Posts Tagged ‘Cunning Folk’

On Familiar Spirits;

Familiar Spirits have existed throughout man’s history. From the ecstatic rituals of Siberian Shaman, to John Dee adviser to the Queen Elizabeth I. of England and Cunning Folk across time, from Odin’s two ravens and his supernatural consultations in the North, to Sorcerers, Shaman and Medicine Men of various cultures  around the world, all have consulted and employed the spirits of their ancestors, local spirits and animals for their wisdom and assistance in magickal undertakings.

Yet despite the positive traditions, the most commonly shared and widely recognized archetype of familiar spirits, stemming from European fairy-tales, still have their roots in the Christian fear and prejudice of the Dark Ages, and have little in common with the real  familiars of both ancient times or modern.

During the horrific Witchcraft Trials and hysteria of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, evidence for consorting with the devil often included accounts of the accused keeping company with an animal,  many a lonely old woman was executed as a witch because of her fondness for her pet. If so much as a fly buzzed in the window while someone suspected of being a witch was being tried, it was said to be their familiar and evidence that they had made a pact with the devil.. Familiar spirits were considered by the Christian authorities as hellish imps given by Satan to his faithful followers to assist in their evil deeds.

Familiars were given names like any household pet, which many probably were. Perhaps the best known familiars name is ‘Pyewackett’, famous as the Witch’s cat in the movie Bell, Book and Candle, and a familiars name that dates back to Renaissance England. Pyewackett, said Matthew Hopkins (the infamous Witch hunter) was a name ‘no mortal could invent’ and thus his case against her owner was irrefutably proven…….

It’s interesting to note that, while Witches’ familiars were considered evil during the early modern period, the harnessing of spirits was acceptable in certain circumstances.
Outside of Witch trials, more benevolent familiars were believed to exist serving Wizards, Wise men and Women (Wiccan’s and Cunning Folk) who were magicians or village healers, indeed to deny their existence would also call into question the Christian faith in divine spirits, so belief in the one naturally included belief in the other. Needless to say, the common people held these spiritual guides in a different view than that of Christian orthodoxy and often considered them as or equivalent to angelic assistants sent from god. The familiar’s helped diagnose illnesses and the sources of bewitchment and were used for divining and finding lost objects and treasures. Magicians conjured them in rituals, then locked then in bottles, rings and stones. They sometimes sold them as charms, claiming the spirits would ensure success in gambling, love, business or whatever the customer wanted.
This sort of familiar was technically not illegal; England’s Witchcraft Act of 1604 prohibited only evil and wicked spirits. Some familiars were said to be Faeries. Oberon was a popular name for fairy familiars in 15th and 16th century England.
Similarly the Christian Church itself during this period also sold indulgences or permissions which granted the buyer a limited forgiveness for sins yet to be committed, ie a sinners diplomatic passport of sorts. It seems  a case of double standards then, as consorting with the spirits was permissible as long as the spirits were considered benevolent by the Christian authorities irrespective of their effect upon the people ie healing or helping, which reputedly many wicked spirits did do, whilst Christian authorized spirits might infact follow a different path.

There is a little evidence of familiars in early American Witch trials. However one case is representative of the prejudicial perspective shared with Europe, in the Salem Trials, 1692, John Bradsheet was indicted for “inciting a dog to afflict.” The dog was tried and hanged as a Witch…..

Familiars reputedly are sensitive to psychic vibrations and power and are welcomed partners inside the magic circle and other magical work. They also serve as psychic radar, reacting visibly to the presence of any negative or evil energy, whether it be an unseen force or a person who dabbles in the wrong kind of magic. Familiars are also given psychic protection by their Witches.
Many modern Witches have animal familiars, often cats – sometimes dogs, birds, snakes or toads, as their magical helpers. Witches do not believe the familiars are “demons” or spirits in animal form but simply animals whose psychic attunement makes them ideal partners in magical workings.
Some folk it seems also use the term familiar to describe thought-forms created magically and empowered to carry out a certain task on the astral plane.

In Shamanism, a novice shaman acquires his familiar spirits, usually manifesting in animal, reptile or bird shapes, when he completes his initiation. He or she may send them out to do battle in his or her place, but if they die, so can the shaman. Familiars usually stay with their shaman until death, then disappear.

