Category Archives: Paganism

Power Moves…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—the Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Power?

First, given that the word power has acquired so many meanings over the centuries, I’ll state that there are actually two senses employed in this post, the dictionary defines:

power
1 —physical strength  or force…
2 —the capacity to direct or control

Gerald Gardner uses the first meaning—energy or force when he describes witch power.

“Witches…believe that the power resides within their bodies…; this power they believe exudes from their bodies….”
Witchcraft Today, G.B. Gardner

Gardner speaks separately of will-power when he discusses power, making it clear that the bodily energy-as-power is distinct from the mental control-as-power that witches must use to direct and control the power raised from their bodies. Small wonder Gardner employed the term will-power for the second meaning when speaking of how witches manage the first meaning.

Now, as to what is meant in the Charge? Given the pairings and contrasts within that text, I take power to mean the capacity to direct energy. After all, She has already listed strength in the initial paired qualities, “beauty and strength.” Thus, when She uses the word—in this context‚—power must mean the second meaning—control, what Gardner calls will-power.

Power Without

Power is thought, in today’s materialistic world, to be a synonym for energy. Once again resorting to the dictionary, I find an interesting distinction:

energy (n.) 1590s, “force of expression,” from Middle French énergie (16c.), from Late Latin energia, from Greek energeia “activity, action, operation,” from energos “active, working,” from en “at” (see en- (2)) + ergon “work, that which is wrought; business; action”.

Used by Aristotle with a sense of “actuality, reality, existence” (opposed to “potential”) but this was misunderstood in Late Latin and afterward as “force of expression,” as the power which calls up realistic mental pictures. Broader meaning of “power” in English is first recorded 1660s. Scientific use is from 1807.

Power-as-energy is what Gardner meant when he spoke of “witches raising energy from their bodies”—but power-as-control is how Gardner describes how a Witch High Priestess puts power-as-energy to use in working magic.

Power in the Occult

Anyone who has experimented with sensing auras—what some occultists refer to as the subtle body—will likely recall their surprise at the discovery that their hands, deprived of sight, find a sensation of presence some  inches away from skin-to-skin contact with another person. Such “aura-sensing” exercises are among some of the basic energy-sensing experiments that my coveners undergo. Tangible energies of living beings may be discovered by such simple means—human, dog, cat, tree, and even stone. Power-as-energy is what’s being sensed. Growing or moving power-as-energy is an intermediate exercise. All of which steps lead to the coven raising power from our bodies to empower our magical workings. Back to power-as-control—a common term among modern Pagans is “power-over”—and not all Pagans today know whence the term derives. It’s from Starhawk, whose The Spiral Dance was first published in 1979, the same year that Gardnerian Wiccan priestess (and NPR journalist) Margot Adler first published Drawing Down the Moon. In the very first chapter of Spiral Dance, Starhawk says, in small part:

“… There is the power we’re all familiar with — power over. But there is another kind of power — power from within. … that doesn’t depend on depriving someone else.”
The Spiral Dance, Starhawk

There it is, the Neopagan origin of the phrase “power over” or control. And there, power-from-within, is Starhawk’s term for Gardner’s power-as-energy that we sometimes simply give to the gods at a Sabbat.

Power Within

Looking once again to the dictionary for assistance, innate power—as a natural ability—produces many synonyms: ability, capability, capacity, faculty, gift, skill, talent…. Faculty strikes the truest note, to my mind. The Oxford Dictionary gives its first (earliest) meaning for faculty as “An inherent mental or physical power.”

So…coming back to the Goddess’ instructions, what does She mean when  she tells us to have power within us? She means, as I understand Her, three things—matching the threefold meanings of power.

  • Husband the energies of our bodies (power-as-energy), and put them to good use.
  • Choose wisely when employing power-as-control.
  • Employ our native faculties (power-as-capacity) to the best purposes of all.

Strength Abides…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—the Charge of the Goddess

What is Strength?

Charles Atlas, mid-20th cent. bodybuilder
Charles Atlas, mid-20th cent. bodybuilder
Victorian performer
Victorian performer

Strength is a quality—being strong—which may apply to individual humans or animals or objects, groups of humans or animals or objects, or even entire tribes or species or categories of objects.  Among humans, definitions of strength or strong cover a gamut of meanings, from the ability to wield ergs that move tonnes, to the inner qualities that enable humans to endure privation  and withstand hardship, to the stalwart temperaments displayed variously as stubbornness, loyalty, and tenacity. Families or tribes or entire peoples may be called strong, with any of the meanings of the term.

Strength Without

Western red cedar
Western red cedar
(Thuja plicata)
tall coast redwood
coast redwood
(Sequoia sempervirens)

Natural strength exists in the world around us, in the boles of trees, the solidity of stone, the force of floods, the vigor of wildlife, and the extremes of weather. From the Stone Age onwards, humankind has used the strength of stone in structures and tools and weapons. Flint or obsidian blades, cobble and thatch homes, slate pathways, slung stones—we value the strength of stone, just as we use its mountains and crags as landmarks for our travel.

The climax species of conifer that once comprised the backbone of the widespread coastal temperate forests of western North America (cedar and redwood) depict their own “pillars of strength.” Whether coniferous or broadleaf, mature climax forests feature such wondrous pillars, be they the pictured cedars and redwoods of western lands, or the oaks, beeches, maples, and birches of eastern ones. These sturdy columns support huge widespread foliate canopies which, astonishingly, act as solar engines to renew our air, circulate our water, distribute chemical nutrients, and shelter our wildlife.

river in flood
Scots river in flood

Greek mythology, in the Labors of Hercules, tells us how he used his strength to re-route two rivers in flood through the Augean Stables to clean them out in a single day. The “force of floods” required all his Herculean strength to manipulate, while accomplishing what even he could not perform in one day, moving a veritable mountain of manure.

Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar)
Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar)
View from Gibraltar lighthouse across the straits to Jebel Musa, N. Africa

Even today, the Atlantic passage to the Mediterranean Sea which we call the Straits of Gibraltar, are also known as the Pillars of Hercules, just as they were known to Phœnician traders and Greek sailors. Two mountains bracket the gap through which the Atlantic replenishes the waters of the Mediterranean, the rock of Gibraltar at the southern tip of Spain, and Jebel Musa, in Morocco at the northern tip of North Africa. Given that Hercules’ fame arose from his strength and tenacity, the Pillars of Hercules were and remain symbols of both.

Strength in the Occult

Uruz rune
Uruz rune

In the previous blog in this series, the Pillar of Strength is described as the pair to the Pillar of Beauty, with the Pillar of Wisdom between the two. Rather than repeat kabala material, let me turn to another significant strain of esoteric lore, the Norse runes. Runes, like scripts everywhere, were known only to a few at first. The art of writing was generally considered magical, or at least sacred, during its early days within any culture.

