Faith & Belief in Traditional British Old Craft
The form of witchcraft followed by the Coven of Scales teaches that although not a religion, there is a highly defined spiritual element to its practice. Also that traditional British Old Craft is fundamentally animistic: the belief that every object, animate and inanimate, has its own life-force, or energy. Here there is no separation between the spiritual or physical world, where ‘spirit’ exists in all flora and fauna (including humans); geological features such as rocks, mountains, rivers and springs; and in natural phenomena such as storms, wind and the movement of heavenly bodies. It is the understanding that a small quartz pebble can link us with the cosmic Divine.
Old Craft retains features of the native shamanic practice of the British Isles, since the term ‘shamanism’ describes the supernatural powers practitioners channel from the spirit world for healing, divination and the conducting of souls. All of which are the natural province of an Old Craft witch where it is viewed as a ‘peripheral phenomenon’, rather than the overt devotional practices often found in contemporary paganism. As intermediaries between the world of the Ancestors and the living, Old Crafters maintain direct contact with spirits, whether of Otherworld, plants, animals and other features of the environment.
A true witch should have the ability to identify and interact with this spirit energy on which they draw for all magical purposes. Without this ability there is no Old Crafter, because as Hotspur retorts to Glendower’s claim that he can ‘call spirits’: “Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?” And which particular spirit energy is conjured for what purpose? The ethereal energy of the fields and hedgerows differs quite considerably from the more primitive and often menacing energy of the woods and forests; or the ever-changing seashore; while mountains and rivers generate their own mystique.
Much of what is referred to as ‘natural energy’ depends on what lies beneath our feet, with some geological formations being better suited for magical working than others. There are many different types of rock that make up the Earth’s surface and each will have certain positive or negative properties. As with all things magical an Old Crafter knows nothing is as simple or precise as it seems. Just as the outcome in all magical and psychic exercises depends on the personal chemistry of the individual, so the blend of individuality, ability and natural energies can combine to produce the most extraordinary results.
For example, the quartz element of granite reconnects us with the spirit of the landscape. Once it is understood that quartz is very abundant in slate, it is not difficult to see why this generates so much earth energy; while chalk has its own particular kind of power and why our ancestors built their most prestigious monuments on chalkland. By contrast, magical working on clay involves a lot of generating techniques, and unless there is a considerable amount of experience to draw upon, things may take a long time to come to fruition. And despite all the wealth of crystals in the world, for the Old Crafter, quartz remains the most precious of all, since a quartz pendulum draws on an ancient knowledge for unlocking psychic power and seeking out information not easily obtained by any other means – especially from spirits of the landscape.
These guardians are some of the strangest spirit beings we encounter since few are able to move from their native location, either because they are part of the landscape, or bound to it for some other reason. Although extremely powerful and appearing to possess rational thought, they are simply semi-sentient well-springs of magical energy but with a reach rarely extending beyond their natural boundaries. If posing a magical question in that location, the answer may manifest in the form of a divinatory response, simply because a witch provides a natural conduit for this type of energy. There is also an art to moving within the landscape, a right way to approach places and monuments. Old Craft teaching bestows an instinctive grasp of how to behave within a sacred area, and to recognize the type of energy to be encountered there.
As important is identifying nature sprites or numen – the spirit-essence dwelling in each natural object: a tree, a spring, the earth, or more correctly: where the presence of ‘deity lies behind physical form. Although numen are usually considered to be an ‘essence of deity’ rather than the deity itself, Old Crafters treat them with the utmost reverence and respect. The concept of such ‘spirits’ is of neutral powers that might be hostile if neglected, but which if duly placated with offerings will be friendly, giving health and prosperity. As a result, any such site became sacred because it was the dwelling of a spirit, or had been touched by its power; a cult of individual natural objects, but in no sense a worship of the powers of Nature. There are certain locations where it is easier to make contact, usually where humankind has not intruded too much, or where the land has been largely left to look after itself. Although long-lived, their lifespan is often connected to a tree or part of the landscape; should this be destroyed, then the nature-sprite will die.
There are different kinds of nature sprites that are often referred to as ‘elementals’. Some are naturally occurring, usually linked to specific natural features e.g. cliffs, ponds, or at the junctures of what are now referred to as ‘ley lines’ or ‘spirit paths’, and can also be thought of as guardians of such places. Most need to be approached carefully as they can be extremely temperamental. They react well to genuine emotions of sympathy, trust, and the wishing of a witch to learn, and can react quite detrimentally to cynical or disrespectful thoughts, since these creatures react to emotions and feelings, not to the spoken word. This kind of elemental will only be found in its ‘home’ location - even in the basement of a city tower block if one has been built over its original home. In this confined environment they are likened to ‘dark springs’ of energy which manifest in a similar manner to poltergeist phenomena - amateur ghost-busters resort to exorcism but it is only effective for a short period of time and never permanently as an elemental cannot be banished or destroyed.
