Witch Craft Basics

Suffolk, learning basics

Witchcraft Basics:

     

Within these pages you will find a very basic ‘How to’ and 'What is' explanation of some of the general aspects of the ‘Pagan’ religions in general. What you won’t find is the opinions of experts. For further information, see the page titled 'Belief'. or 'Basic Paganism'

Most of the contents of this website were researched and written, by Rainbird between 1995 and 2007 some have been revised between 07 & 09 and again in 2013 -2014. And again almost all the clip art was designed or put together by Rainbird.

 

Goto Links

 You are the:

 

 Visitor to this site:

This site was last updated on the:

5th May 2017

Rainbird

 

Links

Click Icon for moon phases.

          

 Gippeswyck Gathering  A fun and social moot for pagans. Meet at the Dove Inn.

 

 http://www.freewebs.com/colchesterpagans    Colchester Pagan Network

   

     An Goath The Wind

 

Paganism Explained

  What is Paganism?

Some time ago I was asked, ‘What is Paganism’?

Over the years that’s been a question I have been asked many times and most of the time I can only answer that question in the very vaguest of terms.

 First of all Paganism is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of religious belief-sets and spiritual paths.

For some, paganism refers to any pre or non-Christian religions, for others it refers to any polytheistic religion (those that include the worship of many gods and/or goddesses), for others it includes both of these and more.

The lack of a firm and agreed definition makes the question 'What is paganism?' a very difficult question to answer.

Technically I believe that in England it is usually understood as being the worship of non-Christian Gods and Goddesses, yet at the same time we do not see religions such as Hinduism as a pagan religion which also has many Gods and Goddesses which are also non-Christian!

Within paganism there are some that believe in:

Monotheism: these are people that believe in a single god like Christians (for pagan’s read as non-christian God): Then there are those that believe in: Polytheism: which is the worship or belief in multiple deities, male and female. Pantheism: is basically the same as Polytheism; that of a belief in multiple deities usually assembled into what are called pantheons or extended families of gods and goddesses, along with their own set of religious beliefs and rituals.

There are some that don’t believe in a deity as such, and some who are not sure whether there is one or not, except for some unspecified spiritual or elemental power that is either found externally or internally that can be harnessed or accessed by the believer.

Some worship these gods, and some (even those who believe in them) do not. Some hold nature as divine and or sacred and some worship them as aspects of nature or nature spirits. But I’ll touch on that later

The termed Eclecticism or Eclectic: is used for those where a pagan will ‘cherry pick’ the bits he or she likes from a variety of pagan belief systems and mix or meld them together to form their own version of paganism.

The most popular ‘pagan’ belief systems in this country are Wicca and Druidism closely followed by Odinism and or Heathenism (both of which are growing in popularity) yet even within these there are almost as many different branches, groups and belief sets within the scope of those titles as there are pagans!

By the very nature and understanding of the word;

‘Pagan’ means different things to many different and diverse groups of people throughout the world.

Just looking at the word ‘Pagan’ doesn’t help us much either. In the English dictionary the word pagan means ‘Heathen’ and the word heathen means ‘not adhering to a religious system’.

The actual root Latin word ‘paganus’ means ‘rural’ or ‘of the country’ or ‘country dweller’.

In other countries instead of the use of the once derogatory title of pagan you may have been called a heathen, a gentile; an idolater; a nonbeliever or an infidel and many other such names. 

But as we Pagans ‘do’ adhere to a religious system, all be it a non-Christian, non organised religion we are obviously not ‘heathens’.

The word pagan was popularized in Victorian times to describe a non-Christian as "a person who is deemed a savage or uncivilized and morally deficient"

But when and if somebody asks me “what religion are you”, I give the easy answer “I am a Pagan” and then I leave it up to the individual to believe whatever they wish, or to enquire further if they are curious.

But to all intents and purposes there are an infinite number of religions within that one all encompassing umbrella answer.