In the mythology of the Norse, Odin (often called All-Father), chief of the gods of the Norse pantheon, hung for nine days on Yggdrasil (the mythical World-Tree that connects the Norse three realms: underworld, earth, and overworld) to obtain the knowledge of the runes, or writing, and share them with his followers. These 24 runes of the futhark are both the alphabet of the Norsemen, and were—and are—used extensively for divination and in magical inscriptions. (Why futhark? because the first six runes are the letters: F, U, TH, A, R, and K. A close parallel to our word alphabet, which derives from the Greek names of the first two letters, alpha and beta.)

Aurochs bull from skeletal find
Aurochs bull reproduction from skeletal find

The Uruz rune is often known as the rune of strength: this second rune of the futhark, Uruz in the futhark of Old Norse represents the letter U, and means aurochs, the primitive giant, wild Eurasian cattle.

Aurochs, cattle, human sketch for scale
Sketch comparing bull aurochs & bull cattle
human of ~5’9″ for scale

Aurochs, especially bull aurochs, were fearsome animals, about 150% of the size of a modern beef bull, with shoulder heights of seven to upwards of nine feet. Although ancestor to modern domestic cattle (the last aurochs died in Poland in 1627 CE), aurochs were not tractable, being hunted rather than raised. 

Strength Within

Strength of mind is exercise, not rest. —Alexander Pope

Humans use strength of mind to determine our purposes.  We use our strength of will to hold constant to those purposes.   And we use our strength of body to act on those purposes. The common trait among them all—following Pope’s epigram—is the exercise of our minds to select among options consciously, to hold fast to those decisions and to select course(s) of action that make those choices come to pass. Just as the Goddess advises us to have strength within us, so do our gods advise us to choose our intent: “An it harm none, do as thou wilt.” Opt to do, or not to do, a familiar concept.

Do, or do not. —Yoda, Star Wars

Finally, there’s strength of character. Our gods also advise us to be responsible for what we do, “As thou dost give, so shall ye gain.” What goes around, comes around; equally familiar as Newton’s third law, “for every action there is an opposite reaction.” Strong characters reflect self-knowledge, own errors, redress wounds, enable trust…absolutely foundational needs for any magic worker.

Beauty Shines…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—the Charge of the Goddess

Here begins a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Beauty?

painted portrait of Renaissance woman
Frau Van Eyck

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

This oft-repeated phrase was rebooted into popular vocabulary by its reference as most of the title of a surrealistic episode of the Twilight Zone (1960), “Eye of the Beholder,” almost a century after it was first framed in these words in a 1878 tale by an Irish romance novelist (Molly Bawn, Margaret Wolfe Hungerford). The sentiment goes back to Shakespeare and millennia further back into ancient Greece. To explicate the phrase, beauty is a subjective judgement made individually.

Iman
Iman

Our society thinks of beauty, first of all, as a trait of the female of our species. Today, supermodels, from 1960s’ Twiggy to 1990s’ Imam, are held up as “beauties.” Historically, women in power are regarded as role models for fashion—Queen Elizabeth I (“Good Queen Bess”), nicknamed Gloriana, overturned female styles from the dark hues and blocky silhouettes of Queen Mary Tudor, her predecessor, to the whites and pale tints, lace trims & ruffs, and floral decoration throughout her reign, bringing a brightness into fashion.

In today’s world, beauty is made cheap. From glamour and fashion magazines of the past century to today’s reality television shows, ordinary humans are “discovered” and made famous…at least for their allotted 15 minutes of fame. In these fora, human physical attractiveness is valued higher than almost any other human quality, mental or physical—exposing such “beauty” as very nearly valueless. Empty beauty becomes a goal in itself, or a tool to enable instant wealth or fame or both. And advertisers tout everything from the lowest-cost cosmetics to the highest-cost cosmetic surgeries in these same media.

The word “beauty” itself is introduced into English in the 13th century from Old French, by way of the Norman Conquest, deriving ultimately from Latin. It is defined in its earliest English meaning as

the quality (or aggregate of qualities) in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind of spirit.”
Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition

Yes, it’s a long-winded definition, necessarily so. Abstract concepts are always difficult to define by comparison with anything concrete, where one can see or touch or point at it and say, “see? that’s XXXXXXX.”

Photo, Princess Kate in wedding gown
Princess Kate in wedding gown
photo, bust of Nefertit
Bust of Nefertiti

Many dictionaries resort to defining such words with a synonym for the word, making it easier on the compilers but much harder on the readers who may not know the meaning of the synonyms any more than they knew the word they looked up. An example of such definitions might lead to beauty: handsomeness: attractiveness: charm: charisma; glamor; beauty—a circular puzzle with no definition.

Royal beauties of past & present:
Princess Kate, wife of the UK royal heir, Prince William, and,
Nefertiti, the only female pharaoh of ancient Egypt

So, looking at the definition as simply as possible, beauty is the aspect(s) of anyone or anything which pleases the senses or the spirit. Beauty lifts human hearts or souls; it attracts our eyes, ears, noses, mouths, or hands by giving pleasure. The word beauty supplanted the pre-Conquest word wlite (Old English/ Anglo-Saxon)defined as beauty or splendor. 

drawing, heraldic sun in splendor
“sun in splendor”

Me, I find splendor a meaningful alternative to the much overused, not to say abused, modern usage of the word beauty. Beauty attracts the senses or the spirits, and a brilliance or shining or vividness is among the most common qualities that attract. And, lo, the very word splendor derives from the Latin to shine. In heraldry, in fact, a sun in splendor is depicted with eight or sixteen rays surrounding a central disk having facial features, thus:

Beauty Without


Splendor, shining, brilliance—all of these qualities are cherished in the world around us. Sunsets and sunrises, rainbows and moonshine, mountainous vistas reflected upon still and moving water, brilliant swathes of spring wildflowers—all of these are among what we call beautiful.

As interest in natural history arose in the 18th century, the term “picturesque” came into use, referring to natural vistas worthy of being painted. Young ladies of rank were universally educated in drawing and watercolors to record images and scenes for themselves and others, similar to the way the Kodak Brownie camera enabled early 20th century families to collect snapshots of people and places, just as smartphones and digital cameras enable today’s youth to populate such web sites as Shutterfly, Flickr, and Pinterest with places and people and events.

Windsor Castle from the River
“Windor Castle from the River”—Turner
Multnomah Falls, Bridal Veil, Oregon
Bridal Veil Falls, Multnomah Falls, Oregon

The 18th century UK landscape at left contrasts with the US photograph at right, at the same time as they are both picturesque. Both have qualities of light that attract the eye, that glow or shimmer or shine. It is not only landscapes that draw our eyes in this way.

Moonbow over island of Hawaii
Moonbow over island of Hawaii

Symmetry and brilliance provide instances of uplifted emotion and indrawn breath as we indulge our gaze thereon

Beauty in the Occult

https://i1.wp.com/www.digital-brilliance.com/themes/Portae%20Lucis.jpg
16th century depiction, Jewish Tree of Life
20th cent. postcard
“Pillar of Beauty”              Watkins Glen State Park, NY

The foundation taught in the kabbalah (Jewish medieval mystery tradition) or cabala (Christian renaissance mystery tradition) or qabala (Hermetic magical tradition) concerns the Tree of Life, depicted as ten spheres interconnected by 22 pathways, key among which are the three vertical pathways called (reading from left to right):

  • the Pillar of Beauty
  • the Pillar of Wisdom
  • the Pillar of Strength

Beauty, here is set in contrast to Strength, with the “middle pillar” being Wisdom.

Whichever spelling of kabbalah one chooses to use, most Western Mystery Traditions have, for more than twelve hundred years, employed concepts from the mystical Tree of Life and its components:

  • Freemasonry terms these upright pillars—Beauty, Wisdom, Strength—as “the pillars on which the lodge stands,” so intrinsic a foundation principle of Masonry that these pillars are referenced in esoteric Western traditions of every sort. In the 18th century North American British colonies, a great many of what today are called America’s “founding fathers” were Freemasons; one can only presume that such a Mason named the physical feature in New York state called the “Pillar of Beauty” (illustration, vintage postcard, right).
  • Tarot’s major arcana or greater trump cards comprise a total of twenty-two card (numbered zero through twenty-one), mirroring the 22 pathways among Tree of Life. Given that these trionfi cards, as they are known in the earliest surviving tarot decks (such as the Visconti-Sforza), it is not known with any certainty whether the greater trumps number 22 for that reason, or for some other. The kabalic references depicted in more modern tarot decks, such as the Rider-Waite or Universal Rider decks, derive from esoteric teachings that associate the greater trumps with the kabala over the prior century and more.

The High Priestess Tarot Card - Rider Waite Tarot Deck
major arcana II,
High Priestess,
Rider-Waite deck, 1900 CE
  • The Tarot’s High Priestess card (number II of the greater trumps) traditionally depicts the High Priestess seated between the Pillar of Beauty and the Pillar of Strength—implicitly displaying the High Priestess herself as the Pillar of Wisdom.
    (The B & J shown on the pillars in the card illustrated here refer to the Hebrew initials for each pillar, transcribed into Latinate letters.)
  • close-up of the eye & pyramid on US dollar
    all-seeing eye on US $1 bill, obverse

    Masonic symbols appear throughout our U.S. symbology; even today the “all-seeing eye” or the Eye of Providence (a common Masonic symbol) appears above an unfinished pyramid on the obverse of the one-dollar banknote printed by the U.S. Mint.

    Beauty Within

    “No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
    as I have seen in one autumnal face.” —John Donne

    This classic quote speaks to the quality of beauty that transcends surfaces and the modern insistence on youthful appearance. Donne uses the word grace to evoke in his reader’s minds the qualities that embody the inner beauty of wisdom, courtesy, kindness, goodness, nobility, and so on.

    True beauty is found in the spirit, and shines for all to see. When the Goddess tells us to have beauty within us, She evokes this greater beauty which benefits each of Her hidden children for themselves—and also for everyone else around them. The Wiccæ know (as do all wise magic-users) that knowledge begins within; Pythagoras’ mandate Know Thyself is the first instruction to any magician. Thus, we all are charged to seek out one’s own “beauty within” and to cherish its growth in each of us.

    Across the Genders

    It’s been a while since I dug into the roots of a word. I think I’m overdue.

    Gender

    First, what does it mean?
    As of 1300, the English language noun meant kind or sort or class. No implicit or explicit reference to biological or physiological nature of the thing referenced. Its root word, unsurprisingly, is the Old French gendre or genre (a hint* for those paying attention) which meant kind or species or character. And that Old French word in turn comes from the Latin stem genus meaning race or stock or family or kind or rank or order or species.

    *Genre, straight from the Modern French, is now used as an entirely different word in English…but it still means kind or sort or class.

    Wowzer. Look at that! Gender is a means of classifying things into groupings. Later, it added the specific grouping of “is it male or female”—much later (I call 200 years later, compared to life spans of 30-70 years…).

    Before we ever get to bringing individuals in to our circles, bringing them between the worlds, we tend to cover the term “polarity” in discussing the theoretical underpinnings of what it is that we—those weird-ass Wicca—do. But, y’know, I don’t believe that theoretical underpinnings are what the Wicca had in mind when they wanted to prevent Hitler from invading and defeating Britain. Or five generations (see there, there’s that genera—plural of genus—again) before that, when witches wanted to keep the Little Corsican on the continental side of the channel, and sent an entire summer of uncoöperative winds for the purpose. Or another six generations before that, when the Armada of Spain was already in English waters when it succumbed to the Atlantic gales called up to protect the folk who preferred “Good Queen Bess” over her predecessor “Bloody Mary” (no swearing involved).

    In other simple words, witches—the Wicca—do what is needed because it works. We teach and pass and spread our tradition across gender. And for the most part, that means woman to man to woman to man to woman to…

    And…

    Who are we to say that gender always and forever and only means biological sex? When it did not mean that, in our own language, in the first place. (Remember? two hundred years from sorting into groups, before it also mean sorted by “gender”?)

    I don’t see a need to argue about it. I certainly don’t see a need to snipe at equally qualified and trained and experienced witches using apple-pie analogies, as if there were only ever one KIND (sort? class?? gender???) of apple pie. All too often, we elders can show ourselves human and imperfect in oh-so-many ways. Not least of which is telling each other that we have the sole truth when every one of us knows that no one has the sole truth—except as it relates to that particular entity.

    Metals, Makers, and Magic

     

    hematite-bubble

    hematite iron ore

    Iron. It’s the first metal that comes to mind for most folk. Hardly surprising—we humans developed iron smelting and tools contemporarily with the alphabetic writing that enabled the bulk of our earliest human histories, and consequently name that era of human proto-history the Iron Age—a macroscopic example of iron in human existence. There’s also the microscopic example of iron in human existence—blood chemistry. Iron and its affinity for oxygen form the foundation of animal life on our planet.

     

    Lodestone, that natural variant of magnetite (a naturally occurring ore of iron) is innately magnetic; modern geologists believe lodestones, routinely unearthed close to the surface, to have been permanently magnetized by lightning. Lodestones are, by definition, magnets— drawing to themselves small iron objects, or clinging readily to large ones. It must be magic, this movement without aid…

    lodestone-magnet

    magnetite iron ore: lodestone

     

    These days, it is well known that if you spin a magnet, you get electricity, and if you coil a wire running electric current, you get magnetism. The two are, in essence, dimensional aspects of the other. That’s modern knowledge. What first our ancestors knew, millennia ago, was that a lodestone indicated north, and thus gave guidance when neither sun nor stars provided any. Hence its name in Old English lode + stan = lodestone, the stone that guides the way, a parallel to lodestar, an ancient name for the pole star that guided seafarers. A most practical magic, this, the magic of iron and magnets and north…

     

    BLADE

    1992 hand-forged athamé with heavy leather sheath

    Smith. Blacksmith, metal-worker, skilled crafter—each one a maker of ploughshares and swords, hasps and hinges. Early European tales feature smiths of myth and legend: Hæphestus of Attica and Vulcan of Ætna, Wayland of Albion  or Völund of Jutland, plying skills that created storied blades and magical armor and household wonders. Their work survives everywhere—

     

    Rocam_durandal

    replica Durandal in château wall

    a medieval castle in France holds fast in its wall a sword reputed to be Wayland’s work that dates from Charlegmagne (7th century)—the sword Durandal (or a replica thereof).

