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The Heart of Modern Traditional Witchcraft

Updated: Apr 30

Depiction of the Witch Goddess and God

In the intricate web of spiritual practices, none is as deeply rooted in mystery and rich history as witchcraft. This ancient Craft has evolved from the shadows of persecution to a widely respected spiritual path. Modern traditional witchcraft weaves the old ways with contemporary life, offering both a connection to the past and a new direction for its practitioners. 

All the gods are one god and all the goddesses are one goddess, and there is one initiator. The one initiator is one's own high self, with which the personality becomes more and more integrated as the path of spiritual evolution is followed. ― Doreen Valiente

The Origins of Modern Witchcraft: Gerald Gardner and Wicca

The story of contemporary witchcraft can only be told by mentioning Gerald Gardner, often considered the father of contemporary Wicca. Gardner's works and teachings shed light on witchcraft, rebranding it for a new era and helping pave the way for the re-emergence of witchcraft practices. He introduced Wicca in the mid-20th century, when occult practices were largely underground, blending elements of traditional craft with his unique vision.

Many modern sources on witchcraft can be traced back to Wicca, a belief system crafted by Gardner in the 1940s. After returning to England from the Far East in the late 1930s, Gardner, a former civil servant, was initiated into a traditional witch coven in the New Forest in 1939. He later took charge of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic on the Isle of Man, becoming involved with a local “robed coven” of Manx witches linked to the ancient cunning folk of the island.

In his book Liber Nox, Michael Howard mentions Gardner's discussion on the survival of historical witchcraft in Garnder’s unpublished manuscript, "Magic, Witchcraft & Faeries in the Isle of Man." Despite his association with British witch covens, Gardner distanced himself from traditional forms of witchcraft like the Old Path, Elder Faith, or Old Craft. He crafted his version, Wicca, to create a more widely accepted neo-pagan religion.

Critics often describe Wicca as 'witchcraft lite,' credited to Gardner's purposeful efforts to make it more accessible and appealing to a broader audience. Gardner is believed to have toned down the darker sides of the Craft to attract more people. 

Diverse Paths: The Evolution of Contemporary Witchcraft

Contemporary witchcraft weaves together diverse traditions, each with its unique practices and beliefs. From the nature-focused rites of Wicca to the folkloric charm of Hedge Witchery and the ceremonial magick of angel magicians and Pauline artists, modern witchcraft is far from monolithic. This variety enriches the Craft's modern expression.

Throughout history, witches have been depicted as rebels and outcasts, practicing healing and curses. These mysterious figures lived on society's edges, often represented by the proverbial “hedge” separating civilization from the wild, marking the boundary between the everyday world and the mystical Otherworld, steeped in ancient lore and mystery. 

For centuries, those who practiced witchcraft were often vilified and faced persecution. However, the modern witch is no longer lurking in the shadows; each witch is an individual deeply connected to the rhythms of nature, the cycles of the moon, and ancient lore. Today's witches proudly reclaim the title, embodying their Craft with integrity and openness.

Some modern 'traditional' witches claim to follow historical witchcraft rooted in folklore and witch trial accounts. Others have crafted their own practices, blending elements of witchcraft, paganism, and other spiritual beliefs. The diversity in contemporary witchcraft mirrors the varied backgrounds and experiences of its practitioners.

The esteemed cunning man, Andrew D. Chumbley (1967-2004), recounted his initiation into two ancient currents of the Old Craft, tracing back to the late 19th century. By underscoring the oral tradition of mystical rituals handed down through generations, he showcased flexibility while honoring foundational principles. This showcases the Craft's enduring nature, adapting while remaining true to its core. Andrew Chumbley's book "Mysticism: Initiation and Dream" appears to be currently unavailable in print.

The late Robert Cochrane, a traditional witch and founder of the Clan of Tubal Cain, deftly intertwined the Old Craft with influences from pre-Christian mystery cults and British folklore. He also emphasized the importance of passing down knowledge through oral tradition, as written texts can be altered or misinterpreted. (See the Cochrane Letters).

Chumbley and Cochrane exemplify the rich history and diversity within the Old Craft. Their teachings highlight the importance of preserving ancient wisdom while also allowing room for evolution and adaptation. This balance is essential in keeping the Craft alive and relevant in modern times.

Reviving the Old Craft: Traditional Witchcraft in the Modern Age

Historical records of witch trials portray humans seeking wisdom at sacred locations, encountering the mysterious Queen of Elfhame. Sites like Glastonbury Tor and Silbury Hill stood as venerable symbols in these ancient traditions, safeguarding knowledge and mystique through centuries. Traditional witchcraft is an ancient practice that has been passed down through generations. Its roots are in folklore, herbal knowledge, and the intrinsic wisdom of the land. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in this practice, which predates Wicca. 

