Samhain is a time to honor our ancestors.
Time to lay out a feast and invite them to dine, to share their presence with us while the veil is thin.
So, in respect for those who came before, I have made a small Ancestral Gallery of Witches. Give them a smile, tip your hat, light a candle and say thank you for blazing the trail and holding open the gates of Elfhame. It took a lot of courage, in those old days, to walk between the worlds.
My original plan was to give space to thirteen of our forebears in one blog post, but i realized, not everyone would know them, so I shall make a series of posts with three in each — a good magical number. It is amazing to discover these great teachers and mentors all over again and to remember how they kept magic alive for all of us, sometimes at great personal risk.
We come closer to our time with the Grand Dame of the Witches and the Grandfather of modern Wicca. The last is an inspired poet of the kind Robert Graves spoke of in his pivotal classic The White Goddess. Poets have been and still are some if the most potent interpreters of the witchcraft stream…
They were all born at Midsummer. The uncanny patterns continue…
All Hallow E’en — The Wild Ride
In the hinder end of harvest, on All Hallow E’en,
When the Good Neighbors do ride, if I rede right,
Some buckled on a bane-wand, and some on a bean,
Aye trottand in troops from the twilight;
Some saddled on a she-ape, all graithed into green,
Some hobland on a hemp stalk, hovand to the height,
The King of Pharie and his court, with the Elf-queen,
With many elfish incubus was ridand that night.
Born: July 13, 1863/ Entered Faery: Nov. 13, 1963
Margaret Murray, author of The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches, was an Egyptologist who seems to have become obsessed with the idea of the Sacrificed King as described by James Frazer in The Golden Bough. Her search for evidence for this practice took her all the way back to the Stone Age where cave paintings of dancers masked as stags seemed to justify her thesis that there had once been an Old Religion in Europe, based on fertility rituals, in which dancers dressed as animals, particularly stags, and in which the Rite of the Sacrificed King was practiced to insure the production of crops.
Though her ideas have been proven groundless, her wonderful imaginative re-creation of an Old Religion in harmony with the nature, is frequently cited as the great inspiration behind modern Wicca as many were determined to bring back an ancient and extinct way of life.
Here she reveals what I feel is a true connection:
From The God of the Witches
Descriptions of fairies given by eye witnesses can be found in many accounts of the Middle Ages and slightly later. The sixteenth century was prolific in such accounts. John Walsh, the witch of Netherberry in Dorset, consulted fairies between the hours of twelve and one at noon and at midnight, and always went among the “hills” for the purpose. Besssie Dunlop in Ayrshire saw eight woman and four men, “the men clad in gentleman’s clothing, and the women had all plaids round them and were very seemly-like to see”; she was informed that these were “from the Court of Elfame”; she had previously received a visit from the Queen of Elfhame though without knowing at the time who her visitor was; she described the Queen as “a stout woman who came in to her and sat down on the form beside her and asked a drink at her and she gave it.” Alesoun Peirsoun, in Fifeshire, was ” convict for haunting and repairing with the good neighbors and the Queen of Elphane, and she had many good friends at that court which were of her own blood, who had good acquaintance with the Queen of Elphane.’ In Leith, Christina Livingstone affirmed “that her daughter was taken away with the Fairy folk, and that all the occult knowledge she had was by her daughter who met with the fairy.” Aberdeen was full of people who were well acquainted with fairies….”
The God of the Witches contains many evocative descriptions of these small, dark people of Bronze Age Britain who still walked around in the 17th century. When I first read this book back in 1979, I was totally smitten by it too.
Hail to Margaret Murray for planting the seeds!
Gerald Brousseau Gardener:
Born: June 13, 1884/ Entered Faery: Feb. 12, 1964
Origins of Wicca:
Gerald Gardner launched Wicca, the first religion based on the Old Religion of fertility and witchcraft described by Margaret Murray, shortly after the end of World War II. He went public with his creation following the repeal of England’s Witchcraft Laws in 1951. Gardnerian Wicca is a path of initiation, in which one’ s magical progress is marked by the attainment of degrees. Much of their information is secret and bound by oaths, which means it can never be shared with those outside the coven.
Gardnerian Witches identify with their lineage, which is always traced back to Gardner himself and those he initiated.
The Book of Shadows:
One of Gerald Gardner’s most compelling magical creations was the Book of Shadows. In reading about the original Book he made, it is clear the man was utterly inspired, for he tried to craft it like a Medieval Illuminated manuscript, filled with paintings and calligraphy — a very magical item like an ancient tome found in some Medieval ruin charged with sorcery. Within a Gardnerian group, each member copies the coven’s Book of Shadows and then adds to it with their own information.
His imagination was influenced by Charles Leland, Aleister Crowley, SJ MacGregor Mathers, and the books of Margaret Murray whose Old Religion he intended to re-create. I think he was also affected by the tribal rituals he must have seen when he worked in Malaysia as a civil servant, and a heavy dose of Arthurian Legend.
Gardnerian Wicca in the Public Eye:
Gardner was an educated folklorist and occultist, and claimed to have been initiated as a young man into a coven of New Forest witches by a woman named Dorothy Clutterbuck. When England repealed the last of its witchcraft laws Gardner went public with his coven, much to the consternation of many other witches in England. His active courting of publicity led to a rift between him and Doreen Valiente, who had been one of his High Priestesses. Gardner formed a series of covens throughout England prior to his death in 1964.
Being initiated into the witch cult does not give a witch supernatural powers as I reckon them, but instructions are given, in rather veiled terms, in processes which develop various clairvoyant and other powers, in those who naturally possess them slightly. Some of these powers are akin to magnetism, mesmerism and suggestion, and depend on the possibility of forming a sort of human battery, as it were, of combined human wills working together to influence persons or events at a distance. they have instructions
on how to do this by practice…
Witchcraft Today — with introduction by Margaret Murray
Born: June 14, 1900/ Entered Faery: July 6, 2003
Is this a lament for the loss of the Faeries?
I came too late to the hills: they were swept bare
Winters before I was born of song and story,
Of spell or speech with power of oracle or invocation,
The great ash long dead by a roofless house, its branches rotten,
The voice of the crows an inarticulate cry,
And from the wells and springs the holy water ebbed away.
A child I ran in the wind on a withered moor
Crying out after those great presences who were not there,
Long lost in the forgetfulness of the forgotten.
Only the archaic forms themselves could tell!
In sacred speech of hoodie on gray stone, or hawk in air,
Of Eden where the lonely rowan bends over the dark pool.
Yet I have glimpsed the bright mountain behind the mountain,
Knowledge under the leaves, tasted the bitter berries red,
Drunk water cold and clear from an inexhaustible hidden fountain.
I though to include the British poet Katheleen Raine not only because of her beautiful poetry, but because of her sensibilty. She seems to express a natural, even unconscious inclination towards witchcraft.
She is influenced by Yeats, himself a great forefather of magic and the mysteries – which would alone would count her among our ancestors – but she has also had a great attachment to the land. I think I may not be alone in sharing this quality with her.
Kathleen was an independent scholar writing on William Blake and W. B. Yeats.
Known for her interest in various forms of spirituality, most prominently Platonism and Neoplatonism, she was a founder member of the Temenos Academy.
The story of her life is told in a three-volume autobiography that is notable for the author’s attempts to impose a mythical structure on her memories, thus relating her own life to a larger pattern. Creating meaning out of life by the use of mythology and poetic inspiration is a very witchy thing to do.
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