     

     

     

    1850sIronNails

    square iron nails c. 1850

    While still a teen, I recall picking out rusty old square nails doing garden work  (given that was northern California, I can be pretty sure they were 19th century, or late 18th). Ironmongery lasts; another magical quality…

     

    Makers. The human ability to create, dream up, envision some thing…and then make that thing, create that object, that ability is magical. It is no wonder humans have long revered those of us who achieve those common miracles of making. Out of thin air!…and not all of those makers are human. Rooks and ravens, baboons and bonobos…for all I know, the cetaceæ. It’s all magic, this making.…

    Magic. Somewhere in the Western “Enlightenment,” came a disdain for magic, a separation from those who worked the magic of science and observation and experiment, and those who worked the magic of tradition and tales and contagion. We of the twenty-first century struggle to bridge both magics…the whiles we discover the new magics of transisters and quanta and quarks, and feud about how we may weave the new magics into the old. So sad, that the “one true way”—which has never existed despite Abrahamic religious claims to the contrary throughout the past 1500 years—prevents the simple magic of emotion, of community, of love, from being recognized by all those who prefer to make their own world, and make it better. Yet even Carl Sagan himself, that quintessential materialist, came to recognize the magic of the universe….

     

    Candlemas

    Now that we Northern Hemisphere types have recovered from the mundane stresses of the winter solstice, and—one hopes—from any inconvenient infections encountered during the annual shop/spend/socialize season, we wander into the depths of January (named, appropriately enough, for Janus, the god of beginnings and endings, of transitions and doorways and portals).

    The success of our efforts over the Yuletide season to turn the Wheel of the Year with our festivities—from Solstice through Hogmanay (Twelfth Night)  has proven itself, with the evidently later sunsets that now give us a good 20 minutes of additional daylight. Said daylight tends to expose the soggy, chilly, frigid conditions that go with northern temperate climates at this season. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is an actual affliction; however most humans find the shrunken solar exposure of life in the higher latitudes a challenge that reminds us all that depression is real.

    From the perspective of the Wicca, the Candlemas sabbat is one that reminds us all of the benefits of light. During the dark days of January, preparing some or all of one’s ritual candles for the next turn of the Wheel is an activity suited to cheer. Historically, at this season fires were never allowed to extinguish, providing the heat needed to render fats, purify oils, make soap, and dip or mold candles. The stores of autumn’s harvest and Hallowmas’ culling of herd or hunted provided the ingredients for those oils and waxes, and another year’s supply of lighting materials could take advantage of the precious fuel needed to maintain life, and provide some light—so necessary when when the feeble sunlight wanes to a handful of hours out of every twenty-four.

    When a flick of a switch provides us substitute sunlight, it’s easy to overlook the importance of Candlemas, that celebration during the depths of winter, or midwinter as the old term has it. Making one or a few special candles at this season to bless by His light and Her grace echoes tradition rooted in need and practicality. And doing something towards our practice cheers the spirit—in these long nights and short days when students and workers and homebodies still wake in the dark and see the light disappear before supper.

    Any means of candle-making works. I prefer natural beeswax, both for its innate scent and because paraffin is a distillate of petroleum. Soy waxes are available, but some near universal percentage of soy grown today is genetically engineered, a practice I consider folly. And besides…bees are sacred to Queen Mab.

    and She said…

    When She speaks, I wonder how it is that the hearts of the Wiccæ do not resound whene’er they step between the worlds….

    Beneath the moon, an ye have need,
    Call thy queen in secret mead,
    Learn My casting, new and old,
    Dance ye there our joy untold.

    Hold ye fast thy beau ideal.
    Let thy purpose ne’er dispel.
    Past My portal, secret ways
    Lead to youth and wine of days–
    Joy and knowledge, freedom, peace,
    Reunion after life’s surcease–
    Cup and cauldron, life, rebirth;
    Love, I bore the living earth.

    Green the earth, and white the moon,
    Deep the waters rise eftsoon,
    Desire grows, enrapt thy heart.
    Heed My call and know thy part:
    Love and pleasure, beauty, strength,
    Power, compassion, go thy length;
    Mirth and reverence, honor bright,
    Know ye rapture infinite.

    Seeker yearning after Me,
    Look thou only within thee:
    Nought within; then, nought without,
    For I am, all ways, all about.

    The Wiccæ are the Wiccæ. Brothers and sisters of the Art Magical, of the Craft. In perfect love and perfect trust are we saluted at the very outset of our journey into Their mysteries, where we swear to Their service and the highest of ideals. Our gods, our Lady and our Lord, speak to us and through us at Their will.

    Alas, some few of the Wiccæ do choose paths and actions that serve only to shrivel the spirit and serve none any good at all, not our gods, nor the mighty ones, nor any other of the Wiccæ, living or dead, to the ill repute of the Wiccæ among those persons who may yet seek and find and mayhap even come to serve our gods.

    Take ye heed, O thou who wouldst fain learn all sorceries,
    that thine every effort be not doomed to failure.

    It is the great good fortune of the Wiccæ, by Their grace and the greatness of minds that we of the Wiccæ may share, that many others of the Wiccæ do choose to enrich the spirit. These true Children of the Goddess bring honor & humility, power & compassion, love & laughter, mirth & reverence, as She charges us, and thus do enlarge the numbers of Her hidden children, that the Craft may ever survive.

    When She speaks, His power underscoring Her words throughout the magic circle that is now and always between the worlds, I wonder how it is that the heart of any of the Wiccæ does not resound with those words when next they step between the worlds of men and the dread lords of the outer spaces.

    May this never again be needed.

    So mote it be!

    Weaving a Web

    Fabric Correspondences

    In a previous post, I discussed the elemental correspondences I find in individual natural fibers. In this one, I’ll continue with correspondences I’ve found to various weaves, covering commonly available fabrics in the U.S.A.