Traditional Animal Familiars;

*Badger – Tenacity and courage. The badger will teach you perseverance and endurance in the face of adversity. The badger is a powerful protector of both material possessions and ideals held close to your heart.
*Bear – Strength, stamina, healing, medical diagnosis, strength
*Bee – The bee is industriousness, hardworking, community, work, industry, organization
*Blackbird – Enchantment, work between the worlds
*Boar – Sacred, cunning, ferocious, warrior spirit, leadership, strength
*Bull – Strength, potency, symbol of mobile power, ability to expand opportunities, creativity
*Butterfly – If a butterfly is seen while vision questing, no negative energy will be in the immediate area. Transformation, artistic endeavors.
*Crane – The crane is the bird of the Moon, magick, shamanic travel, secrets and reaching deep mysteries. The crane also represents the logical mind as well as patience while healing occurs.
*Crow – The Crow is a symbol of conflict, war and death. Its skill is wisdom with trickery. It is also a protector of scared records.
*Deer or Stag – The white Stag is a messenger from the otherworld, following the animal often leads to a quest through the Otherworld. The deer represents grace, swiftness and gentleness.
*Dog – Underworld hounds are white with red ears, they hunt and punish the guilty, they represent tracking skills and companionship as well as Loving protection.
*Dragon (lizards) – Wealth, raw powers of nature, the treasures of the unconscious mind.
*Eagle – Wisdom and long life, Keen sight, Knowledge of magick and swiftness, the eagle is a strong ally when traveling into new territory.
*Eel – Adaptability, Wisdom, Inspiration and defense.
*Fox – Cunning, slyness, Perceptive, makes fools of those who chase it.
*Frog – Shamanism, Magick, Nasty illusion with something wonderful hidden inside.
* Hare – considered fleet and swift, symbols of diligence, can also aid people in recognizing the signs around them by attuning to lunar cycles and understanding the tides of movement in their own lives.
*Hawk – Clear sightedness, teaches how to receive and interpret inner and outer signals.
*Heron – Of the Moon and magick, shamanic travel, secrets, the logical mind, through the heron one can find magick in nature.
*Horse – Stamina, endurance, and faithfulness, the horse was a faithful guide to the otherworlds.
*Magpie – Omens and prophecies.
*Mouse – Secrets, cunning, shyness, the ability to hide. If you see a mouse in a vision quest—pay attention to details.
*Otter – Enjoying life, recovering from a crisis, faithfulness, friendliness, and being helpful to others. The otter provides valuable assistance in the otherworlds.
*Owl – Teaches us to silently observe life, and gather information to gain understanding.
* Rabbit – clever, fast, coming and going as if by magic, classic tricksters, representing the triumph and joy in life, and success.
*Raven – The battle cry of an upcoming life crisis, it is a powerful protector if one can gain its favor.
*Snakes – Wisdom, reincarnation and cunning. If you see a snake while vision questing, be prepared for the power of transformation to enter your life. The snake represents the life-death-rebirth cycle.
*Swan – Helps to interpret dream symbols, smooths transitions and spiritual evolution.
*Wren – Also a symbol of Druidry for its wisdom, the wren’s song was used in divination, the power of strengthening and cleansing.

A simple invocation to call a familiar spirit;