Old Crafters differentiate between the energies of the spirits residing in the woods and field margin surrounding cultivated land and those of the agricultural hedgerows, since the ‘wild borderland spirit’ being more in touch with untamed Nature, has the gift of prophecy. The significance of these places of ‘time between times’ is the sometimes over-powering generation of magical energy that can be terrifying if encountered unexpectedly and not fully understood. Combine the powers of the wood-field margin with ‘owl-light’ and experience the sensation of Nature at its most raw and untamed.
Otherworld is the world of ‘spirit’ where there are innumerable planes of existence in many dimensions of time and space. Humankind exists, physically, in one dimension; mentally they can penetrate to other levels - spiritually they can reach even more. The Old Crafter learns to understand as much about these energies as possible and not use eclectic mix-and-match god-energy from different cultures. Only by encountering these varying, undiluted agencies can a witch learn to differentiate between the positive/negative, active/passive beings that exist on other planes; because for every one that will help, guide and give advice, there is the same number who will hinder, deceive and cause harm, given the opportunity.
The most powerful energy on which an Old Crafter can call is that of our ‘Ancestors’, who represent our culture, traditions, heritage, lineage and antecedents; they trace the long march of history that our predecessors have taken under the aegis of traditional British Old Craft. When those of a particular Tradition pass beyond the veil, their spiritual essence merges with the divine spirit of the Whole, which in turn gives traditional witchcraft the continuing power to endure. Interaction with the Ancestors as an invisible and powerful presence is a constant feature of Old Craft and reverence for them is part of the ethic of respect for those who have preceded us in life, and their continued presence on the periphery of our consciousness means that they are always with us. And because traditional witchcraft is essentially a practical thing, the Ancestors are called upon to help find solutions to magical problems through divination, path-working and spell-casting.
Earth Mysteries and Magic
The terms ‘gateways’, ‘portals’ and ‘doorways’ speak for themselves, and as magical ability develops these psychic gateways will begin to open - maybe in one, or even several directions simultaneously. Personal advancement along the Old Craft path depends on an individual’s willingness to pass through or stay put, since these gateways serve as an indication that the time has come to move on and to climb to the next level.
This transition can be difficult and painful but in magical learning everything has a reason, so we must never ignore the opportunity, no matter how it strange or vague it feels. The price of an Old Crafter’s progress can be exacting but to ignore it will only result in personal loss in terms of spiritual and magical development. If the opportunity is not taken, it may be many years before it occurs again; or may never occur again in this lifetime and those who chose not to pass through these gateways, even after many years of practice, remain at the same level as when they first began. Their magic and understanding never alters; their progression halted due to their own fear and misunderstanding. They have tried to batter down the door for years without success; the true witch finds the door swings open at the lightest touch when the time is right.
Passing through the portal also brings awareness that there all manner of other different currents and movements on the planet that effect us on deeper magico-mystical levels. Such as what we often blithely refer to as ‘earth energy’ that produces a mild tingling sensation and sets the pendulum swinging; or a burst of warm energy in our hands and feet. But do we stop to think this is caused by the molten layer under the Earth’s crust, creating the swirling electro-magnetic field that surrounds the planet? Or is our Elemental Earth just a quiet ramble in the countryside and a container of sand marking the northern quarter?
We may meditate by a rippling stream, watching the sunlight dance in the water as it trips over the stones and pebbles in its path – but do we allow our minds to explore where that crystal water comes from? Do we realise this stream began its brief life being drawn up as vapour from the ocean and falling as rain on the hills and mountains, before flowing down into the river valley, bringing rocks and stones tumbling in its wake. Are we constantly aware of the force of the water-flow throughout the seasons – the spring floods, the summer drought, the clogging of the channel with autumn leaves, and the frozen surface in winter? Or does our concept of Elemental Water begin and end with the symbolic bowl of tap water marking the western quarter of our magic Circle?
Nothing can live without clean, breathable air but the witch needs to think beyond soft breezes and rainbows after a shower. Air is the stuff from which tornados and hurricanes are made; it brings puffs of cumulus cloud or a billowing thunderhead some ten miles high; not to mention the thousands of feet high dust storms that are created when a monsoon collides with dry air currents above it. Or is our Elemental Air merely the smoke from a perfumed joss stick marking the eastern quarter in our magical workings?
Fire, even in its most modest form, has the capacity for destruction – a box of matches in the hands of a child, a fallen candle, or a carelessly discarded cigarette. On a grander and more epic scale, we have seen the coverage of devastating wildfires destroying anything that stands in its path; the eruption of a volcano; or the power of solar winds that reach out from the sun to interfere with electronic equipment here on Earth. Or is our contact with Element Fire restricted to a candle burning at the southern quarter of our Circle?
