An Introduction to Traditional Witchcraft
and a collection of charms and rites
Author : Gabriel
Hello everyone and welcome to the third article of The ♄exaGRAM with Gabriel.
Traditional Witchcraft aka Trad Craft or Folk Witchcraft is a tradition that embraces the witch's connection with the old lore, the land, its spirits and ancestors. From here the Trad Witch can perform a collection of practises such as magick, divination, herbalism, hedgewitchery and necromancy. Trad Craft is also known as the Crooked Path for its dualistic nature, and it is the path of the outsider, the other, the outcast and the downtrodden.
In most incarnations Trad Craft is a solitary art, where its practitioners usually congregate in spirit for their famous Witches Sabbats.
The works of Traditional Witchcraft were sourced and reconstructed from a variety of places, firstly and ironically from Witch hunting manuals such as the Malleus Maleficarum, Francesco Maria Guazzo's the Compendium Maleficarum 1608, as well as Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft 1584, and Charles Leland's Aradia aka The Gospel of Witches 1899.
The second source drew from witchcraft trials of executed witches such as the Scottish Witch Isobel Gowdie, who during her trial detailed her collaborations with the Devil, and her feasts under the faerie mounds. In recent memory a lot of Traditional Witchcraft hails from Cornwall in the south of England.
The third source came from British occultist Robert Cochrane, who in the 60s wrote a few important and influential articles, and was the Magister of a coven called the Clan of Tubal Cain, named after the Earth's first blacksmith. He believed witchcraft should draw from folklore, and the local land and spirits to learn but its practitioners should live and practise in the present, and not try to recreate some bygone era.
No two Trad Craft witches are alike, for all of them draw from their own unique landscape and lore, and are encouraged to create their own rites and charms through Gnosis with their land spirits, and fetches/familiars.
With these sources, getting their hands dirty with constant practise and personal Gnosis the Trad Witch can:
Gather at Witches Sabbats while in spirit form by the use of a flying ointment
Perform folk magics of a sympathetic or contagious variety
Leave their bodies in their own form or animals such as the hare.
Travel beneath the land to commune with the dead/the fae, and the Otherworld in a technique known as hedgeriding.
While in spirit flight commune and learn from spirits that they build relationships with.
During the Sabbats, witches are presided over these gatherings by authority figures, which is traditionally the Witch Father and Mother.
Witches usual practise a dual faith, their folk craft with the new religion that was forced upon them by a conquering force. So it is not uncommon for a folk witch to mix trad craft rites with psalms, in a similar fashion that voodoo practitioners make the use of Catholic saints.
Witchcraft was birthed alongside Christianity, so to use its psalms or the egregore of Jesus or the saints was quite a natural evolution in the practise.
Unlike Wicca or other white light religions such as Christianity, Trad Witches tend to be morally grey and live by their own set of morals, not ones defined by their religion or commandments. So in any given situation, the Trad Witches will use their own judgement in any situation as to whether they will use benefic or malefic magic.
They don't believe in karma or a three-fold law, though Trad Craft authors such as Roger Horne believe that the magic works through them, so if you constantly use benefic or malefic magic it will end up changing you for good or for worse.
Also unlike Wicca and some other pagan based religions or practises, Trad Craft doesn't stick to celebrating the eight-spoked wheel of the year. Some only celebrate Walpurgis Night and All Hallows Eve, with others also celebrating the spring and fall equinoxes.
Tools of the Craft
The most famous tool of the craft is the Stang, though not widely known and recognised among the general populace.
The Stang is a staff with a forked end that represents the masculine archetype and also the Witch Father. Used to cast the circle of arte, laying a compass and projecting energy, the stang also be used as a portable altar, Placed at the northern end of the circle, with North also the direction of the Witch Father, the witch can place a candle in the centre of the horns “ light betwixt the horns” a symbol for the illumination provided by the Witch Father. Other items during
the rite can be hung from the stang or laid around its feet. It can also be used in spirit flight, with the stang laid out next to the witch, or held under the knees.
The Cauldron represents the feminine archetype and also the Witch Mother, being a metaphor for the womb. These two tools are similar to other magick arts were the athame and cup are masculine and feminine respectively. The cauldron uses can range from holding liquids, to cooking, and burning sigils.
The besom which is the witch's broom, is the most famous symbol of the witches known in both history and pop culture. The besom is used for asperging the area, along with the use of the cauldron, so it's always good to choose a cauldron whose mouth is wide enough to take the bushy end of the besom. Dipped in the cauldron, the besom can be then used to banish and bless a working area. Like the stang the besom can also be used for hedgeriding.
