For example: I am a Welsh witch and I come from a place midway between the mountains and the sea, but I have not lived in my homeland now for many years. It would be untrue to say that I never experience what the Welsh call hiraethus, that indescribable feeling of longing and home-sickness, but as we all know, in magical terms there is always a price to be paid for our Craft. During those long years, my career and domestic life has taken me to London (where I lived for 20 years), to the industrial Midlands and, more recently, to a totally urbanised area of East Anglia. Not once, in all that time did I have the luxury of wild, open spaces – it was all concrete and asphalt. But not once, in all that time, did I stop being a real witch.

In my experience, the greatest problem a solitary urban witch faces is that an urban environment is not user-friendly when it comes to psychic activity, but then we don’t always have a choice of where we are going to live if someone else’s needs have to be catered for, too. Mostly I have been confined to renting small terraced cottages and flats, often with little or no garden to give that extra bit of space. I make this comment merely to demonstrate that my Craft activities have not been conducted in a round of luxurious city apartments and picturesque Grade II listed town houses!

Under these circumstances, for me the key words have always been: acclimatise, adapt and improvise. Any animal, plant or person that is uprooted and transported to another environment quickly learns to acclimatise if it is going to survive. I have adapted to my surroundings and drawn on whatever material/energy there is to hand, even if it is not what I’ve been used to working with. I improvise by drawing on existing knowledge and experience. So …

Acclimatise:
Accustom yourself to tuning-in to your environment, even if you’ve lived there for some time. Try to imagine visiting the place for the first time. Buy a detailed street map or guidebook, and familiarise yourself with all the hidden nooks and crannies in the immediate vicinity. Is there a park nearby? Public gardens? Churchyard? Cemetery? What trees are growing locally? Which are the most important/attractive buildings? Where is the nearest river or canal? Where is the oldest church? Take your time … explore … rediscover acclimatise.

Adapt:
Modify or adjust the way you look at things. There is no point in wishing you were elsewhere when circumstances dictate that you remain where you are. But on the other hand there’s nothing quite so mind-numbing as doing the same thing, day in day out, for weeks on end. For a change, try walking to the shops, school, or travelling to work, via a different route. Examine what’s growing in all the front gardens along the way to the shop, school, station or bus stop. Make sure you take time out for lunch - and get out of the home or working environment for an hour - even if it’s a wet Wednesday afternoon: after all, a witch shouldn’t
be afraid of a little drop of Elemental Water! Start seriously interacting with your environment … adapt.

Improvise:
Be prepared to perform a magical working at any time, without preparation, and without what is considered to be the ‘proper regalia’. Be aware of the magical signs Nature has to offer and be ready to act spontaneously, even in the middle of a crowded railway station or shopping mall during rush hour! It may also come as a bit of a shock to realise that a large number of books mentioned in this text are not about witchcraft, or written by witches. This is because we are learning to improvise and look at things from a different or unexpected perspective.


Before we go out and meet Nature face to face, however, there may be one or two changes needed to enable us to re-connect with the natural, elemental energies that are an essential ingredient within any magical environment. Sorry … we’re not talking about symbolic bowls of water, salt, night-lights and a joss stick to mark the quarters on the sitting room rug, we’re talking about encountering real Elemental Air, real Elemental Water, real Elemental Earth and real Elemental Fire - up close and personal! ...

Friday, February 19, 2016

EXTRACT FROM BY SPELLBOOK & CANDLE:


Cursing, hexing, bottling and binding


A witch’s ability to curse was exploited to the full by Church and Inquisition alike. ‘Cursers are murderers,’ wrote Richard Kilby in The Burthen of a Loaden Conscience [1616], ‘for if it please God to suffer their curse to take effect, the party cursed is murdered by the Devil.’ Although it was not invariably suspected that diabolical aid had been put to such use, many of those hauled up before the authorities to answer accusations of ‘cursing’ were ordinary Christian men and women.

A reputation for ‘successful cursing’ could easily lead to a formal charge of witchcraft, as in the case of 14-year-old Mary Glover. In 1602 the maid reported that one Elizabeth Jackson, having been turned away from the door, had wished ‘an evil death to light upon her’. The girl died and at the trial much was made of Jackson’s threats – ‘the notable property of a witch’. Another instance of successful cursing was that of old Cherrie of Thrapston in Northamptonshire, who died in gaol in 1646 while awaiting trial as a witch. He had wished that his neighbour’s tongue might rot off … and it did!

According to Religion and the Decline of Magic, this was to become the stock pattern of witchcraft accusations: ‘When a bad tongued woman shall curse a party, and death shall shortly follow, this is a shrewd token that she is a witch.’ Author Keith Thomas observes that it was ironic such presumptions should have been made so readily, in that if the curser had been provoked, it is hard to understand why contemporaries should have been so reluctant to see the outcome as divine judgement. ‘The notion that God might avenge the poor by responding to their supplications was one which the Church, like society as a whole, seems to have been unwilling to face …’ or cursing being seen as a means by which the defenceless tried to avenge themselves upon their enemies when the normal channels of legal action had been denied them.

