This coming Monday, 2nd April, marks the beginning of Holy week and Thursday 5th April is Shere Thursday or Maundy Thursday – the beginning of the Easter festival within the Protestant & Catholic church. “What has that got to do with Traditional English Witchcraft??” I hear you ask! Well, within some traditions, going back for at least a couple of centuries, if not more, it was the day to attend church and receive the Host or Sacrament; not to eat but to secret out and use in protection charms.
Spring is a very important time for the cunning-folk; it is when their powers are believed to be at their prime and most powerful. Any protection charms made now will last the whole year through and be as efficacious at the end of the year as they are at the beginning.
Some traditional charms for protection require the Host or wafer to be included in the charm, which was traditionally made from parchment or clay but today we often use small bags. The wafer was folded into the parchment or secreted into the clay and worn on the person or hung in the home or in the animal sheds. The charms are for the protection of the person, home or livestock and for un-bewitching all of the aforementioned.
Now this was not intended to be blasphemous and was not meant to be some sort of satanical inversion of Christianity; the cunning-folk believed that the Host had serious magical properties because they saw what the priest did to it as magical in its utmost – a transmutation. To the cunning, transmutation was and is the crux of all magical works; and because of all the pomp and ceremony that attended the transmutation within a church ceremony and with all the belief that was being poured into it by so many believers, it made the sacrament a very powerful object indeed.
Now in some churches on Shere Thursday, all of the wafers were consecrated for the whole of the coming year, so it is not beyond belief that instead of going and getting just one wafer quite legitimately during the service, some folk may have taken a few more when no-one was looking either before or after the service and used them in more than one charm. This is given credence when you realise that on Good Friday itself, the cunning-folk were visited by many people to either have a charm made for the year or to have last year’s charm re-empowered. One wafer would not have sufficed! Unless of course, each visitor brought their own wafer with them; either would have been quite acceptable.
This practice was recorded in Cornwall by William Bottrell in 1870:
“According to ancient usage, the folks from many parts of the West Country make their annual pilgrimage to some white witch of repute, for the sake of having what they call ‘their protection renewed’. There used to be rare fun among the folks in going to the conjuror in the spring, where they were sure to meet at the wise-mans abode, persons of all ages and conditions, many from a great distance”.
So, to a traditional witch, this is a very important and busy time but not many now use the sacrament, or if they do, they don’t admit to it! 😉