Posted tagged ‘traditional witchcraft’

Blog Post 207 – What is New World Witchery?, Part V (Witches Become Witches)

May 24, 2018

In previous posts in this series, I’ve already looked at some of the ways that history, folklore, and contemporary behavior come together to form what we’ve termed “New World Witchery.” If you’re just starting with this series here, you might want to flip back the pages of this dusty old tome on the bookshelf and read the first of these posts on “What is New World Witchery, Part I (Irrational Pragmatism).” There are other posts that follow, on topics like the moral implications of practical folk magic in North America, and the spiritual entities that seem to hover at the edges of (or stand smack in the center of) New World magical practices, and the physical “things” of North American witchcraft. You can certainly start here, though, and go where you wish, and let your intuition act as a compass for these explorations.

This time, I’m addressing a topic I’ve addressed before in a few different ways: how witches learn to do the magic associated with them. I’m revisiting these points here because the other posts on them all go into more detail on specifics, and I believe that a more general summary of themes and methods is useful here. As you’re digging into this subject, feel free to spend some time in those older posts, too, as they do provide more depth than this one will. As you will likely see early and often through the following examples, witches can gain their magical prowess in a lot of different ways, and so it can be hard to compare one witch to another in folklore and history. At the same time, there are themes that do unite the different stories, or at least themes that overlap with one another, creating a sort of “spectrum.” What is certain, though, is that those who claim magical power develop it in some way to eventually become what people call a “witch.”

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Witches Become Witches

In the time I’ve spent reading accounts of witchcraft in books of history and folklore, the time I’ve spent interviewing contemporary practitioners or examining specific magical artifacts, and the time I’ve spent consulting with other people who study this engrossing topic, I’ve learned that over-generalizations are not terribly useful when it comes to witchcraft. By reducing witchcraft into motifs and components, we tend to miss the highly individual experiences of the people actually practicing the magic. At the same time, it helps us a lot to look for patterns, and when it comes to just how witches gain their magical powers, we can see a set of patterns in the New World (or at least, specifically in North America) that point the way towards a better understanding of how these practices move between people. Tradition, as one of my folklore mentors has pointed out, comes from a Latin root having to do with “handing” things over, and witchcraft generally seems to be a “tradition” in that sense—it is handed over from one person (or entity) to another.

The exception to that rule is hereditary witchraft, although in this case I’m not referring to grandiose initiation stories of secret Granny Witches conducting rituals in their kitchens to initiate their grandchildren (looking at you here Alex Sanders). Rather, I’m referring to the wide body of lore that says that witches can often be “marked” from birth with special powers. For example, the presence of a caul around a newborn’s head is frequently noted as a source of spiritual power, and even when detatched the caul retains some magical abilities—sailors paid a pretty penny for dried cauls to stave off drowning, for example. In mountain lore inherited from European traditions, the seventh son of a seventh son is often reputed to have the ability to heal or do certain types of magic, setting him apart. Other birth-related demarcations of magical power include unusual moles, the presence of teeth in a newborn, extra fingers or toes, or a baby who is particularly hairy. One account of witchcraft among Pueblo Native Americans in the American Southwest showed that popular opinions claimed that witches often passed on their abilities to their children (albeit powers of malediction and harm in that example). A West Virginian herbal healer named Dovie Lambert who also “took off” bewitchments from others claimed that the passage of magical power occurred when secret words were transmitted across gender lines in families: father-to-daughter or mother-to-son, or even among aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Dovie believed that if the power didn’t get transmitted before the witch’s death, the power of that line of witchcraft would die out, although she herself believed that was unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Even in cases of a “witch from birth,” which is not always the same thing as these examples of magical “election,” the person has to choose to use their ability, and often develops it during a later point in life. This power was not solely limited to magic, however, but often reputed to impart special gifts to children based on birth order that might include a talent for medicine or a need for expanded education. Vance Randolph recorded some such beliefs in his examination of the Ozarks and their lore:

“If there are seven sons in a family, and no daughters, the seventh son is clearly intended to be a physician. The seventh son of a seventh son is a physician in spite of himself, endowed with healing powers which cannot be denied. Even if such a man does not study or practice medicine, he is very often called “Doc” or “Doctor” by common consent. However, small-time gamblers are often called “Doc” too, just as every backwoods auctioneer becomes a “Colonel.”

If there are ten sons in a family, and no daughters, the tenth son must be a preacher. “God meant it to be that-a-way,” an old woman once told me. “He knows how many preachers we need in this world.” She would not go so far as to say, however, that it is a mistake to call men who are not tenth sons into the ministry.

Many hillfolk believe that a third son is more intelligent than his brothers and should therefore be encouraged to “git more book-larnin’.” Others contend that, other things being equal, the fourth child has the brains of the whole family.”

