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Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Gods In Traditional Witchcraft

The Gods In Traditional Witchcraft Cover In the Traditional Witchcraft of Britain there are strong ideas about spirits and the gods, which is a term that includes goddesses. The first and perhaps the most important concept to know is the sacredness of Nature. There is a belief that attests that all things are sacred and contain spirit, either their own spirit, which is called animism, or they are part of the spirit of the gods (or God), which is called pantheism.

Crafters (Traditional witches) have a connection to the old British religions, and having this connection has obviously influenced beliefs. The pagans of yesteryear had a belief in polytheism, a beliefs in many “gods,” While there was also a belief in the “divine force” or the concept that all gods drew their existence from the one source. To make this idea clearer, you can think of each named god as a fundamental force wearing a different mask. Each mask corresponds to a very different aspect of the same universal force, and each god manifests in different ways. This is why there is veneration of many gods.

You may ask, “Are the Gods real?” I would say this is not a valid question because the gods are part and parcel of a very real aspect of creation, and they embody that aspect so perfectly that to regard them as false would be to the determent of the concept as a whole. Many Traditional Crafters would say they believe the gods are as real as any spirit (or soul) is real, and to question the existence of spirits or gods is absurd.

My first experience with the veneration of Tradition Gods happened one fine day while sitting in the deep woods with my old Crafter friend. He got up and approached me. He had an old rugged and worn knapsack that he sung in front of him when he was in front of me. He said, “Here, stand and help.” So I stood and he handed me a loaf of old fashioned homemade bread and a bottle of homebrewed ale. He explained that we were going to give a libation to the Gods. He stood in front of a mighty old oak tree and recited a short statement of thanks over the bread, which he then crumbled between his hands and let the crumbs fall to the moss covered ground. I had stood to the side of him as he asked me to hand him the bottle of ale which I did. A short statement was made over the ale which was then poured over the protruding roots of the ancient oak.

He was thanking a specific god called The Horned God of the Wooded Wild. This god has been recognized in one way or another for thousands of years by almost every pagan culture in Northern Europe. The Horned God is associated with the forest, from which we draw oxygen produced by the trees and is needed for us to live. From the forest we also draw wood from felled trees that are used to keep us warm in winter, to construct our homes, and to provide a wide range of the products we use daily. The Horned God is also associated with the sun, as Lord of the Day and Master of Summer. From the sun comes the energy of light and warmth that makes life possible.

This is what my old Crafter friend was thanking the Gods for, the gifts of day and of resources that he utilizes on a daily basis.

In our modern world resources are often seen as objects for exploiting, however this is not how Crafters see resources. Crafters view resources as precious gifts from the Gods, and we should thank them for these gifts. The act of libation, of giving thanks, is a return gift, a form of reciprocity (or return gifting) that should be done on a regular basis.

My old friend sometimes gives libation to the Goddess Diana, in the same manner. Diana is a popular goddess recognized in many Traditions because of the influence of Roman religion in Britain for almost 400 years. Local British goddesses are also recognized by some Traditions, as well as Germanic (Anglo-Saxon/Norse) goddesses.

After a while I got use to giving libation every week or so, although many give libation daily. This simple ritual started to make sense to me, so I would do exactly as I was taught that day in the woods.

In the Craft, the Saxon, Norse, Roman, or local British gods and goddesses are used, as much as possible in their original rituals and practices. The Craft does not just use the names of gods, so in the case of a goddess, a real goddess with Her traditions, Her practices, and Her specific rituals are used. Thus, a Tradition that uses Diana, a Roman goddess, would use Roman ritual to honor her. A form of honor in Roman religion is libation. In a similar manner, a libation is appropriate to the Horned God, which is British/Celtic. Each Crafter is responsible for their own relationship to their private gods, and should see to it that things are done correctly.

In the Craft, the gods and goddesses of cultures that are not historically related to Britain are never used. For example, Isis, an Egyptian goddess, would never be used in the Craft.

My old Crafter friend pointed out to me that the Horned God was at one time very popular in many parts of Northern Europe. When Christianity swept through Europe they demonized the naturalistic pagan religions by claiming their main deity, the Horned God, was their “devil.” They fashioned the appearance of their Christian Satan on the appearance of the Horned God. He repeated, “The image of Satan was based on the image of the Horned God. The notion that the Horned God is evil is of course simple nonsense.” The fact is that Traditional Crafters reject the notion of Satan altogether; to us there is no evil force in the universe, only foolish humans who by their actions corrupt the good.

One last note: An extremely few do not recognize specific gods, instead they venerate what could be called the Universal Consciousness. This is pure pantheism or panentheism, but it is rare.

Books in PDF format to read:

Alexander Roberts - A Treatise Of Witchcraft
George Lyman Kittredge - Notes On Witchcraft
Michael Harrison - The Roots Of Witchcraft
Howard Williams - The Superstitions Of Witchcraft