To call a magickal animal or familiar spirit you need to focus your spiritual and mental energy upon the kind of creature that you wish to engage and you need to become receptive, aware of subtelties that might evade your daily perspective.
You will create a magic circle about yourself to aid your focus as well as to assist the spirit to find you in.
You will need a Totem of some sort for the familiar to enter into, and could spend a little time researching these before you begin, then ideally make one from suitable materials ie of feathers if winged spirit be called, of fur if mammal etc.
Once about your evocation, burn an incense which reminds you of the creature or spirit you are calling.
You should also have a drum of any sort, drumming a rythmn appropriate to the animal you seek: a timid sound brings a timid animal such as a mouse, a broken rhythm may bring a cunning stealthy fox, a loud rhythm could summon loud creatures like a bear or boar.
Finally, you will need a candle which will reveal to you by its flame and flicker (other than in breezy times) the presence or absence of any spirit guests.
– Prepare the time and location, full moon is best, still and untroubled, a peaceful night free from storms.
– Cast your circle about you and light your incense and your candle.
– Beat on the drum to the rhythm of your heart, thus the rhythm is known to the spirits who may approach.
– Continue for at least five minutes to draw the attention of the spirit, and to approach a state of trance or of ‘monotonous focus’ in which the spirits all around may be better perceived.
– After you have raised both your perceptive levels and the spirit energy about you and once you feel aware of the presence of potential familiars around you, whilst still drumming, chant in time with your heartbeat and your drum something like this or similar;
I call to the creatures hereby gathered,
Who dwell within the earth and air, the wind and waters turning.
I call to the spirits of fur, fin and feather,
Come to my side, join in my learning.
I call to the creatures listening closely,
To the creature you are to the one here who knows.
I call to the divine within the spirits now near me,
Follow my heart as our energy grows.

I call to the creature who has chosen to know me,
Let your bright self manifest,
And reveal to me now,
A true bond of friendship across eternity blessed. Less important the exact words,
of key importance the heart & spirit in which they are spoken or chanted.
– Stop drumming with the last words of the invocation
– Perceive the spirit by either sight of eyes or inner light if they have not manifest physically before you.
If no spirit has presented themselves, they may choose to reveal themselves to you in a vision/dream, or they may be waiting for the best time to cross the realms between…
If no spirit comes, then try again on the next full moon.
Spirit Be from Eternity
Blessed & True
Help Me See
* ~

Faery Folk Envisioned, Britain’s Numinous Mystics Restored.

My Review of Cunning Folk And Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions In Early Modern British Witchcraft And Magic by Emma Wilby.

This book is a remarkable and in-depth academic study of early modern English cunning-folk and witches involvement with Familiar Spirits such as Tewhit, Greedigut, Vinegar Tom, Jack Robin and Wag At The Wa, with boggles and puckles, hob gobblins, hell waines and firedrakes. Wilby proposes that early-modern witches and cunning-folk had relationships with spiritual beings similar to those of shaman in other traditional societies, such as finding stolen items, curing illnesses or causing it and providing all sorts of advice as needed.
Whilst ”Most people today would consider themselves to have little or no knowledge about early modern familiars.  In reality, however, the basic dynamics of the relationship between a cunning woman or witch, and her spirit ally, is easily recognizable to all of us, being encapsulated in narrative themes running through traditional folk tales and myths from throughout the world. Classics such as Rumpelstiltskin, Puss in Boots, the Frog Prince and so on, are representative…These fairy stories and myths originate from the same reservoir of folk belief as the descriptions of familiar-encounters given by the cunning folk and witches in early modern Britain.”

 Written in three main sections, the first summarizes the animistic popular world view of early modern Britain. Presenting the illiterate or semi-literate common people as uneducated in the Christian orthodoxy and regarding the earlier ‘unintelligible’ Latin Catholic rituals and later Christian religious practices as ancillary to their folk beliefs, living cheek to jowl beside and within a world populated with very real spirits of various origin, influence and intent. Drawing on Christian heresy trial accounts as well as popular folk accounts Wilby then describes these spirit-allies and their differences between those identified with ‘witches – the demon familiars, and those who assisted ‘cunning folk’- the fairy familiars.

The quality of faery nature is well expressed in this popular rhyme which recorded in 19thC is likely to be much older;
”Gin ye ca’ me imp or elf, I rede ye look weel to yourself;
Gin ye ca’ me fairy, I’ll work ye muckle tarrie;
Gin guid neibour ye ca’ me; Then guid neibor I will be;
But gin ye ca’ me seelie wicht, I’ll be you freend baith day and nicht.”
The rhyme implies that the definition of the faery was dependent upon the actions of their human allies. In other words, the human could choose to employ the same fairy to good or evil ends, and it was the moral position of the spirit’s user rather than that of the spirit itself which determined the latter’s moral status at any given time.” Many comments recorded in Emma’s study of the confessions of cunning folk convicted of witchcraft suggest that this ambiguous amorality of the familiar spirit may have been standard. The familiars remained cooperative provided their ‘contract’ was honored – that their human partner would provide respect, or food and shelter, or in some cases promise of the soul…

