Hedge Riding: The Art of the Hedge Witch

Bringing the Hedge back into Hedge Witchcraft, working with liminal spaces and the Otherworld

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What is Witchcraft?

What is Witchcraft?

Witchcraft is a practice that is as old as the hills. It is a skill in the arts of magic, and/or healing, herbcraft, psychology, animal husbandry and more. It has been practiced all over the world, by every single civilisation.

Witchcraft has been persecuted by many religions and people in positions of power throughout the ages, in various forms. Today, western civilisation incorporates a much broader view of the world, and therefore witchcraft is not nearly as persecuted as before, as basic universal human rights have improved and we move towards a global worldview. Yet there are still pockets of hate and misunderstanding, even here in the West, where it is dangerous to claim to be or be associated with witchcraft.

Here in Britain, the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951. Spiritualists campaigned against a very old Act of Parliament that was used to prosecute mediums, and which was also being used against witchcraft. The old Act was then replaced by the Fraudulent Mediums Act, and therefore witchcraft gained its freedom once again.

The word witch has a much debated origin. Some believe it relates to the use of "wit", or in relation to "wise", as in a "wisewoman" or a "wiseman": someone who had skills and knowledge and who could be turned to in times of trouble within the community. The Old English word for witchcraft is wiccecræft, from wicce (witch) and cræft (craft), which is where we derive our modern-day term. There are those who believe that wicce means "to bend or shape", as it relates to the word willow, a resource often used to create very useful items through bending or shaping. This action could also refer to the bending or shaping of fate, through magical or other means, hence the word witch may have its roots (pardon the pun) in willow. There are other theories, of course, and all are plausible, and none are proven as fact.

Witchcraft comes in many forms and traditions. A very modern form of Witchcraft is Wicca, a fast-growing religious tradition stemming from Witchcraft. Wicca was developed in the mid-twentieth century, mostly through the works of Gerarld Brosseau Gardner and expounded upon by his associate, Doreen Valiente. After the Witchcraft Act was repealed, Gardner felt it was time to make public all that he knew about the workings of witchcraft at the time in Britain (despite committing others of his coven to oaths of secrecy, which caused some contention). Gardner claimed he was fearful of the tradition dying out completely.

Gardner worked closely with a friend, Ross Nichols, to research and develop a system of eight festivals through which a Wiccan could celebrate the turning of the seasons.[i] They mined what they knew of occult lore and present-day witchcraft, and filled in the gaps with folklore.[1] Gerald Gardner later became known as the "father of modern Witchcraft", and Ross Nichols founded the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, one of the largest Druid organisations known today across the globe. It was Doreen Valiente who put Gardner's work together into a cohesive form, and rewrote some of the material with her talent as a poet and a writer. Many would call her the "mother of modern Witchcraft", and I would not disagree in the least. Valiente's contributions are vast, and to find out more about her, please do read her biography by Philip Heselton which is fascinating!

Wicca and Witchcraft can be seen as two very different traditions. Some who practice Witchcraft would never call themselves Wiccan, for they do not follow the themes, religious concepts, ethics and tools found in the more modern Wiccan tradition. Contrary to this, most Wiccans would call themselves witches, and for them the words are interchangeable. In Britain, Witchcraft can be seen as the inheritance of the indigenous magical traditions of these lands, alongside other forms such as Druidry. Some who practice Witchcraft disassociate themselves with Wicca by claiming their tradition is one that has been passed down through family blood lines, or groups, teachers and mentorship for generations. Others might simply feel more resonance with what they feel to be an older tradition. It is my opinion that age does not equate to validity or authenticity, and that a new religion can be just as satisfying as an old or ancient one. However, do I call myself a Wiccan? Well, I used to, when I first started out on the path and discovered Wicca was a religion alive and well. Since then I have a deep fondness for Wicca, and do follow some of its tenets, use some of its traditional tools and ritual structure, but rather I call myself a Witch, for not everything that I do falls into the category of Wicca. I sometimes call myself "eclectic Wiccan", which is a path that takes from other traditions to create your own that works for you. To each their own.