Thomas warns it would be wrong to suggest all persons accused of witchcraft had malevolent thoughts about their neighbours, but it was the witch’s ‘traditional malignity’ that rendered the charges plausible within the community. That was why some of the most powerful minds of the 17th century believed in punishing so-called witches, even though sceptical as to their actual powers. In other words, even if the accused wasn’t capable of directing a successful curse, the mere token of the action itself was a declaration of malice towards another, and the witchcraft statues could be justified as a method of repressing malevolent feelings. But as one contemporary historian observed: ‘If mere ill-will was to be punished then men would be driven to the slaughter-house in thousands.’

Because of the low social station of many of those accused, modern researchers are also loath to believe witches of the time could exploit the psychological effects of a carefully placed curse. That said, cases recorded by anthropologists are of those of the Australian Aboriginal people, who do not have a formal training in psychology either! Neither do the Azande of Africa, who had been used as academic references for witchcraft for years.

Curses have been ‘thrown’ for the protection of homes, treasures, tombs and grave sites … the latter often remaining active for years. There are also records of curses being laid upon families, which have plagued them for generations – the Templar’s curse reaching down through the ages to the death of Louis XVI on the guillotine. These were instruments of revenge or protection, and not placed by practitioners of witchcraft. The longest Christian curse is the one placed by God on
Adam and Eve when they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. While the solemn ritual of cursing that dates from the Middle Ages is excommunication; the Catholic Encyclopaedia describes the outcast as being ‘considered as an exile from Christian society and as non-existent … in the sight of ecclesiastical authority’. The Church basing its right to curse on Mathew 18.18 where Jesus tells his disciples that ‘whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven’.

The Old Testament’s ‘catalogue of maledictions’ were so drastic that the Jewish congregations were frightened of hearing them read, in case they brought the curses down upon the listeners. These curses of Hebrew origin were the predecessors of the Christian rite of excommunication, more popularly known as ‘Bell, Book and Candle’. Here the officiating cleric closes the book from which he has read the curse, a bell is tolled as for a dead man, and candles are extinguished as a sign that the soul of the offender has been moved from the sight of God. Even in the original version of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer there is a relic from earlier times, a service called a commination, or ‘denouncing of God’s anger and judgement against sinners’, which recalled some of the curses from the Old Testament. The medieval church laid this heavy imprecation on the heads of its excommunicated sinners:

Let him be damned in his going out and coming in.
The Lord strike him with madness and blindness.
May the heavens empty upon him thunderbolts
and the wrath of the Omnipotent burn itself unto
him in the present and future world. May the
Universe light against him and the earth open
to swallow him up.
[Pope Clement VI 1478-1534]

Perhaps one of the most well-known of ancient curses is that connected to the Egyptian boy-king, Tutankhamun, and placed at the time of his burial by the priesthood to protect the tomb of the young Pharaoh:

May death come on swift wings to him who
disturbs the rest of the Pharaoh.

The world’s press faithfully recorded the ‘untimely’ deaths of several members of the archaeological team involved in the 1922 excavation and the legend of the ‘Curse’ was firmly established as fact.

Nearer to our own times, the cursing well at Llanelian-yn-Rhos, near Colwyn Bay in Wales, was still doing a flourishing trade in the mid 19th century, and even the epitaph chosen by William Shakespeare for his own tomb was couched in the form of a curse:

Good friend, for Jesu’s sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blest be the man that spares these stones
And curst be he that moves my bones.

In the esoteric encyclopaedia, Man, Myth & Magic, a curse is defined as the ‘product of inner tension … even though few of us any longer expect the curse to do physical damage to its victims’.
And while the author of The Encyclopaedia of Witches & Witchcraft, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, maintains that ‘contemporary witchcraft does not condone cursing’, the often-quoted piece by the late Evan John Jones, states quite categorically that one of the signs of a genuine witch is one who does have ‘the power to call, heal and curse’.

So, let us make no bones about it, cursing, or ill-wishing isn’t confined to witches, but when dealing with magic it is always advisable to have one or two tricks up our sleeves, as other folk may not be so reticent about demonstrating their magical prowess. We should also bear in mind a ‘price’ often exacted on those laying a curse, because if it should ‘misfire’, it will inevitably rebound on the sender. Think things through beforehand and do not fling a curse if a bottling or binding will do the trick.

This has nothing to do with the belief in the ‘Three-Fold Return’ – all magic must be ‘earthed’ in order for it to work, and if a spell hasn’t been correctly directed, it will return to the sender just like a boomerang – because it has nowhere else to go!


This WARNING must be borne in mind by any potential curser. No matter what the books may tell you about spells for lifting curses … there is no such thing. Once sent, a curse cannot be lifted, called back, withdrawn or negated. It can, however, be deflected and, if the cause is not just, can be rebounded on the sender, especially if another magical practitioner is involved.