In the second part of the book the argument is presented that most previous studies of cunning folk and witchcraft in Britain have tended to prioritize the social role, of healing, divination etc, over any thorough examination of the relationship between the practitioner and their fairy familiar or spirit guide.
Here the author draws compelling parallels between traditional shamanism as practiced in North America, Central Asia and Siberia, with the British practitioners experience as revealed through the evidence of both witch-trials and folk accounts. ”The relationship between shamans and their spirits is like the relationship between cunning folk or witches and their familiars…”  although they could indeed represent themselves as a man or woman, or an animal such as a dog, stereotypical cat, raven or toad, they also could be entirely immaterial and perceived only in the ‘flight’ to the other and inner realms of trance states.
The ambiguity remains consistent however wherever the spirits may be based as the author quotes Ronald Hutton historian’s notes that ”among traditional Siberian cultures some spirits were regarded with ‘respect, affection, solicitude’ while others were seen as ‘groups of efficient but untrustworthy thugs….and would punish with death any human master or mistress who shirked the duties of the shamanic vocation”. That witches generally first encountered a familiar or demon spirit during a pivotal moment of extreme stress, they may have for example family members may have fallen seriously sick – which happened often in earlier times, or they may have lost a farm animal to illness – which could lead to ruin or even death in a poor agricultural farming society. Wilby compares these pressures and threats to the sort of preparation to encounter a guiding spirit that shaman in traditional societies undertake – fasting, depriving themselves of sleep, and creating other physical extremes.
Wilby also argues that the concept of traveling to a sabbat is often seen to be the Christian interrogating authorities interpretation of the witch accompanying a fairy into fairyland, where they may learn magical such as how to use medicinal plants to heal, however this interpretation of the evidence as biased by elite intervention may not necessarily be correct due to the peoples own obfuscation of any clear boundaries between the folk faith and Christian church orthodoxy as it was(n’t) understood.