Wicca

In the 1950s Gerald Gardner brought Wicca to the attention of the British public. Gardner came up with a fusion of magical ideology that could happily coexist and interact with the modern world view; these followers were termed ‘Gardnerians.

Later a would be follower of Gardner ‘Alex Sanders’ got hold of a copy of the ‘Gardnerian’ BoS and rewrote and reworked many of the rituals used by Gardnerians, then he (possible) ‘hived off’ [although there is some controversy about whether he was ever a member of a ‘Gardnerian’ coven or not]; he then established his own coven and his followers later became known as Alexandrian.

Today many pagans who follow the path of Wicca preface their beliefs as either Gardnerian or Alexandrian.

The act of ‘Hiving off’ (spliting from the original group) still goes on, and the resulting fusion of belief sets is too diverse to mention individually and they are usually termed Eclecticism.

But the basic tenets are a Goddess and God balance, both being equally important and equally honoured.

In the 30 years or so that I have been involved with paganism I have met a lot of pagans over the years and hopefully most have become Friends!

And while they represent a wide diversity of spiritual beliefs and practices, most of them, including myself, would probably be more accurately described as neo-pagans.

Neo-pagans or new pagans follow spiritual paths that are usually inspired by, or derived from what we ‘believe’ to be how ancient pagan religions were conducted.

It is impossible to follow an ancient religion exactly the same as our ancestors did, because we don't have enough evidence to know all the details about them.

What little we know we got from the Greeks and the Romans and later, early medieval monks.

As to worshipping the planet as sacred, most pagans venerate nature and feel it is very important to respect their environment, ecology and the earth in general; and some hold and worship the planet as divine.

I have a slightly different view; I still revere the planet as sacred but I don’t worship it, I am not sure if I believe the planet earth is a divine being in and of itself.

My belief is that if you want a certain thing to happen you go to the appropriate aspect or God or Goddess of that part of Sacred Earth that relates to what you want to happen.

If you choose to believe that they are all part of the ‘All’ the ‘Creatorix’ as some call it, or separate aspects and or divine beings that is a personal choice.

This next bit may be contentious but I liken it to the NHS; if you have toothache you go to see the dentist, if you have mental health problems you go and see a psychiatrist, if you have an undefined general medical problem you go and see your (GP) doctor. These are all departments or aspects if you like within the NHS. Most of us subconsciously see them as separate but they are all part of the same organisation, the NHS!

Personally, I view the Gods and Goddesses as separate and divine in their own right but I am also quite willing to accept that they may be part of a greater ‘All’, our ancestors believed that the Gods and Goddesses were part of a pantheon a family with a great mother and father figure.

But in the end, in paganism we are all at liberty to believe exactly what we want to believe and no one can bring a convincing argument either for or against; i.e. who is right or who is wrong.

The lack of a firm agreed definition makes the question of 'What is a pagan?' a very difficult one to answer.

The crux of the matter as I have said before is that most neo-pagan religions are not set in stone and can change and evolve as and when the practioners grows in wisdom and knowledge.

Of Druidism very little is known of the original belief system. Most of what we think we know today is based on reports written by the Romans who wanted to show this ancient Celtic/Gaelic system of worship, governance and law in a bad light and thereby justify the reasons for conquest.

We know that within Druidry they were divided into three orders, that of Bard, Ovate and Druid; (three seems to be a recurring number within magic).

Even the Romans wrote that ‘History is written by the victors’, in other words it cannot be trusted implicitly it will be biased.

Many of the reports and observations written by or for Julius Caesar are today thought to be influenced by the Roman viewpoint and not quite accurate in some of the detail. Yet these are more or less all we have to go on.

The Druids although said to be members of the ‘intelligenceer’ did not write down their religious teachings and law as did the priests of the other religions of that time.

They believed that memory was important and all that was needed.

We do however have tantalizing glimpses and historical and archaeological facts to build on. Facts garnered from archaeological finds in Europe, England, Wales, Ireland and Breton and the wider European area.