    The weaver’s terminology is woven into the very fabric of the English language. Entire trades and family names remind us of the processes used in the making of fabric: weaver, walker, fuller, dyer, draper, napier, tailor… Our language is full of fiber references: we have close-knit families, prize our heirlooms, find ourselfs at loose ends, spend time woolgathering, and find our good temper wearing thin. We can be fleeced by a dyed-in-the-wool con man, strung out on coffee, shuttled back and forth between two places, and find ourselves in a run-of-the-mill day job.
    Many use the phrase “warp and woof” but would look sheeish if asked what exactly it meant. warpOn even the simplest loom, long threads are strung on a frame and held taut to provide the strength of a fabric—collectively called the warp. Filler threads weave (threaded under and over in a regular pattern) tightly or loosely across the warp at right angles—collectively called the weft, or woof (both words originate in Anglo-Saxon.) weft

    Any fiber may be spun to a fine or thick thread, a coarse or smooth finish. The weaver’s choice of threads combines with the weave pattern and closeness (thread count) to create a huge variety of fabrics. Most often silk and cotton are used in the lighter, finer threads and fabrics, while linen and wool are used for the sturdier, heavier ones. Fabric names from all corners of the world are now English words that describe different fabrics:

    • nankeen— from the place name Nanking (Chinese smooth cotton made from an Asian vegetable fiber)
    • denim—from the French city “of Nimes”—de Nîmes. Sturdy cotton fiber woven similar to wool serge,
    • scarlet—originally meaning a rich woolen cloth.  The expensive vivid color that wool scarlet was often dyed became the name of the color itself by the end of the middle ages.
    • muslin—named for the Persion city of Mosul. Originally an exceptionally high quality fine-weave cotton, expensive and valued. Now commonly used in inexpensive sheeting, upholstery underining, and in drafting garment patterns.
    • calico—first imported c. 1600 CE from the Indian city of Calicut. A fine even-weave cotton, commonly printed with patterned decoration. In the USA, calico today refers solely to the printed fabric.
    • gauze—debatably either from the Arabic gazz (meaning raw silk) or the city of Gaza (where it was made). Originally a transparent open-weave silk. Today cotton gauze is used in many applications, from cheese-making, to medical bandaging, to insect netting that protects sleeping people in malarial regions.
    • cambric, from the Flemish city Cambray. First referred specifically to finely woven linen shirting, later imitated in cotton. The now-commonplace chambray fabric originated similarly.

    Any weave can employ any fiber, in theory. It may not be all that practical to try weaving velvet out of flax, canvas of silk, or corduroy out of woolens, but it is at least possible to attempt. Of course, correspondences, as always, vary among individuals. If you’re familiar with fabrics and fibers, use your own sense of what’s true. If not, perhaps you can use this information to enrich your practice.

    Magical polarities further enhance the personality of a garment to suit its wearer. Although cold weather may demand a warm robe and cloak for an outdoor circle, any fiber can be used to make them. (Wool is the commonest choice for warmth.) But if allergies or magical properties prevent, then silk or cotton may fill the need. If a midsummer ritual calls for a “watery” fabric—to encourage empathic connections, perhaps—but even wool gauze (challis) seems too hot, cotton velour may answer, using the weave correspondence instead of fiber. As with any magical enterprise, the correspondences that work are those that ring true for you.

    Air

    The lightest, airy weaves used in clothing include gauzes, laces, chiffons, lawns, batistes, and challis. Such weaves intentially allow air to penetrate the fabric and reach the skin.

    • Of these fabrics, modern gauzes, lawns, and batistes are usually cotton fiber, although linen lawn or batiste may still be found.
    • Chiffons are most commonly seen in synthetic fibers that imitate the lustrous original (but expensive) silk. Silk chiffon is available from specialty importers.
    • Challis is usually made of wool or a wool–silk blend. Wool challis is an instance of a fiber commonly used for warm and heavy fabrics being used to the opposite purpose.
    • Other light and sheer fabrics include net, tulle, and mull. Most of these fabrics are transparent or translucent, and many are quite fragile, tearing or snagging easily. Tulle, for instance, is a type of netting (historically silk). Common uses in the twentieth century included veils (both bridal and for hats),  as well as the 1950s “new look” use for the tiered petticoats that supported the gathered skirts of the post-war shirtwaist dresses—and are traditional in square-dance circles. Further, tulle has long been used for ballet costumes, from the token skirt called a tutu, to the longer full, floating skirts seen in nearly every production of The Nutcracker.
    • eyelet-lace-fabricModern lace fabrics are most commonly machine-knit or woven using nylon, acrylic, acetate, rayon or polyester fibers.  Some cotton lace fabrics (rather than edgings) have returned to the market in traditional lace patterns, and eyelet cotton never left it. Fortunately, the resurgent interest in natural-fiber clothing has made available a great many more traditional lace trims and fabrics. Readily available as edgings and trims, machine-made cotton eyelet is available as lace trims and full width fabrics. Machine-made cotton bobbin lace is more common as various widths of edging, from tiny picot weaves to several inches wide.  Silk machine-embroidered laces are rarely available (as always, at a price). Traditional linen lace trims are also available in a few specialty locales.

    Fire

    The workhorse clothing fabrics today are most often cotton, a fire fiber itself. Work, especially any that requires physical energy, likewise corresponds well with fire. When selecting fabric weaves to correspond with fire, I have selected those both historically worn for energetic occupations, as well as those worn in places and locales with high temperatures. Sturdy yet cool weaves such as broadcloth, corduroy, twill, denim, canvas (duck), seersucker, and serge are all in common use wherever hot conditions prevail: gymnasiums, gardens, kitchens, aboard ships. twillweaveTwill originally described a weave pattern which produces a strongly diagonal appearance on one side; modern twill is usually that weave used in a single-color cotton. Twill weave is also used to produce both denim and serge. Cotton work shirts, once routinely dyed a paler blue than the indigo of brand-new blue jeans by re-using the same indigo dye bath for the lighter weight chambray fabric, gave rise to the term blue collar as one who worked a in physically laborious profession such as carpenter, factory worker, longshoreman, etc.    Caption [right]: the staggered 2-over, 2-under weave creates a strong fabric with a diagonal appearance.

    • Denim is commonly cotton (woven of colored warp threads and white weft). US navy dungarees, farmers’ and mechanics’ overalls, and contractors’ jeans are examples of the workaday garments worn where sun or engine heat demands both the breathability of cotton and the ruggedness of denim garments.
      Wool is traditionally used in a similar twilled weave known as serge, common in UK constables’ uniforms.
    • Broadcloth, corduroy, and seersucker each has its own characteristic weave.
    • Broadcloth is smooth, tightly woven tabby, common in workers’ uniforms of many sorts.
    • Seersucker is a fabric woven with alternating narrow stripes of loose and taut tension threads that produce a slight puckering in the loose-weave bands, often using white for the loose stripes and colored warp thread for the taut stripes. Heavy seersucker in dark blues was used rail workers’ uniforms in the steam age, and remains traditional there. Lightweight seersucker suits are a common sight among professionals in the southervelvet_corduroyn US, both humid and desert climes, and women’s Armed Forces summer uniforms are made of cotton seersucker.
    • Duroy was an English coarse weave sometimes used as a strainer. Cord-duroy added thicker cords in the warp direction, similar to the modern fabric  “ribcord,” but with the cords closely laid, and evolved into the pile (napped) fabric we know today. Modern corduroy consists of a woven fabric with rows of pin-width velveteen stripes. This classic corduroy is known as pinwale (wale meaning a raised weal or stripe); wide-wale corduroy having wales up to 1/2 inch have been made at times.

    Water

    Fabrics with pile have extra threads woven into fabric and cut to stand up at right angles to the flat surface. Such are traditionally luxurious: plush, velvet, velveteen, velour, fur felt. Corduroy is made the same way, and can fall into either category depending on its other qualities. Also, satins with their shining surface and sliding hand evoke water in both appearance and touch. Such sensuous, luxurious surfaces correspond readily with things emotional, intuitive, psychic—the slippery senses.