These are just some of the lessons taught by Coven of the Scales. That is it is not necessary to rely on group dynamics and psycho-drama to generate magical energy because it is there, all around us on a permanent basis. It means that a natural witch can be on their contacts in seconds; knowing what type of energy, or ‘witch-power’ is needed to cure a headache, or channel the strength to walk the death-path with confidence after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. It really is a belief that can move mountains – if the application is right – and all witches draw on this natural energy to cause change through the application of Will.
In more general terms, ‘witch-power’ is similar to the energy raised by Tai Chi - widely used within art and sport without any magical significance whatsoever. It is a perfectly natural force that can be tapped into on a daily basis to a greater or lesser extent, and a true witch can generate the magical powers necessary by channelling this energy from the natural world.
Faith In Doubt
These abilities are not governed by any form of religiosity but by harnessing the power of Nature. Those who acted in a priestly or shamanic capacity for our ancient Ancestors probably saw these natural forces as less abstract concepts than we do today. For them, masculine energy would be seen in terms of the hunter-protector-rutter, while feminine energy would manifest in more general terms of fecundity and the hearth. Because humankind has always had a tendency to see images of its gods in its own likeness, we have come to see pagan deities very much cast in 20th century form. Ironically in giving ‘god-energy’ the outward form of the rampant horned-god, and the goddess in the cartoon image of a warrior-princess or a member of the pre-Raphaelite sisterhood, the mystery has been lost in favour of fantasy creations.
What is important to understand is the modern trend of eclectic paganism is not synonymous with Old Craft; it may utilize many of the trappings of Old Craft but Old Craft practice will always be a matter of ability, not devotion. In magical terms, it is not possible to up-end these ancient concepts just because they are at odds with 20th century political correctness. The female-goddess energy within Nature is just as ‘red in tooth and claw’ as male-god energy; both are equally as merciless as the other. It is also important to understand that this energy (whether male or female) is neither malevolent nor benevolent, it is merely waiting to be harnessed for magical.
Old Craft, although not a religion, is a belief – a belief in one’s own abilities and in the ‘Power’ that fuels the universe; and a faith – faith in one’s self and in that ‘Power’. This is not generally seen as gender specific but in truth, does lean towards the male aspect since the female remains veiled and a mystery: the ‘God’ is the public face of traditional British Old Craft. The ‘Goddess’ remains in the shadows, revered and shielded by her protector: not because she is some shy and defenceless creature, but because face to face she would be too terrible to look upon! Old Craft secrets come from an understanding of these things because it is not possible to convey the true meaning of our Ways to a cowan, or ‘outsider’.
Much of this may be seen as playing with semantics but in truth, the god-forms themselves have changed greatly down through the millennia. It is only by pulling all the strands of myth, legend and folklore together that we can appreciate just how much these have altered. The spirits of the landscape, however, remain constant; they have not altered their form and have only grown more powerful with age. These well-springs of magical energy have not been contaminated because few have known of their existence - apart from those who have kept the secret down through the ages.
Many of the great power centers such as Stonehenge and Avebury have been exorcised long ago by the tramp of sightseers who have polluted these popular tourist sites by sheer numbers. In more secluded spots, the spirit-energy of the ancient Pretanni survives in remote ancient monuments, isolated lakes, the rural landscape, and in the depths of the surviving Wildwood. When the native shamanic practices went into the shadows, these powerful energy spots were deemed unholy and feared by the locals – and as such passed into folklore as those things that are ‘never fully remembered and yet never fully forgotten’.
Nevertheless, human intelligence and curiosity being what it is, the modern Old Crafter’s motto must surely be: ‘We shall not cease from our exploration’. They will seek to embellish those natural abilities with input from ritual and ceremonial magic, while enhancing the spiritual aspects of belief by exploring the highways and byways of the mystical Qabalah, coupled with the insight and poetry of the Tarot. Some will experiment with the techniques and doctrines of East, or the paths and traditions of the Ancient World. In the fullness of time this exploration will lead to the recognition that the thread running through this esoteric labyrinth is as familiar and yet as alien as the resonance of a singing Tibetan prayer bowl echoing out across time and space – pulling us back to our roots. We do indeed ‘arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time ...’
Traditional British Old Craft remains an oral tradition and much can still be found in our native folklore that resonates with those schooled in this more primitive form of witchcraft. And while an Old Craft practitioner can continue to find solace amongst the forests and woodland, lakes and mountains, in the rural landscape and on the seashore, the spirit-energies that power our belief will continue to endure.