Archaeological finds such as the ‘Gunderstrup Cauldron’ found in 1891 in a peat bog near the hamlet of Gundestrup in Denmark and the votive offerings from the many spiritually significant sites such as ‘Holy wells and springs’.

And we also know some of the beliefs held by the Celts which still survived, handed down by word of mouth mainly in Ireland and the remote parts of Wales, Scotland and Breton and of course those written by the Romans.

 Although these are all subject to question as they were written or compiled from mythical stories and legends some five to seven hundred years later by some medieval Christian monks such as Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales); a Welsh clergyman and the son of a Welsh princess (c.1146-1223); who is also thought to have been the first person to mention King Arthur, if not the source in one of his many books.

We also have others such as Gildus (c500 – 570) the venerable Bede (c572/3 – 735) Geoffrey of Monmouth (c1100 – 1155), and prior to them all Julius Cesar (100 BCE – 44 BCE).

And not for getting ‘Nennius’ a 9th (c830 CE) century writer who was at one time thought to have written ‘The Historia Brittonum’ a chronicle of British and Welsh history which he actually compiled from other sources; a famous written quote from the preface of his book goes:

I have made a heap of all that I could find'. Do not be loath, diligent reader, to winnow my chaff, and lay up the wheat in the storehouse of your memory: for truth regards not who is the speaker, nor in what manner it is spoken, but that the thing be true; and she does not despise the jewel which she has rescued from the mud, but she adds it to her former treasures”.

We also have what has been garnered from the mythical tales of the ‘Mabinogi’ believed to have been put together in the 12th century from oral tales and later translated by Lady Charlotte Guest; and then we also have the great Irish tale ‘Táin Bó Cuailnge’ (The Cattle Raid of Coolly) and the seven ‘fore-tales’ dating from several different centuries and preceding them all a little known anecdote dating from the early 9th century.

Last but not least we have the Irish and Welsh Triads which were put together in the Middle-Ages, using much older material and containing such things as the interpretation of the law and the penalties and fines for breaking those laws.

From these you can gain an insight into the important beliefs of the Celtic people and thus armed with the names of their deities and an indication of what was important to them, some people have extrapolated from this and built up a framework of belief through which they honour the Deities of our ancestors through their version of Druidism.

There are also those groups who hold and follow a belief in a fusion of both Wicca and Druidism named by Philip Carr Gomm as Druid Craft.

They use the ritual words and actions of either Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca and set within that framework the Celtic Goddesses and Gods of Druidism as a more pertinent link to the ancestors. So as you can see it’s not as straight forward as you at first thought.

I personally feel a strong affinity to the Celtic deities and will often invoke their help. Many if not most pagans revere the ancestors of both their own blood and/or the land they live in. 

And as my Athair (Father) was Irish I think I am naturally drawn to the Celtic Gods and Goddess, so perhaps I practice Druid Craft.

As to ‘Heathenism’ I know very little; there are as in Wicca various branches group and ‘Grove’ names. So the following are quotes from ‘Wikipedia’.

Odinism: According to the Odinist Fellowship, "Odinism is a polytheistic religion”. They believe in and honour the life-giving and bountiful gods and goddesses of the Odinic pantheon, whom they refer to collectively as the High Gods of Asgard, or as the Æsir and Vanir. They believe their gods are true gods, divine, living spiritual entities, endowed with power and intelligence, who are willing and able to intervene in the course of Nature and human lives to help or hinder!

They believe that it behoves them to seek their gods goodwill and succour through prayer and sacrifice.

Quote:

 “The gods do not require us to abase and humble ourselves; they do not seek to make of us craven slaves. Therefore do not bow or kneel or kow-tow to the gods, but address them proudly like free, upstanding men and women. We regard our gods, not as our masters, but as firm friends and powerful allies."