    • Velvet, once made only in silk, is now most commonly synthetic or rayon, with better quality fabric available in cotton. Silk-blend velvet may be found in specialty import shops.
    • Velveteen, with its shorter pile and biased lightcatching quality, is routinely cotton. Unlike velvet, velveteen has a nap, a bias to the direction in which it catches the light, and how it feels to the hand, where one direction glides with the grain but the opposite direction bristles against the grain.
    • Plush, like twill, simply describes the weave of the fabric, the deep, soft nap of one surface, and may be made of any fiber.
    • Velour, a heavy pile fabric, is made heavier on sturdier backing for use in upholstery or similar applications; most modern velours use machine-knit (jersey) backing instead of woven.
    • The formal silk top hat was traditionally made of a silk felt so deeply napped it is called fur felt—reflecting historical use of real fur to make hats. The historical slang word beaver meant a top hat, made originally of beaver pelt sheared to a smooth sheen with a distinct bias.
    • Satin, orginally made of fine, smooth silk, makes the satin weave all the more successful at capturing light for a shiny surface. satin-weaveCotton woven using this satin weave is called sateen.   Caption [right]: Satin weave displays longer segments of warp fibers, allowing the smooth silk fibers to catch and reflect more light. One drawback to the satin weave is that these longer runs of fiber are more exposed to potential snags or damage, rendering the fabric less durable.
    • Moiré fabric was originally known as watered silk, having a wavy appearance to its surface, as if it were rippled. Unlike satin-weave fabrics, moiré requires a sturdier weave, such as grosgrain or taffeta. Moiré may be woven of silk, cotton, wool, or rayon.    Caption [below]: Photo of taffeta moiré fabvic showing characteristic ovals and ripple patterns. moire

    Earth

    Finally, there are the thick, heavyweight, or structural fabrics: monk’s cloth, canvas, heavy woolens, felts, and hemp or linen weaves.

    • Duck cloth (usually called canvas; doek is Dutch for the word canvas) is a simple plain-weave cotton cloth of exceptional sturdiness. tabby-weaveUsed for sailmaking, uniforms, and workman’s garb, duck remains a workhorse fabric. In the late 19th century, the corporate inventor of “levis,” Levi Strauss & Co. patented the copper-rivet reinforced worker’s pants known worldwide today as blue jeans. (Yet another city name, the workhorse fabric jean was made in Genoa, or Gênes, in French.) Early in the company’s existence, Strauss experimented with brown duck as another fabric to make into dungarees (“bib overalls”) and jeans (“waist overalls”). Duck of various weights (7 ounce up to 18 ounce, measuring the weight of a 36×22-inch piece; heavier duck is made but not numbered) may be used for everything from clothing and laundry bags, to duffle bags and hammocks and sandbags. Historically, canvas met the needs of sails and sacks, sandbags and tents, capable of withstanding long exposure to sun and weather when finished as “oilcloth” with several coats of linseed oil.      Caption [right]: Plain or “tabby” weave.
    • The term woolens describes the whole range of heavier, bulkier wool fabrics, regardless of weave. The difference between “worsted wool” and “woolen” is the length of the fiber; worsted uses long-staple wool that spins fine and strong, while woolen is short fiber which must be spun thicker and is necessarily much fuzzier from all the short-fiber ends in the thread. Wool is the fiber, woolen and worsted are the types of wool.  Wool fiber has been re-used in the past.woolmark-logo The word “shoddy,” specifically meaning wool fiber re-used in new wool fabric which quickly breaks down in use, dates to the U.S. Civil War 150 years ago. Shoddy has come to describe any poorly crafted work. Hence, the wool industry trademark for “virgin wool” (Eurozone “new wool”), which has appeared on Pendleton Woolen Mills labels for decades. felted-wool-blanket
      • Woolen, made of carded wool, has a fairly short staple (natural filament length), is likely to felt when laundered; one reason why laundering wool is not a task for the novice.
        Caption [left]: A woven woolen blanket that’s been felted, either accidentally, or in manufacturing.
      • Worsted, of combed wool, has a longer staple can spin to extremely fine threads, and thus weave to a lightness and fineness used for men’s summerweight suits even in New York City. (If you ever wondered how Middle Eastern nomads could wear wool, this is part of the answer. The other part is that wool insulates, whether against heat or chill.)

    monks-cloth

    • Monk’s cloth describes a particular heavy, loose-weave fabric that was historically made of wool. Modern cotton monks-cloth is easily recognized—the weave pattern uses a very loose tabby pattern of four threads warp and weft interwoven. The resulting fabric resembles the appearance of a cotton thermal blanket, in which air pockets woven into the fabric act as insulation in hot or cold weather. Monk’s cloth woven of solid color cotton often is available at modern fabric suppliers.
    • Felt, although sometimes an entirely non-woven fabric, has also been made by weaving heavy wool yarn and shrinking and napping it to produce an extremely warm fabric with a water-repellant surface. Modern felts are usually synthetic fiber, non-woven, and used solely for non-structural craft work. However, the process of felting wool can be closely reproduced in a modern washer, as many an incautious launderer still learns today. (Hot water, soap, and steady, gentle agitation allow the surface of the wool fibers to ratchet more and more tightly together.) Thus a deliberately felted blanket woolen can produce a fabric similar to a traditional felt, greatly improving the insulation value and adding it to the woven structural strength.

    Whether your fiber project requires a careful choice of magical correspondence or just the best fiber and fabric for a purpose, some understanding of the options on today’s market can help modern pagans choose to suit their needs and ends.

    Related post: Spinning a Spell

    Footnote: magical consideration aside, walking lightly on Gaia’s surface is helped by choosing natural fibers over synthetic ones; no one has ever answered one question satisfactorily: what happens to polyester fabric in a landfill? So far as we can tell, xeno-archeologists of the 40th century may find those wrinkle-free knit slacks and polyester leisure suits in near-wearable condition when their humanologists dig our middens!

    Spinning a Spell

    Fiber Correspondences

    Historical clothing is a major interest of mine: not the elaborate costumes of court, cathedral, and carnival that are badly redesigned in Cecil B. deMille epics, or even well-represented in the better theater and film efforts of more recent years; no, my interest is in the everyday clothing of the ordinary person, such as I might have been if I lived a dozen centuries ago. As I became involved in the Craft, I found that there are correspondence lists for almost every class of substance I could dream up—herb, color, and musical pitch, rocks, crystals, and precious stones, planets, stars, and constellations—but nothing I’ve read treats at all with the everyday take-it-for-granted magic of fiber, clothing, and garments. In the course of developing some classes that apply textile and costume history to pagan clothing, I’ve developed the following fiber correspondences.