In the final section of the book Wilby considers whether the evidence suggests that peoples encounter experiences were primarily visionary and trance derived via a number of diverse methods, or alternately more paraphsyical than psycho-spiritual in nature and presents Paracelsus claim for the latter that ”Everyone may educate and regulate his imagination so as to come thereby into contact with spirits, and be taught by them”….This view in no way negates the reality of Familiar and Faery spirits, but rather places their existence in the shamanic realm of trance and ecstasy, the trance is not necessarily of the ”all fall down…”variety.
That similar beliefs may have also existed on a popular level are suggested by Robert Kirk’s claim ( author of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies) that perception of a spirit will continue so long as the seer can keep their eye steady without twinkling. Thus relatively ordinary activities could mask powerful contemplative techniques which developed a sustained ‘monotonous focus’ in which state the hidden realms all around us may be perceived. Employing ‘monotonous focus’ and ‘psychic destabilization’ like the shaman, the common and unlettered folk – women, children and poor men, were capable then of skills as intimated by the sixteenth century German magician Cornellius Agrippa. In support of such views and highlighting the similarities between early modern cunning folk and witches and the encounter experiences of Siberian and Native American shamans, she references Mircea Eliade’s claim (author Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy and much more) that shamanism is at root a psychological tendency rather than a religious belief…”we see no reason for regarding is as the result of a specific historical movement…as produced by a certain form of civilization. Rather, we would consider it fundamental in the human condition”. Despite the Victorian, early twentieth century and even relatively recent historiographical tendency to ‘pathologize’ and thereby dismiss as unimportant the visionary dimension of the familiar encounter, as boastings and ravings of the half crazy, and strange, mad outpourings, nightmares and collective fantasies, of mental illness and schizophrenia, Wilby points out that since the 1950’s advances in psychology, ethnography and comparative religion have rendered such simplistic diagnosis untenable. That ”magical cures of cunning folk were effective on many levels…that charms prayers and ritual were effective in curing psychosomatic aspects…divinitary techniques may have led the client to subconsciously reveal their wishes or suspicions…” Earlier and reductionist views such as those of Sir James Frazer who held that tribal magico-religious belief systems were (merely) an amalgamation of cause and effect magical technologies designed to meet basic survival needs, have been eloquently dismissed by subsequent academics such as the prominent scholar of religion Ninia Smart ”Frazer’s theory neglects the perception of the numinous…” It has become clear that the range of potentially healthy states of consciousness is considerably broader than previously imagined, that there is more to the experience of spirits and faeries than self delusion and misrepresentation, here we discover genuine spiritual experiences of envisioned guides and sacred beings.
To conclude her study ”because there has been little attempt to analyze the ‘fantasies’ of cunning folk and witches in relation to visionary experience as it is found in magical belief systems and religions throughout the world including Christianity…” Wilby examines a variety of comparative religious perspectives and their similarities with the narrative encounters of early modern cunning folk and witches. Despite their acknowledged moral ambiguity – they are not characterized by any Christian anti worldly ‘moral purity’ of action or intent but display the full range of human motivations, their widespread theatricality such as dressing in dark gowns or carrying ominous stave’s ”carved with heads like those of satyrs” and their use of deception, the cunning folk and witch visionaries are portrayed as Britain’s ‘unrecognized mystics’ who experienced spiritual revelations of a higher dimension. In this context Wilby’s assessment of Christianity and other religions suppression of unorthodox spiritual perception and practice (outside of their own orthodox canon of wise men, miracles, healing powers and prophecies ) is seen to be about the Church and State avoiding loss of authority and of maintaining a monopoly over all things psychic and spiritual – at any cost. This position was contrary to the common folk belief that magical practitioners skills sprung from a divine origin ”It is a gift which God hath given her…(by virtue of this gift, she) doth more good in one yeere then all these Scripture men will doe so long as they live.” Indeed, after the Reformation, cunning folk even took on the role previously played by the Catholic Saints and had been compared to Christ himself. The author also portrays the similarities between Christian (and Old Testament) mystics and their visionary relationships with Angels and Christ, and the cunning folk and shaman envisioned encounters, that essentially derive from the same numinous origins and are clothed in the imaginal furnishings of the ‘seer’ and their psycho-spiritual and cultural environment. In our modern world with the decline of Christianity and contrasting rise of interest in many ancient traditions and folk beliefs, it is indeed fascinating to see how ”a mysticism unsupported by societal organizations and which was upheld by no sacred buildings, no visible iconography, no sacred books, no formalized doctrine or cosmology and no institutionalized ritual…how such formless and invisible constructs could have challenged the Christian Church for the hearts and minds of ordinary people”, yet they have done so and the invisible faery spirits of folk legends, faery tales and the cunning folk-witch encounter narratives, are revealed to be within reach once again.

Wilby’s hypothesis then is that the fairy encounter narratives of cunning folk and witches recorded in the early modern witch trials evidence a surviving trend of folk beliefs extending unbroken from a pre christian shamanic world view. Shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award, 2006, the author makes an overwhelming case for the long term existence of an ancient British-Shamanic tradition. She also re-configures our understanding of witches and cunning folk as animist shamans embedded in local communities. This is an iconoclastic reversal of modern academic opinion that witches experience of spirits and their attested narratives were either the product of mental illness or more likely perhaps an enforced or contrived collusion between the often illiterate prisoner and their elite and educated religious inquisitor. That magical practitioners across the length and breadth of Britain had stood up in courtrooms and ” ‘persisted in telling long and involved stories about faries’ despite the fact that in doing so they often knowingly condemned themselves to death” demonstrates in a definite way as could be possible the conviction, integrity and respect with which the cunning folk regarded their familiar spirits.

Emma Wilby’s book is a remarkable, timely and novel way of looking at them (Cunning Folk And Familiar Spirits ), and one of the most courageous yet attempted. (Ronald Hutton, University of Bristol)
Fascinating and well researched … a genuine contribution to what is known about cunning folk and lays very solid foundations for future work on the subject. (Brian Hoggard, White Dragon)
Emma Wilby s conclusions and her explanation of how she drew them, laid down here in the commendable modern academic tendency towards plain English that has moved away from the previous generations overly complex sentence structure, is worth its weight in gold. (Ian Read, Runa).

