There are a lot of new titles coming out this Fall that Ankhie is very excited about. So to share the delight of anticipation I offer you a preview of one or two – starting with Raven Grimassi’s erudite and engrossing Old World Witchcraft (hitting shelves on October 1st) – specifically a passage on Old World Witchcraft and its enchanted world view, entitled “Unearthing a Witch”:
… Old World witchcraft is glimpsed in shadow because the shadow’s edge is the threshold of the portal to the inside. Stepping across the threshold and coming back again is what brings about realization. It reveals the difference between witchcraft as something to do on the weekend and witchcraft as something much larger and greater than the witch. Old World witchcraft is empowering and transformative. It is more than a philosophy and a self image; it is how we interact with our connection to, and relationship with, all things.
There is a reason why witchcraft is traditionally linked to the night and intimately connected to the moon. In a mystical sense the moon is a form and is formless at the same time. From earth’s perspective the moon appears to change shape in the night sky and even disappears entirely for three nights each lunar cycle. Its shape is not constant like that of the sun and stars. Therefore, it becomes a metaphor for altered states of consciousness. To stand beneath the moon in a state of receptivity is to invite the “otherworld” into our mind, body, and spirit.
As humans we possess what is essentially a duality of awareness: conscious and subconscious. In Old World witchcraft the conscious mind is linked to the sun and the subconscious mind to the moon. We often call the conscious mind “the guardian” and it is his role to deal with material reality. He keeps us focused on the finite, tangible, and linear realities because they serve to sustain the life of the physical body. The subconscious mind is known as “the way-shower” and her role is to reveal non-material reality. She keeps us connected to the limitless, ethereal, and spherical realities because they serve to sustain the spiritual nourishment of the soul. The conscious and subconscious minds are two equal halves of one greater whole; by analogy, we possess two arms, and it is more effective to use both than to always rely only upon one.
The guardian mind cannot, by itself, accept the existence of non-material reality. In order to do so, it must share consciousness with the way-shower. For example, the guardian mind cannot believe in an invisible and silent deity because it does not experience this through the five senses. The way-shower has no objection to the idea of deity, but it cannot maintain it as a lasting concept (because in dreams nothing exists as something that cannot change form or meaning). It is only when the guardian and way-shower meet in a merged consciousness that faith becomes reality. Without this merged consciousness, the guardian regards faith as foundationless and the way-shower sees it as merely a fading entertainment. But together our conscious and subconscious minds exchange part of their nature to each other. Through this exchange the conscious mind can accept inexperienced as something actualized, and the subconscious mind can regard imagination as a manifest and lasting form.
In Old World witchcraft the moon is not only a visible reminder of the occult mind; it is also the light that governs the most receptive time for a witch’s magic—the night. Equally important is the fact that spirit activity is more pronounced at night. This is also the best time for communication with the dead. There is a difference between night and darkness. The former is determined through its relationship with the repeating cycle of light, and the latter is known by the shutting out of light. Therefore, we can be in night or in darkness. The Old World witch works with the night.
Folkloric sources indicate a belief that faeries and witches have a fondness for dancing at night in the woods and meadows. Folktales mention flattened plants that form circles on the ground, which are said to be evidence of such dances. These spots are known as faery-circles or hag-circles. The scientific explanation is that these are caused by the growth of fungi, which can grow in a circular pattern. This reminds me of an old belief that witches can cause the moon to excrete magical foam on the ground (said to be associated with calling down the moon from the night sky). Ancient writers such as Lucan refer to it as virus lunare, and witches were believed to gather it up to aid their enchantments. I was taught that this idea originated from a misunderstanding about the practice in witchcraft of wetting objects with the early morning dew that collects on lichen. Dew is heaviest on the morning following a full moon—enough said.
Returning to the theme of night gatherings, in chapter two we saw early references in the Christian era that mention the tregenda. This, we noted, was originally a gathering of witches involving formal communication with the dead. In Old World witchcraft the dead are intimately connected with the moon. Dancing with the dead at night is one of the features of the Sabbat, or tregenda. This involves making “birch dolls” fashioned with short birch twigs (roughly the length from the tip of the index finger on the left hand down to the wrist). The twigs are bound together with a cord. The cut ends are pushed into a pouch, which is then tied tightly with another cord. This forms a “head” on the doll, with the branches extending downward making the doll’s body. These dolls represent the dead. During the dance, they are tossed back and forth through the air between the dancers.
Ancient writers such as Plutarch wrote about the souls of the dead being drawn to the moon where they abide for a time and are later reborn on the earth. For us the circle of the moon in the night sky symbolizes the cycle of rebirth and the dwelling place of departed souls. Circle dances symbolically unite the living and the dead and keep alive the connection between past and present generations. One ancient belief held that the moon is literally a goddess (as opposed to a cult object associated with her). In this regard it is a comforting thought to think of the womb of this goddess filled with the light of souls residing within her and awaiting rebirth (poetic though it may be).
And ahhh, this is just a taste my friends, chosen at random from a book that is full of wisdom and insight. If you’re good, Ankhie will post another excerpt next week.