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
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The New Statesman 2016 local and devolved elections liveblog

Results and analysis from elections across the United Kingdom. 

Welcome to the New Statesman's elections liveblog. Results will be coming in from the devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales, local elections in England, and the mayoral contests in London, Salford, Bristol and Liverpool. Hit refresh for updates!

23:01: Pallion Ward in Sunderland is the first to declare, and it's a Labour hold! More on percentages as I get them. 

22:58: Why isn't it an exit poll, I hear you ask? Well, an exit poll measures swing - not vote share, but the change from one election to the next. People are asked how they've voted as they leave polling stations. This is then projected to form a national picture. Tonight's two polls are just regular polls taken on the day of the election. 

22:57: The Sun's poll - again, not an exit poll, I'm not kidding around here - of Scotland has the SNP winning by a landslide. (I know, I'm as shocked as all of you) But more importantly, it shows the Conservatives beating Labour into second place. The Tories believe they may hold onto Ettrick as well. 

22:55: What news from Scotland? Labour looks to have been wiped out in Glasgow. Liberal Democrats think they might hold at least one of Orkney or Shetland, while the seats in Edinburgh are anyone's game. 

22:52: Hearing that turnout is low in Waltham Forest, Lewisham, Hackney and my birthplace of Tower Hamlets (the borough's best export unless you count Dizzie Rascal, Tinchy Stryder or Harry Redknapp, that's me). Bad news for Labour unless turnout is similarly low in the Tory-friendly outer boroughs. 

22:47: YouGov have done a poll (note: not an exit poll, it should not be taken as seriously as an exit poll and if you call it an exit poll I swear to god I will find you and kill you) of the Welsh Assembly. Scores on the door:

Labour 27

Plaid Cymru 12 

Conservatives 11

Ukip 8

Liberal Democrat 2

There are 60 seats in the Assembly, so you need 30 seats for a majority of one. 

22:40: In case you're wondering, how would closing a seven point deficit to say, six, compare to previous Labour oppositions, I've done some number-crunching. In 1984, Neil Kinnock's Labour turned a Tory lead of 15 per cent at the general election to a Conservative lead of just one per cent. In 1988, one of 12 per cent went down to one per cent. (He did, of course, go on to lose in both the 1987 and 1992 elections). In 1993, John Smith's Labour party turned a deficit of eight points at the general to a Labour lead of eight points in the local elections. William Hague turned a Labour lead of 13 points to one of just six in 1998, while Iain Duncan Smith got a Tory lead of just one point - from a Labour lead of nine. In 2006, new Tory leader David Cameron turned a 3 point Labour lead to a 13 point Tory one. Ed Miliband - remember him? - got from a Tory lead of seven points to a two point Labour one. 

22:35: John McDonnell is setting out what would be a good night as far as the party leadership is concerned - any improvement on the 2015 defeat, when the party trailed by close to seven points. Corbyn's critics say he needs to make around 400 gains.

I've written about what would be good at length before, but here's an extract:

"Instead of worrying overmuch about numbers, worry about places. Although winning seats and taking control of councils is not a guarantee of winning control of the parliamentary seat – look at Harlow, Nuneaton, and Ipswich, all of which have Labour representation at a local level but send a Conservative MP to Westminster – good performances, both in terms of increasing votes and seats, are a positive sign. So look at how Labour does in its own marginals and in places that are Conservative at a Westminster level, rather than worrying about an exact figure either way."

22:31: Oh god, the BBC's election night music is starting. Getting trauma flashbacks to the general election. 

22:22: A few of you have been in touch about our exit poll. Most of you have been wondering about that one vote for George Galloway but the rest are wondering what happens - under the rules of the London mayoral race (and indeed the contests in Salford, Bristol and Liverpool), 2 votes would not be enough for Sadiq. (He needs 2.5). However, all the other candidates are tied - which makes it through to the second round. What happens then is the second preferences are used as a tie-break. Of the tied candidates, Sian Berry has the most second preferences so she goes through to face Sadiq Khan in the final round. Final round is as follows:

Sadiq Khan: 3

Sian Berry: 2

3 votes is above the quota so he is duly elected. An early omen? 

22:19: Burnham latest. A spokesperson for Andy Burnham says:

"Approaches have been made to Andy Burnham to give consideration to this role. It is early days and no decision as been taken. Whatever the decision, he will continue to serve the leader of the party and stay in the shadow cabinet."

22:17: Anyway, exit poll of the office. We've got:

Sadiq Khan: 2

George Galloway: 1

Caroline Pidgeon: 1

Sian Berry: 1

22:15: Update on Andy Burnham. He has been asked to consider running. More as we get it. 

22:13: People are asking if there's an exit poll tonight. Afraid not (you can't really do an exit poll in elections without national swing). But there is a YouGov poll from Wales and I am conducting an exit poll of the four remaining members of staff in the NS building. 

22:11: It's true! Andy Burnham is considering running for Greater Manchester mayor. Right, that's it, I'm quitting the liveblog. Nothing I say tonight can top that. 

22:09: Rumours that professional Scouser Andy Burnham is considering a bid for Greater Manchester mayor according to Sky News. Not sure if this is a) a typo for Merseyside or b) a rumour or c) honestly I don't know. More as I find out. 

22:06: Conservatives are feeling good about Trafford, one of the few councils they run in the North West.

22:03: Polls have closed. Turnout looks to be low in London. What that means is anyone's guess to be honest. There isn't really a particular benefit to Labour if turnout is high although that is a well-worn myth. In the capital in particular, turnout isn't quite as simple a zero-sum game as all that. Labour are buoyant, but so are the Tories. In Scotland, well, the only questions are whether or not the SNP will win every single first past the post seat or just the overwhelming majority. Both Labour and Tory sources are downplaying their chances of prevailing in the battle for second place at Holyrood, so make of that what you will. And in Wales, Labour look certain to lose seats but remain in power in some kind of coalition deal. 

22:00: Good evening. I'm your host, Stephen Bush, and I'll be with you throughout the night as results come in from throughout the country. The TV screens are on, I've just eaten, and now it's time to get cracking. 

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