Anyone with a genuine interest in Faeries and Spirits, Cunning Folk and Witches, Shamanism and Native British Spirituality both early-modern and contemporary, should turn off their electricity for a while, take a long tiring walk in the forests, hills and glades – or a series of them,
and then by candle bright some magic night
should read this book with deep delight,
the end.
(Celestial Elf).
If Faerie spirit thou wouldst see, look inside the air and be, 
beyond the realm of earthly need, 
the magic of divinity ~

Wicca Refreshed; Likely Lineage Revealed

My Review of
Wicca Magical Beginnings – The history and origins of the rituals and other practices found in the Book of Shadows of Gerald Gardner and other traditions of modern initiatory Pagan Witchcraft
Sorita d’Este (Author), David Rankine (Author)

Wicca Refreshed; Likely Lineage Revealed.

This book entails a refreshing and objective overview of the plausible origins and developments of many magickal aspects and their development into modern Wiccan traditions. Chapter by chapter the authors examine individual practices and their developments over time such as the Magick circle, Wiccan Rede and Witches Athame for example.

Having recently read Ronald Hutton’s research in The Triumph of the Moon, which seems to demonstrate that despite the history of Cunning Folk, Wise Women and many others, that Wicca as it exists today has little or no direct connection with any magick traditions of earlier times, this book – if we are able to join the dots between movements and grimoires, convincingly portrays an opposite view. Here we see that the Wiccan traditions do indeed follow a historical lineage, even if individual practices have understandably changed over time – by which mean we may see that they are living traditions rather than archived curiosities, that the spirit of magick has maintained a constant and responsive cultural presence, possibly since very ancient times. This book also explores how Gerald Gardener, the apparent father of modern Wicca, may owe more than is usually stated to Aleister Crowley, Charles Leland, the Key of Solomon and Frazier’s Golden Bough among others.

The co author’s Sorita D’este and David Rankine provide numerous references in an extensive bibliography for the academically determined to double check their assertions and contexts, some good humored asides of interest and some objective conjecture that invites an opened mind to assess for themselves- based on the evidences gathered – the likely origins of each aspect under consideration.

As a believer in informed understanding I would therefore recommend this book, to be considered in conjunction with other authors research, to any who seek a practical view of the possible lineage of Wicca and Magickal traditions in Britain and the World today.

Bright Blessings to those who follow Truth.


The Triumph Of The Moon; A Review ~

Intrigued by Ronald Hutton’s assertion that “Wicca” (meaning the wiseones) is the first all British religion given to the world, I approached his book The Triumph of the Moon as my first serious study of Wicca and Witchcraft with an objective attitude and without any preconceived perspectives on the matter. As anyone who has read any Hutton will already know, his books are academic, copiously referenced and invariably not a light read.

 

Art by Alexis Mackenzie

Of The Origins of Modern Perspectives 
On Witchcraft, Wicca and Paganism In Britain;
Restricting his research to Great Britain, the book opens with an exploration of prevailing attitudes towards Paganism in the late 19th – early 20thC, asserting that Wiccan belief and practice owe much to the scholars, novelists and poets who resurrected Pan and the Goddess in the Victorian and Edwardian culture, and identifying the four key perspectives of the period;
First, a belief that all Pagans, both of European prehistory and of contemporary tribal peoples represented a religious expression of humanity’s ignorance and savagery.
Second, that derived from the religion and culture of Ancient Greece and Rome, the Pagans were noble and admirable people but essentially remained inferior to Christianity in their ethics and spiritual values.
Third, that some writers considered Paganism superior to Christianity, being a life affirming and joyous alternative approach to religion which respects all of nature and seeks to integrate our lives with it.
Fourth, that a number of thinkers, writers and poets with connections to the Romantic movement such as Shelley, Leigh Hunt and Thomas Love Peacock, considered Paganism a remnant of a great universal religion of the distant past, elements of which were to be found in all the major religions practice by civilized humanity, from which contemporary NeoPaganism is descended.

