In 2008 Daniel A. Schulke approached the late Michael Howard, editor of the British witchcraft and folklore journal The Cauldron, about co-editing and producing a witchcraft anthology for Three Hands Press. Given the quiet but potent renaissance that traditional and hereditary witchcraft underwent in the 1990s, they both felt that such a publication was long overdue. At the time, much written about traditional witchcraft was of poor quality, either crudely derivative of a few often-repeated sources, factually inaccurate, or simply plagiaristic. Though this situation persists, readership on this subject has grown increasingly sophisticated and discerning, and a few new voices have emerged from the collective hedge to articulate important and original perspectives on the Craft.
Aside from considerations of quality content, high-caliber writing and creative synthesis, they agreed that a crucial aspect of the work should be the unique voice of the actual practitioners, speaking directly to experience of the magical Art itself. Though still obscure to most, the variety and idiosyncrasy of old witchcraft lines is remarkable. The witches of Cornwall, with their corpora of folk charms and blessings, are one such phenotype. The Pickingill Craft as described by E.W. Liddell, remains despite its controversy one of the most unique and potent streams of Old Craft, as does Robert Cochrane’s Clan of Tubal Cain. The Manx Old Order covines, with their intense connection to angelic magic and the dark faery lore of Ellan Vannin (the Isle of Man), are another such clan, as is the Skull and Bones tradition of Pennsylvania with its ominous and rustic spirit-patrons. The Old Craft lineages of the Cultus Sabbati, with the medieval Witches' Sabbath as an important organizing principle, are yet another distinctive tradition – as was Bob and Meriem Clay-Egerton’s Coven of the Scales – which is where I entered the equation.
Though these forms of the Old Craft are known through their exterior writings, there are other such groups who are content to remain out of the public eye, practicing their Art and training their own generation of adepts. All of these traditions share a common feature of extreme selectivity when it comes to prospective members, and the willingness to reject those proven unfit for the work. [my italics, MD] This unpopular and confrontational stance has often led to thorny relations between groups, but it has also engendered a sanctuary-like environment where creative magical collaboration can unfold according to the design of each tradition.
Thus was forged Hands of Apostasy: Essays on Witchcraft and Folk Magic, an anthology featuring eighteen writers on witchcraft topics as varied as the Devil, plant magic, necromancy, the Romantic movement, and the powers of moon and tide. Representing widely varying witchcraft traditions and perspectives, the book is a sound testament to the Craft’s diversity and strength. With Apostasy Daniel Schulke served as a co-editor with Michael Howard, whose work over the years with The Cauldron had been an immensely valuable resource to the at-large community of practitioners.
I’d known Michael Howard for many a long year but I must confess that the commission had me scratching my head for a long time. We know what we believe but it’s another thing to explain to outsiders so that it makes sense and after several months ‘Faith and Belief in British Old Craft’ finally passed muster. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting the complete essay …