Theodism originally sought to reconstruct the beliefs and practices of the Anglo-Saxon tribes which settled in England. As it evolved, the Theodish community moved past the solely Anglo-Saxon forms, and other Germanic tribal groups were incorporated. Theodism, in this larger sense, now encompass groups practicing tribal beliefs from Norman, Frisian, Angle, Saxon, Jutish, Gothic, Alemannic, Thuringian, Swedish and Danish tribal cultures. Following the model set forth by the Anglo Saxon theods founded in the 1970s.

 This relaxing of the original term "Theodism" identifies with Germanic Neo-pagans who practice or advocate Neo-Tribalism.

Ásatrú is a modern Icelandic compound derived from Áss, which refers to the Æsir, an Old Norse term for the Gods, and trú, literally meaning "faith", thus, Ásatrú is the "faith in the Æsir".

The term is the Icelandic translation of Asetro, a neo-logism coined in the context of 19th century romantic nationalism, used by Edvard Grieg in his 1870 opera Olaf Trygvason (he was the King of Norway c960s-1000). The ‘Asatru Folk Assembly’ maintains that Asatru simple means "belief in the gods"

From a combination of Wicca and Heathenry Seax Wicca was born:

Seax-Wica is a Saxon Witchcraft based religion. The writer Raymond Buckland became fed up with the quarrels within Gardnerian Wicca in the 60s and 70s so he decided to form his own Wiccan tradition, which he called Seax-Wica it was based upon the symbolism taken from Anglo-Saxon paganism.

He published everything about the movement in his book ‘The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft’ which more or less became their BoS. He moved to America in 1973.

 He then began correspondence courses to teach people about Seax-Wica, which grew to having around a thousand members plus.

Seax-Wica is a tradition or off shoot of the neo-pagan religion of Wicca which is largely inspired by the iconography of historical Anglo-Saxon paganism.

Though, unlike Theodism, it is not a reconstruction of the early mediaeval religion itself.

This tradition primarily honours Germanic deities such as Woden and Freya and is seen as representations of the Wiccan deities the Horned God and the Mother Goddess, they also use a minimal set of the ceremonial tools plus a spear.

Seax-Wica only has the one degree and you can be either initiated by a group or self initiated, neither does it employ any secrecy oath. The High Priest and Priestess are elected usually on and annual bases.

Pagan Ceremonies

In general for most neo-pagans, ritual can be very simple (for example a lighting a candle, meditating, burning incense or oil, taking a ritual bath, chanting or making an affirmation), or it can be more elaborate and involve a whole combination of these (and other) practices, such as  with 'a circle casting’, a method used to create a sacred space. This can be done either alone or with a group.

Another question often asked is: Do pagans celebrate religious festivals?

The answer is yes! Most pagans celebrate the turning of the earth's seasons, known as 'The Wheel of the Year'. There are eight festivals usually referred to as ‘Sabbats’ in the solar year. This is marked by festivals or Sabbats at roughly six week intervals.

The Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer festivals are sometimes referred to as ‘Lesser’ festivals or ‘Cross Quarter days’. These are the two equinoxes and the two Solstice days. Their dates are determined by the position of the sun, and so these dates vary slightly from year to year, but are usually fixed by calendar date.

In between these, there are four other festivals, sometimes known as 'Fire festivals' or ‘Greater Festivals’. The dates of these are usually determined by calendar date.

Although I believe our ancestors probably linked them to a moon phase; either dark of moon in the case Samhain or a full moon as in the case of Beltaine.

Because different pagans will choose to determine these dates using different methods, these festivals are celebrated on dates that can vary slightly from one pagan group or coven; or even one location to the next. 

I believe that a festival or Sabbat can be celebrated up to two days before or after; although some argue that it can be up to a week either side of the calendar date.

But if you take into consideration the calendar changes over the last 1600 years it could change your views; i.e.: In 1752 England came into line with the rest of Europe (nothing changes does it) and an act of parliament declared that the 2nd of September would be followed by the 14th of September!

