Before taking any practical steps upon the road to becoming a full-fledged witch, it would be advisable for you to be acquainted with at least the essence of witch history. By this I do not mean such things as the over familiar accounts of Gilles de Rais' necrophilic exploits and massacres or Mother Shipton's quaint prophecies, but rather a general survey of those events in witchcraft which stand out as signposts of the black craft's history.
Witch history is steeped in legend, hidden in antiquity. There are few written sources, and those that exist are generally obscure, of an oblique nature, casting light upon rather than informing directly. For instance, Italian witch lore presents us with the following creation story:
In the beginning the Great Darkness, Diana, divided herself into two equal and opposite forces, night and day. The night was ruled over by Diana herself as the moon, the day by her alter ego and brother, Lucifer, the sun. Diana, inasmuch as the moon is ever pursuing the sun across the sky, became enamoured of her brother the sun and seduced him in the shape of his pet cat. The offspring from this union was a daughter, Aradia or Herodias, the archetypal "avatar" or patroness of all witches.
In this legend of Diana with its gnostic overtones, there are reflections of the Cabalistic tradition of Naamah, the seductress of the Fallen Angel Azael. Naamah, is synonymous with Babylonian Lilith, and Azael is none other than Babylonian Shamash, the Sun-God in his underworld aspect as Lord of Riches and Artificer of Metals. In fact he is the alter ego of Tubal Cain himself, Naamah's own brother. Azael or Azazel, is in fact one of the modern witch's gods.
Which brings me to the crux of the matter. According to ancient magical legend, Azael was originally one of those beings of primordial fire, first created dwellers in the high heaven, referred to by the Christian church as messengers, or angels, by the Greeks as daemons. Azael and his followers, according to old lore, in defiance of their masters, elected to descend upon the earth countless eons ago, for the purpose of educating and civilizing primitive man as he then existed. Whether it was part of their original plan or merely a side issue, these angelic beings, "Sons of God" or "Watchers of the Heavens," as they were entitled, elected to mate with womankind. The Book of Genesis briefly records the legend thus:
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the Sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took wives of all which they chose
However, the ancient Book of Noah written several hundred years before the birth of Christ is more explicit:
... And the angels, the children of heaven, saw and lusted after them [the daughters of men] and said one to another: "Come let us choose wives from among the children of men and beget us children" ... And all the others together took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants...
And Azazel [Azael] taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the Metals [of the earth] and the art of working them ...
Semjaza taught enchantments, and root cuttings, Arma-ros the resolving of enchantments, Baraqijel astrology, Kokabel the constellations, Ezeqeel the knowledge of the clouds [weather lore], Araqiel the signs of the earth [husbandry], Shamsiel the signs of the sun, Sariel the course of the moon ... (*)
According to that collection of ancient Cabalistic lore, the Zohar, Great Azael and his cohorts had had to assume tangible bodies in order to descend upon the earth. Because of their revolt against higher authority and the ties with this world which they had subsequently formed, they were unable to divest themselves of these material forms and re-ascend into the heavenly spaces again.
[*] "Book of Noah" from Charles Canon, Book of Enoch, London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1962. Reprinted from Oxford University Press edition, 1912.
It is from these exiled beings that all true magical knowledge and power is said to be derived. Laban, reputedly one of the greatest adepts in magical art of pre-flood times, visited the mountaintop wherein they dwelt, to learn his wisdom. This idea has lingered on and finally became a fundamental part of legends of magical initiation all over the world, from Chaldea to Tibet. The offspring of the Sons of Heaven, however, proved to be a mixed blessing for the world. Like their progenitors, they were gigantic in stature—"great giants whose height was three thousand ells." Some of these Nephelim, as the descendants of the house of Azael were known, were, like Nimrod, men of renown and great in wisdom. Others, however, turned in the opposite direction and increasingly devoted themselves to the pursuit of hideous delights and necromantic pastimes besides which Gilles de Rais' antics are said to pall into insignificance.
... And they [the Giants] began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another's flesh, and drink the blood. Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones ... (*)
Legend has it that the Watchers, in despair at the evil that had been unleashed upon the world by their hand, took counsel among themselves and wielded their power to cast down the lands wherein the Nephelim dwelt, overwhelming the entire population in one day and night by volcanic upheaval and subsequent flood, of such a planetary magnitude that to this day, throughout many parts of the world, there yet remains evidence of this appalling cataclysm in the form of layers of silt and debris beneath a certain level of geological strata, as well ,as the recurring legends of the flood and Atlantis current throughout the Western hemisphere.