The knife: Traditionally with a single edge and sharp, a handle made from natural materials such as wood or the horn of an animal, the knife is used to cut herbs and to inscribe symbols on candles or wood.
The cup is used to store liquid offerings. At the end of a Trad Craft rite, it is common practise to perform as housel, which is communion and thanksgiving with an spirits or deities you worked with, This involves both food and drink, that the witch samples and then shares the rest with their accompanying spirits.
The central altar can contain all of these items, and also a representative of the Witch Father and Mother. For the Witch Father a horned skull is appropriate as it represents fauna, while local flowers, branches, fruit and twigs represent the Witch Mother and flora. The flora is set around the skull and then three candles are lit. One behind the horned skull for the light betwixt the horns, with the other two candles touching the flora.
The Old Ones.
The Old Ones, typically the Witch Father and Mother are important in Trad Craft, though not every Trad Witch will commune with them. The freedom of creating your own practise allows you to work with any combination of folklore, land, spirit and deity you desire. As long as you obtain proper Gnosis and learn and progress. They are the patrons of witches. The common view held is that these deities are not worshipped, but worked with on an equal footing. Some Trad Witches refer to the Witch Father as “the Master”, but this is more in a teacher/student capacity, compared to a lord/servant one.
In Trad Craft the Witch Father is the Devil. He is different to the Devil of the Bible, as he is no fallen angel, but they have similarities. The Witch Father can appear as the Horned One, the Sabbatic Goat not unlike Baphomet, but he can take any form you desire. He can be any Devil. Azazel or Saturn for example. Even Nyarlathotep. For Trad Craft author Gemma Gary, her Witch Father is Bucca, a spirt and a Cornish Devil. A Horned One of Cornwall. The Witch Father is the witch maker, the initiator, the man in black, and the devil at the crossroads that offers a deal.
The Witch Father is the luminal places, the wild untrodden paths of nature, its wildness. Nature has no morality. It can be both beautiful to look at and mercilessly cruel at the same time. The Devil is seen as part man, part animal, with his horns and cloven feet. He represents our carnality and connection to nature. Animism is a popular concept in Trad Craft, where everything is alive and has a spirit. The Witch Father is nature in its purest, uncompromising form.
The Witch Mother, or the Queen of Elphame is generally perceived as the Queen of the Faeries. Tales are abound of witches frolicking with the Fae and dining with them under Faerie or burial mounds. The Faerie can be seen as the spirits of the dead in this way, and for some or most Trad Witches, that is how they see and work with them. She is the creator of us all, but at the same time she is Mother Fate, that is with us on our final journey as we take our last breath in this mortal realm. She is seen as both Maiden and Crone.
At witches sabbats, travelled to with spirit flight, its common to either see one of both of these authority figures presiding over this celebration.
A Collection of Rites and Charms
To draw a simple circle:
This is used to create an area to begin a magick work, which is two fold. It stops the unwanted from entering this area, and also create a luminal place, outside the earthly realm to raise power for your working.
There is a difference in some circles between circle casting and laying a compass. Laying a compass is more involved in its procedure. The term lay comes from 'lay of the land', while a compass is used to navigate and find your way on your 'quest' or rite.
After laying a compass the Trad Witch may perform another rite called 'Treading the Mill', which is used to raise power similar to Circumambulation in ceremonial magick. But for now we will learn the compass. If you are
interested in the other rites, you can read about them from the books provided in the bibliography below.
Taking your stang (if you have one), or a straight branch come to your area of working whether indoors or outdoors.
Starting in the north, either draw a physical circle in the dirt, or imagine energy similar to fire coming out of the end of the stang to create a circle with the size appropriate for your workings. As you traverse the circle say:
On my right hand
On my left hand
And below me
I conjure thee, O Ring of Art.
To heal an emotional or physical pain:
For this you will need milk mixed with honey, a tree that has called to you and you can walk around, and your stang or its equivalent.
Note: Milk and honey is a common gift to the spirits that you work with. I like the mix the milk and honey and then warm them up so the honey melts into the milk. By the time I get to the mountains where I perform my Trad Craft, the milk has cooled and is ready to go. Before any of your Trad Craft workings in a natural setting, it's always good manners to pour an initial offering of milk and honey at the border of the area and ask permission of the spirits there to practise your craft in their home. You'll soon get any answer that you will know is yes or no. For me is was a specific birdsong. When I performed this current rite, and made the offering to the tree afterwards, just next to the tree my partner found my second stang.
Perform your circle casting.
Now walking around the tree against the the sun (counterclockwise), either three, six or nine times chant the following:
Walk up to the tree and place your palms against its trunk. Feel the pain in your body and mind collect to your heart, and then travel down your arms into the tree, where the tree spirit will relieve you of your pain. Take as long as you need.