Revival happens when a holy, infinite God comes down to touch mortal man and, in the process, infects men with the Divine Heartbeat. ― Michael Howard

Revivalist or reconstructionist groups of traditional witches are dedicated to reviving historical witchcraft practices that date back centuries. They skillfully blend ancient wisdom with modern relevance, creating a unique tapestry of beliefs and rituals. By embracing a myriad of 'paganistic' elements, these practitioners carve out a distinct path that may diverge from the conventional 'pagan' label.

The multifaceted nature of this ancient and esoteric Path is illustrated by the diversity of practices and beliefs among traditional witches. Some may focus on working with deities, while others may focus on the natural world and its cycles. Some may use divination tools such as tarot cards or pendulums, while others may rely on intuition and personal experience.

Regardless of the specific practices and beliefs, traditional witchcraft is a deeply spiritual path that is grounded in connection to the earth, community, and the divine. It offers a way to connect with the sacred in a way that is unique and personal and allows practitioners to tap into the wisdom of the ages while creating a path that is relevant to their lives today.

A religion without a goddess is halfway to atheism. ― Dion Fortune

The Mystical Influence of Arthurian Legends on Witchcraft

The Arthurian legends have left a lasting impression on the Craft with their rich symbolism and mythic quests. The search for the Holy Grail, the mysteries of Avalon, and the magick of Merlin resonate deeply within the witchcraft practices, serving as metaphors for spiritual discovery and personal transformation.

The legends are greatly influenced by faery folklore and ancient myths, which still impact modern witchcraft practices. Despite adaptations to Christian and medieval settings, the core essence remains tied to ancient beliefs. The legends embody the enduring essence of the British Mystery Tradition, viewing Arthur as a Romano-British ruler transitioning between pagan and early Christian times. Arthur symbolizes both a solar deity and a regal figure, representing Sovereignty intertwined with the spirit of the land. Caitlin Matthews explores Arthur as a mythic archetype resonating with the collective memory of the British Isles.

Although linking witchcraft with the Arthurian legends might seem unusual, the connection becomes clearer when examining figures like Merlin the Mage and Morgan Le Fay, often portrayed as a wizard and witch. Welsh-born occultist, Dion Fortune, mentioned in a letter to students during World War II that the origins of the Arthurian legend and the Holy Grail myth trace back to pre-Christian beliefs. She drew parallels between the medieval Grail stories and a covert mystery sect in southern France during the troubadour era and the rise of heretical Christian groups like the Cathars and Albigenses in the Middle Ages.

Traditional witchcraft is a multifaceted practice that encompasses a wide range of rituals and beliefs. It draws on a holistic approach to spirituality that honors the ancestors' legacy and the earth's energies. According to Dion Fortune, an underground esoteric tradition combines various ancient elements, such as Celtic druidism, the worship of a pagan goddess known as 'Queen Venus' (possibly representing the Central European goddess Holda), Greek Mysteries, troubadours' belief in 'courtly love' and female reverence, and notably the witch-cult.

Wisdom is neither good nor bad, male nor female, Christian or pagan: she is no one's personal possession. The Goddess of Wisdom reaches down to the depths of our need. Her simple being is so vastly present that we have not noticed it. ― Caitlin Matthews

The Rich Tapestry of Traditional Witchcraft Practices

Traditional witches who practice earth-based witchcraft often gather in rural areas, wearing robes or cloaks, sometimes with hoods, and refer to themselves as 'robed covens'. Before ceremonies, they show respect by honoring genii loci (spirits of place) and offering gifts to earth spirits and faery folk, enhancing the sanctity of their rituals. Enchanted and sacred sites hold significant importance in the Old Craft, with followers modifying their beliefs and rituals to harmonize with their surroundings. Tranquil natural settings such as forests, graveyards, and meadows serve as conduits to their mystical legacy.

For many traditional witches, their deep spiritual and magical connection with the earth, moon, and stars goes beyond just a routine; it's a way of life. They find comfort in honoring local spirits and celebrating seasonal events that mark the passing of time.

Chumbley’s beliefs intertwined an ancient witchcraft tradition from the English countryside with an emphasis on rural dwellers and beliefs intertwined with a complex Cainite-Luciferian framework that supported his practices. This intriguing influence probably originates from a secretive rural group called the Horseman's Word or the Toadmen, who engaged in mysterious rituals like the toad-bone ceremony. Although this practice is embraced by many traditional Crafters, I find it personally revolting. It involves placing a toad on an ant hill, retrieving and cleansing its bones, and using them as a magical talisman.

Chumbley and I agree on many aspects. He believed the Old Craft involves various magical practices, ranging from traditional folk magic like herb lore and animal magic to scholarly pursuits of "high magic" and mysticism. He emphasized the power of simplicity in magic, noting that simple rituals are often the most effective. He recommended drawing inspiration from dream divination, using basic tools of wood and stone, interpreting natural signs and omens, and following the wisdom of nature and the cosmos.