    There are four major natural fibers used now and historically in Western clothing manufacture: linen, wool, cotton, and silk. Among these four, I find several polarities. Linen and cotton are vegetable fibers and generally cooler to wear, while wool and silk are animal fibers and insulate the wearer, so that in Northern climes they are used to warm, while in the tropics they serve to cool. I associate the vegetable fibers with Mother Gaia and the Green Man, while the animal fibers evoke Herne the Hunter and Clothos. The sturdier fibers, linen and wool, correspond to the feminine, while the more ephemeral cotton and silk correspond to the masculine.

    Earth

    Linen is the natural bast fiber prepared from the long, pointed leaves of the flax plant, family Linaceae. Flax seed and linseed oil are all flax products. Linen fiber is tough, downright rugged. It requires extensive treatments from the leaf to a fiber that one can spin. There’s drying and beating and soaking and rotting (retting is the industry term) and beating and combing…the minimal prcess takes 13 steps, commercially it takes at least 29 steps. The resulting

    irish-linen-process

    long, sturdy fibers explain the folk tale descriptions of women spinning until their fingers bled. Such fiber naturally makes a strong thread and stronger fabric which softens only slowly with wear. Linen has been historically used for rope before hemp was available. Linen sheets require ironing to smooth them into a surface comfortable for sleep. The newest steam-iron still gives “linen” for its hottest temperature setting—and even so, most linen needs to be ironed damp in order to relax the fibers and smooth the surface. Like the element of Earth, linen is tough stuff.

    Caption: This composite photo illustrates many steps of making Irish linen.

    Linen goods, like all household fabric goods, were valued highly over the past millenia. Victorian households inventoried them, sent them for laundering with a laundry list to prevent theft, and repaired them regularly. Long before that, in medieval households, linens were inventoried, itemized, valued, and specifically distributed to heirs in wills. Household linens spun or woven, decorated or collected by young girls formed a substantial part of their dowries among working and professional classes. Between linen fiber’s toughness to prepare, resistance to change, longevity in use, and value to owners, it becomes evident that the element of Earth is its native home.

    Water

    Wool is the long hair of sheep and other hairy mammals—cashmere is the hair of the cashmere goat, angora the hair of angora rabbits and goats, and camel’s hair is just that. Almost any long-haired domesticated animal around the world has been shorn or combed for its wool: musk ox, llama, dog, rabbit. Just as these coats and fleeces insulate and protect the animals from cold or wet, strong sunlight or high winds, so do those shorn fleeces and clipped hair provide humans with fibers able to lend us those same protections.half-shornsheep
    Wool has the significant virtue of keeping one warm even when wet. Lanolin, the natural fat present in sheep’s wool (unless scoured out), is water-repellent, for one thing. Moreover, the microscopically kinked and scaled fiber surfaces maintain trapped air pockets throughout the fiber, which act as insulation regardless of how wet it is. Such insulation effects historically have served inhabitants of Saharan regions against the desert heat and chill, as well as inhabitants of the sea-faring peoples of the British Isles and Europe.

    Caption: A half-shorn sheep demonstrates the amount of wool produced by one sheep in a single year.

    Wool is also naturally fire-resistant. Wool fiber and fabric is difficult to light on fire and tends to self-extinguish, lending extra effectiveness to the historical fire-fighting technique of smothering or beating out small blazes with a wool blanket or rug. In similar fashion, the historic hearth-rug is a sheepskin fleece or heavy wool rug, on which hearth-fire sparks smolder quickly out. (Unfortunately, the synthetic fibers often used instead of wool are the very opposite of fire-safe, taking a spark or flame easily. Even those that resist the first heat, often do worse, flaring when they catch, and melting into goo that adheres to flesh in a fashion nastily reminiscent of napalm. Ask any burn-unit nurse about debriding a polyester burn and watch them shudder.)

    Thus, a defining quality of wool is its antipathy to fire and flame and ability to retain or protect against heat. Taken together with its ability to insulate human and animal against the chill of wet weather, Water is its innate element. Remember, Water is the polar opposite of Fire.

    Fire

    The cotton boll is the fibrous outer coating of the seed pod of a genus of tropical mallow plants, Gossypium, requiring tropical climates, or hot subtropical, to flourish. Its light, open structure burns easily, cleanly, and quickly.

    cotton-bollCaption: Cotton ready for harvest.

    The fine, light cellulose fibers of the cotton boll form the means of wind-distribution to spread those seeds. That same fineness enables the spinning of extremely fine threads. Such fine threads in turn allow such closely woven lightweight fabrics. Such finely woven cloth makes up into cool, breathable clothing and bed-clothes. Modern cotton sheets often specify the thread-count per square inch on their packaging. Egyptian cotton, an extra long staple (natural fiber length) cotton, was used in clothing from at least as early as 3600 BCE. Our very word gauze is believed to originate with an Arabic word, and physically, gauze weaves of cotton resemble the “mist linen” worn by Pharoahnic Egyptian nobles, as depicted in a goodly number of tomb paintings there.

    Similar quality long-staple Pima cotton was grown for clothing and decoration among the pre-Columbian peoples in south America—surviving examples of Pima cotton textiles there date to as early as 4400 BCE.

    Today, hot- and warm-weather garments are almost exclusively made of cotton fabrics. Absorbent cotton has allowed humans to work in tropically hot and humid conditions, such as the British Raj in India, exhibiting almost a magical affinity to both use heat and protect one from heat. And candle and lamp wicks are now made of cotton almost exclusively. This affinity for Fire defines the native elemental correspondence of cotton.

    Air

    Commercial silk is the fiber spun by the larvae of an Asian moth, Bombyx mori, when it becomes a pupa, spinning as much as a mile in a single cocoon. The fineness of the silk fiber when unravelled is so great that a single filament of silk was used to create one standard (a denier, used to measure linear mass density) for comparing fibers. An airborne creature for the element of air—seems obvious, no?
    Most sericultured (the technical term for raising Bombyx for silk) silk is made from killed cocoons, though silk noil or raw silk is made from hatched cocoons, as is wild silk. Those intact cocoons allow the thinnest of fibers, sometimes as fine as a mere three filaments to a single thread (before spinning or plying).

    Caption: A handful of cocoons ready to unreel.silkcocoonshand

    If you’ve ever handled the type of silk fabric called habotai, or the silk kerchiefs used by jugglers, you’ll have a sense. And those kerchiefs seem to defy gravity as they take their time when novice jugglers learn how to snap their wrists with each toss upwards, allowing the kerchief to expand in its own breeze and thus drift, not drop, earthward again.

    The silk fiber consists of a continuous protein chain, making it extremely strong for its weight. Spider silk, at about one-tenth the denier and one-fourth the diameter of silk, is considered to be the world’s strongest natural substance, based on materials standards of tensile strength-to-weight ratios. This extreme light weight and equally extreme strength of silk made it the fiber (and thus fabric) of choice when early experiments with lighter-than-air craft took place in the early 19th century.

    L. Frank Baum’s 1904 description of the Wizard’s vari-colored green balloon in the first Oz novel specifies panels of fine silk fabric. The term “parachute silk” is still used in some circles, although nylon supplanted silk in parachutes and similar applications during the Second World War.

