In my perusing’s on the internet, I have come across a lot of debate about traditional witchcraft and what it is. It also appears that all and sundry are “practicing” it nowadays and this led me to thinking about how I personally define it, especially as I have been asked a few times about my practices.
When I describe myself as a traditional cunning person, I use the word traditional to mean exactly that; traditional with a small “t”. The definition for tradition in the dictionary is given as “the handing down from generation to generation of customs, beliefs and thoughts etc., belonging to a particular country, people, family or institution over a long period”. “Customs and practices of long standing”.
That is it exactly for me. I and my family and the Toadsman’s family are lucky to be born and bred in a country steeped in lore, customs, beliefs and practices that have filtered down through the generations of both our families and the people of our local towns and countryside. We in turn have passed all of this on down to the generations that have come along since us and so it goes on.
Now I also know that these days it really isn’t the done thing to say that you come from a family line or intimate at anything remotely hereditary; if you do, you are obviously deluded or just a plain liar – well get over it, there are still plenty of people who do come fom families like ours and a good job too in my opinion.
The sort of things that have been passed along are good old fashioned folk customs, folk magics, plant lore, bird lore, weather lore and prescribed practices for keeping up the day. In amongst that, there is also magic, beliefs, remedies, protections and a deep understanding of the land and its wights. This list is not exhaustive; there are plenty of other bits that make up the whole.
These practices have been going on for years within these lands and our particular county. The more urban areas have almost ceased to acknowledge them now, let alone practice them but if you ask any long-time residents, you’ll still find the remnants of the old ways of doing things and the beliefs that accompanied them. In the more rural and still farming areas, they are still alive and kicking and well remembered within a lot of the old families; this is one of the reasons the knowledge still gets passed on and we don’t allow it all to be forgotten; to keep the traditions alive.
I am very fortunate in knowing my great grandparents, they were born in the 1800’s and lived to be 102 (great granddad) and 104 (great grandma). The stories and knowledge they passed on to me was fantastic and because they were actually there and living through the times and had first-hand knowledge from their own parents and grandparents, the knowledge they passed on was tremendous.
This is what I mean by traditional. Yes, each person may have changed things a little if they thought it worked better and some may have added something completely new that they had discovered but again, it would have been because it augmented what already existed and what already existed was never forgotten and just discarded – it remained in the storehouse of experience and knowledge.
These days however, I see Traditional craft with a capital “T” talked about a lot and taken up by people like a new fashion.
And so I wonder, what tradition are these newly self-declared traditional craft people following? Where has their tradition come from – do they question that? Especially if they live in a foreign land, how can they claim to practice Traditional British witchcraft? They might have had an ancestor originate in these lands but did they know that ancestor personally? Did that ancestor personally pass on knowledge and practices to themselves and previous generations? But they are still divorced from the land; traditional cunning folk draw an awful amount of their power and knowledge directly from the land itself and its wights or guardians. Again, being so divorced from the British landscape, how can they hope to know anything about native plants which are integral to a lot of traditional British craft? Not just the physical parts of the plant or tree but also the indwelling spirits of them that act as teachers, guides and muses? Reading about something in a book or online does not make it real and cannot convey the reality of the true thing, therefore any craft originating from such places is a pale shadow with no substance.
The other thing I have found bewildering is the prevalent belief that folk magic is somehow substandard and does not count as real witchcraft. Really? Again quoting from the dictionary, witchcraft is defined as “ The act or power of bringing magical or preternatural power to bear or the act or practice of trying to do so.” “The influence of magic or sorcery.” “Fascinating or bewitching influence or charm.”
Folk magic requires the act or power to bring magical power to bear. It also has a wealth of history of charm making and the use of charms as well as bewitching with “overlooking” and the “evil eye”. As far as I can see, there is no discrepancy there at all and so folk magic is no different to witchcraft at all in reality. But then I think that a lot of todays commentators on witchcraft believe that to be working witchcraft you must be in a coven, dressed in full regalia and working everything within a strict ritual framework for it to be classified as real witchcraft – never mind whether it works or not, that seems to be a lesser requirement for entry into the club of witchcraft.
One thing I have found amusing however, is the fascination that a large amount of people have with the Toad Bone rite. I have seen it talked about as if it is the new holy grail and people falling over themselves to state they’ve discovered it or done it. Well, below is a clip from a 1970’s kids TV programme; in it you’ll see a reference to the Toad Bone magic and it is in there, in the way that it is portrayed, because it was so well known about that the programme makers understood that the reference would be immediately understood by most who saw it – no great revelation of arcane occult knowledge, just the norm for most rural communities practicing traditional customs, lore and beliefs.