The early Christian writer of the tale of Beowulf recounts how, written in runes upon the hilt of an enchanted sword said to have been made by the Nephelim themselves, King Hrothgar of the Danes reads:
... The story of ancient wars Between good and evil, the opening of the waters, The Flood sweeping the Giants away, how they suffered, And died, that race who hated the Ruler of us all, and received judgement from his hands, Surging waves that found them wherever they fled ... (*)
[*] Beowulf, translated by Burton Raffel (Mentor Books U.S.A. 1963).
We again find traces of this lore in the Norse legend of the giants' revolt, and similarly in Greek mythology concerning the gods' dealings with the rebellious Titans. It is a persistent theme. The Zohar intimates, however, that though most of the giants yielded up their lives in the flood, many of their spirits partaking as they did of the angelic nature of their fathers, proved indestructible, and lived on, invisible yet powerful even in their disembodied state. On occasion, these shades are said to gain access to the world of men by reincarnating in human shape, and are referred to as intruders, ancient alien souls transmigrating from the past. Otherwise, collectively in their immaterial shape, they constitute the so-called demonic hierarchy with which the modern witch has dealings on occasion. It is the Watchers, the Mighty Ones of the Heavenly Places, the parents of giants and humans alike as seen in symbolic and archetypal form as the parents of humanity, whether as masters of wisdom and love or simply as benevolent powers of fertility and hunting, that constitute the witch's true deities.
Diana and Lucifer of the above-mentioned witch legend are but figurative forms of these Mighty Ones. Although the legend is overlaid with later gnostic overtones such as the latinized names "Diana" and "Lucifer," these are not inappropriate, and indeed they preserve many of the seeds of truth. "Gnostic" itself in its etymological derivation means much the same as "witch": "One who knows," "one who concerns himself or herself with the hidden wisdom." It is the tattered remnants of the wisdom of the Watchers, or gods, which constitutes the lore of the witch.
The wisdom was said to have been borne away from the Lost Lands prior to the cataclysm by certain survivors, who knew the minds of the Watchers, and fled the oncoming doom. The knowledge is said to have been preserved until such a time as bit by bit in devious manners it could be secretly reintroduced to humanity once more.
Babylonian legends of Uta-Napishtim and the Biblical Noah or his Greek parallel, Deucalion, all contain echoes of this belief. Witch lore, moreover, tells of settlers from the Lost Lands coming in their wanderings to the land which is now Britain and Northern Europe, or Middle Earth as it was called in Old English, and mingling with the neolithic cultures then in existence. It was the people produced by this intermingling that the iron-bearing Celts discovered on their sweep westwards across Northern Europe and into Britain around 500 B.C.
The indigenous Britons, or Prytani as they then were called, were a strange people, who buried their dead in great burial mounds, or barrows, used bronze as their only metal, and relied for weapons chiefly upon slender arrows with delicate elder-leaf-shaped flint tips. Their religion, which was connected in some way with the moon and stars, was conducted amidst stone circles, surrounded by a bank and ditch (the original witch circle, in fact). The Prytani appear to have kept very much to themselves, isolating themselves within raths, or large circular encampments, the only contact between the two races being made by the Celtic shamans, or Druids, a word probably signifying wise ones, or wizards. Much or all of the Druidic lore would appear to have been drawn from contact with the Prytani. Indeed many druids were probably born of Prytanic fathers to Celtic mothers. The legendary Merlin was maybe one such as this, born of "mortal" mother and fathered by a "devil" or "elf." In fact elves were but the Teutonic names bestowed upon the remaining Prytani five centuries later by the Germanic invaders of Britain.
Arthurian legend has it that King Arthur's half-sister Morgan la Fay (like Merlin) was also of elven descent, accounting for her magical prowess, Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, and Vivian, Merlin's enchantress, were of course completely elven in their ancestry. To this day there remain certain Scottish families which claim elven descent, for by the time of the Roman invasion of Britain within the first century A.D., the Prytani had almost all retreated to the northernmost tip of the country, and were occupying the lands north of what is now Perth and Argyll in Scotland.
