Following our initiation into Witchcraft yesterday, we are nowadays in the fortunate position of having a variety of books to inform us as to practice and procedure, even if we are a solitary Witch. There are also online courses, as we will see in our concluding article, and established pagan organisations, such as the Children of Artemis and the Pagan Federation. Other sites provide useful forums for discussion, such as the UK Pagan Valley. In the US, large sites such as The Witches Voice act as contact clearing-houses for practitioners to contact each other.
Originally, information was passed by copying a Book of Shadows and adding one’s own experience to the various spells, rituals and creeds contained within the book.
A survey of the variety of books now available on Witchcraft will demonstrate the common elements of the Craft, as it is sometimes abbreviated. In this abbreviation, as many other elements, Witchcraft has more in common with Freemasonry than any other religious system. This is no surprise as Gerald Gardner, the ‘father’ of the witchcraft revival, was a freemason himself and drew on a variety of sources when creating the rituals and tenets of the Craft.
The common elements of praxis include:
• The observation and celebration of the eight festivals or Sabbats: four astronomical, four agricultural – Samhain (Halloween), Yule, Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Midsummer, Lughnasadh (Lammas), and the Autumn Equinox.
• The observation of the cycle of the Moon, with rituals, or Esbats, conducted on the Full Moon, and sometimes on the New Moon.
• The importance of Initiation, whether by a group or as a self-defined ritual, into the tradition.
• Rites of Passage, such as handfasting (marriage)
• A Book of Shadows, in which to record the workings of the coven or one’s own solitary and individual workings.
• The use of ritual tools, such as the Pantacle, symbolising the element of Earth.
Although an initiatory stream flowed from Gerald Gardner, another stream later flowed from Alex Sanders, who was self-styled King of the Witches and added elements of ceremonial magick to his practice originally taken from Gardner. Sanders initiated many people during the sixties, who in turn popularised Witchcraft during that time. Thus, Witches tracing their initiatory lineage to either of these two influential figures are referred to as Gardnerian or Alexandrian.
Both Gardnerian, Alexandrian, and many other covens, operate a three-degree system of initiation (similar to the three Craft Degrees of Freemasonry). The first degree initiates the candidate into the Craft, the second degree recognises their advancement into a Priest or Priestess of the Craft. The third degree, the highest, is unique in that it involves a symbolic sex-act referred to as the Great Rite to initiate the candidate as a High Priest or Priestess. This Great Rite is sometimes actual between consenting partners who are already in an appropriate relationship.
Having looked at some of the common elements of practice and touched on the structure of Witchcraft, tomorrow we will continue our discovery with mention of some of the facts and fallacies associated with Witchcraft.