To muddy the waters further, some who call themselves Witches but whom are actually practicing Wicca refer to their tradition simply as "The Craft". There are also "traditional witches" who have nothing to do with Wicca who do the same. The term "traditional" can mean two very different things as well: in the UK it can mean a form of Witchcraft that has nothing to do with Wicca, and which has been passed down through the ages, sometimes hereditary, sometimes not, but can also mean following a specific modern tradition, such as Gardnerian Wicca.

Perhaps the most hotly debated and differentiating point between Wicca and Witchcraft lies in Wicca's ethical rede: And it harm none, do what you will. Most Wiccans would see this as practicing a religious or spiritual tradition that only includes positive workings and outcomes. Some forms of Witchcraft does not have an all-encompassing ethical framework, and so the positive and negative are also viewed with the many shades between. While most Wiccans would say they adhere to the Wiccan Rede, Witches who are not Wiccans would say that they determine for themselves the ethics in any given situation, and are fully willing to accept the consequences. Many Wiccans also believe in The Law of Three: that is, all that you do will return to you threefold, whether positive or negative. Those who prefer to be termed Witches and do not follow Wicca do not necessarily believe in this concept. (There will be more discussion on the Law of Three or Threefold Law later.) Then again, there are those who cross both borders, and any definition can be too limiting.

Perhaps the most definitive difference between Wicca and Witchcraft is that Wicca is seen as a religious tradition, whereas Witchcraft can be seen as more of a practice, skill or way of life. A Wiccan follows a religious path, whereas a Witch may or may not work with deity or religious rites in any shape or form. It's a matter of personal choice.

Witchcraft and Satanism are two very different things. Many who practice Witchcraft and all who practice Wicca do not believe in the Devil, and therefore could not be Satanists. Sadly, there are many who confuse the two even to this day, and use Satanism to denote anything outside of their accepted worldview that they wish to impose upon others, or profit from. Interestingly, Romany forest dwellers in Britain (often associated with witchcraft) were said to have honoured a Pagan god called "Duvel": could this have been where the association of Witchcraft and the Devil first originated?[2] The Devil and Satanism always makes for a thrilling story as well. Hollywood and horror films also have done much to colour people's view of what Witchcraft is, and made a bundle in the process of creating this fiction.

In this work, I refer to the practice or tradition as witchcraft, or more specifically, Hedge Witchcraft. I will discuss the term Hedge Witch in more detail a little further. The Witchcraft presented here is a blend of many things: my own personal knowledge and skill, inborn talents, teachings received, in-depth research and practical application that I have gained over my twenty years (and more) in the tradition. It is a blend of modern Wicca and Witchcraft, suited for the solitary seeker who works and walks between the worlds. I hope that the journey will be a magical one for all, and that we can reinstate the enchantment so needed in our modern-day world.

Blessings in your work!

[1] Carr-Gomm, P. The Origin of Wicca and Druidry: Adapted from Druid Mysteries (Rider 2002), druidry.com, accessed 5 July 2018, https://www.druidry.org/druid-way/other-paths/wicca-druidcraft/origins-wicca-druidry

[2] Valiente, D. An ABC of Witchcraft (Robert Hale, 1986), 86.

[i] What is interesting to note is that many books on Wicca and Witchcraft do not mention Gardner's work and friendship with Ross Nichols, who became known for bringing Druidry into the modern world. However, most books on Druidry mention Gardner to some degree when discussing Nichols' work. Why this should be, I have no idea!

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion.  www.joannavanderhoeven.com

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  Joanna van der Hoeven is a Hedge Witch, Druid, and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion.  


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Saturday, 07 July 2018

    Back in the 1980's I read an article on witchcraft in either Natural History or the Journal of Popular Culture in which the author claimed that any minority religion would be considered witchcraft by the neighbors. He specifically mention a town that was mostly Baptist where the Lutherans were considered witches down the road he claimed there was a town that was predominately Lutheran were the Baptists were considered witches. I think we've mostly grown out of that attitude thanks to the internet.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Monday, 09 July 2018

    Yes indeed, and the internet and a growing collective "conscious" mind, could very be the result :)

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