When the rite is done, take your container of milk and honey and pour it all into the base of the tree, thanking the tree spirit for its assistance.
A Rite of Initiation
Perhaps some or most of us were christened at birth and baptised when we were younger, to some against our will. We certainly didn't have a choice, and if you've decided to practise Trad Craft you need to remove the constraints that were cast upon you. Trad Witches can still use psalms in their spells but they don't have to be of the christian faith to utilise them.
This rite is the Lord's Prayer backwards. It can either be performed in a candlelit room, or if you are lucky enough to live near a church yard, it can be chanted continuously as you walk around the church backwards, anti-clockwise. Make sure to be familiar with area so you don't trip and hurt yourself.
Place your left hand under left foot and right hand over head and say:
This rite can also be used as the beginning of meeting the Man in Black at the Crossroads or in a Churchyard to broker a deal and make a pact with him.
To perform spirit flight:
In this section I will lay out some simple techniques to get you started on the spirit flight technique, and then share the recipe for the flying ointment.
Sit down and make yourself comfortable, make sure you won't be distracted in any way.
Close your eyes and take a few deep, long breaths and calm your mind.
When you are ready, visualise your spirit form stand up out of your body. Walk around the room, and turn around and look at yourself sitting there.
As you get more confident with practise you can start to walk around your house and look at your items and the furniture you have. Eventually you can walk out your door and take a stroll through your local streets and neighbourhood.
Travel to some places nearby that you haven't been too and familiarise yourself with the area. Then when you come home, spirit walk from your house to that area and spend some time there. When you are outside you might see things you normally do not see when you are there physically, such as the spirits of the area.
When you are at a skill level you feel comfortable with, you can begin to learn spirit flight. Take your stang or besom and place it under your knees. Feel yourself lift up out of your body, through your ceiling and roof and into the sky above. Fly around your neighbourhood, and like with the initial steps as you get more confident, travel further with each flight.
If you want to travel under the earth, to the Otherworld, look for holes and doors in trees or the earth and enter down through them and explore. It is very important that with any spirit etc that you meet that you are polite. Like meeting a person when you are awake, ask its name and go from there.
Flying Ointment recipe:
4 tbsp mugwort
4 tbsb wormwood
1 oz beeswax
One cup or sweet almond or olive oil (or any carrier oil)
Mix the herbs and oil in a jar and simmer them together in a pot of water for 6 hours on low heat. Then let the jar rest for 24 hours sealed with a cheesecloth.
Next day strain the herbs with the cheesecloth into a fresh jar, and put the beeswax in another jar into a pot of water and simmer until it is melted completely. Add the oil and herbs into the melted wax jar (mix one part wax to five parts oil) and let it rest for 24 hours.
Before spirit flight, apply to chest, neck, back and pulse points.
A charm to Speak with the Dead:
Bury in the soil of a cemetery plot, a tablet with the following charm:
Charm for protection
This charm is used to dispel illness or hexes cast upon you.
The charm works by taking the affliction and breaking it down to nothing
similar to how the charm goes from a full word to a single letter.
The charm is to be worn in a black silk bag over the heart till the affliction is removed.
Similarly with this magic square charm to heal all pain, injuries and wounds:
Folk Witchcraft by Roger Horne
The Crooked Path by Kelden
A Deed Without a Name by Lee Morgan
The Black Toad by Gemma Gary
Besom, Stang and Sword by Christopher Orapella & Tara Love Maguire
Silent as the Trees by Gemma Gary
Traditional Witchcraft by Gemma Gary
The Devil's Dozen by Gemma Gary
Treading The Mill by Nigel P. Pearson
Compendium Maleficarum by Francesco Maria Guazzo
Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft
Aradia, or The Gospel of the Witches by Charles Lelan
'Witches Sabbath' by Francisco de Goya (1797 - 1798), Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Image courtesy Google Art Project.
'The Witches in Macbeth' by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1841 - 1842), Image courtesy The Wallace Collection.
'Nymphs Dancing to Pan's Flute' by Joseph Tomanek, private collection image courtesy Christies Auctions.
'The Magic Circle' by John William Waterhouse (1886), The Tate, image courtest Wiki images.
'Prince Arthur and the Faerie Queen' by Henry Fuseli (1788), collection Kunstmuseum Basel image courtesy Wiki Images
'Départ pour le Sabbat' by Albert Joseph Pénot (1910), image courtest wiki images.
'A magician raising a ghost' (detail) by W. Raphael (1825, image courtesy wiki images
'Tilla Durieux as Circe' painting by Franz Stuck (1913), collection Alte Nationalgalerie image courtesy Wiki images
Additional Photographs courtesy Getty Images