    Silk fabrics can be extremely lightweight and compressible. So much so that a 19th-century test for lingerie quality was to pass a woman’s full-skirted, many-tiered silk petticoat completely through a wedding ring. At the same time, silk woven into heavier fabrics (noil, dupioni, etc.) such as are used in suiting or upholstery resembles wool in its ability to insulate against warmth or cool.

    Just as young spiders disperse from their hatch sites by spinning a bit of gossamer to the breeze and riding the flying filament(s) to their new homes, a living bit of thistledown, so does the silk gossamer of the Bombyx moth enable it to fly to its native element of Air.

    Related post: Weaving a Web

    ©Deborah Snavely, 2006, 2015, all rights reserved.

     

    Lumpers and splitters

    Witches on Their Native Soil

    Once upon a time nobody in Britain said out loud that they were a witch. After all, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 made it a crime to claim magical powers or practise witchcraft, with a year’s prison sentence if convicted under the Act. After a couple of centuries, in 1951, Britain repealed the Witchcraft Act, and replaced it with the Fraudulent Mediums Act. It became at least possible to admit one was a witch—although, as one of the mid-20th-century known witches wryly commented, “Witchcraft doesn’t pay for broken windows.”

    First Out of the Closet

    Gerald B. Gardner was first to publish about witchcraft as a religious survival, and out himself as a witch. He published the non-fiction title Witchcraft Today in 1954, sketching his interactions with a sub-group within a particular lodge of Co-Masons, which eventually had led to his 1939 initiation into “the brotherhood of the Wica.” In this first book about Witchcraft, Gardner attempts an observer’s voice. His amateur archeologist’s enthusiasm for the believed discovery of a Murray-type religious survival is evident in its pages, stirred into Gardner’s own life-long interest in matters occult and magical. As a result, it takes some reading to cull his reporting of witch beliefs and witch practices from his own amalgamated studies and opinions.

    Gardner went on to publish The Meaning of Witchcraft in 1959 with a less “outside” voice. He gave many news interviews to papers, radio, and TV, sometimes to his fellow witches’ dismay. At one point, a coven of his fractured over the issue of publicity. The tabloid press (the paparazzi of his day) once planned to ambush a coven meeting at the Five Acres nudist club, though the attempt was foiled. Over the course of a dozen or more years, Gardner brought in a good many witches, several of whom founded covens in locations across England and into Scotland, and many of which continue in practice today.

    Another Early Public Witch

    Another “public” witch, Sybil Leek, lived and worked in Burley into the early 1960s, proprietor of antique shops in the region. (Incidentally, Burley itself is situated less than eight miles from the Mill House in Highcliffe, where Gardner had been initiated.) Leek’s notoriety as a witch led eventually to her being asked by her landlord to vacate her lease; news reporters and tourists had created that much nuisance in Burley.

    Author of the 1964 book  A Shop in the High Street, about antiques, Leek was invited by a US publisher to tour in the States. During that visit, Leek also appeared (April 13, 1964) on an episode of the CBS TV show To Tell the Truth.  Taking permanent residence in the USA, Leek’s Diary of a Witch was published in 1968, though her witchcraft had long been fodder for her TV and newspaper interviewers. Less well known is the fact that Leek, like Gardner, founded (at least one) coven which also continues in practice.

    Leek used deliberate inaccuracies that have caused many to discount everything she said. For instance, in the case of her birth year, those inaccuracies continue to haunt her biographers. (Professional astrologer Leek considered her accurate birth data tantamount to exposing herself to personal or psychic attack, and hence maintained secrecy in that and other matters.) Her secretive ways, whatever her reasons for them, have rendered the witches of her heritage suspect in the eyes of some other witches.

    Other Counties Heard From

    Other strains of witchcraft were also known in the England of the 1950s & 1960s: Cochrane’s Craft, Horsa Coven, Coven of Atho, The Regency, and so on. The public witches leading those groups were often at odds, sometimes vehemently. One Charles Cardell, who connived with a woman who called herself Olive Green to infiltrate Gardner’s witch practice, coined the term “Gardnerian” as an insult to the witchcraft that Gardner passed on. Its cheerful adoption by its targets was a lovely instance of transformative magic.

    Wicca vs. Witch

    Despite recent assumptions that it was Gardner who supplied the word Wicca based on the Old English word wicca, it was already circulating as a term applied to Witches throughout Britain. The Old English (Anglo-Saxon) word wicca translates witch, in the male gender (the female form is wicce). Anglo-Saxon 9th century surviving documents use both as well as wiccian (to bewitch) and wiccecræft (witchcraft).

    By the late 1960s, the label “Wicca” had been adopted by religious and magical practices entirely unrelated to British Witchcraft. Examples include the women-only Goddess spirituality called Dianic, the teachings of the Frosts and their “Church and School of Wicca,” and generations of bootstrap witch covens relying on what was available in print for their instruction. In North America today Gardner’s Witchcraft has come to be known as British Traditional Wicca (in Europe it remains simply Wicca or Initiatory Wicca), of which Gardnerian Wicca is probably the best-known single Tradition.

    Witch or Wicca, in Britain’s occult circles of the twentieth century, a witch was a witch was a witch. Gardner was a Witch. Leek was a Witch. Cochrane was a Witch.

    The Balkanization of the Craft

    Nowadays, a Witch is a Wiccan is a Gardnerian Wiccan is a Hokey-Pokey line Gardnerian is a Yukon line Gardnerian is a Southpaw Yukon line Gardnerian is a Panama Gardnerian who used be a Southpaw Yukon line Gardnerian… and so what? When the Yukon line Gardnerians teach their students that the Southpaw Yukon line Gardnerians are neither Gardnerians nor even Wicca, they do the whole of the Witch priesthood no favors.

    Taxonomy, the Art of Labelling

    Lumpers and splitters are opposing factions which place individual examples into categories. The lumper–splitter problem occurs when one needs to separate individual examples into groups or categories. Natural history is the source of the term lumper and splitter, used by Charles Darwin himself to describe the factions that arose while scientists worked to classify the variation among and within biological species.

    A “lumper” is an individual who takes a gestalt view …, and assigns examples broadly, assuming that differences are not as important as signature similarities. A “splitter” is an individual who takes precise definitions, and creates new categories to classify samples that differ ….

    —Wikipedia article “Lumpers and Splitters” Emphasis mine

    Alas, among humans, that same issue of distinguishing and identifying becomes a means of exclusion and cliques, of one-true-wayism and division, of shunning for naught as much as shunning for aught.

    I see splitters among the Wicca choosing corners in which to isolate themselves, when their choices of action do no service to the Wiccæ; it appears to me as isolationist as the UK’s recent Brexit vote, and as segregationist as the Transvaal and South African policies of apartheid.

    I have found much more experiential evidence to support my lumpish view of Wicca (remembering always that by Wicca I mean British Traditional Wicca or Initiatory Wicca). And on my generous days, I find it in me to feel compassion for those Yukon line Gardnerians who so haughtily paint themselves into a small and lonely corner of the witching world.

    May the gods preserve the Craft.