Hutton then explored in greater depth the various strands of Romantic literary Paganism, the Frazerian Anthropology, Folklorism, Freemasonry, Theosophy, the revival of Ritual Magic and of Ceremonial magic, Thelema, and Woodcraft Chivalry, among others.
I found his research into the varieties of ‘Cunning Folk’ and other groups including ‘The Toadmen’ (still around in 1938) and a Masonic styled secret society called ‘The Horseman’s Word’ in the 19th century to be particularly enjoyable and informative reading.
To introduce them briefly, the ‘Cunning Folk’ were professional or semi-professional practitioners of magic active from at least the fifteenth up until the early twentieth century who practiced folk magic – also known as “low magic” – although often combined this with elements of “high” or ceremonial magic. In earlier times, the witch’s power to harm people, livestock, and crops was greatly feared: for this reason country people consulted with the ‘Cunning Men’ and ‘Wise Women’ who had the power to negate their spells with counter-magic.  Cunning-folk practitioners were also consulted for love spells, to find lost property or missing persons, exorcise ghosts and banish evil spirits.
Ronald Hutton suggests that the ‘Cunning Craft’, rather than dying out, had changed character by being subsequently absorbed into other magical currents.
The decline of the cunning craft in Britain was not however indicative of other European nations: in Italy for example, cunning practitioners continued operating right into the early twenty-first century.

Nevertheless, the author portrays that through the increasing interest in ancient Paganism and survival of traditional magical practices like charms during the 19thC, there came about in the 20thC what amounts to a new religion.

Laurie Lipton. The Black Sun

Of The Rise of Modern Wicca, 
Witchcraft and Paganism in Britain;
The second half of this book traces in greater depth the modern history of that new religion, of Paganism and Wicca, with particular focus on Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions of Wicca and examines the personalities involved in launching modern pagan witchcraft, including Gerald Gardner, Sanders, Valiente, the Crowthers, Pickingill and others.
Hutton says that Wicca was introduced by Gerald Gardener in the mid to late 1950’s shortly after Britain repealed their anti-witchcraft laws. Gardener had claimed that he became acquainted with a group of Rosicrucian actors who introduced him to an ancient surviving craft and that Dorothy Clutterbuck, their priestess, initiated him into their coven.
However, Hutton also argues that Wicca’s origins go well beyond Gardener claiming that Gardener was influenced not only by Ancient Hinduism following his period of civil service in India, but also a diverse collection of sources including 17th and 18th century fraternal organizations, 19th century esoteric societies including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis  and Freemasonry from whom he borrowed Wicca’s ritual structure, initiations, handshakes and passwords. The author makes clear that Gardener also derived inspiration and some practices from the Occultist Aleister Crowley and Romantic literary authors including Yeats, Frazer and Graves as well as the Back-To-Nature movement.

Despite Gardener’s claimed introduction to an older craft group – which Hutton points out is contested, and because of Gardener’s own subsequent gathering of sources and resources such as The Book Of Shadows, his forming of Covens and publicizing of his new organization, Gardener is nevertheless portrayed as the founding father of modern Wicca.
Whilst this early NeoPaganism may appear a socially or politically subversive movement, particularly because of its secrecy and the reversal of cultural norms such as that some aspects of ritual were to be carried out naked, the point is made that at this stage the movement was not of a socially minded reactionary nature at all. Several of its founding figures were deeply conservative (and politically Conservative), and their quarrel was not with social and economic status quo, but rather against the unnaturalness and destruction of traditional patterns of life and societies deep involvement with nature that characterized the rising industrial modernity.

On the one hand then Hutton appears to make the argument that early modern Pagan Witchcraft did not stem from any unbroken lines of succession and does not represent a survival of ancient forms of indigenous religious practice, but equivocally he also states that various forms of earlier practice such as the Cunning Craft, Wise Women and others had been subsumed and evolved into the new forms of neo Paganism and Wicca…



Of the Modern World View 
& American Feminist  Remodeling of Paganism and Wicca;
Moving on to consider the more recent developments in Wicca and Paganism, Hutton presents the modern world phenomenon of Witchcraft and of Paganism as having developed in Great Britain and been exported to USA where they were taken up by feminist pagans who massively popularized the concepts as well as imbued them with a more socialistic communal minded orientation. After this socialization the author says  a “new and improved” Wicca made the jump back across the pond to England in the early 1980’s, that Paganism and Wicca have returned with greater prominence and popularity to Great Britain in large part via the books of such authors as Starhawk, Z. Budapest and others who have provided a number of self initiation and guide books for the growing number of solitary practitioners or hedge witches. Hutton portrays then the development of an essentially a politically conservative religious movement evolving into a liberal/progressive movement prioritization feminist issues, promoting a progressive social policy, and advocating self-help/group therapies. The author rounds out his voluminous research with an interesting personal account of what in his view the principle precepts of modern Paganism and Wicca entail.