Throughout history, witches were known to frequent crossroads and ancient burial grounds to hone their Craft, with the significance of meeting at crossroads tracing back to ancient Greek and Roman accounts, with gallows strategically placed at road intersections to ward off spirits.

The gatherings of witches at ancient sites such as stone circles, standing stones, and burial mounds, often referred to as 'faery hills,' where they conducted their rituals and practiced magic, are rich in legend and history.

If you call upon the Gods and they answer, who is there to oppose or to challenge the integrity of your Path? ― Andrew D. Chumbley

The Old Craft: Deities, Rituals, and Seasonal Celebrations

Traditional witchcraft is rooted in deities, rituals, and seasonal celebrations that align practitioners with nature's cycles. The Craft tends to be about the personal bond between a witch and the divine.

Modern followers of the Traditional Craft engage in rituals individually, in groups, or within their families. While the number of witch families passed down through generations is decreasing, remnants of their lineage endure. Nowadays, contemporary witches predominantly prefer practicing alone. Historically, solitary practitioners would unite to cast spells, exchange knowledge, and celebrate. Each region was overseen by the mysterious 'Man in Black,' who led covens and magical customs. 

In the Old Craft, the male leader, known as the Magister, embodies the role of the human representative of the Horned God. He is sometimes referred to as the Devil (distinct from the Judeo-Christian Satan), the Man-in-Black, or the Son of the Morning Star. A male deputy, the Summoner, assists in organizing meeting details and ensuring attendance. If the Magister is absent, the Summoner steps in. In urgent situations, the female leader can also take on this role symbolically.

In various witch groups, the female leader goes by titles like Priestess, Magistra, Lady, Dame, or Queen of the Sabbat. Within the Circle of Arte, she embodies the witch-goddess essence. In matrifocal traditions, she may be called the Maid and holds the main authority in the coven. The Magister takes on a secondary role.

Other roles in these groups include the Maiden, Verdelet (Green Man), Scribe, Seer, Ward, Mistress of the Robes, and officers for each quarter of the Circle of Arte. Modern covens often don't have all these specified officers.

Modern rituals weave together ancient rites with personal nuances, showcasing a rich tapestry of magical traditions. Finding equilibrium between masculine and feminine energies is crucial, highlighting inner harmony and universal balance. Within the sphere of Traditional Craft, followers engage in divination methods such as rune casting, scrying, dream analysis, seership, astral travel, practical magic for healing and issue resolution, and blessings and hexes.

In the Old Craft, deities represent fundamental life forces. Gerald Gardner referred to them as 'twilight deities,' such as a fire god, light goddess, and spirits tied to celestial bodies and earthly elements. These divine entities influence prosperity, fertility, destiny, and mortality. Iconic witch-goddesses like Hecate, Artemis-Diana, Freya, and the Morrigan embody light and shadow qualities associated with silver, platinum, and animals like the owl, crow, hare, and spider.

When the witch-goddess emerges, she can be a stunning maiden or a wretched crone, often linked to the cycle of the moon, the dichotomies of nature, and the realm of the underworld. Portrayed with dualistic qualities, she embodies opposing traits such as youth and age, beauty and decay, evoking a mystical aura with features like a pale complexion, crimson lips, emerald eyes, and flowing ebony hair. Like faeries and celestial beings, the elven witch-gods and goddesses possess pointed ears and slanted eyes.

The horned god of witches, akin to the Roman deity Janus, wields influence over both life and death. In the summer, he embodies vitality as the Lord of the Greenwood or Green Man. With the onset of winter, he transmutes into a darker entity, guiding souls to the underworld. Across diverse beliefs, he symbolizes various roles, such as a solar deity, the faerie king, a smith god, and a fire master. Aligned with entities like Herne the Hunter and Pan, his sacred animals encompass the stag, goat, and raven.

The witch-god, known as the Man in Black or Dark Man, is depicted as tall and thin, with distinctive attire and a forked staff. Appearing in visions and dreams with a large black dog, he is linked to various creatures and precious materials and embodies the Lord of Death in his underworld form.

Some traditional witches choose not to associate their deities with specific mythologies, preferring neutral terms such as the Old Ones or the Lord and Lady. Moving away from anthropomorphic representations, some recognize the Nameless One or Providence as an incomprehensible Cosmic Creator.

Our present-day witch magic is decadent. A patchwork quilt of historical odds and ends, religious flotsam and jetsam, but containing in the midst of that welter of confusing symbolism enough of the old secrets to make the processes work if properly pursued. ― Paul Huson

Embracing the Wheel of the Year: Seasonal Cycles in Witchcraft

The Wheel of the Year is significant in modern traditional witchcraft, which recognizes the importance of nature and its cycles. This practice consists of eight or nine festivals, also known as sabbats, corresponding to the changing seasons and agricultural cycles. Modern witches celebrate the sabbats to honor the passage of time and the transformations it brings and align with the natural world.

In traditional witchcraft, the Greater and Lesser Sabbaths of the Wheel of the Year align with modern Wiccan practices. However, they might occur on different dates due to calendar discrepancies. Some traditions emphasize key agricultural festivals, while others incorporate solar solstices, equinoxes, and quarter days like Lady Day, Midsummer, Michaelmas, and Yule Eve (or Christmas Day). Twelfth Night may also be commemorated. Traditional witches use Christian or secular titles for Grand Sabbats, diverging from the Irish Gaelic names preferred by modern Wiccans and neo-pagans.

Not all modern traditional witches observe the Wheel of the Year, and some may choose to celebrate in different ways or at different times of the year. However, for those who do follow this practice, it is a meaningful and powerful way to connect with nature and honor the cycles of life and death.

Natural forces are means to us, not ends. ― Robert Cochrane

Crafting The Craft

The path of witchcraft is deeply personal, rooted in the wisdom of the past, but fully awake and alive in the present moment. Modern witches cultivate a deeper sense of spirituality and connection to the world around them by celebrating the Wheel of the Year and connecting with the natural world.

In his groundbreaking book Mastering Witchcraft, Paul Huson beautifully captures the essence of the witch's journey in his reflection: "Among those who understand the darkness, which is no darkness to them anymore, are those who tread the way of witchcraft. They have walked beyond the ring of firelight and learned the paths in the wilderness beyond."

Modern traditional witchcraft is a dynamic and rich spiritual path that embraces the wisdom of the past while forging new paths into the future. For those drawn to its depths, it offers a world of profound insight, transformational practices, and reconnection to the ancient rhythms of the Earth.

Whether you identify as a modern witch, occultist, angel magician, or pagan, there is a place for you within the mystical tradition of the Craft. By embracing its history, diversity, and practices, you can find your unique path within the timeless weave of witchcraft.

Recommended Reading:

(Affiliate links are included in the following text):

For those interested in exploring the depths of modern traditional witchcraft, the following reading list features seminal works by renowned authors within the Craft. These texts offer a blend of historical insight, practical guidance, and philosophical underpinnings that are essential for anyone wishing to deepen their understanding of this spiritual path.

  • "The Azoëtia: A Grimoire of the Sabbatic Craft" by Andrew Chumbley - This foundational text of the Sabbatic Craft offers profound insights into the mystical and magical practices of witchcraft, emphasizing the importance of personal revelation and the exploration of the hidden.

  • "Mastering Witchcraft" by Paul Huson - A classic in the field, Huson’s guidebook covers the basics of witchcraft from casting circles to the art of spellcrafting, rooted in traditional practices yet adaptable for modern practitioners.

  • "Liber Nox" by Michael Howard - In this extensive exploration of traditional witchcraft, Howard examines the history and lore of various European traditions, revealing their similarities and differences while offering practical exercises for connecting with the spirits of nature.

  • "The Book of Fallen Angels" by Michael Howard - This book acts as both a sequel and prequel to The Pillars of Tubal Cain by Nigel Jackson and Michael Howard, challenging the idea of fallen angels having been transformed into demons. It explores angelic origins, the differences between Lucifer and Satan, and the link between fallen angels and creatures like faeries. The text covers myths, the great flood, and symbols like the rose, as well as heretical cults tied to Luciferian beliefs and angelic magic with archangels. Appendices include invocations to Lord Lumiel.

  • "King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land: The Divine Feminine in the Mabinogion" by Caitlin Matthews - This book explores the role of the Divine Feminine in Celtic mythology, specifically through the stories of King Arthur and the Mabinogion. Matthews blends history, mythology, and spirituality to offer a unique perspective on connecting with the land and its ancient deities.

  • "The Witches' Sabbats" by Mike Nichols - Nichols provides an in-depth analysis of the origins and practices of the Witch's Sabbath, a central event in traditional witchcraft, drawing from historical accounts and personal experiences .

  • Glastonbury: Avalon of the Heart" by Dion Fortune - This book explores the spiritual significance of Glastonbury, a town in England known for its connections to Arthurian legend and paganism.

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5 commenti

Thank you very much, both for this great article, especially for someone new in the craft, and also for the book recommendations, blessed be! 🙏🌹

Mi piace


Mi piace
Risposta a

Thank you so much! Blessed be.

Mi piace

Nyx Diosa
Nyx Diosa
30 apr

Thank you! Great article!

Mi piace
Risposta a

You are very welcome. Thank you for reading and for such a kind comment!

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