This was followed by rioting crowds gathering and demanding “Give us back our 12 days”. But even before that in the year 532CE, Abbot Dionysius was tasked with the problem of calculating the date for Easter and the birth of Jesus, he lost 4 years. (He missed out one of the roman emperors).

Samhain: for me as with many pagans the year starts or restarts at Samhain, for some it will starts at the winter solstice, for others it starts on the 1st January, while conversely the ancient Roman year started in March.

It was thought that the early Celts believed their day, year and life started with a periods of darkness. This was attributed to the teachings of the druids.

The druids are supposedly to have believed that when you died you entered into a period of darkness before being born. They did not believe you entered ‘nothingness’ it was more like entering the night:

So therefore reincarnation started with the darkness of death, Life started with the darkness of the womb, the day started with the darkness of sunset, the month started with the dark of the moon, the year started with the darkness of winter.

Yule: The Winter Solstice is what I call the ‘Beginning of the End’ ‘ad infinitum’ some refer to this time of the year as ‘The Yoke of the Year’ as at the point of Solstice Eve time is finely balanced. It’s neither this year or next year, it’s in-between, then it finally tips in to the waxing half of the year.

This liminal point is the time to celebrate the turning of the year, the turning of the wheel; the rebirth of the goddess and her son.

It’s also one of the two days when many believe that the battle between the Holly King and the Oak King takes place. It’s the rebirth of hope.

Maybe this year will be better, easier and more golden with good harvests; atleast better than the past year was.

Imbolc:

Imbolc is the festival that celebrates the returned light; the length of the day is noticeably growing.

A very rough translation I believe would be “In the belly of” some believe it should and does mean “Ewes milk”. Some people believe that the name was chosen because this was when the ewes started to lactate or to produce milk in readiness for the new lambs soon to be born.

I believe that it is more likely to be associated with the unborn life contained with -‘in the belly of’ the pregnant women and/or animals at this time of the year. It’s another reason why some springs and wells are considered to be sacred as they come from with – ‘in the belly of’ Mother Earth! We also honour the triple Goddess Bridget at this time of the year.

Eóstra:

Eóstra is one of the many names for the Earth Goddess; ‘Eóstra’ is also the name of an early Saxon Goddess of the Dawn, some pronounce this as ‘Ostara’ but if we are using the Gaelic pronunciation the ‘’ should be spoken as the ‘oe’ in Joe, but I wouldn’t like to argue about which is right or wrong. Other names this festival is known by are Ostara and Oster.

If you look in the dictionary there is a similar word "Oestrus" which means "the sexual impulse in females" and we don't have to try too hard to guess where it comes from.

Oster or a very similar Latin word ortus means to rise, which again links in to the death, resurrection and fertility celebrations held at this time of the year.

This is the time of the year when the planting of the seed corn is almost done; indeed in some of the more southerly, warmer parts of the country the corn and wheat has already ‘risen’; showing a faint haze of green on the land. To quote the well known song ‘John Barleycorn’ “Little Sir John put up his head and soon surprised them all.”

Beltaine

La Beltaine is said to derive its name from the Celtic fire god "Beli" who was a god of both life and death, (and another aspect of the Sun King).

          This Sabbat falls or starts on the eve of the 1st of May (31st April). This is a lunar festival and therefore supposedly one of the greater festivals. At this time of the year it is believed that the Goddess and her consort/son the Sun or as some believe the ‘Foliate Man’ or Oak King are joined together as man and wife, if you can use such a mundane concept such as marriage with gods.

This celebration contains all the traditional aspects of a wedding ceremony, feasting, drinking and dancing, yet all of this is taking place out in the open, under the sun at first and as the sun goes down, under the Moon and stars then again under the sun as they watch it rise on May Day morn.