 

Of the Authors Conjectural Conclusions 
And Their Ultimate Uncertainty;
Despite the apparent academic objectivity of Ronald Hutton’s research which I have thoroughly enjoyed in a number of his studies, I found in this work an ambivalence and lack of clear resolution on a number of occasions. Mr Hutton seems to present an evidence based case as far as it would go and then implies the ensuing conjecture without the definitive evidence for the the implied conclusions, a practice which he points out in others as imaginative if academically erroneous. I find myself further intrigued by such deft footwork from an academic author and because of these misgivings I have looked about for other reviewers opinions. Of the many such reviews that I found among those who were not too overwhelmed, like myself, by all the cross references and closely written and basically bewildering panoramic scope of fine details, some appear to see the wood through the trees, claiming that the authors main pitch in this work, that Wicca and NeoPaganism do not carry any unbroken lineage to antiquity, are partisan perspectives that the author has impelled his evidence to support. These views of Ronald Hutton as expressed in The Triumph Of The Moon have then provoked a certain amount of debate from both sides of the camp so to speak. In response to such perspectives, Hutton frequently hints that there is more to this story, but states that without definitive evidence we cannot be sure and then proceeds present to his own conjectured conclusion almost as a definitive orthodoxy.

 

 

Of The Debate over Authorial Objectivity in 
The Triumph Of The Moon;
For a balanced review of The Triumph Of The Moon,  I have include a few quotes here from a well argued case against Ronald Hutton’s conjecture that there is no ancient lineage of Witchcraft or Paganism in Britain, from the author of the website ‘e g r e g o r e s‘ under the title of
The Recantations of Ronald Hutton;
”In Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton triumphantly claimed that the whole notion of the Old Religion had been “swept away” by a “tidal wave” of research…Hutton had spent a decade studying the question of the relationship between modern Paganism and ancient forms of religion…Hutton had reached the conclusion that no such relationship existed whatsoever, and that no one could be taken seriously who believed otherwise, explicitly including anyone who so much as “suggest[ed] that there might be some truth” in the notion of the Old Religion.
The only problem was that the whole time Hutton had, now by his own admission, been systematically ignoring “certain types of ancient religion” which just so happened to be precisely the ones which most “closely resembled [modern] Paganism, had certainly influenced it, and had certain linear connections with it”! And why did he ignore the one place he should have been looking all along? Because it was “in every sense marginal to my own preoccupations.”
Hutton was by his own admission preoccupied then with his own proposition that “the paganism of today has virtually nothing in common with that of the past except the name.”

 

 

In Conclusion;
As I have previously held no particular view over the ancient lineage claims for Witchcraft, Wicca and Paganism in Great Britain, and their authenticity or lack thereof, and because I have followed a largely intuitive path similar perhaps to that of a Hedge-Druid in my relative independence of groups and traditions as regards my own awareness of Pagan and nature reverencing issues and of what I shall term Supernature and its apprehension in daily life, I have found this volume to be informative, enjoyable and unexpectedly provocative. That there ensues some degree of partisan prejudice was almost to be expected, as the wider public may still hold various oppositional perspectives based on an until recently dominant Christian cultural ideology and its ensuing misinformation against Paganism and Witchcraft in particular. That such views should apparently inform an objective academic in his choice of how to handle his subject matter is not a question that I am well enough equipped to consider. I would surmise however by saying that I have learned a lot by reading this work, both within the tome itself and further by becoming aware of sensible and informed dissent without.

For all of these reasons I recommend this study to any who would consider the origins and developments of Witchcraft, Wicca and Paganism in modern Britain today, with the caveat that there may indeed be more to this story than meets the eye or is presented here.

So Mote It Be ~
%d bloggers like this: