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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

Her Sacred Fires : A Journey to Hekate

This month has been extremely exciting. Myself and at least 40 other contributors from all around the world have been working towards our essays, prose and artwork for the new anthology ‘Hekate: Her Sacred Fires’, which is edited by Sorita d’Este of Avalonia Books and is a very personal study of an extraordinary Goddess. The spectrum of material covered in this anthology is as diverse as the forms of Hekate herself, emphasising her role as Light Bearer, Key Bearer, Initiatrix, World Soul, Mistress of Crossroads and the Serpent Mysteries. From the re-establishment of the ancient worship of the great mother goddess as Hekate in Thrace to meteorites and pilgrimages, Hekate’s presence around the world is vividly described and illustrated by her torchbearers.

The book is available now for pre-order at .

I was also given the opportunity to take part in the radio interview with Karagan, an Alexandrian Priest who runs the radioshow ‘Witchtalk’. With close to 20,000 listeners, Witchtalk aims to help people understand and have contact with paganism and witchcraft. The 3 hour interview was the first of its kind, and Karagan interviewed Sorita d’Este: of Avalonia Books; Maggin: a Hekate devotee and artist who has contributed to several books on Hekate; Mark Allan Smith: a contributor to Hekate: Her Sacred Fires and who has just released his new book about Hekate called ‘Queen of Hell‘; and myself, author of ‘Craft of the Wise’, and contributor of the essay ‘Swaying with the Serpent’.

‘Swaying with the Serpent’, is a study of the serpent-girdled Hekate: an aspect of the Goddess which embraces both Hekate’s chthonic aspects and her role as Mistress of Life. We find Hekate portrayed in ritual-trance prophesies as a ‘solar’ or ‘fire’ deity – the origin of the vital life force, which is often portrayed as a spiraling serpent-like energy. This type of symbolism is in many ways more in keeping with her original character, and Hekate’s roots can be found in such deities as Hekate of Lagina in south-west Turkey who was accompanied by serpents and worshipped as a deity of fertility and dance; the Syrian Goddess Atargatis who was originally revered as a serpent-girdled tutelary deity; and the chthonic aspects of the fertility Goddess Mater Magna of Anatolia. My essay also touches on the possible mysteries behind the cista mystica, Hekate’s role in trance prophesy, her association with Dionysos Sabazios and Bacchic frenzy, her role as feminine equivalent to the solar Gods Apollo and Helios, and her fitting role as the Wilful Goddess: ‘the one by whose will prayers are fulfilled and success granted’. The essay also looks at the serpent aspects of Hekate’s tool the Strophalos and its association with sacred sounds, and Hekate’s importance in the Eleusinian mysteries.

The idea for the book was conceived when Sorita d’Este had a vision of a thousand torches being lit for Hekate all over the world, and so it was fitting that on the 27th May 2010 I joined thousands of other Hekate dedicants from all around the world in ‘The Rite of Her Sacred Fires’, a ritual which was written by Sorita and which petitioned Hekate to allow the practitioner to explore Hekate’s mysteries. My ritual working partner Pete Ralls and myself were asked by Sorita to put together a contributor video a week before the ritual date, to show how the ritual might be adjusted to suit two people. This ritual can be found at the HerSacredFires YouTube channel.

 We decorated the altar and set to undertaking the ritual. No circle was cast; we find when working with individual rites such as this that a circle is not necessary. Our group practices initiatory witchcraft, which does not claim to be an old tradition – in fact, it is a very modern one, which finds its influences in British Traditional Wicca, Esoteric Magical Traditions, and the earlier historical Pagan beliefs and practices of such cultures as Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece and Europe (whose practices form the basis of many magical techniques and pagan rites today). Initiatory Witchcraft is largely based upon intuitive messages and subsequent historical research and reconstruction, blending experiential and intuitive work with due reference to historical practices. We base our rituals upon certain themes, magic and mysteries of ancient pagan mystery cults; most of these themes are normally received intuitively and then reconstructed with serious historical research into that particular mystery tradition or practice. However Initiatory Witchcraft does often use elements of Traditional Wicca as a structure for its practice of the mysteries, either magical or theurgic (we are happy to use what actually works, and change or discard that which does not !) You can find out more about initiatory witchcraft and read or contribute associated articles at

The Rite of Her Sacred Fires was a true reflection of Hekate’s nature, and its role in bringing together thousands of pagans and occultists from all around the world was, I believe, unrivalled. If you would like to perform the Rite of Her Sacred Fires, you still can – the PDF can be found in several different languages, including Hellenic, at the Sacred Fires website. I hope that everyone will enjoy the book as much as I have enjoyed being involved in its inception. I for one cannot wait to see what all the other essays, prose and artwork have to offer! I am privileged to have met several of the contributors, and can vouch for the sheer dedication that so many of Hekate’s devotees have to Hekate. No doubt this book will be an inspiring expression of their dedication.

Hekate is alive: she is mistress of life, the source of the world soul, and keeper of blazing torches. She is empowering, enlivening, guiding, clever, liminal, and demanding. She is counterpart to Dionysos, god of ecstasy, and she is mistress of trance prophesy; she is the arbitrator who stands on the threshold between the material and the astral, and guides her devotees through the heights of the heavens and the depths of the underworld. Sway with Hekate, Mistress of Fire; Dance in her Flames!!

 Vikki Bramshaw – May 2010

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!

My interview with Lisa Clark from The Sassy Sorceress …

Some inspiring articles can be found on the new source website written by Pete Ralls, Rhys Chisnall and Vikki Bramshaw, with more to follow shortly from other esoteric authors & practitioners. If you would like to submit an article which is suitable for this site, please contact us!

“Written from the perspective of a Priestess of the Craft of the Wise, which we sometimes call Wicca, this book by Vikki Bramshaw is a good one. There has been countless attempts at writing a new Witches Bible by authors who want to emulate the Farrar’s What Witches Do and Eight Sabbats for Witches, but they have all failed. Whilst this book does not pretend to be a replacement for that book, not at all, it does however for the first time in my opinion provide a text which can be read alongside it. In otherwords, I am suggesting that those individuals who are new to Wicca and wanhaw, craft of the wise, t to learn about it today, should consider reading The Witches Bible by the Farrars, but precede it by reading this book by Vikki. It will provide a better idea of how things have changed and evolved in the last few decades. And change they have! If my athame could talk! This is a solid book for someone interested in generic paganism too. The emphasis should be on INTRODUCTION and it is a good one. For those seeking their first read, this is a good one.”

See the review in context:

The Primordial Image: Archetypes

Well, the dust has settled since the book launch of Craft of the Wise: A Practical Guide, which was a huge success thanks to Liz and Trevor of Witchcraft Ltd who allowed us to use one of their shops as the venue for the evening.

It was lovely to see so many friendly faces there, and it was a particular honour to have all three of my High Priestesses in the same room – Natalie, Maureen, and Morgaine. This was a rare occasion, which gave us a chance to recognise their own commitment to the practice, whilst also giving me the chance to thank them for what they took the time to teach me.

Janet and Gavin also made an appearance, by the medium of the World Wide Web. They had emailed a speech to my friend Maggi to read out on the night, which was a really lovely thought – and one which now has us referring to Gavin as ‘King of Witches’!!

Since the book has been released, I have been contacted by occult practitioners from all over the world – Greece, Australia, and America, to name just a few. This has been extremely insightful (and something which I hope will lead to some travel opportunities in the future!)

So what next? A few months ago, I said that I would wait at least a year before considering writing anything new. But it looks like the Gods have other ideas, as always … so I have begun writing again, this time focusing on a more specialised aspect of the Craft. I am being guided in a certain direction to cover what I consider as a very important, but often overlooked, element of modern (and ancient) practice. I will not be able to make the subject matter of the new book public yet, but I will as soon as I can.