There's dancing round the Maypole which is traditional and a very symbolic act at this festival. The earliest written account of a Maypole I have come across is in 772 AD when the Emperor Charlemagne ordered the destruction of a Maypole in a province of Northern Germany.

The Symbolism is that the Maypole represents the God or phallus of the young God, which is firmly planted in the earth, the body of the Goddess.

It was also traditional to celebrate this festival by lighting twin fires.

Litha

The celebrations for this festival usually commence on the Eve of the 21st of June (20th) and carry on until just after Sunrise on the 21st. This is a solar festival, and according to some, a lesser fire festival; it is set by the Summer Solstice.

This is the time when the Holly King is once more strong enough to take over from the Oak King.  The Oak King in turn gives over the last of his power and life force to the Goddess in order to ensure a good harvest then he makes way for the Holly King to preside over the waning half of the year.

This also supposed to be the best time to see and treat with fairies!

Lughnasadh

The Celtic festival of Lughnasadh is a fire festival and the celebrations usually start on the eve of the 1st August. Some believe that at this time the season turns from summer into autumn. This also marks the beginning of the ‘First Harvest’. It’s thought to derive its name from the God Lugh/Llew and probable means “The Feast of Lugh”.

Although named for Lugh its origins should be more closely linked to his foster Mother ‘Tailiu’ a Goddess of the land, therefore of sovereignty.

But I think another reason for attaching Lughs name to this festival was his association with the Goddess Brigantia another Goddess of Sovereignty, who he (Lugh) was believed to mystically enter into marriage with at this time of the year in order to gain the kingship of the land!

He is also said to share the rule of the underworld with this Goddess.

Mabon

This festival is usually celebrated on the eve of the 21st of September. This is the ‘Autumnal Equinox’ and a solar festival, therefore supposedly a ‘lesser’ festival. The Welsh call this day “Alban Elfed or Elued meaning ‘Light of Autumn’.

Mabon is said to be the name of a God from a union between other worldly and earthly parents.

His name simply means ‘Great Son’ He is sometimes referred to as Mabon ap Modron: Son of the Mother, Modron meaning Great Mother, their continental counterparts are Maponos and Matrona.

In the build up to Mabon the harvest is gathering apace, for most would dearly love to celebrate this thanks giving festival on or before the Eve of Mabon. This was and is a celebration of the second harvest, root and hedge row, nuts and fungi.

Samhain:

And once again the wheel turns and we are back once more to Samhain the start of the year. ‘The end is the beginning of the end, ad infinitum!’ Samhain is the final or third harvest, sometime referred to as the meat harvest which is why you get the Christian propaganda re sacrifices at this time of the year. This is the time of the year when our ancestors decided which animals to cull or keep; what animals they could breed and feed over winter etc.

Esbats:

There is also another type of meeting, these are known as ‘Esbats’. Esbats are usually reserved for ‘Full Moons’ when it is said to be most advantages to perform magic, but having said that, magic can and is performed or carried out at other stages or phases of the moon, either the waxing or waning halves of the moon.

These occasions are when members of a group, coven or ‘coterie’ (a group of people with a common interest, [not necessary magical] supporting each other) meet to perform spells, healing and other magical acts. Some groups also meet at other times to study together, some on a weekly basis.

What goes on at the ‘Esbat’ is restricted to the group involved. But in a mixed group it can involve initiations ceremonies etc. I say mixed groups meaning mixed ‘gender’ groups. According to both Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca only a 2nd degree male can initiate a female to the 1st or 2nd degree and only a 2nd degree female can initiate a male to the 1st or 2nd degree!

Note: According to Gardnerian Tradition: It is permissible for a 2nd degree High Priestess to raise a 2nd degree High Priest to the 3rd degree if she is the coven leader, but only a 3rd degree High Priest can raise a 2nd degree High Priestess to the 3rd degree. Initiation must always be done male to female, female to male, within the degrees the female is always senior in the circle.

Thank you:

Rainbird )O( 2006 updated in 2014

 

Back to the top