Witchcraft – Path of the Seasons

The practice of Witchcraft is eclectic, syncretic and individualistic – here we describe some common

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.

Marcus Katz is an MA student of Western Esotericism at Exeter University. He is a teacher of Witchcraft, Tarot and Ritual Magick in the Lake District at the Far Away Centre
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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland