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Introducing Traditional British Old Craft
Contrary to what many modern pagans are led to believe, there is an older system of Craft than modern Wicca that has never left the shadows, and which has its roots in the pre-repeal of the Witchcraft Act of 1951. These groups have never been part of the publicity machine to popularise Craft, and have always muttered darkly that the mass publicity of the past 20 years would destroy Craft — not preserve it. But what exactly is traditional British Old Craft … and how is it different from other pagan Traditions?
Firstly, we need to accept that traditional witchcraft (unlike Wicca) is not a religion – it never has been, simply because it’s an individual’s natural ability that distinguishes him or her as a witch. In other words, a witch is born, not made. It just isn’t possible to learn how to become a witch if we haven’t got these abilities, although it is possible to learn how to hone and develop latent, or suppressed psychic talents, under the right tuition. And there is no age limit for these discoveries – in either the young, middle-aged or old.
Wicca, on the other hand, is fast becoming accepted as the ‘new pagan religion’ with its doctrines drawing heavily on an eco-feminine shadow-image of Christianity. This again is nothing new, since Christianity itself absorbed many of the existing pagan festivals and celebrations into the Church calendar (including an identification of the Virgin Mary with Isis), and contemporary paganism is merely reclaiming its own. But in reality, even in the days before the Christian invasion, not all of the pagan populace were skilled in the Craft of witches.
“Touch not the cat”
To use a natural analogy, the difference between traditional witchcraft and paganism is to liken them to the relationship between the domestic and the wild cat. To the casual observer there is little difference. Just as the similarities between the modern wild cat (felis sylvestris) and the house cat (felis catus) are so great and the differences so few, that it is difficult to establish any authentic genealogy. The wild cat, however, cannot be handled or tamed; even a small kitten it is extremely ferocious. In appearance it is difficult at a distance to distinguish a wild cat from a large domestic tabby that has gone feral, but (as with witchcraft and paganism), the subtle differences are there, if you know where and how to look. For example:
Paganism (including Wicca) has developed a very strong community spirit in recent years, with everyone at public events joining hands to celebrate the festivals, organised around the nearest weekend coinciding with a formal Wheel of the Year. Pagans generally believe that information should be available to all, and that everyone has the right to access esoteric knowledge. Many pagans are highly suspicious of traditional witches, with some denying that they practice any form of magic at all. Paganism caters for teenagers within the community and actively encourages them to attend the fairs, buy books and any appropriate accoutrements. Pagans claim to worship Nature in the persona of ‘the Goddess’.
The generally accepted pagan motto is: ‘And it harm none, do what you will’.
Old Caft is not bound by social rules and conventions, only by the personal morality of the individual, and is governed solely by the natural tides. Any form of magical working or spiritual observance tends to be of a solitary nature, or in the company of tried and trusted people. Old Crafters believe that esoteric knowledge should be kept hidden because it is impossible to convey the meaning of the ‘true mysteries’ without the appropriate teaching. Traditional witches are rarely seen at public pagan events, and hold that any ritual equipment will be acquired as and when it is necessary. The witch learns his or her Craft along the way, and pays homage to Nature but in a more abstract form than the textbooks will allow, something along the lines of Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:
“To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”
The Old Craft motto is ‘Trust None!’ although it could well be taken from the motto of several Scottish clans: ‘Touch not the [wild] cat without a glove’.
Means Streets Witchcraft
As we can see, there is nothing altruistic about Old Craft and this tribal mentality may not sit comfortably with contemporary pagan ethics – but it is a genuine Path and a very ancient one. Nevertheless, as my old tutor often pointed out, beliefs change over the years and so do practices. There must be constant change and growth for progression, and so when deciding to write a series of books on traditional witchcraft, I started with Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living because more pagans now live in our towns and cities than the country.
In my experience, the greatest problem an urban witch faces is that an urban environment is not user-friendly when it comes to psychic and magical activity. Even if our own particular ‘patch’ is peaceful enough, each time travel to work, go shopping, take the kids to school we rub up against a constant barrage of negative energy that we bring back into our home every time we open the door. Traditional witchcraft has had to adapt itself to inner-city life but it doesn’t cease to be Old Craft because of the modifications necessary to bring it into the 21st century.
Extract from Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living by Mélusine Draco, published by Moon Books, in imprint of John Hunt Publishing : Price US$16.95 ISBN: 978-1-84694-978-4
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