The Art of Traditional Witchcraft: A Foreword & Introduction #thecrookedpath #kelden

(Llewellyn Books 2020)

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What Is Traditional Witchcraft?

Here you stand before a dirt path that stretches and winds far into the distance. On either side of you sit two low stone walls, both time-worn and covered in green moss. All around them grow abundant sprays of foxglove, datura, and belladonna. You notice a forked staff leaning against one of the walls and a large cast-iron cauldron resting on the ground near the other. As the waxing crescent moon breaks through the clouds, you hear the sudden howling of a coyote from somewhere far away. You take in a deep breath, readying yourself for the long journey you are about to begin. You know that it will be challenging and require hard work, but you can already feel your inner power awakening to the beckoning call of what lies ahead. Intuitively grabbing ahold of the staff, you take one last look around before stepping onto the Crooked Path of Traditional Witchcraft.

FOREWORD

The origins and lore of today’s Witchcraft are a tangled thicket, and its traditions and variants a skein of many strands. In following our way back along the elder threads, we find the old Witch beliefs, giving rise to those considered “beyond the pale” and feared for their uncanny powers to curse (and sometimes to cure), powers long attributed to encounters and relationships with the Devil, familiar spirits, or some other envoy of the Otherworld. So too do we pick up the threads that lead us to the old-time “white witches,” conjurors, and Cunning Folk of both rural and urban communities, whose Craft was one of operative magic, of divining and blessing or blasting, according to the needs and wants of a paying clientele.

Here might be perceived a heritage of sorts, for whilst some Cunning Folk drew their knowledge and power from apparent possession of magical texts, accounts tell of others dealing with familiars and having had encounters with spirits and otherworldly beings from whom they gained their ability to provide cures, perform divinations, and counter the ill influence of the malevolent Witch.

In Britain, this particular strand of Witchcraft reached its height in the nineteenth century, gradually fading and having all but disappeared by the 1930s. However, beneath this apparent decline, shifts and changes had long been afoot. The rise of clandestine initiatory fraternities, group occultism, and popular spiritualism through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries may well have provided an environment and a confluence of ideas in which once-solitary practitioners of cunning traditions and Witchcraft evolved working lodge and coven structures in which to consolidate, nurture, and continue their artes and mysteries.

The first, and thereafter most prominent, such brand of coven Witchcraft to emerge into public consciousness was of course that promulgated by Gerald Brosseau Gardner. Evidently, his was a vision of a Witchcraft for the masses, and so Gardner set about reworking and building upon the possibly fragmentary form of witchcraft into which he had been initiated in the 1930s. Drawing upon his interests in Romantic era Paganism, Freemasonry, and ceremonial occultism, Gardner was able to forge a beautiful and workable system of celebratory Pagan Witchcraft for the new Aquarian Age.

Other Craft traditions and recensions would however emerge, often at odds with Gardner and his innovations, claiming to represent pre-Gardnerian “Old Craft” approaches to Witchcraft. These typically emphasized operative cunning, less formalized ritual, and a gnostic mysticism drawing upon the virtues and hidden presences of the landscape, the spirit world, and folkloric practices. Thus was the Traditional Witchcraft movement born, seeing those claiming to represent elder traditions and those drawing inspiration from historical Witchcraft presenting alternative paths to Wicca.

Whilst, of course, Gardner’s vision for the Craft has been phenomenally successful, serving admirably the needs of many called to its approach to the mysteries, there is undoubtedly a current resurgence in those expressions of Craft that are more magically operative in emphasis, rather than celebratory. There appears to be a great desire for a Craft that is rooted deeply in those lonely and numinous places of power within the land, in which potent virtues may be drawn forth, spirit allies enjoined, and the way crossed betwixt the worlds. Here too may the materia magica of plant, stone, and bone be sought in hedge, field, and forest and at the water’s edge. It is with the aid of such spirit forces and nature-given tools that a great number of seekers unto the arte magical are now drawn to work the ways of the Witch’s eye, of blessing and blasting, of exorcism and conjuration, and to craft amulet, charm, and talisman.