So, being guided on a new path yet again! As with my writing, I usually find that it is near impossible to try and plan a ritual with a fine toothcomb – and we very rarely write a detailed script to follow. A list of ideas, and a suggested itinerary for the evening, perhaps – but intuition, creativity and fluidity seems to be what is most important to those Gods who are guiding my groups’ rituals at present.

They have started appearing to us in their fundamental, organic, primordial forms. They ask for words and actions which are spoken intuitively from the heart, from the depths of the soul – spoken with a passionate delivery which is – quite literally – fit for the Gods. We are all being pushed in the direction of more daily devotions, lustration, supplication, and meditation.

Of course, it won’t always be like this; the wind will change again, and we will be taken down another path, guided in another direction. The important part of course is to listen, to learn how to separate their messages from the white noise, and act on what the instinct of the moment demands.

A philosophical / psychological perspective, 22 Nov 2009
By D. Wells

I came upon ‘Craft of the Wise’ by accident. I am not a witch; however my field is philosophy / psychology, and as I flicked through the pages I immediately recognised a number of the symbols that Vikki Bramshaw had included in the text and was intrigued. So, I read on, and I am glad that I did.

‘Craft of the Wise’ is a beautifully written introduction to witchcraft in the European tradition and, more specifically, in Vikki Bramshaw’s own coven. Ms Bramshaw, comes across as a wise, down-to-earth woman, with a good sense of humour as she guides the reader through the history of witchcraft, the tools of the craft, our relationship to the gods and goddesses, ritual and magic, astrology, magic and spellwork and much more. The book is made up of her own notes and coven training material, and she wrote it with the ‘purpose of giving the reader an insight into the true Craft’. I cannot say to what degree Vikki Bramshaw succeeds in this aim – as I said, I am no witch and therefore in no position to comment. However, from a philosophical / psychological perspective I can say that I was astounded and delighted to discover: (a) the relationship the Craft has towards the powerful energies that shape us and our world (which I know as archetypes / old gods / laws of nature / etc); (b) the way witches work with these energies (and have worked with them for millennia); and (c) that so much of what is written correlates with my own field of work. Indeed, I am certain that I shall be using ‘Craft of the Wise’ as a reference book for some time to come. Moreover, as I read ‘Craft of the Wise’ I performed many (though not all) of the tasks and I can verify that Ms Bramshaw guides the reader through some powerful insightful / transformative techniques, the effects of which should resonate in a person’s life / world for a considerable time.

In short, when I picked up ‘Craft of the Wise’ I knew next to nothing about witchcraft… and what I thought I did know was highly suspect! However, after reading the book I now hold the Craft in the highest regard: those old ‘mothers’ knew a thing or two, or so it seems. And as I have said, I am no witch – at least I don’t think I am, because with such a shared concern the boundaries between the magical and the academic have fudged a little bit more. Therefore, I can certainly recommend ‘Craft of the Wise’ to any ‘uninitiated’ reader, like myself, who wants to understand more about witchcraft, their own mind / soul and the world in which they live.

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.

Vikki Bramshaw is an author specialising in pre-christian religion and esoteric traditions. Some of her passions are religious history, theurgy, initiatory rites, and trance. Her latest book, 'Dionysos: Exciter to Frenzy' was published with Avalonia Books in 2013.

Her first book, 'Craft of the Wise: A Practical Guide' was published with John Hunt Publishing in 2010, after which Vikki wrote for several anthologies with Avalonia Books including Swaying with the Serpent: A Study of the Serpent Girdled Hekate (featuring in the anthology 'Hekate: Her Sacred Fires' in 2010) and 'The Scorpion & the Bridal Bed' (featuring in the anthology 'VS: Thou Art That - That Thou Art' in 2011).

Vikki has also successfully completed several courses as part of her ongoing research, including The Origins of Human Behaviour with Oxford University. She is also a trained Holistic Healer with the Scottish Healing Association, and has studied an introductory course in counselling and transactional analysis with Peter Symonds College of Winchester.