Frequently the turning point in a “natural” magician’s life is adolescence or young adulthood, when the person’s power fully manifests for the first time and they learn the techniques of healing from someone else in their community, usually a family member. For example, West Virginian folk healer Johnny Arvin Dahmer spoke of inheriting a copy of The Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus from his grandfather, who was also known as a folk magician and charmer. While a person may be predisposed to magical talent, then, their use of that talent comes only with guidance and training.

That instruction forms is very much the “marrow of tradition” that underlies almost all other forms of witches-becoming-witches. Just how involved that training is depends on the type of magic being transmitted, the cultural context in which it is found, and the particular individuals involved. In most cases, magical practitioners do not hang out shingles and advertise their services as instructors in witchcraft, but over the course of a long-standing and developed relationship with another person they may decide to share their secrets. In Dovie Lambert’s case above, that may happen as a matter of survivial of the magical tradition—if it is not transmitted it will “die out.” Lambert’s cross-gender transmission appears in a number of European-derived practices, including those from German-speaking, English-speaking, and French-speaking groups. A detailed study of powwowing magic in Pennsylvania Dutch communities by David W. Kriebel sums up a number of these ideas:

“Training procedures vary greatly, although one rule is nearly universal, namely, that only a woman can teach a man and only a man can teach a woman…training time can take anywhere from a few minutes to a year. The training procedure used by [one informant] and passed on to [two others] consisted of a ten-week program with all information imparted orally. When the initiate returned for the second session he (or she) had to repeat all the incantations and gestures perfectly, as a sign the initiate was meant to become a powwower.”

Kriebel’s account brings up the concept of a “calling” to do magic, which may be an echo of the idea of a hereditary practice or may signify the same kind of “calling” experienced by a religious or political leader. Kriebel also notes that one of his informants draws attention to the “price” of teaching magic, with one informant claiming “that when one powwower trains another the teacher gives up half his power to the student.” Several instances of this sort of transmission appear in folklore about witches who share their secrets or pass on their power only in the moments before their own death. A number of accounts make the claim that magical power can only be taught or transmitted at most three times within a person’s lifespan before the magic “runs out” or the practitioner dies.

Beyond the element of a calling to witchcraft, some witches may seek out their power in various ways. One Northern Mexican informant described the application of a special set of powders to his body, followed by a ritual bath, that gave him the ability to transform into animals. Notably, he learned the process by watching two other witches do the same in secret, and initially failed to do it correctly because he was wearing a scapular (a Catholid object designed to confer the blessings of Saints on the wearer). Only after removing the holy item was he able to begin his transformations. Many such initiations involve a renunciation of Christian practices or beliefs. Several accounts from Hubert Davis’ The Silver Bullet note that witches become witches by “throw[ing] rocks at the moon and cuss[ing] God Almighty” or writing the Lord’s Prayer on a plate in grease paint, then washing it in a river or stream in an act of inverse baptism. Vance Randolph’s informants note that the initiation experience could be “a much more moving spiritual crisis than that which the Christians call conversion,” at least according to his sources.

In some cases of initiation, witches were expected to pay a price similar to the one noted in the accounts Kriebel found among the Pennsylvania Dutch. That price might be an obligation to a specific spirit (most commonly framed in the American traditions as “the Devil,” although specific descriptions and formulations of diabolic initiation vary). It might also involve the death of a relative, or a period of intense sickness or near-death illness. Once initiated, however, a witch retained her power until her death or until she elected to pass it on to someone else. Other magical powers often followed this line of transmission: a calling or marking from birth followed by a powerful experience in young adulthood or adolescence that confirmed magical ability; the transmission of specific knowledge about witchcraft through the passage of oral lore or even the handing over of a book; and finally, the dispersal of that knowledge and power to another generation, often only in very limited quantities.

Contemporary practitioners tend to derive their magical knowledge in similar ways to the ones already outlined, but with some distinctions. For example, the emphasis on learning from books has become a de facto aspect of magical training. In some cases, the same books used in previous generations, like Egyptian Secrets, still hold sway, although in truth there are so many options available the older books are only a small sliver of the greater body of knowledge being used (I’m not complaining here, as I think many fantastic books have been produced in recent years, including some that surpass the older tomes in terms of breadth and depth of magical information). Several correspondents I’ve had have told me they look for “classes” in witchcraft, too, with structure and lesson plans and even homework. Some prefer classes focused on specific skills, as with Becky Beyer’s Appalachian wildcraft workshops, while others follow initiatory magico-religious traditions like Christopher Penczak’s Inner Temple structure. Training from groups directly (either in person or via postal correspondence) was the norm during the heyday of British Traditional Wicca in the 1970s and 1980s, but that is only a singular form of training now among many other forms available. Some practitioners still take on apprentices, especially in traditions like powwow or curanderismo, although both of those traditions are sometimes taught in whole or part within a class environment, too.

The one element that seems to have dissipated over time is the concept of the “price” paid for magical knowledge. The price has become the time and commitment required to learn the skills and magical techniques associated with a particular tradition. There are still some initiatory groups that do extract a price, such as requiring potential initiates to fast or wear special clothing for a certain length of time—something common in Lukumi traditions, for example. Occasionally the idea of the price being a loved one’s death surfaces, too, although that has become increasingly rare. So, too, has the idea of passing on the tradition before death as a matter of continuing a line of magical practice. Instead, practitioners often pass on their knowledge as more of a public service or as an aspect of their calling (some speak of being “called to teach” within a “training coven” structure, for example). Passing knowledge has also moved beyond rules about gender lines, too, instead becoming a more egalitarian and open-access approach.

Given the many roads into witchcraft, however, the road out is still in the transmission, even if the reasoning has changed. Witches become witches, and they do so because other witches make that possible. The stereotype of witches gathering in huge covens on Walpurgisnacht to engage in Satanic rites may be a medieval fabrication and fantasy, but in the act of sharing magical knowledge, there does seem to be a continuity of magical community. Almost like a family.

 

N.B: I will be doing one more entry in this series on the many and various talents of witches, but I am likely to set aside that post for a bit to cover a few other topics. This series has been rather grander in scope than I think I originally envisioned, but I hope it is useful to some of you. For now, I am so grateful to those of you sticking with me even with the longer gaps between posts.

 

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Episode 99 – Checking Our Owls

September 19, 2016

NWWPatreonLogo

Summary:

We tackle listener feedback this episode, addressing topics like discovering magical heritage, mojo bags, seasonal festivals, and adapting spells for others.

 

Please check out our Patreon page! You can help support the show for as little as a dollar a month, and get some awesome rewards at the same time.  Even if you can’t give, spread the word and let others know, and maybe we can make New World Witchery even better than it is now.

 

Producers for this show: Corvus, Diana Garino, Renee Odders, Ye Olde Magic Shoppe, Raven Dark Moon, The Witches View Podcast,  Sarah, Molly, Corvus, Catherine, AthenaBeth, Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop, Shannon, Little Wren, Michael M., Victoria, and Jessica (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!

 

Play:

Download: Episode 99 – Checking Our Owls

 

 -Sources-

We draw very much upon emails from you, our listeners, for this episode. Thank you! Some of our other sources, influences, and points of interest include:

  • Peter Paddon’s work, particularly on the process of recovering ancestral lore (such as that found in his Grimoire for Modern Cunning Folk).
  • Seriously, check out the Patreon page, because there are some cool perks to being a sponsor
  • We announced we’ll be hosting a get-together of sorts in Philadelphia in March 2017 to see the Penn Museum’s “Magic in the Ancient World” exhibit (along with other fun stuff). We are hoping to do this along with Chris & Tara from Down at the Crossroads, because they’re awesome people and will add a very magical touch to the event
  • We have a couple of posts on mojo bags, and there’s also a book on them called The Hand Book, by Talia Felix (I’ve not read it, but it looked the most interesting of the possible options available on Amazon).

We very much want your ghost stories! We’ll be doing a live Mixlr broadcast in October, and we’d love for you to join us for that and share your spookiest and ghastliest tales. If you can’t be with us live, feel free to email us your stories, or leave us a voice mail at (442)-99-WITCH (which is 442-999-4824).

We should be launching our newest podcast effort, Chasing Foxfire, this month. If you like folklore, this show will be connecting the dots between folk tales, science, nature, pop culture, literature, and more.

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page! For those who are interested, we also now have a page on Pinterest you might like, called “The Olde Broom.” Have something you want to say? Leave us a voice mail on our official NWW hotline: (442) 999-4824 (that’s 442-99-WITCH, if it helps).

 

 Promos & Music

Title and closing music is “Pig Ankle Rag,” by The Joy Drops, and is used under a Creative Commons License (available at Soundcloud.com).

Podcast 69 – Goodbye Peter

November 3, 2014

Summary:

This is a heartfelt (if rambling), often emotional, and very raw memorial to Peter Paddon, who passed away at the end of October 2014. You will hear my memories of him, what I owe him (hint: a lot), some of his thoughts in his own words, and a bit of the music he liked to play on his show. Words cannot truly express the loss, but I hope this will provide at least a little closure and solace for those who—like me—have been deeply impacted by Peter’s departure from this world. Bendith, Peter.

Play:

Download: New World Witchery – Episode 69

-Sources-

The sound bites you hear are selections from Peter’s Crooked Path Podcast, both in its old form and its more recent incarnation. If you don’t listen to the show, I’d highly recommend doing so, as Peter left behind a tremendous amount of wisdom and information for us. Some of the episodes sampled include “Leadership,” “Cosmic Soup & the Might Dead,” “The Dark Mother,” “Samhain,” “Pagan Celebrity,” “Pagan Fundamentalism,” and “Living a Magical Life.” You should also visit Pendraig Publishing to find out more about the written legacy Peter leaves us.

You can donate to the Peter Paddon GoFundMe campaign on the main New World Witchery site (at the top right of the page), or through this link. I’ll also be donating all royalties from 54 Devils to the fund (or one of his family’s choosing) from October through December 2014 to help out, so you can support them that way if you prefer.

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page!

Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune. (Not heard this episode).

Music includes “Falling Down” and “The Hunt (Corners),” by Tuatha Dea; “Mordred’s Lullabye,” by Heather Dale; “Amazing Grace,” by Kellianna and Wendy Rule; and “The Call” and “Singing to the Bones,” by Wendy Rule.

Blog Post 126 – Walpurgisnacht 2011

May 3, 2011

A Hornie Fellow

Stones and bones, brooms and fire.  In the olden days, the night before May 1st was spent burning brooms or effigies of witches in big bonfires to ward off evil.  Witches were thought to gather at the Brocken, a mountain in Germany where they held their strange revels around infernal fires of their own.  Dead things might come galloping up out of their graves to follow the witches and join in their wicked revelry.  Wild storms preceded and followed the witches and the Wild Hunt on their nighttime gallivants.

It’s terrifying stuff, but like most fairy tales, people don’t really believe in it anymore.  But maybe they should.

I’ve loved Walpurgisnacht since I first started observing it as a complementary holiday to the more often observed Beltane or May Day.  I even did a post on it last year, which has been one of my most popular posts to date, actually.  This year, the group I do my social witchcraft with celebrated Walpurgisnacht together, and it may have been one of my favorite gatherings to date.

It started with a bonfire in a park about 500 feet from a big Boy Scout campout.  Or, rather, it really started the day before when I am sure I piqued the curiosity of a few neighbors by hiking into our local woods, dropping handfuls of something powdery and muttering to myself at certain locations on the forest perimeter, then emerged moments later with a big, heavy object under my arm.  I spent the rest of the day piecing together all of the elements I would need to fulfill my duties at Walpurgisnacht—sorting candles, making magical gifts for my co-coveners, bringing the appropriate skulls and bones and broom and stang down to my car under cover of darkness so I wouldn’t have to drag them out the next day while the neighbors looked on (they already had enough reason to look at me funny, why add to that?).

When I pulled into the camp, the scouts were swarming.  As I struggled to gather some firewood from a rather flooded site, a number of the boys approached, waving glo-sticks and flashlights and demanding (in a charmingly pirates-and-lost-boys way) “Who goes there?!”  Apparently some older kids had been running around trying to scare them earlier, so I had to vouch that I was not, in fact, a “robber” as they put it.

New Brooms Against an Old Tree

By the time our leader  had arrived, the scouts had pretty much removed themselves to the far side of the camp and were engaged in what looked like a snipe hunt (bless ‘em). We  got the fire going and arranged everything we would need for the night.

I can’t say too much about what happened next, but I will say that the following things may have been involved:

  • Black-strap Molasses Rum offerings
  • Leaping the fire on a broom
  • Hedge-Crosser’s Smoke from Forest Grove Botanica
  • An exchange of several magical gifts
  • I may have worn lipstick at one point

Because it's just not a party until someone breaks out the ram's skull...

Walpurgisnacht proved to be a great night for a few witches to gather around a bonfire, calling upon the dead, riding brooms, leaping through flame, and generally doing all the things the fairy tales say.  We may not have had storms on the Brocken, but the winds definitely started rising before all was said and done.  At one point, I very seriously had to say, “If you hear the sound of horses’ hooves, drop to the ground and don’t look up.”  Maybe it was just my imagination at that point, but the air certainly seemed ripe with witchery.

So, what did you do on Old May Eve? (Or the next day, for that matter.)

-Cory

Podcast 6 – Hoodoo and an Interview with Conjure-man Papa Toad Bone

March 23, 2010

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 6-

Summary
In this episode, we discuss hoodoo and rootwork, particularly our experiences with it.  Then we have an interview with esteemed conjurer Papa Toad Bone.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 6

-Sources-

Websites
Lucky Mojo Co. – A site with lots of hoodoo information
Toad’s Bone Apotheca – Our guest’s marvelously funky and fantastic online curio shop
Mississippi Cunning + Conjure – A forum space for those interested in Southern magic and Traditional sorcery
Scarespite – A repository of Traditional Witchcraft and Sorcerous folklore

Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1-Inciting a Riot Podcast
Promo 2- Druidcast
Promo 3- Podcast Appalachia


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