Whilst in the Old Craft the spirit forces and the whispering wisdom of the wild and lonely places are primary teachers, the guidance of one who has trod the round of the wise many times is invaluable. However, few have access to such a guide, and even fewer the opportunity to share the warmth and wisdom at the hearth of assembled company, coven, or clan. And so, it is books, wrought of dedication, insight, and experience and pointing the way to self-navigating the hooks and crooks of the Traditional Witch’s path, that many turn to in search of true guidance.

The seeker will find such guidance within these very pages, for Kelden parts the thorny overgrowth at the stile and invites the would-be journeyman to traverse and explore the ways that lead to the heart of the Elder Craft. Herein are carefully mediated paths of inner workings to forge and temper; of power and its employment; of crafting and hallowing the tools of the arte where force, symbolism, and form unite; of Witch-rite and ceremony; and of the operative magics of wort cunning, charm crafting, and spell working. Here imparted too are ways unto the mysteries of familiar and fetch and the forging of a working relationship with the Old Ones, the spirit world, and the land.

As one whose Craft background arises from mixed streams, I welcome this book also for its refreshing absence of derision when discussing other forms of Craft. As Cecil Williamson once wrote, “Those who work witchcraft are on the whole a divided lot each calling stinking fish to the other groups’ methods.” 1 Such a trait has long plagued the post-revival Craft. Yet within Kelden’s writing is recognition of the fact that all branches of the Craft are reaching forth in different directions, all from an old, gnarled, and twisted trunk, itself arising from tangled roots fathoms deep.

For those drawn to the many-fingered branch of Traditional Witchcraft and the living artes of Witch, wise woman, and cunning man, here unfolds the ever revealing, ever concealing, serpentine way of the Crooked Path.

—Gemma Gary July 2019

1. Kerriann Gowdin, ed., The Museum of Witchcraft: A Magical History (Bodmin, UK: The Occult Art Company and the Friends of the Bodcastle Museum of Witchcraft, 2011), 18.

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INTRODUCTION

From a very young age, I had a natural curiosity about Witchcraft and magic. In fact, I can’t actually remember a time when I wasn’t wholeheartedly interested in Witches, ghosts, and faeries. I spent the majority of my childhood playing in the woods next to my house, collecting herbs, building faerie houses, and reading from books of spells. I felt most at home among the trees, befriended by the birds, the deer, and an assortment of spirits. It was in those woods that I first felt connected to a higher power or deity. But unlike the god I was taught about during my brief time spent in church, whoever this was didn’t feel distant or disconnected from me. Instead, we would sing together under the moonlight and dance around the giant oak tree. When I’d have a bad day, I’d curl up on the ground and they’d hold me while I cried into the dirt. My world was an enchanted one, where every plant and stone had a spirit, the moon herself was a goddess, and magic flowed from my very fingertips.

When I was eleven years old, I discovered Wicca while searching the internet (still a relatively new innovation) for information on Witchcraft. Discovering that there were other people out there who identified as Witches was an incredibly validating experience for me. It meant that I wasn’t as alone as I sometimes felt and that there was a reality to my beliefs—which were very different from those of everyone else I knew. From that point forward, my practice as a solitary, eclectic Wiccan took off. I was lucky to have supportive parents who bought me my first books on Wicca and Witchcraft, and I read whatever I could get my hands on. However, by the time I entered college, I felt something had changed—that I had reached a plateau in my path. The books I read felt increasingly redundant, and even the rituals I had performed countless times before seemed to become hollow and lifeless. At that point I decided to try reinvigorating my practice by researching the history of Witchcraft in more depth. I turned to the books written by the early pioneers of modern Witchcraft, including Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Janet and Stewart Farrar, and Alex and Maxine Sanders. Then I worked backward, using their references and bibliographies to find even older sources. During my studying, two things eventually became abundantly clear: one, that there was far more to Wicca than what was often presented in the popular, easily accessible books; and two, that despite my deepened love and respect for Wicca, it was no longer the right path for me.

It was while researching the history of Wicca that I discovered another path of Witchcraft, one that felt more like home to me. I had almost missed it entirely, a nearly hidden exit off the main road. I pushed through the thorny brambles and found myself on a new trail, one that was built into the living landscape around me. It was muddy, organic, and wild. The Craft of those who walked along this roadway was practiced in the garden and in the kitchen, in this world and the Otherworld. Its core beliefs hearkened back to my early years of fairytale Witches and magic, with familiar spirits, potions made from deadly plants, and spells whispered on the wind. The words and rituals were those from the heart, spoken and performed by the Witch in ecstasy while surrounded by the spirits. It was founded on the ancestral wisdom of the Witches who came before, enchanted by their stories, whether they be fact, fiction, or somewhere in between. It was a path that I found mysterious, fascinating, and inescapable. It was a crooked path called Traditional Witchcraft.