This may also account for the old witch belief of the north as being the holy direction. The northern abodes of the rulers of the Picts, as the Prytani were known by the Romans, were often mysterious vitrified forts, towers whose outer stones had been fused together by great fires, making them practically impregnable to all attack. This is probably the origin of the witch's Glass Castle, which you will encounter later on. We know for a fact that glass castles such as these existed at Craig Phadrick at Inverness, Dun Fionn, Achterawe, and Dundbhairdghal.
By the eleventh century A.D., subsequent to successive invasions of Britain, as it was now called, by Teutonic Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, and lastly Normans, Prytanic lore had been completely overlaid by a conglomeration of Celtic, Roman, Saxon, and finally Christian beliefs, gnostic and otherwise. The Prytani themselves, now referred to by either their Saxon epithet, Elvenfolk, or simply as People of the Heath or heathens, were rapidly dwindling into legend. The elven king and queen in their enchanted hill which opened up on the ancient holy festivals of Halloween and Beltane were fast passing out of public memory, recalled only by the wise, or as they were known in the old English tongue, the Wicce and Wicca, Wizards and Witches. The legend of the Elvenfolk's ancestry still survived, however, in heavily Christianized form. They were the remaining offspring of the fallen angels. Neither devils, like Satan and his cohorts, nor angels, but somewhere between the two. Neither good nor bad, merely indifferent.
It is at this point that organized Christianity began to take a hand, and bore down heavily on all those suspected of either having consorted with or actually being elves or "faery folk."
The heresy trials of the Waldenses, Albigenses, and Knights Templar had spanned the twelfth, thirteen, and fourteenth centuries, as Mother Church consolidated herself and waged war against the forces of dissolution and darkness manifesting as rival doctrinal factions within her bosom. It was not till the fifteenth century that the actual cult of witchcraft became established as an entity in the mind of the Church's "instrument ofjustice," the Inquisition. This cult was in fact based upon traditional witch beliefs, but strung together in a way reminiscent of the accounts of the religious rites that the Church had chosen to believe were celebrated by the recently defunct heresies of the past two centuries.
Joan of Arc was burned a witch and consorter with the faeries in 1431, and in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII formally declared war on all "witches" in a Papal Bull. This was closely followed by the Inquisitors Kramer and Sprenger producing their infamous handbook on witch finding, the Mallens Maleficarum, or Witches Hammer, in 1486, a book incidentally used by Protestant and Catholic witch hunters alike.
The sixteenth century saw a great revitalization of interest in the past in the form of the Renaissance. Scholars began to study the antiquities of the classical world, and with them many of the old magical practices, always, however, relating it to a Christian framework, for safety's sake if nothing else. In Italy, Pico della Mirandola, Ficino and Giordano Bruno began experimenting with the old art of the employment of magical archetypal images, while in northern Europe Abbot Trithemius and his pupils Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrippa, and Wierus turned their attentions circumspectly to the Black Arts. In England, Dr. John Dee, preoccupied with the Lost Lands of Logres and the Star Temple at Glastonbury, began his Scrying Experiments using a "great chrystalline globe," or seeing stone. It was during the course of these experiments that certain parts of the pre-flood language are said to have been rediscovered, a so-called Enochian tongue, the original language of the Nephelim.
By the seventeenth century, the persecution of witches, by Protestants now as well as Catholics, seems to have fairly well decimated most of the centres of witch lore, save those preserved under heavy disguise of Cabalistic or alchemical learning. Even these by now had also become suspect, and apparently owing to this, secret brotherhoods such as the Rosicrucians and Freemasons were organized, for the very purpose of keeping the flame of the old wisdom burning.
By the eighteenth century Masonic and Hermetic lodges had become widespread and the power of the Church had been considerably reduced, indeed was waning fast, never to recover its old position of strength. Within the lodges, many old witch secrets were being rediscovered. Swedenborg reintroduced the concept of that principle which is known as clairvoyance, or ESP, and Mesmer began his researches on what he called animal magnetism, but that witches nowadays refer to simply as witch power. The powers of the deep mind were being rediscovered.
