Thanks to Gerald Gardner, many a new witch and warlock may well be dancing to the beat of the drum on the night of Samhain, October 31st. How many truly ancient witches of the “Old Religion” will be drawing down the moon among the newbies, the wannabees and the converted cowans?
Since Gardner began to publish his books on the revival of ancient witchcraft a great many residents of the myth wrapped British Isles have turned to ‘Neo-Paganism’ as an alternative to the man-made Christian religion that arose in 435 A.D. in a highly successful effort to organize the then gathering viral power of the teachings of Jesus.
Gardner wrote of the “Old Religion,” the Paganism that was world wide since before the Neolithic and perhaps even Paleolithic times. Gardner was a British colonial official in the East Indies and an amatuer anthropologist. He retired to England in the mid 1930s and claims to have connected with an ancient witch coven of the New Forest in the Weald of Southeast England. Britain, never a nation to easily give up a favored ancient and draconian law, repealed the Witchcraft Act of 1736 in 1945. It was then that Gardner began to openly write about active witchcraft in the British Isles. It is accepted today that he was largely responsible for the re-emergence of a new paganism dubbed “Wicca.” In the years since it has gained massive popularity around the world and especially in the US.
British authorities and the Anglican and Catholic Churches liked to maintain that the “old” witchcraft traditions never really existed in any organized form, or that it died out centuries ago. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anthropologist Margaret Murray began to draw the veil aside in the 1920s when she published “The Witch-Cult in Western Europe” a book that drew largely on historical records of witch trials and other accounts. The book also made veiled references to current activity in England and so garnered the opposition of many other researchers and historians.
In truth, the ancient practices of witch covens are–and have been–as alive today under the cloak of the new Wicca as they ever were. In the middle of World War II a body was discovered stuffed inside the “Wytche Elm” and ancient hollow elm tree in the middle of Hagley Wood in the English Midlands. The event was believed to have been the result of witchcraft, as was another murder in the same area. Both killings were documented in “Murder by Witchcraft” by Donald McCormick. In the “Watch: The Secret War for the Soul of Germany” I give an account of the Hagley Wood murder–and use the licence of fiction to completely explain it. There are similar accounts throughout rural England of current witchcraft practices and many more that pre-date the resurgence of Gardnerian Wicca. One of the most fascinatingaccounts is given in Archaeology Magazine article by Kate Ravilious in Volume 61 Number 6, November/December 2008. The article relates the excavation of a Neolithic ritual site where crystalline rock had been carefully laid around a natural spring. Evidence showed that the site had been used for spellcasting in later centuries. One specific spell to promote fertility had been buried in the ground over and over again since Medieval times. Scientists were astonished to find the same ritual objects being buried there as late as the 1950s! Here is evidence of continuous pagan practice since neolithic times.
I am a Celt from Southern Wales and not unfamiliar with the pagan practices of this still magical land. I also dwelled for many years in the midst of the Kentish Weald – and I can attest to the truth of Gardner’s claims. Much of this knowledge is used in my fictional account of the efforts in England to counter the magical works of the Nazi Regime. Here I have gone back tomy childhood to resurrect some of the characters of the Weald I knew or heard about–and the secret Sabbats they mounted as part of Churchill’s amazing and little discussed “Watch.” This was the group he organize to wage the occult war against Hitler.
So, as the fires burn and the cauldrons bubble this coming All Souls Eve, look over your shoulder as you dance deosil upon the magic circle. The naked maiden behind you may well be a witch of true power, and true religion with the magic of many a century in her veins!