The Natural Evolution of the Dionysian Cult

I am really pleased to announce that my latest book, Dionysos: Exciter to Frenzy is now available from all good bookshops, including direct from the publishers, Avalonia Books. This book has been an absolute journey in the making. As with my first book, Craft of the Wise: A Practical Guide, I was compelled to write this book and as such, it felt like quite a mission from start to finish! As the Introduction explains, my study was born out of a series of synchronicities, prophecies and other mystical occurrences which happened to our small ritual group in Hampshire, in the UK. Hampshire is a seemingly unlikely place for the Dionysian current to manifest. Both trained to our third degrees in Alexandrian Wicca, myself and my ritual partner began taking applications for our own ritual group in 2005. We were not a conventional Wiccan group; having received training with teachers from several different occult traditions, we were already working outside of the standard Wiccan framework. After a few years, we adopted the more general term of Initiatory Witchcraft, which allowed us to explore alternative mystery traditions and magical practices. it was all semantics of course – but it helped us in some way to remain true to our journey. In a way, the publication of my first book, Craft of the Wise: A Practical Guide to Paganism and Witchcraft, marked this moment – drawing a line beneath my previous work whilst also leaving one or two clues about the new direction our ritual group was taking. Craft of the Wise did not attempt to cover this new ground.

Within Initiatory Witchcraft, many of the ritual themes are received intuitively, and then reconstructed with historical research into that particular mystery tradition or practice. A lot of it is down to synchronicity, messages and intuitive work. There is very little scripted work. It is based on studying and recreating the more mystic aspects of ancient traditions. However, we often use the ritual framework from Wicca as a structure for the practice of the mysteries (either magical or theurgic) because it does work in terms of creating coherence and structure. We also found, through our own experiences, that the ethos of Wicca and Witchcraft (and the very nature of the gods and forces working within them) behave in a very similar way to the ecstatic cult of Dionysos, and gods and goddesses of a similar ilk – and are therefore conducive with the ritual and practice of Wicca. Ultimately, they seem to follow the same ‘current’ in the universe.

It is important for any reader to realise that this book is written from a modern Western Mystery Tradition viewpoint – the only viewpoint I can give. I would like to stress that the material in this book is only my own interpretation of what has already been written about the god, together with my own inspiration and ritual experiences. I hope that I have managed to step far enough away from modern practices (whilst still recognising parallels) in order to view the evidence from an objective point of view – but inevitably, my interpretations will be influenced by modern thinking. As the author Robert Brown writes, ‘our acquaintance with earlier times is probably insufficient to enable us to judge whether … a particular assumption is (correct) or not’, that is, no matter how well read we are on a subject, we will always be influenced by our modern way of thinking and preconceptions; but perhaps we have to accept this on some level as part of the natural evolution of the Dionysian cult.

The aim of my book is to present a historical study of Dionysos and a reliable basis upon which the Dionysian current can develop and grow. I believe that the way we work with the ancient gods should always be evolving and transforming in tune with the modern world, just like Dionysos himself – but that it is just as important that we unify well researched ancient practices with our modern interpretations.

Certainly, the Dionysian philosophy suggests that it is impossible to develop spiritually without also embracing the realities of life – for Dionysos is a god of substance. The ancient Greeks had two different words for our word, ‘life’ the first was ‘bios’ which referred to the literal, mortal existence of an individual, and the other was ‘zoe’, which referred to the ‘spirit’ of life. This ethos was reflected at the core of the Dionysian religion, which recognised both the reality of existence and also a profound spiritual awareness. Dionysos was sometimes described as ‘otherworldly without being world-denying’ the Dionysian cult brought religion and the corporeal into one, without negating the importance or viability of either; arguably, perhaps something that is missing in many spiritual and religious paths today.


The Nature of Sacrifice

The Nature of Sacrifice: Offerings to the Goddess Hekate in the Ancient World

© Vikki Bramshaw 2012-13

Modern occult practices have more in common with the ancient methods of ritual sacrifice than most modern pagans would like to admit. Many elements of ancient tradition have made it into modern practices – some consciously integrated, others subconsciously, perhaps – and the use of sacrifice and offerings is just one of these things. There is a distinct undertone of sacrificial symbology in modern paganism. In those days when I first started my training, things were particularly strict in terms of how things were done, and many of the offerings that were given would have been seen to the outside world as rather extreme, outside the box, something we didn’t really want advertised to the world, but yet they went on all the time (such as blood offerings, flagellation, and binding to name just a few). They acted as  personal sacrifices but also offerings to the gods – or group you were being initiated into. The author Walter Burkert writes that ‘secret societies’, —- (so by that, we can mean anything from ancient cults to modern freemasonry, to wicca) — ‘made the initiate into the sacrificial ‘victim’. [1] At the mercy of the hunter, the initiate is made to feel weak and powerless, and the initiate is pushed away from the group initiating him. In effect, the initiation is an encounter with death, to experience the will to live.

The topic of sacrifice in ritual and magic can be quite a controversial subject, due to the sensitive ground this subject covers. Yet we cannot deny that there are many historical accounts of sacrifices and offerings within the ancient world, particularly in relation to magic. I am not just talking about the obvious topics such as animal sacrifice, but also offerings of herbs and incense, and other types of personal gestures. But certainly, animal and human sacrifice is something which doesn’t get a great amount of coverage – quite understandably due to the potential misunderstanding about ‘what modern pagans do’. Certainly, I do not agree with the sacrifice of a life in any sense in modern workings but I do feel it is an important part of our history nonetheless— and where those can see the benefits of studying this topic, it is something that we can learn from.

Certainly, Hekate is fond of blood, and Tara Sanchez tells me that Hekate is rather partial to raw liver. Many of you will know of Hekate’s connections to vegetarianism, and that is something we will cover in more detail later but at this stage it is probably important to say that this was something which was carried out in later cults of the goddess. But she also adores nuts and dried fruit, especially when they are burned on charcoal blocks; and she likes dancing too – particularly serpentine dancing, chanting, decorative items, and various libations (in the form of drinks and cakes); and even forms of charity. So there’s much more to sacrifices and offerings than blood alone – in fact, there are actually very few examples of blood sacrifice to Hekate in comparison to many of the other gods.

So what is a fitting sacrifice? To Hekate, or any other deity for that matter? I personally feel that as occult practices have become more popular in the last 10 years the quality of offerings (and the meaning behind them) has vastly changed. Now, many of you will recognise one particular offering which has become a standard part of the modern occult or pagan rite: that is the cakes and wine. This is something which has become a rite of celebration, often used to lighten the mood. However in the ancient world, the wine and cakes was taken as a sacrament – partaken with the gods and sometimes representing the gods, depending on which cult you belonged to or deity you followed.

Due to this shift in the ritual meaning of cakes and wine, some could argue that the purpose and importance of this part of modern ritual has been lost. I went to a ritual a few years ago which was quite solemn affair; but it was followed with the blessing and sharing of a most sacred and ancient libation food ….. the pink doughnut! Now whilst I recognise that the gods must have a sense of humour too, these 99p Tesco doughnuts were offered in ‘all seriousness’. I think we need to consider the practices of the ancients, and what they considered a fitting sacrifice to the gods, before we can make a judgement about what we should or should not be offering in a modern setting. Now if the doughnuts had been made by hand, by the person who was making the sacrifice – I think there’s a distinct difference there.

Incidentally, I was invited to a Winter Solstice dinner last year with one of the High Priestesses who I trained with, and as their festivals are seen as family events my atheist (or perhaps agnostic!) other half was invited along. We were are sitting around the hearth fire when my teacher emerged from the kitchen with a plate of about 15 freshly home cooked mince pies. Now my other half loves food, especially anything home cooked and I saw his eyes light up when they came in. Now, one single mince pie was divided between the 4 of us as we sat around the fire – and you should have seen his face when the rest of them were dramatically thrown upon the fire as an offering to the gods! In the same way, this particular lady bakes a whole loaf of bread for the Rite of Housle; some of you might be familiar: a loaf of bread is placed into a bowl and a whole bottle of wine poured over it, and the whole bowl is offered to the soil. Some might say a waste of a good loaf of bread and bottle of wine – others might say, what a fitting sacrifice.

Ancient Offerings and Sacrifice

So, we’ve talked briefly about offerings and sacrifices in a sort of modern sense, I’d quite like to talk about its most ancient manifestations, particularly relating to Hekate and those goddesses who are known to have been akin to her. Certainly, one of the most ancient origins of Hekate is the Magna Meter (‘Mayta’) or Kybele, who was later identified with the Grecian Rhea. We now know that Kybele or ‘Meter’ spread her nature far across the globe and became known by many names; perhaps most obviously is Demeter, Dea-meter. Incidentally Statues of Demeter have been found in the Anatolian region upon which her torso appears as a face between two torches, something which is of course very direct Hekate symbolism; and later in antiquity, we consistently see images of Hekate with Kybele, hinting at their connection.

Kybele is known for her connection with wild animals, in particular wild cats, and we can see this in the usual iconography of two cats sitting on either side of her. Now this might be a far cry from the image that comes to mind when we think of Hekate, but in fact Hekate herself was known as the mother of creatures, and of course she would later be depicted with 2 hunting dogs accompanying her either side – in a similar position to Kybele’s 2 big cats. Certainly, the significance of the wild cats not only shows Meter’s designation of the mother of all things, but also as the great huntress; something that would later become evident in other goddess associated with Hekate, such as Artemis. We should also remember that there are also later records of Hekate being associated with cats, although it is an often neglected fact. In some accounts, she is invoked as a lioness; and in the PGM we find Hekate invoked during the drowning of a cat to make it an ‘Esies’ which in Greek means ‘praised drowned person,’ or ‘sacred dead’ – a vessel, if you like, for the cat goddess.

Deities like Kybele, who were associated with animals, symbolised the connection that could be forged between mankind and the natural world; so as well as being the mother of all things they also embodied the force to overcome nature, and dominate it – which of course seems in many ways in a direct contradiction to modern pagan ways of seeing things. So Meter’s hands laid upon her two cats not only symbolises her connection with the wilds (and obviously an association with the hunting ability of the big cat) but also a control of it – domination, and the ability to domesticate, and destroy.

One interesting site to look at is Çatalhöyük in Turkey, part of ancient Anatolia, a settlement dated around 7000BCE which is recognised as one of the most important sites in relation to insight into ancient religion and particularly sacrificial practices. The people of Çatalhöyük showed  a great veneration of their ancestors – that is, a recognition of the processes of life and death and the beyond. Now in Çatalhöyük we find evidence of the adoration of this goddess; she’s known as the ‘seated woman of Çatalhöyük’. The position of this figure is very similar to the iconic image of Kybele – and she even has the 2 big cats by her side. In fact most historians conclude that this goddess is in fact Meter, or Kybele; we have very few early depictions of her, and this is probably one of the earliest.

Çatalhöyük is of particular interest in terms of sacrificial practices in relation to Hekate, or at least one of the prime goddess who would influence her nature. It was common place to bury the bones of your family within the foundations of your house, but it was also known for animal bones to be used in this way, and evidence is found of bull bones which have been placed within household shrines. In some of the shrines, statues of the seated woman were placed over the top of the bones of the dead, again showing that death is part of her dominion. In this position, she is a governor and guide to the dead, something we know Hekate was very much associated with. Incidentally, another statue was found at Çatalhöyük which shows the usual, voluptuous woman at the front – but an eerie skeleton form at the back. This might well be one of the first depictions of the liminal goddess, who sits between the worlds of life and death.

The appearance of bull bones here is quite significant; I expect many of you are familiar with the iconic images of Çatalhöyük with the mounted bull skulls on the walls. Certainly, cattle were first hunted as wild prey before their domestication and this is something that is remembered at Çatalhöyük. One wall painting from the site shows hunters preying upon wild cattle – a group of wild cattle all around them and several hunters pursuing them. What’s interesting is that historians conclude that these men are dressed in disguise – they are known as the ‘leopard men’ – and throughout the wall painting you can see  spots upon their bodies. The hunters are identifying themselves with an animal known for its hunting ability, the leopard. These disguises can also be seen as hand in hand with ancient shape-shifting, the ability to become an animal in order to take on its abilities.

Artemis the Hunter & Hekate

So what of Artemis? Her name has been mentioned a couple of times so far in this essay, so let’s look at her now in terms of connections with Hekate and her offerings and sacrifices. In essence, Hekate and Artemis are generally considered to be ‘of the same origin, or source’ – and we see the name “Artemis-Hekate” mentioned in various texts showing that a conflation between these two deities was accepted. Certainly Artemis has ‘recorded’ connections with Hekate as recently as 5cBCE— and it is very likely that this connection goes back much further. They most definitely share a common source, who is of course Meter or Kybele, and she also finds links with Bendis, the Thracian goddess of the hunt, and possibly the Minoan Lady of Beasts. The similarities are instantly obvious when we look at some of the earlier depictions of Artemis in her iconic royal pose, with two animals either side; this time in one hand she holds a big cat – the hunter – and in the other a stag – the prey. Also, when we look at statues of Hekate, we see definite ‘hints’ of Artemis.

In mythology, the two are referred to as cousins, and they are also linked by a mythological character named Iphigeneia who laid upon an altar as a willing sacrifice for Artemis and was transformed into Hekate. Both of them are also known as both creatrix and destroyer, source of life yet also chthonic guide to the dead. And other statues, globally recognised as Artemis, look particularly ‘Hekate like’ with hunting dogs behind her. So, here we see the hunting symbology shift from the wild hunter – the lion – to the domestic hunter, faithful consort and friend – the dog.

Hekate is seen as being accompanied by and identified with dogs and in particular, black dogs. In the first instance, they are hunting dogs – like the 13 dogs of Artemis and Bendis – they are typical hunting hounds, lurchers and pointers, and we can see this is the case as both Hekate and Artemis’s dogs are depicted with the distinct pointy whippet-shape nose of the hunting dog. However, their prey can be considering as reaching beyond deer and other wild animals and into the spiritual realms of souls, as Hekate acts as mediator between the mortal world and the realms of the dead. And in some ways, we can also see these dogs as guides; like the mountain rescue dogs, and guide dogs for the blind. These breeds help and guide people; like Hekate, who guides Persephone and the countless mortal souls who journeyed into the underworld. We also see Hekate depicted with Cerberus, the 3 headed dog that stood on the threshold of Hades and guarded its entrance. Certainly, black dogs have retained this ominous reputation, with a whole array of folklore — such as black phantom dogs which incidentally, are almost always seen at crossroads.

Artemis was well known for her rather bloodthirsty demands; for instance, sacrifice of 100 cattle at particular times of the year as a communal religious ceremony. But sacrifices to Hekate tended to be more private; in some ways, Hekate was always a mystery goddess, her rites and sacrifices done in secret. I think there has always been this feeling around the goddess Hekate, she really is a goddess of the individual, of the solitary practitioner or the sole magician – indeed, she is referred to in several texts as the ‘patron goddess of magicians’. Whilst the sacrifices to other gods of hoof stock animals such as cows and goats can be considered as interlinked with sympathetic magic to encourage fertility or abundance, the sacrifice of dogs cannot be so; it provides no meat to be divided up between the community, nor did it fill the bellies of the temple priests. The sacrifice of the dog was purely devotional and for religious or magical reasons, symbolic of both the underworld and Hekate herself, the ability to traverse the worlds and journey between this life and the next.

So, perhaps we can say that the magician or priestess who worked with Hekate did not really as rule participate in the ‘usual’ communal rites or celebrations; this is something which is further supported when we find that Hekate was known to prefer offerings of honey-based drinks rather than the usual wine offerings of the communal street ceremonies. In many ways, these differences set Hekate and her followers ‘apart from the crowd’ not so much in an elitist way, but by that I mean apart from the usual way of life – individuality, and into a realm of mystery.

Sacrifice to a chthonic deity such as Hekate would have generally been made into a pit in the earth; either a man-made cavity or a natural chasm. One of the most common sacrifices in Eleusis was the piglet which was sacrificed to both Hekate and the daughter of Demeter, Kore. Sometimes these would be sacrificed first and thrown into a fire pit to the goddesses, and other times, they were cast into a pit full of snakes. Hekate is significantly connected with snakes and no doubt this was meaningful to the ancients in some way; casting the offerings into the domain of Hekate. However, it’s important to mention here that in general the pig was not considered an ideal offering, especially in the realms of magic. It was one of the cheaper sacrificial animals available; however it was still worth around 3 drachmas which in ancient Greece was about 3 days’ wages for a middle class worker — so perhaps £150 modern pounds. But it was common; and as we have already identified, the magician who worked with Hekate aimed to be anything but that.

The purposes of Offerings and Sacrifices in the Ancient World

So what are the purposes behind sacrifice? In a modern setting, sacrifices are usually given as an offering of generosity or thanks. Generally this is an offering of mead or wine or something along those lines. Certainly this happened in pagan history, we have a lot of information about offerings of mead and wine. However, in terms of reasons for offerings in ancient history, in particular sacrifices, the motivations tended to be a little more complicated and varied than that; in general, within the realms of ritual magic, offerings were all about different ways to gain benefit from the gods involved.

In the Greek Magical Papyri, we see Hekate appear many times in several in different guises – and we are introduced to 2 different sorts of sacrifices; these are the ‘Beneficent Offerings’ sacrifices to supplicate and please the gods, and the ‘Coercive Offerings’ which are found within spells to Coerce or Manipulate gods, spirits and mortals, sometimes used together in one spell, in the case of PGM 4 for instance, working with the goddess Selene, although later this is revealed as Hekate. Selene is often considered part of the ‘triad’ of Hekate, that is Artemis-Selene-Hekate – and she is often referred to as such in the PGM; as well as in many other texts written by well known writers; in fact Nonnus refers to Selene in his epic Dionysiaka as, ‘thou art Hekate’, and ‘thou art Artemis’.

Now these two types of offering ‘Beneficent Offerings’ and ‘Coercive Offerings’ are quite interesting and say quite a lot about the way people viewed their relationship with the gods. On reviewing their use throughout the PGM, the first thing we notice is that these offerings are used within the spell as part of the spell, vital ingredients to make the spell work. They are being used in the same way as we might nowadays use ‘correspondences’ or ‘ingredients’ such as certain herbs, precious stones, and so on. So the first thing we see is that the materials which make up a spell are seen as being offerings and sacrifices in themselves. Indeed, the spell was as an offering in itself in terms of its preparation and spells were usually quite an undertaking; in addition to this offerings or rites were made over long periods of time, often over 3 or even 9 days. Preparations for ritual and sacrifice included bathing, dressing, ornamentation, wreathing, and abstinence; sacrifices in themselves – and animal sacrifices were likewise treated and decorated.

Many of the ingredients would have been hard to obtain, or expensive, and if the spell didn’t work then it would have been a good indication that you’d measured the ingredients incorrectly, or hadn’t obtained the right sort of material. This is expensive, rare, imported ingredients, and costly libations. There’s no cheating or short cuts in ancient magic! For instance there are many accounts of offerings of gold, silver, and jasper although actual physical evidence is rare as many of these offerings were worth stealing. Looking at Hekate, we see a lot of saffron offered – a rich commodity, which would have been expensive to obtain. Of course we know Saffron was one of Hekate’s favourite colours, she is described as wearing saffron robes. However we have plenty of images of Hekate’s priestess, Medea, who is sometimes also described as Hekate’s daughter, wearing Saffron robes. Have a look at the painting of Medea by one of my favourite artists, Waterhouse. If you look in the bottom left hand corner there you’ll also see the ritual tripod which is of course reminiscent of the tripods used by the priestesses of Delphi. I also refer to a very famous painting of Medea, this time by Frederick Sandys; certainly Medea’s connection with both Hekate and the gathering of herbs and roots for magical spells is interconnected, and in this painting we see Medea with various objects that she is using within her spell including what looks like the sacrifice of a chick and toads; whilst in the very bottom right hand corner there is what looks like a little Egyptian statue of Sekhmet which is intriguing – and obviously the red beads or cords around her neck linking her again with Hekate and the Sybil or prophetess of Delphi. The method of collecting these herbs and roots for sacrifices and offerings was also considered as important; the PGM  outlines an operation for gathering herbs in which the herb is dedicated to a certain god or goddess whilst it is being harvested, to make the herb to be more effective for the use for which it is required; and both the Greek and Egyptian rootcutters are known to have burnt incense, and poured offerings of milk, at the place where a plant has been removed or cut.

With ‘the Beneficent Offering’, the god or spirit was regularly appeased and offered things by their followers in kindness and generosity. However, whilst it wasn’t intended to be directly coercive, this was also expected to produce benefit – it was a means to an end — in sacrificing to the gods, it was believed they would in turn be protected, or blessed. (Incidentally, it also produced benefit for the temple priests, who would receive meats and grains on a regular basis as offerings to the gods which actually ended up on their table, and gems in their pockets!) Other types of offerings, such as song and dance, would also be carried out during that time in benevolent generosity to the gods to please them.

And then we find the ‘Coercive Offering’. Now this is less common but we do see it used in private rites of magic, especially throughout the PGM, where certain offerings, sacrifices or ingredients are used to manipulate the gods and spirits into doing what the magician says, without question. In the PGM, ‘Slander Spell to Selene’ which involves the image of Hekate, we find a ‘hostile’ spell which curses a woman; this includes 3 days worth of offerings – beneficent offerings are made during the first two days of ingredients like frankincense, myrtle and cinnamon, mixed with wine and honey, and then Coersive offerings are made on the third day, of goat fat, dog entrails and faeces, wormwood and garlic. These are crushed and moulded into an incense tablet with an image of Hekate stamped upon it. Often during malevolent spells, rather grim ingredients are listed such as animal excrement or entrails, and when spells involve Hekate and Selene in the PGM, the excrement or entrails of dogs and horses are very common. It seems that whilst these ingredients are ‘offered’ to the gods, they are not given because they will be pleasing to the deity – this is more about ‘like attracts like’, or in this case, a vile spell, full of vile offerings, will produce a vile outcome. In a way, this is a bit like, ‘take these offerings and receive them gratefully, you gods’, and then on the third day; ‘here’s the power and motivation, and magical material to curse this woman; and bring to her the vileness that lies within these vile ingredients’. Offerings such as this appear to me to influence or coerce the gods into acting a certain way, and cause a reaction in the cosmos, rather than winning the gods over with ‘pleasing’ offerings. 

This ‘like for like’ practice would also be used in offerings of purification or cleansing by way of a magical averter, or so-called scapegoat. Whilst in malevolent magic an offering might be given to coerce a god or goddess into causing a change beneficial to the magician, so too would other materials be offered during a spell to attract and absorb negativity. Again in the PGM, we see something called a Squill being named as one such scapegoat, fending off trouble and offering protection. Squill is a type of bulb, found naturally across the Mediterranean. There’s quite a few references to Squill throughout the PGM including beating human scapegoats with Squill as they were chased out of town but also in reference to Hekate, where it is used for purification, possibly in a powdered incense form, or wash. The squill was not seen as pure itself, but as attracting and absorbing negativity. Squill’s classical name Scilla, which is derived from the greek word meaning to ‘excite or disturb’ and it is accounted as having a bitter, acrid juices which cause inflammation of the skin, and if taken internally it can cause nausea and vomiting, perhaps supporting its occult designation as a sort of cathartic purification.

Offerings as part of Spells & Curses

An image of a six-armed Hekate was found upon a lead curse tablet from Athens, and depicted in the PGM. Lead was typically used as it was known to be heavy, cheap and of poor quality, which of course were just some of the ills that you wanted to inflict against your victim. The curse would be written upon the lead as a sort of ‘letter’ to the gods of the underworld, depicted with the injuries the victim was expected to receive and the name of Hekate, and then rolled or folded up and nailed together. It would usually then be buried in a grave, so to make use of the ghosts of dead men to take the request to the gods of the underworld. This curse tablet calls for justice to discover thieves, and directly asks Hekate to issue punishment to them. It reads: “I hand them over to Hekate…and to Hermes the helper…I transfer the thieves who stole from this little house — a chain, three bedspreads, gum Arabic, tools, linseed oil, mastic, pepper and almonds. I hand over those who know about the theft and deny it. Lady Hekate of the heavens, Hekate of the underworld, Hekate of the crossroads, Hekate of the triple face, Hekate of the single face, cut out the hearts of the thief who took the items…wield upon them your bronze sickle.” So in this case, not only was the curse tablet an offering in itself, but the person who was being cursed was offered as a sacrificial victim.

Charity & Personal Sacrifices

It is interesting that some of these food offerings made to Hekate after a ritual or spell had been performed would be offered as the Hekate Supper at crossroads, and is believed by many historians that this food was actually collected by the poor (and probably the neighbourhood stray dogs). Now whether this was intentional or not, it does pose an interesting suggestion of charity as an offering to the gods. As our money is so precious to us, perhaps it is a more beneficial offering to make a donation to a charity of our choice than spend our money on incenses or candles. As well as an offering of our wealth, a sufficient offering could also be something sacrificed from ones personal life – such as abstention from sex, food, or alcohol – all common in the PGM quite anciently. The purpose was not to prove that these things were bad or evil, but more that they exhausted the energy. Dietary restrictions were also a common element of cult life particularly in temple environments; for instance at Eleusis; certain fish were not allowed to be brought into the temple area or eaten by the priests and initiates such as the Mullet which was linked to ill-health and thought to bring ‘bad trances’ and ‘troublesome digestion’.

One choice of abstention for some followers of Hekate was of course, not eating meat. This subject is somewhat a bone of contention between researchers as there is, as we have already seen, a large amount of evidence for animal and blood sacrifice in the name of Hekate and animal sacrifice was undoubtedly part of nocturnal rituals and festivals for the chthonic gods and goddesses such as her. However there is also evidence to suggest that some later followers of Hekate, including the scholar Hesiod, the philosopher Empedocles and even Pythagoras, were devout vegetarians. But animal rights were not the only concern for those embracing vegetarianism in a religious setting; it could be said that it was more a ‘trend of the time’ – the focus of many cults and religions had shifted towards absolution of sin and the purification of the body to aid them to ‘transcend’ to a purer state of being. In many cases, it was perceived that animals were unclean or ungodly — so as the aim of the initiate was to become closer to god, it became detrimental to eat flesh. Even eating beans considered cannibalistic by Pythagoreans as they resembled ‘little foetuses’; beans also belonged to the dead, and these newer cults did not consult with the dead.

Dance & Speech

It is interesting that in the modern world, one of Hekate’s most favoured offerings seems to be chanting and dancing. One of the most important offerings you can make, so I was taught, was to offer up your inhibitions – to offer a dance to the gods. And for Hekate, it is the serpent dance, similar to the Kordax of Artemis: a circular or serpentine masked dance where the feet stay in one place whilst the upper body dances. In the ancient world, there also existed the Paeans – songs of gratitude or propitiation which were sung to the gods. In fact Artemis was known as ‘O song and dance’, and it therefore makes sense that Hekate, often referred to as the Chthonic Artemis, was the mistress of more nocturnal and ecstatic forms of dance and expression. The 5th c poet Nonnus paints a colourful picture of dance and song to Hekate on the greek island of Samothrace when he writes: ‘Korybantes were beating on their shields…leaping with rhythmic steps .. while the double pipe made music, and quickened the dancers…lions, with a roar from emulous throats mimicked the triumphant cries of the priests, sane in their madness; the revelling pipes rang out in tune in honour of Hekate.’ Speech and sound was also an important offering to Hekate; many of the odes and epics are believed to have been written about the gods for the gods, and Hekate is particularly fond of ritual sounds – such as the hypnotic whirring of the Strophalos, which acted as a vehicle to alter the consciousness and assisted the practitioner to communicate with otherworldly beings during invocations to Hekate, and perhaps also the warbling of the Wryneck bird. And then of course there are sacred incantations, such as the Ephesian letters which were used within magical formulas, ‘Askei Kataskei Eron Oreon Ior Mega Samnyer Baui’ which occur a number of times in the Greek Magical Papyri in charms which call on Hekate such as initiations, protective charms and charms of power. Today, it is being used as an offering to Hekate, but also to protect and empower magical rites.

© Vikki Bramshaw 2012-13

[1] Homo Necans, Walter Burkert

Time to Sharpen up Our Game?

October marked one of the perhaps most memorable moments for Paganism in the last decade, as Druidry was recognized as an official religion and awarded charitable status by the Charity Commission. Following this, an article was written by Melanie Philips of the Daily Mail entitled ‘Stones of Praise Here We Come’, which sparked off a huge debate both within pagan communities as well as on the Daily Mail website. Now considering the time of year, we should really have expected another controversial article to reach the headlines! And we were not to be disappointed, as this time the Daily Telegraph writer Damian Thompson posted his own view on Paganism and witchcraft on – (you guessed it) – the 31st October, entitled ‘The BBC Sucks up to Pagans’.

My initial reaction to both of these articles was amusement. Both were so badly written and biased to their own personal perspectives that it was no wonder that the articles only made it to a blog, and never to actual newspaper print. It also became obvious with a very brief amount of research that both journalists were renowned for writing controversial, biased and bigoted articles. The first reaction of many in the Pagan community, including myself, was to retaliate on the newspaper forums – but I think it is important that as a community, we try not to resort to a victim mentality in these cases. We could argue about whose faith is older or more genuine – or more persecuted !! – until the cows come home. These journalists are paid to write articles which are going to get attention – they are rewarded for coming up with the most controversial stories in order to get more web-time. And we should remember that we were NOT alone! Just two days before writing this article about Paganism, the same Damian Thompson of the Daily Telegraph released another article, this time studying the trend of the name ‘Mohammed’ in Muslim families and expressing quite clearly his ‘views’ towards Muslims; although perhaps in a slightly more ‘shadowy’ nature than he had expressed his dislike towards Paganism. Sadly, these journalists are rarely interested in truth or education, it seems. But their articles did get me thinking about the media and our relationship with it – and particularly, our increasing presence in the public eye.

The sheer volume of retaliations against these bigoted articles on the newspaper forums alone has made it clear that Pagans do want their beliefs to be recognised and understood. Many of us share a sheer frustration with the media’s attitude to our beliefs, an uneducated attitude which is echoed by a large percentage of the general public. However, I am also aware that not all pagans want our faith to be recognised at an official, national status – and perhaps for good reason. Many of us would prefer that the religion remained at a more personal and unofficiated level; there is a fear that our religion would be institutionalized, and power taken away from our community.

But that being said, I think it would be safe to assume that all followers of paganism would prefer things to be at a stage where Paganism is at least be respected – and not openly ridiculed. The recognition of Paganism (and other associated practices) within the Police and the Armed Forces is testament to our faith becoming more accepted – and in my opinion, our inclusion in respected organizations such as these has been perhaps one of the most important steps made so far in the effort to integrate Paganism into modern society. Similarly, many of us celebrated Druidry’s elevation to charity status – but if we truly want this recognition, we must accept that (like anything which comes into the public eye) we will have to be prepared for criticism. But there is a difference between criticism, and downright ridicule. Newspapers are quick to criticize all faiths – freedom of speech, which so many of us rely upon, allows this to be so. But many journalists are cautious that they don’t over-step the line; the outright ridicule, intimidation and blatant mocking of a religion as they have to ours would usually be seen as downright dangerous. Clearly, we are not significant enough or powerful enough to be treated so cautiously.

I would suggest that the best way to deal with such criticism is to face the reasons behind the ridicule head on. As modern Pagans, we seriously need to ask the question – what is it – really – that still sets us apart from other belief systems?

It’s definitely not the number of people practicing. PEBBLE, The Public Bodies Liaison Committee for British Paganism, present data from the 2001 census on their website which indicates that almost 55,000 people specified their religion as pagan or as a sub-pagan belief system (such as Heathen, Wiccan, Druidism etc) – and this doesn’t count people who were not old enough at the time to take the census, or those who decided not to declare their faith. According to PEBBLE, ‘combined, this made us the seventh largest faith in the UK’ – and, ‘if figures for British Pagans rose as much as those in Australia, we could be looking at 280,000 Pagans. In the 2001 census, there were 150,000 Buddhists, and just 270,000 Jews’. Perhaps, it is simply that the general public are not made aware of these figures!!

Nor can it be the credibility or reasoning behind our beliefs in comparison to others – for instance, how can the beliefs of Abrahamic faiths be any more ‘believable’ than the faith of Paganism? Well, they’re not – ultimately, both Paganism and Abrahamic faiths are based on a belief in something that cannot be proved – that’s what makes it ‘faith’. Yet in this age of science and reason, Abrahamic faith is somehow still seen as a perfectly ‘reasonable’ part of life and politics – which according to Melanie Phillips, brought us ‘reason, and the bedrock values behind Western progress’.

So if other faiths such as Christianity are really no different to Paganism in terms of credibility, or (potential) numbers, or even sound judgment – what still sets us apart? Why are so many religions considered acceptable in business and politics (and even our children’s education!!) whilst the beliefs of Paganism are mocked and downright ridiculed? How can this be, when the origins of our beliefs have been recorded by academics for thousands of years, and continue to be written about as historical fact? When evidence of practices similar to our own is found in archaeology? When many of the theories behind Pagan esoteric/occult practices are even supported by modern scientific research, cosmology and hypotheses?

My initial feeling is the lack of academic and reliable information made available to the general public during the rise of interest in Paganism, in particular BTW (British Traditional Wicca) between the 40’s – 70’s. In my opinion, the act of bringing BTW out into the open (and into the eye of the media) was also a catalyst to bring many other forms of Paganism out of the woodwork. Whilst still hotly debated, it is generally believed that several other types of Paganism were being practiced in this country during, and before, the 1940’s (such as Druidry and Old Craft) but these probably only started surfacing and receiving new interest after the initial coverage and growing popularity of BTW.

Whilst their intention was no doubt good, and led to the boom in popularity of Paganism, much of the initial promotion of Wicca by some of its earliest practitioners was taken out of context by the newspapers in examples of sensationalist journalism. ‘The Manchester Evening News’ headlined ‘Amazing Black Magic Rites’, as they investigated rumours of black masses and witchcraft rituals on the Cheshire hillsides, which were being run by Alex Sanders. To a BTW initiate, the reality of what this ritual really means is quite clear – to the outsider, it sends a very different message. In another article, Gerald Gardner attempted to portray Wicca in a more positive light when he was interviewed by ‘Weekend’. Yet the photograph shows Gerald sitting within a magic circle and pointing a sword at a gargoyle (which the caption describes as a ‘weird image’) and Gerald is quoted saying, “a spell was cast – and the house was mine!” The article is entitled ‘I am a Witch’. Even the most hardened defender of Wicca cannot deny that the word ‘witch’, cannot have helped the initial reaction of this faith by the general public. A great shame – because otherwise, this misunderstood (and deeply profound) mysticism might have been taken a little bit more seriously.

We also have to consider that a great deal of research has been undertaken since the revival of Paganism and associated belief systems, since the days of Gardner and Sanders. We know a lot more about the origins of our practices than our forefathers/mothers who wrote about the Craft, and with very little study we can quickly sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of pseudo-historical here-say from those who followed on from them. But how much old and outdated information is still circulating within the Pagan community? We know more now about the true reality of our history than ever before – and for those that seek it, there is a considerable amount of material which both compliments and supports our beliefs and practices. In my opinion, one of THE most important books in the attempt to overcome these issues is David Rankine and Sorita D’Este’s Wicca: Magickal Beginnings, a study of the possible origins of this tradition of pagan witchcraft and magick. This book aims to dispel pseudo-historical claims and discover the true meanings and origins of practices, which have been reinvented or debased due to misinformation. It really is a must read for the beginner and the experienced practitioner alike.

As the author of a book which is specifically designed to teach the practices of paganism and witchcraft, I find myself resigning to say that in truth, the best books for us to learn about the origins of our beliefs and practices are in fact historical academic books, written with no biased interest towards the positive promotion of Paganism! Because we don’t actually need to engineer any practices or create a pseudo-history – it’s there, in black and white. Some of it might not be exactly what we want to hear – but its historical fact, all the same. And suddenly, the study of Paganism becomes respectable, and the reality of our practices much more reasonable.

But this aside, many books (and later on, websites) specifically about the practices of Paganism and Wicca started to be published. Several excellent and historically accurate books were written in the early 1980’s – such as material by the Janet and Stewart Farrar – but other than these writers (and a few memorable others) it seems there was a huge amount of recycled misinformation and here-say being published (particularly via the internet). One such inherent vice within wicca and paganism is the tendency to lean towards the victim mentality; the 9 million women tortured and burnt to death on the charge of witchcraft; the persecution of pagans by the church; our holidays being misunderstood, etc. But there were no 9 million women (it was more like 40,000 throughout the whole of Europe, although that’s no small number). And yes, Pagans have been persecuted by the church; but it would be fair to say that it’s been on about the same level, if not less, than Pagans persecuted early Christians. And yes, our holidays are most likely misunderstood – but that is probably because there is very little real, historical information being circulated about them. Let’s start educating, but lets get some well research facts behind us first.

The Daily Telegraph article was clearly bigoted and uneducated, however it did get me thinking about pseudo-historical claims, and as a pagan/occult writer and researcher I am happy to be the first to admit that I have probably rewoven some of these claims in my time !!! There is a wealth of interesting historical material out there to draw from, but so much of the information that has been reproduced in books and the training material of group leaders has been ‘recycled here-say’, with little or no basis in historical truth. In other cases, meanings and origins of practices or beliefs have been reinvented. Unlike most religions, we don’t have a specific sacred book that we all follow, and perhaps in some ways, this is part of the problem; the structure of the Abrahamic faiths and the rigidity of their very specific practices and beliefs seem to create a package of consistency that modern Paganism just doesn’t have yet. Whilst having some commonality, we Pagans are all pulling in different directions trying to achieve different things. We are in danger of teaching our beliefs, history and practice like Chinese Whispers, appearing incoherent and inconsistent.

However the fact that we don’t have a single, guiding holy book or a specific hierarchal structure is also exactly what gives us the flexibility to change and transform – so lets use that freedom to keep studying the exact reasoning behind practices and the historical basis for our beliefs, rather than restricting them to outdated pseudo-history. And as for the practices – how much further would have Wicca developed if Gardner or Sanders had lived another 20 years?

So perhaps the first step to getting Wicca and all Pagan faiths respected by the public, media and authorities is a re-education from within – our own communities. A questioning of the pseudo-history, and a study of the very real, very interesting origins of our practices and beliefs. An exact study of everything we say and do – because there is something very real out there to historically support almost every pagan word and gesture, if we just search a little bit deeper. And this has to start with each and every individual. This process of ‘re-programming’ needs to be embraced by every student or follower of Paganism, in heart and mind. This doesn’t mean losing the spiritual and mystical aspect of our faith; quite the opposite. And when confronted with bigoted and uneducated criticism and ridicule, each and every one of us are in a position where we ourselves can react with an educated and historically accurate response.

A comment was made in another recent Daily Mail article, ‘Pagans on the march: Harmless Eccentrics or a Dangerous Cult?’ in which The Daily Mail was told by one ‘witch’ that ‘we sometimes use the cauldron to mix spells’ and that ‘we hold moots in graveyards’. Are these the people we are leaving to promote our faith?  How can we encourage the general pubic to accept us as anything but uneducated and fantastical?

I don’t believe that people should have to change their practices or culture in order to be more accepted into society. I’m no conservative – my youth was spent rebelling against the system !! But I do believe in progression. If we wish to be respected (which many of us clearly do) then we have to respond in a positive and progressive manner. Perhaps this very criticism is giving us food for thought on our philosophies and the way that we present ourselves to the general public? We need to stop allowing television stations to film our rituals, no matter how much we think it might portray us in a positive light – they wont. These are our private ceremonies – they are not for show. We need to stop giving newspapers and the general public blatant excuses to sensationalize. We need to look at what this practice truly brings to our lives. We need to get shot of the eccentric image. Perhaps its time to cast off the remaining velvet cloaks (which, lets face it, are hardly practical – and do absolutely nothing for the anti-potter campaign!!) and start picking up some history books. Let’s start researching the very true and utterly fascinating origins of our practices. Lets write some educational and historically accurate articles. Let’s sharpen up our game.

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: and

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

The Primordial Image: Archetypes

The Primordial Image: Archetypes 

Copyright V.Bramshaw 2009.

There seems to be a certain amount of conflict in the Pagan community when it comes to the use of the concept of ‘Archetypes’ within Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft. This is perhaps down to varying theological views; in particular the differences between Polytheism and Pantheism, but perhaps also due to a certain degree of ‘misinformation’ about what an ‘Archetype’ actually is. I briefly discussed Archetypes in relation to Deity in Chapter 5 of my book, ‘Craft of the Wise’; but as I have recently started a Psychotherapy course, I decided that it would be rewarding to explore these terms further, and expand the subject. I am by no means an expert on psychology, but I hope this article will offer a little towards the understanding of the subject in relation to the Craft.

A ‘standard description’ of an archetype (as a concept) is: ‘Archetypes are deep enduring patterns of thought and behaviour laid down in the human psyche, which remain powerful over long periods of time and transcend cultures and generations. Archetypes form the basis of instinctive patters of behaviour that all of humankind shares in common.’

Most people know the common Archetypes (the ‘fundamental personalities’): such as The Mother, The Hero, The Tyrant, The Lovers, The Child, and so on. But like many other terms which have been adopted by modern western spiritual paths (such as the concept of ‘Karma’) the Archetype is a much more expansive subject than it is usually given credit for.

On considering what the term Archetype can really offer when it is applied to Wicca and Initiatory Craft, we need to first look at what the pioneering psychologist Carl Jung really meant when he coined the term, ‘Archetype’. When Jung first came up with the concept, he named what we now call the ‘Archetype’ the Primordial Image, a phrase which he first used in his essay, ‘Instinct and the Unconscious’. When he started his ‘modern quest for the soul’, Jung turned to classical mythology to explain his insights – because he realised that the stories within the mythology explained his concept quite nicely as reflections of the human experience – together with other ‘gateways to the unconscious’ such as dreams, rituals, and the use of art and symbols. In this way he identified the power of mythology as (what could be described as) both a ‘key’ and a ‘mirror’ for the journey of the soul.

Jung also had a personal interest in Alchemy and Astrology, and believed that the ultimate aim of the individual was to fulfil our inner potential, and through personal transformation one might journey to meet the Self (the true and ‘whole’ identity) and the Divine. Paradoxically, this journey to meet the Self often meant growing out of one certain Archetypal role, and perhaps growing into another – and ultimately discovering the true identity.

It might also be important to define where Jung thought these Archetypes originated. Jung speculated that the ‘Archetype’ came from the collective unconscious, and that Archetypes represent behaviours and dispositions before they manifest as earthly existences. Some practitioners of the Craft equate the Collective Unconscious with the Astral Plane – described as the Conceptual and Formative level of the Magical Personality, or, the Bridge between the physical and the spiritual worlds; it can perhaps also be equated with the Transcendent Intuition of Briah in Qabalah.

Carl Jung was also one of the first modern psychologists to state that the human psyche ‘is, by nature, religious,’ and throughout his life Jung strived towards a spiritual purpose beyond material gain. The original ancient Greek meaning of the word Psyche is breathe of life, or soul spirit, so its already obvious that something much bigger is at work here; this concept seems conducive with cosmology, and manifestation: our minds and souls receiving messages and instructions from higher planes of existence.

The Archetypes are also associated with the Major Arcana in the Tarot deck (which are also reflected in the Qabalah) such as The Hermit, The Emperor, and The Lovers; ‘personality types’, which we can all relate to. In fact the Tarot is a good example of how the Archetypes can be both psychological and mystical; the Tarot is read both intuitively (opening the psychic senses to pick up messages from the Divine) but also from a psychological angle (how the chosen cards relate to phases and initiatory processes within our lives).

Jung also used the term Archetype to explain patterns of ‘key events’ (or perhaps what we in the Craft might call ‘initiations’ or ‘ordeal rites’) such as birth, childhood, marriage, and preparation for death (which are summed up very nicely by the ‘Fools Journey’ of the Tarot) as well as explaining patterns of ‘Motifs’, such as those used in mythology like the apocalypse (the end of the world) and the deluge (the great flood) and so on; these are key themes which we find in both ancient mythology and on our cinema screens today.

So what is the confusion here with Wicca? There have been many influential works over the last 15 or so years which have discussed Archetypes in relation to Wiccan practice. For instance, Vivianne Crowley’s book, ‘Wicca’ discusses Archetypes in detail, but this time as ‘aspects’ of the Gods. Vivianne was certainly in a position to discuss the subject of psychology, as she was a trained Jungian psychologist and a university lecturer in Psychology of Religion. However reading over her work again whilst researching for this essay, I realised that I didn’t quite see eye to eye with her when it came to the Gods; as her particular style of Wicca seems to explain the Gods away simply as ‘aspects of our own Psyches’. This may not be what she actually meant, but this is how it comes across; and it certainly seemed there was no place in this way of thinking for a Polytheist.

However that aside, she does explain a few things nicely in relation to the role of the Archetype manifesting in the magical personality (you, as Priest/ess) – (note: not a God/dess manifesting – an Archetype manifesting!) – and how perhaps ritual might aid this particular psychological journey. This, I think, is the true use of Archetypes in ritual and magic. She explains in this context that the Archetypes are ‘symbolic forces’, which appear in a dream, or a vision; part of us, yet separate. That we are externalising our unconscious, and that Wicca enables us to connect with ‘sub-personalities’, in order to enrich our own lives: all terms which were used by psychologist Carl Jung. Putting all notions of religion aside for one moment, this concept seems to work; but as soon as you start adding the ingredient of Gods and Goddesses back in as ‘expressions of Archetypes’, it suddenly excludes a large number of the Pagan community (including me!) who do not believe that the Gods are simply ‘unconscious archetypes’ !

Perhaps the common misconception is that, “to acknowledge the Archetypes is to not recognise the Gods as individual deities”. This is in fact a fallacy, which appears to me as a direct contrast to Jung’s beliefs. It is also often assumed that the word ‘Archetype’ is used interchangeably to describe ‘an avatar of the Godhead’, or ‘stereotype’ – which is also incorrect.

Looking at this mode of thought, it is easy to see how one can come to the conclusion that anyone who works with Archetypes cannot possibly believe that individual deities even exist – perhaps viewing them as ‘Aspects of the All’, at the very most. But in truth, this a bit like saying “because I acknowledge a mother archetype within myself, I don’t believe that my real birth mother exists”!

The subject of psychology and its relationship with Wicca has been hotly debated for many years, and is probably very much down to an individuals’ interpretation of the Godhead. Indeed, there are many books available on the Craft which suggest that the Gods are nothing but avatars of an ‘all-power’ – or even, just ‘aspects of our own psyches’. This seems very much like the opinion that spellcraft and ritual is nothing more than some sort of ‘psychological self help aid’ (which in my opinion, misses the point a bit).

Whilst ritual and spiritual experiences are intrinsically connected with psychology and the workings of our mind, I would suggest that we should consider that there may be more to magic, ritual, and the Gods, than just this. There seems to be an assumption in modern thought that Divinity should fit into one particular form; it is, after all, human nature to try to ‘pigeon-hole’ things and name them all. We are obsessed with ‘isms’: polytheism, pantheism, animism … as if we can break up the whole universe into tiny pieces, and label each part with a name. Perhaps, this just is not possible; perhaps the divine is multi faceted, and unfathomable.

My own beliefs are complicated, and not everyone will agree with them! I suppose I most closely identify with Pantheism, but I also believe that the Gods are indeed very complete and individual beings. (A few hard Polytheists might hit the ceiling after reading that – so I am sorry if you now have a bump on your head!) My coven uses a hypothesis called the ‘Triangle of Manifestation’, which is similar to the ‘Tree of Life’ of the Qabalah, and communicates that many deities manifested from one divine source whilst also existing independently. This should not be misinterpreted as meaning that ‘the Gods are simply avatars of the Godhead’.

Personally, I do believe it is possible to work with individual deities as a Pantheist and perhaps even a (Soft!) Polytheist, whilst also acknowledging the presence of Archetypes as messengers, signals, patterns, and aspects of the collective unconscious which manifest within your own personality; a personality which can be enriched by basking in the divine radiance of a (very real) God or Goddess. For those of us who have worked within the Wiccan tradition, we need only look at one of our most prominent pieces of ritual material for this mystery:

‘And thou who think to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou know the mystery; that if that which thou seek thee find not within thee, thou wilt never find it without.’ – Charge of the Goddess

I believe the the Gods should be acknowledged as individuals, but we should also be aware of their overwhelming effect within our own lives and within our own psychology by their very presence. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone say in their recent book, Progressive Witchcraft:

‘From our experiences, we can say without a doubt that the Gods and Goddesses of the ancient world are real. Like human personalities, they can have strange nuances and flaws … the Divine should always be accepted as individuals. You must believe in them as persons in their own right if you are going to connect and work with them. It is not recommended that you work with them as Jungian concepts alone. It simply wont work. Its necessary to believe in them.’

So assuming now that the Gods are real, individual entities, how do Archetypes relate to ritual practices, such as Invocation?

In my experience, an Invocation brings both the individual God/dess into your being, whilst also enhancing certain aspects of your personality  (hidden or unhidden) by bringing them to the surface, and embracing aspects of the collective unconscious, via what Jungian psychologists would term the Archetypes. This is not the say that the manifestation of the actual individual deity did not occur – but that their presence caused a reaction within you. ((This is rather like spending lots of time with a close friend or work colleague – particularly your peers – and unconsciously starting to take on their mannerisms!))

If this assumption is correct, then now we can tackle one of the most controversial aspects of the use of Archetypes in Wicca – the grouping of Gods as ‘representations of Archetypes’.

Assuming that the Gods are indeed real – like you or me – it is then conceivable that several Gods can be be grouped as one Archetype, without compromising their individuality – for instance, The Warrior. Several Army Officers can also be grouped as Archetypal Warriors – it doesn’t mean the Army officers are not real !! We could also say that Officer Doe represents the The Warrior Archetype, because he recieved a medal for bravery. This doesnt make Officer Doe a figment of our imagination.

In addition to the evocation of Archetypes within the person through Invocation of the Gods, it is also the case that working with a deity a certain amount of positive transference can occur– (a psychological term for transferring a relationship from one person to another). For example, a person who could not communicate well with their own mother, might transfer that mother role onto another person – perhaps an older female friend, or superior female work colleague – who they see as fulfilling that role. In the case of Wicca and Initiatory Craft, they may transfer that role onto a particular God or Goddess – who fulfils that particular need.

At its simplest, an Archetype is just another a pattern within the universe. Those patterns are seen within ourselves, and within the Gods. We may share those patterns, by working with Invocation and recognising that God or Goddess within our lives; much like we share mannerisms with close friends, and unconsciously copy our peers. The effects of working with a deity can cause positive changes in a similar way within our own psychology, activating the primordial unconscious potential, which can be actualised through ritual and working with the Gods.