The Secret People: Parish-pump witchcraft, Wise-women and Cunning-Ways
“I’ve so looked forward to this book. It high time our old ways came to light again so that we can all remember and use them. Draco writes in a style that is easy to read and her knowledge of the old ways is enormous. Anyone who wants to get back into the old customs and traditions of Britain will find this book a source to be treasured,” writes Elen Sentier, author of Shaman Pathways: Elen of the Ways, shaman and herself a wise woman
The Secret People is a wander down memory lane and a step back in time; it is that ‘other country’ of the past where parish-pump witches, wise women and cunning folk still travel the highways and byways of a bygone era. Their voices can still be heard in the recipes and remedies handed down via an oral tradition, and now giving new knowledge to the next generation of pagans. It was a world where men went out with a ferret in a box and a long-net, accompanied by a silent long dog for a companion under a ‘poacher’s moon’.
From ‘owl-light’ until dawn these people walked silently in the woods and along the hedgerows, watching and waiting to collect Nature’s bounty to be used for the benefit of themselves and their neighbours. From them came the introduction to spells and charms, divination and fortune-telling; the language of birds and the movement of animals – all grist for the witch’s mill. Mysterious horsemen might share secrets of horseshoe nails and thunder-water; while countrymen lived by weather, the seedtime and the harvest. It’s a rich tapestry against which I spent my childhood – and already it has become ‘history’.
Nevertheless, few of The Secret People could be called traditional witches by any stretch of the imagination, and many would have been mortally offended to be referred to as a ‘witch’ or ‘pagan’. Few parish-pump witches would have thought about the skills they possessed since these were merely natural abilities, and even fewer wise women and cunning folk would have had any concept of the sombre and often dangerous rituals required for the raising of energy needed in the practice of true witchcraft. Theirs was a knowledge that filtered down in the form of simple spells, domestic plant medicine and country lore, imparted to offspring, friends and neighbours, who in turn handed it down to their children ... and so on down through the generations. In fact, in his Dialogue Concerning Witches & Witchcraft (1603) George Gifford observed that local wise women ‘doth more good in one year than all these scripture men will do so long as they live’.
In reality, most would live by the Church calendar, inveigling saints to add potency to their healing spells, or to guide a hand in locating missing property; with many of the protective charms being aimed at deflecting malevolent witchcraft! Most old ladies in the parish seemed to have a wide repertoire of fortune-telling tricks to amuse young girls looking for a husband, not to mention the applied psychology of already knowing their neighbours’ business, which made divination with playing cards and tealeaves a push-over, and even up until recent years the village fete always had a fortune-telling tent. And since the early Church calendar had been formed around the agricultural year, the men folk of the village had no problem with presenting themselves, their animals, and produce from the harvest for blessing.
The Secret People would have greatly outnumbered the practitioners of traditional witchcraft since the practical abilities that define a true witch are bred in the bone and not everyone can lay claim to the lineage. The skills of The Secret People can, however, be learned and perfected with practise and for those who struggle to find a label with which to empathise, it is hoped the lessons taught here will help the reader to establish some sort of identity that sits comfortably with them.
Today, under the ubiquitous umbrella of paganism, the parish-pump witch runs the occult shop in the high street, the wise woman dispenses Reiki healing and the cunning man has become a professional tarot reader. The countryman’s world has disappeared under a sprawl of urban housing and ring roads, while the poacher has yielded his domain to the brutal gangs
that slaughter wildlife on a commercial scale – even the poacher’s dog, the lurcher, has found his niche in the ‘fly-ball’ event at Crufts!
And yet...the knowledge of The Secret People is still there for the learning, if only we know how to search for it and rediscover our identity.
“The Secret People is all about the kind of practical folklore our grandmothers and great-grandmothers would have used in their daily lives when planting a cottage garden, foraging for herbs in the hedgerows, treating family ailments and making the most of what was around the house,” writes Lucya Starza, author of Pagan Portals: Candle Magic and herself a witch. “It is also about the secret folklore they would have known, from love charms and fortune-telling to protection spells and magical cures. The book is both really useful and a delight to read. Mélusine said that it would take me on a trip down memory lane, and it certainly did.”