Now, nearly a decade later, I feel deeply rooted in my practice as a Traditional Witch. Over the years I have grown to be an avid researcher, writer, and presenter on the topic of Traditional Witchcraft, as well as the history and folklore of Witchcraft in general. I have published essays in various books, presented workshops, written a blog, and cocreated an oracle deck. It’s an understatement to say that a lot has changed since I took my first steps onto the Crooked Path. Though, in reflecting upon the early days of my journey, I’ve come to realize that there was one thing lacking during that time—a quality book for the beginning Traditional Witch to help guide the way.

Why It’s Important

As I started to look more into Traditional Witchcraft, I was quick to find a discrepancy between the amount of available resources dedicated to this path and those focused on Wicca. It hasn’t been until the last decade or so that books on Traditional Witchcraft have started to be published with more frequency. Thus, there haven’t been all that many books to choose from and even fewer that are written with the beginner in mind. In fact, the vast majority of Traditional Witchcraft books are geared toward those who already have some amount of prior knowledge and experience. Unfortunately, this can leave newcomers feeling confused due to a lack of explanation on essential topics. To make matters worse, some of these resources are completely unapproachable due to their use of overly complicated, dramatic language. Together, these factors have made it incredibly difficult for beginners to find a solid place to start their journey and have even turned some away completely.

A further problem that I’ve noticed in several books on Traditional Witchcraft is the ridiculous amount of material dedicated to trying to differentiate between it and Wicca. Most of this is due to the period of time in which those books were written, when Wicca was still the front and center of all things Witchcraft related. Therefore, differentiating between the two was more important, as people were less familiar with non-Wiccan forms of the Craft. Even today, discussions on how they relate to one another can be helpful. However, when every subject mentioned in the book contains a diatribe about how it’s completely different from Wicca, the focus tends to get lost. Of course, this is also before taking into consideration the annoying habit of Wicca bashing, which is petty and consequently detracts from an author’s credibility.

In writing The Crooked Path: An Introduction to Traditional Witchcraft, it was my goal to create the book I wish I would have had when first learning the ways of Traditional Witchcraft, a book that cuts through the pretenses and presents the material in a practical, down-to-earth manner. It’s also been my goal to write a book on Traditional Witchcraft that discusses its relationship with Wicca in a fair and balanced way. Having spent considerable time as a researcher and a participating member of both paths, it’s been my long-standing desire to dismantle stereotypes and misinformation while also working toward creating a better understanding of both Wicca and Traditional Witchcraft. My hope for this book is that it will provide you with all this and more, whether you’re already a practicing Traditional Witch, a beginner, or just someone who is curious to know more about this particular branch of Witchcraft.

How to Use This Book

The Crooked Path: An Introduction to Traditional Witchcraft contains thirteen chapters, divided into five parts. The book is laid out as a metaphorical path, with each chapter taking you a step further on your journey. As you walk the winding road, you’ll learn about the definition and history of Traditional Witchcraft, how to work with magic, how to travel into the Otherworld, and how to forge a deep connection with the natural world around you. In the final part of this book, you will take everything you’ve learned and put all the pieces together in order to establish your very own Traditional Witchcraft practice. Along the way, you will find numerous exercises, rituals, and spells to engage your mind and get your hands dirty. If you don’t already have a journal, I encourage you to start one so that you can write down your responses and reactions to these exercises. Additionally, throughout the book, you will discover sections entitled “From the Spirits of Lore” and “From the Black Book.” The former will provide you with folkloric stories that are meant to highlight and add further context to topics being discussed. In the latter sections, you will find helpful recipes for various incenses, powders, ointments, waters, and offerings. Finally, please refer to the back of this book for a glossary of terms and a bibliography containing excellent books for further reading.<

One response to “The Art of Traditional Witchcraft: A Foreword & Introduction #thecrookedpath #kelden

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