Witchcraft - rediscovering nature

Marcus Katz describes an initiation ceremony into witchcraft - a religion which has been growing in

It is 1982. Somewhere in a quiet suburban house in the middle of England, a circle has been drawn on the floor to mark a sacred space. It is decorated with the signs of the Zodiac and surrounded by candles.

A male candidate stands naked in the midst of the circle, surrounded by seven similarly ‘sky-clad’ participants. He is blindfolded, so the fragrance of incense and the recitation of ritualistic words around him have a peculiarly charged impact. He hears the calls to not only a single God, Cernunnos, depicted as a horned God of the Wild, but also to a Goddess, Aradia, seen as equally, if not more, important to recognise and worship. He realises that these are the names chosen by this particular coven, or group of Witches, into which he being initiated tonight – other covens, he knows, may choose different deities to worship.

He looks forward to the relative comfort of wearing the robe he has bought for this ceremony; not all covens work naked, and in fact, he has been told that being sky-clad is only practised in this particular coven for initiations. He is surprised to find being naked is sensuous but not sexual, and anyway, his mind is elsewhere – there appears to be a strange sensation of energy moving up his body, forcing itself up from the earth beneath him, in tune with the chanting about him, reaching up and out of his head, opening his awareness to the night sky. The room seems to have vanished to be replaced by a wooded grove. This is distracting enough.

His thoughts return to his previous year-and-a-day of studying the books recommended to him when he applied to join the coven through an advert in a small local New Age shop. On Witchcraft; first written in the 50’s by Gerald Gardner, and in the 70’s by Doreen Valiente, Patricia Crowther, and Alex Sanders. Soon, in the 80’s, more writers will clarify and expand on the rituals and beliefs of this emerging religion; Janet and Stewart Farrar, Starhawk, the American feminist and activist, and more contemporary writers such as the psychologist and Witch, Vivienne Crowley. All speaking of a new religion grown from ancient roots.

Meanwhile, as the chant increases in tempo, he is gently pushed and pulled, turned and spun, increasing his disorientation. The five members of the coven, which has never recruited to a full thirteen, are three women of varying ages and two men, one in his early twenties, the other in his fifties. The candidate will make the balance, and at nineteen years old, is to be the youngest member of the coven.

As the initiation progresses, it becomes easier to simply feel – a growing return to oneself, a communion with both male and female aspects, a sense of connection with the whole of Nature; the Moon, the Sun, the four Elements, the changing Seasons. All of these symbolised in the ritual he is participating in, a gateway into the Mysteries of a new religious movement based partly on a ‘creative misunderstanding’ of history. The movement is called in its various forms, Witchcraft, Wicca, and Paganism.

Soon, the cords that bind him will be removed, and he will swear an oath to be “true to the Art”. He will be consecrated, and then taught the secret use of the ‘Working Tools”; the Sword, the Athame (a dagger), the White-hilted Knife, the Wand, Cup and Pentacle, representing Fire, Water and Earth. Finally, he will be presented to the four Quarters of the Magic Circle, introduced as “newly-made Witch and hidden child of the Goddess”.

He is now initiated into the tradition of Witchcraft, and although later years will introduce the concept of self-initiation, at this time he feels suddenly connected to an invisible lineage, to nature, and to his own inner self. He feels both free yet at home. The initiation has changed him, introduced him to a new way of looking at the world, which will take time to consolidate.

For the next few years, this newly-initiated witch will practice rituals and ceremonies based on the common beliefs of witchcraft. Although both practitioners and academics will continue to debate these commonalities, the basic beliefs of Witchcraft are pantheistic or polytheistic; a belief in many aspects of the divine, both Gods and Goddesses, furthermore a syncretic approach often drawing on a bewildering variety of cultures, usually Celtic, Greek, Roman or even Ancient Egyptian.

Often the so-called feminine qualities are revered more than the masculine, sometimes they are seen as equal in all respects. Thus, the Moon is worshipped as a symbol of three aspects of the female; the three archetypes of Maiden, Mother and Crone.

All these things a Witch will learn, as I did from 1982, when I was initiated.

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
Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.