The nineteenth century, with its bias toward materialist science, saw a greater concentration on aspects of magical power under one name or another. In 1801 the English magus Francis Barratt had gathered together a school of twelve students of arcane lore with himself as leader, a traditional coven, in fact. It is probably to this magical society that the great French occultist Eliphas Levi, alias Abbe Constant, and Lord Bulwer Lytton had belonged, both of whom widely publicized the marvels of the newly rediscovered witch power, under the name of the Astral Light in Levi's case, Vril in Lytton's.
Baron Reichenbach was also trying to put this same mysterious energy, which such mediums as D. D. Home, Eusapia Palladino, and the Fox sisters were flaunting before the public, on a firmer scientific footing in his experiments with what he designated "odylic force" or "od." The task was taken up in earnest by the English Society for Psychical Research when it was formed in 1882.
However, it was not until the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth that the occult world lost its somewhat strained "scientific" outlook of the previous hundred years, and turned its attention once more, after all the centuries, to the old gods.
In 1851 Helena Petrovna Blavatsky had met the aforementioned Rosicrucian magus Bulwer Lytton, and impressed by the encounter, had organized the Theosophical Society in 1875, the object of which was to establish a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity. The purpose of this nucleus was to study the supreme source of all the world religions, the central "Wisdom Religion" as vouchsafed to various peoples of the earth in such a manner as best suited to time and geographical circumstance, and which was said to have been in existence from time immemorial; the old wisdom of the Watchers, in fact. In Madame Blavatsky's society it was the Oriental branch of this Wisdom, comprising the teachings of Vedanta and Esoteric Buddhism, which was the main inspiration.
Closely paralleling this movement, however, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was formed in England a few years later, similar in ideal but pursuing a Western, Rosicrucian path bound up with a system of ceremonial magic comprising invocation of ancient Egyptian gods, Cabalistic formulae, and Dr. John Dee's sixteenth-century Enochian research. This erudite institution attracted many fertile minds including the poet W. B. Yeats, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood, all on the fringe or involved with the "celtic twilight," and all greatly preoccupied with the rediscovery of the old gods, as will be readily discerned if one acquaints oneself with their writings. A later, Christianized development of the original Order of the Golden Dawn was the "Stella Matutina." This offshoot attracted such minds as A. E. Waite, Evelyn Underhill, and Charles Williams to its ranks.
However, in magical circles, it is chiefly the names of Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune that are best remembered as members of these mysterious schools, both, like Yeats before them, deeply involved with the reconstruction of the old mysteries, and the return to the elder gods. The researches of Freud, but especially Jung, had provided part of a link with the past via the image-magic of Trithemius and Bruno. The rest of the link was supplied by the magical dictum publicly propounded by Dion Fortune herself, that in essence all gods are one god, and all goddesses but one goddess; that the varying pantheons and hierarchies are but racial and regional permutations of the same ancient archetypes.
In 1951 the last English witchcraft act was repealed, removing the final official stigma upon the study and practice of the craft, in that country at least.
Three years later, an anthropologist, Gerald Gardner, published a work, Witchcraft Today, admitting, for the first time in history, to the existence of a definite witch cult similar to the one suspected by Margaret Murray in the twenties, a tenuous but widely spread body of magical practitioners who did not cloak their occult operations under scientific, Christian, or Cabalistic guise, but preferred simply to practise their arts in the old manner that they had inherited from the past, under the banner of the old gods. Most of the witch processes that remain to us now are simple and unsophisticated in comparison with the starry wisdom of the lost lore of the Watchers, fragments of which are daily in the process of being rediscovered through "legitimate" scientific research.
In fact our present-day witch magic is decadent. A patchwork quilt of historical odds and ends, religious flotsam and jetsam, but containing in the midst of that welter of confusing symbolism enough of the old secrets to make the processes work if properly pursued. The methods nowadays may seem to some childish, hit and miss compared with the original starry wisdom, but modern witches believe that despite the accretions and maybe distortions of the past sixty centuries, there still remains at the centre of the cinder a spark of that mysterious dark angelic fire which first breathed life into the clay of this world.
It is to this remnant of the old wisdom in its most practical aspect that you shall be introduced in the following pages. This is what witchcraft is all about. Theory and scholarship I shall leave to other books. The interested reader, should he wish to pursue magical theory in greater detail, or follow the historical thread of the witch trials back into the labyrinth of time, will find a list of some of the more useful works at the end of this book in the bibliography.
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