The Sassy Sorceress: Interview with Vikki Bramshaw

Are you looking for more information about the craft? Want to know more about witchy goodness but you don’t know who to ask?

Meet Vikki Bramshaw. She’s a lady of many, many witch-like talents. She’s a priestess who having trained for 10 years under respected elders, now runs her own working group near the New Forest in Hampshire, she’s author of Craft of the Wise: A Practical Guide and she’s passionate about theurgy, initiatory rites and Hellenic and Sumerian mythology.

Vikki is now my official go-to girl for everything remotely witch-y, I bought her book Craft of the Wise a month ago on the recommendation of Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, and if you don’t already own it, then you absolutely should, as it contains everything someone new to the Craft could EVER need to start them on their path.

Vikki’s here to tell us all about her book – which is a total must-have for any witch, shares her passion for busting myths about wicca and gives advice to newbie witch-girls…

Vikki, when did you discover your interest in Wicca and the craft?
My family were organic smallholders, and so from a very young age I came to appreciate the cycles of the earth and the movements of the heavens. I learned a respect for the planet and those lifeforms upon it, whilst also recognising the importance of death in the process of rebirth. These are just some of the elements which make up the philosophy behind Paganism: a belief system which (the majority of) witches follow today. Whilst the Craft is wholly conducive with Paganism, it is a separate entity; it was not until my late teens that I discovered the practical system of wicca.  I was browsing through the spirituality shelves at a local bookshop when ‘Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner’ by Scott Cunningham quite literally jumped off the shelf at me. I considered this as somewhat of a good omen and took the book home, and I soon realised that the path supported almost all of my personal beliefs whilst also providing an empowering and proactive attitude to life in general. I practiced on my own from books for about one year, before finding a couple who ran a coven in the New Forest and offered initiatory training. Some people believe that they were born to be Priests and Priestesses of the Craft; I think that this could be said of anyone who nurtures their intuitive abilities, which I believe all of us are born with.

Witches have got a bad name in the past, what are today’s witches like?

Putting all modern usage aside for a moment, it should be pointed out that experts in the field have shown that historically the word ‘witch’ is an entirely inappropriate choice for the practice with which it is associated today. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the word ‘witch’ was historically a term used to describe a fictitious practitioner of evil magic only (being blamed for failed crops/sour milk/unexplained illnesses and such!). The Cunning folk, or Wise folk, of England, Wales and Sweden were closer to the practitioners who we describe as witches today – real people, whose job was healing, fertility rites and divination. Their job was also to counteract the evil doings of the so-called ‘witches’ with their own form of magic – evidence for this can be seen in archaeological items such as rowan berry charms and witches bottles.

Of course it’s all semantics, and this doesn’t take away from our modern use of the word today. The term Wica or Wicca was adopted by one of modern witchcraft’s founders/revivalists Gerald Gardner, who discovered the word in various texts on witchcraft (including the works of anthropologist Margaret Murrary and folklorist Charles Leland) which were written in a time when there was a revival of ‘romantic elements’ of european history.

What are today’s witches like? Well, there are witches in business suits running successful companies, witches working behind the counter in the post office, and witches protecting our streets in the police force and army. There really is no one stereotype which can describe witches or pagans as a whole (and, like any group of people, there are good eggs and bad eggs!) There certainly are misconceptions which still surround practitioners of the craft, but in most cases these stereotypes are simply not true.

Craft of the Wise – what’s it about and what made you want to write it?
Craft of the Wise is a combination of ten years of my own practical notes, rituals and research, combined with the first years’ training programme which I set for my own students. Initially, I didn’t intend the text to become a published book – it simply acted as a manual for my own teaching needs. But several of my students started commenting on the fact that they believed the material should be more accessible to all. I must agree that I was also somewhat frustrated with the quality of many of the books which were available on wicca at the time. With some notable exceptions, many of the books made wicca out to be a rather shallow affair whilst also regurgitating many of the misconceptions and untruths which have been encircling the wiccan scene since day one. I agreed that perhaps this work would go some way to dispelling some of these misconceptions, and present wicca as what it really is: a serious initiatory mystery tradition.

The book has been described as a perfect primer for anyone taking their first step on the path, or even for an existing practitioner who would like to look at certain elements of wicca from a fresh angle. It offers a historical overview of the magic and ritual of pagan cultures in the ancient world and then explains the initial training practices of initiatory witchcraft and wicca, giving a step by step guide through the training which the reader would expect to be offered during a probationary period (before initiation) with a coven. It also guides the reader through the ethics of magic (slightly differently, and perhaps controversially) as well as working with energy, psychic self defence, and wortcunning (that is, herbs in magic and healing). It also explains the Wheel of the Year as we understand it today, and gives practical tasks in which the reader can celebrate the seasons whilst encouraging personal empowerment.

What kind of research did you have to do to write the book?

It’s often said that the best way to learn is through experience and mistakes – and I have ten years of those! Following my initiation into a group in Fareham, I found myself being required to run small working groups alongside my existing studies. I also started travelling from my home in Hampshire to work with a Priestess in the west country, where I trained in the Greek and Egyptian mysteries: reconstructions of ancient Pagan religious rites. I met a lot of people … I went to a lot of rituals … I did a lot of studying … but more than anything, I did a lot of observing. Everything I have written about within the book I have firsthand experience of, and I have always said that you can tell the experience of the witch by how dirty her cauldron is…! Besides the practical experience and my wiccan training to obtain the three Degrees, there was also a certain element of academic research I had to do for the book. I didn’t want this book to be too academic, else I felt it might lose its spirit – but I did attend several courses on the origins of human behaviour and ancient religions in order to speak from an acceptably accurate historical viewpoint.

I’m still something of a newbie to the craft, is this book for the initiated or will a beginner be able to use it too?

I wrote the book with newcomers in mind; after all, it is based upon the one year training programme which I designed for my probationers before their initiation, so it is ideal for the beginner. However existing practitioners might also find that the book offers some new insight into what they are already practising, particularly if they are a solitary witch.

For someone new on the path what do you think is the most important thing they need to know about Wicca and the craft?
One of the first pieces of advice that I would give is that wicca, when studied fully, is not an easy ride! Nor is it an escapism from the ‘real world’. The Craft should compliment your everyday life, and as a practitioner of the Craft one should keep both feet firmly on the ground! That being said, the Craft is not a hobby, or something to take lightly. As both a practice and a philosophy, the Craft should become interwoven with your everyday life. This is the only way that magic can truly work.

What are some of the myths about Wicca that needed dispelling?
The misconceptions surrounding wicca are actually quite varied and extensive when you look at them. It is generally accepted that there are a number of misconceptions held by those not involved in the Craft, although some of the most dangerous in terms of the survival of Wicca as a bonafide mystery tradition are those misconceptions held by people actually practising.

The first and most obvious misconception which has caused issues for Wicca in previous years is that wicca is some form of devil worship or black occultism; which of course it is not. There are a number of reasons for this particular misconception, including of course the (perhaps unfortunate) adoption of the word ‘witch’ a word which was historically associated with evil forces, rather than good. Many modern witches follow the religion of Paganism hand in hand with their craft, and this too has suffered an unfortunate reputation; many of the Gods of the ancient Pagan world were demonised during the conversion to Christianity. Wiccans tend to follow the horned God in particular (the horned God was a common pre-christian theme throughout the world, which symbolised fertility and prosperity) and of course he appears rather close to the christian devil at first glance! However it does seem to me that this misconception is quickly disappearing, and there really doesn’t seem to be many people who still hold this view.

On the other end of the scale however, there are some who believe that wicca is (or should be) an entirely benign tradition. But this is not what the Craft ever was, or ever should be! The Craft is about balance – like nature, both dark and light. It is the balance of things within nature that keeps the world turning.

There are a number of other misconceptions or untruths which have been repeated and regurgitated throughout the ‘teachings’ of wicca and paganism, though; such as the ‘9 million women’ who were burnt for witchcraft – this is a complete myth … as well as meanings behind certain rites – and their origins, too. I hope that my book will go some way to dispelling these myths – I would also recommend people reading Wicca: Magickal Beginnings:  A Study of the Possible Origins by Sorita d’Este, alongside my own book.

Vikki, you’re a high priestess, for the uninitiated, what does that actually mean and what does it involve?
At the very least, this title means that the person has completed the three Wiccan Degrees which entitle them to run their own training group (actually, the title can be taken by someone once they reach the Second Degree, although additional training would probably still be required in order to bring that person up to speed on running a group of their own). Each Degree takes (at least) a year to achieve, and within my own coven we insist that newcomers undertake an additional years’ study prior to their first initiation.  In general, the role of the High Priestess and Priest is to plan the rituals and training for the group, execute the ritual, and act as mentor and guide to those who are training in the Craft. Some people dislike the hierarchal feeling that the name ‘High’ Priest or Priestess gives, but the Craft has never been a democracy and hierarchy is one of the important elements to the deeper mysteries. The role of the High Priestess sounds all very glamorous, but in fact the title is NOT a status symbol – it represents the hard work that an individual has done in order to achieve a certain level of training, as well as acting as a rite of passage for that individual in their spiritual (and physical) journey. In practice, being a High Priestess means a lot more, too … including teacher, cook and taxi driver! And in truth, being a High Priestess (or High Priest) can sometimes be one of the muckiest and painful jobs around. But it can also be very rewarding!

Do you have your own coven or group? Can you tell us about it please?
My group is affiliated with the ‘mother coven’ in which I was originally trained, and  consists of both an outer and an inner circle. Newcomers are admitted to the outer circle for their probationary period (which lasts approximately a year, although sometimes more!) and if they make the mark then they are offered their First Degree and asked to join the inner circle. At the moment there are 6 of us all together in the inner circle, and we have worked closely for some years. We meet at our grove or at the covenstead on the Full Moons and the Sabbats, although we are in contact almost every week, and often meet with the mother coven to celebrate.

Our rites are often based upon certain themes, magic and mysteries found within ancient pagan mystery cults. These themes are normally received intuitively and then reconstructed with serious historical research into that particular mystery tradition or practice. Initiatory Witchcraft does often use elements of Traditional Wicca as a structure for its practice of the mysteries, although standard Traditional Wicca can sometimes differ slightly in that much of the material used is based upon the prior work of Gardner or Sanders, and usually stays within the parameters of the traditional book of shadows.

Is there a prescribed form to your rituals?

It really depends upon the occasion, and how much of the ritual has been planned intuitively. There certainly is a prescribed structure to the way that many Wiccan rituals are executed, and I would advise that these prescribed structures are adhered to especially by newcomers. I outline these rituals in the book, and explain the meanings behind the words and actions in detail. Many of the words and actions are there to protect yourself and others, so it is sensible to follow them as closely as you can. That being said, after you have been working with the Craft for some time, you may start to see ways that things can be changed to suit you without compromising safety or effectiveness. But it is best to try not to reinvent the wheel before you understand why it is round!

How does being a witch help you in your everyday life?

Does being a witch really ‘help us’ in our day to day lives? Well, I think for me it certainly did. It encouraged me to become a more confident and balanced person. It gave me a direction, a creative outlet, and a way to work with the land and understand the true faces of what we call the Gods. I am proud of what I have achieved both practically and academically, and I look forward to learning more. Many people find that they become more confident, happier, more successful. The Craft offers western society the one thing that we lack – the initiation. Whether this initiation be through a lineaged coven or a solitary personal dedication, it matters not … if the work has been put in, the initiation will happen. An initiation is both an ordeal rite and a rebirthing for the spirit, which allows the person to cause change in their own lives, themselves. And as we follow the wheel of the year, we realign our bodies to the cycles of the earth and the natural patterns of life, and we use the subtle energy to make magic. Being a witch can enhance our everyday life, so a point where the witch and the mundane person combine, and we become a truly complete person.

See? I told you she was amazing, didn’t I? She’s working on some new material for 2010, and some of her work is also being included in an anthology which is due to be published later this summer. Check out Vikki and her witch-y wicca goodness at: www.vikkibramshaw.co.uk and www.initiatorywitchcraft.co.uk

Thank you Lisa Clark from The Sassy Sorceress for this fab interview!

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