8th January 1987
Dear Tessa and Glyn,
I will answer your question, ’What is witchcraft?’ in letter form. And I will start with the most surprising things I can think of. The biggest surprise to most people about witches, once they have realized we are not ’devil-worshippers’ nor ’tools of the powers of evil’ (in true horror-movie style), is that we worship a female deity, a Goddess. We also worship a God. That does not really surprise anyone. But reverence for the Mother of All Life, in this culture, is unexpected. It has implications, spiritually, emotionally and socially.
Historically, witches have been persecuted for their belief in a Goddess. It was politically unacceptable in a patriarchal culture. Worship of a Goddess would have to mean, for example, that the earth, Mother Earth, would once again be held sacred. She could no longer be polluted or exploited for any reason, and a great deal of power and profit would be lost by unscrupulous men. Better, from their point of view, to worship a God who is all mind and spirit, ’out there’ up in heaven, away from the disgusting, ’sinful’ Earth.
In the spiritual view of our modern world, femaleness has long been reckoned as not quite so holy as maleness. Woman, in all the world’s patriarchal religions - Christianity and Islam in particular - is seen as the bringer of sin, a snare and a trap for the ’holier’ sex. Closer to animality, through menstruation and childbirth, and to the earth. How can there be a God who is female? most people would now ask. Witches would answer that childbearing is the original creative act, and that prehistoric people worshipped both gods and goddesses (primarily goddesses) since time out of mind. This is shown by the earliest mythologies, and by the numerous pictures and statues of goddesses which have been found at ancient sites all over the world.
Nowadays, some witches, in rebellion against the cruel suppression of Goddess worship, would actually go so far as to say that only the Goddess should be worshipped. An understandable but sad reaction. However, the Father of All Life, the God, must be acknowledged too. He exists and his suppression would be as destructive as the suppression of all knowledge of the Mother Goddess. The true aim of witchcraft is reconciliation of opposites. Bitterness, hatred and resentment between the sexes is as old as history, but witchcraft is the only religion which has as its avowed aim the healing of these wounds. Sadly, there are those in the world, of both sexes, who have no desire for reconciliation or perhaps no belief that such a thing is possible. To them, for them, I cannot speak. But I can speak to you two and perhaps to others. What I am saying is that witchcraft, at least potentially, is a religion of healing.
Where does it gain its credentials? What is its history? Witchcraft is Paganism. More specifically, it is a type of Paganism with roots in our neolithic past. It has evolved and endured through thousands of years of persecution. In the present day, it is a system of beliefs and magical practices dedicated to restoring the lost harmony between humanity and the subtle, transrational aspects of life, the mysteries. Our belief is that this would restore, also, the lost harmony between humanity and Mother Earth. Though it is now new, reborn, it was, in fact, a form of the Old Religion. Perhaps, now, you can see why it has been dubbed as evil. For such slander is the standard practice of an incoming religion displacing an old one. Witches, then, are not necessarily evil. They are simply followers of a religion which predated Christianity.
Second surprising fact: witches are not always elderly women, although they can be. In any case, they are no more prone to warts than the average member of the population (though considerably better at charming warts away). They are not recognizable. Not only do they not wear tall black hats, but they could be of any age and either sex. (The men are called witches, too; not warlocks, as some people think.) Some work in covens, some alone and some, like myself, with one magical partner. But you have no way of knowing who among your neighbours might be one. It could be anybody.
Yes, they do practise magic. Not to curse or to undermine but to help and heal. Does it work? Does magic achieve anything? Third surprising fact: yes. But it has to be learned, like anything else.
Also, yes, witches do sometimes work naked in their rites. Even solitary witches do this, for we believe in the sacredness of all our bodies and we enjoy the freedom and beauty of going ’skyclad’. Furthermore, tradition says that magic can be worked more effectively like this, as clothes can impede the flow of the witch’s etheric energy. It is for warm weather, of course, or by a blazing fire. There is nothing magically effective about gooseflesh!
Well, I hear you ask next, now you’ve let on about nakedness, what about Old Nick, with the horns and the forked tail? What about Old Hornie? Don’t you really worship the Devil? No smoke without fire.
Old Hornie? Yes. The Devil, principle of evil? No. The Horned God, to witches, is male partner of the Triple Goddess. He is dynamic, the life force, male aspect of all nature. We worship him because we worship life. He has horns and a tail to denote his instinctive and animal knowledge, his nature wisdom. This God is part beast and part man, a blend of the life force and shamanic skills. The Horned God, like the Goddess, is sexual, earthy, passionate and wise. Cruel and evil he is not. Between these two, the Mother Goddess and her partner, the world was made. They made it by desire and by love. Therefore, their sexuality is the sacred life force and it follows that, to witches, our own sexuality is sacred, a true spiritual experience. Potentially, the most spiritual of all experiences.
Perhaps that is the most surprising fact of all about witchcraft. It shouldn’t be. But I have to admit that in this world as it actually is most people find it hard to equate sex and spirituality. It goes against everything patriarchal religions have taught about sex being shameful and disgusting - at best, a necessity for the continuation of the species.
Are you still with me, still interested? If so, ask more questions. I will do my best to answer everything because I want to set the record straight. I and my fellow witches are tired of being seen as the wearers of tall black hats who make revolting bats’ wing soup and hang about in churchyards in the dead of night collecting dead men’s fingernails. I don’t. We don’t.
So if the mention of the Horned God (sex!) hasn’t put you off, write back or call round. Ask more questions. I will go on answering in letter form as this gives me the chance to think about what I want to say and then to express myself (I hope) more clearly. I will write the same letter to each of you and send a copy to your separate addresses, while I will keep a copy for my own reference. It is good to have the chance to tell the truth and to be listened to with sympathy. All blessings to you both.