Way of the Old English Witch
- Essential Facts
- The Ways of Witchdom
- Reality Check
- Tools of Wiccecraeft
- The Elements
- The Irminisil
- The Holidays
- Reading List
I would like to clear up some misconceptions about wiccecraft that you may find interesting: The word “witch” came from the Old English wicc(pronounced witch because in Old English two c’s are pronounced “ch”) which means to “twist” or “turn” and this is a reference to the ecstatic circle dances of the Wane worshippers of early England (the Wanes are gods that rule the cycles of nature. Linguisticly their name is related to “wheel”)In Old English it was customary to genderise a word by adding an “a” or an “e”.Thus a male witch is called a “wicca“(witch-ah) and a female witch was called a “wicce“(witch-uh).The deities they honored were Ing-Freo(god of fertility, lust, woodlands, peace and wealth.The Old Norse called him Frey) and Ostara-Frea(goddess of dawn, rebirth, beauty, love, and witchcraft, the Old Norse called her Freya.) as well as their father/mother Niord/Nerthus(God of the Sea/Goddess of the Earth, they are actually the same god, an amphibious/androgenous being). Animistic deities were also important to the Old English witches, they were Earth, Sun, Moon, Day and Night (yes, they were literaly gods, their names came down to us through the very linguistics of the language we speak, and for obvious reasons the Christains could not eliminate these words). Other gods that belonged to the same culture as the Old English witches are Woden(Wild Hunt, Alfa r of the Aeces, winner of the Runes, poetic inspiration, wisdom, and death. The Old Norse called him Odin), Thunnor(defender of his mother Earth, god of thunder, lightning, and patron of warriors and trademen.The Old Norse called him Thor), Sif(the Harvest Queen, goddess of autumn, harvest, and the golden feilds, also Thunnor’s wife), Tiw(sword god, giver of justice, law, order, and warfare, has a wife named Zisa and the Old Norse called him Tyr) and Hama(The Bright God. The White Gaurdian that gaurds the Shimmering Rainbow[Bifrost]which leads to Osyard.The Old Norse called him Heimdallr). The wights that inhabit the clouds, earth, sea, thunder, storms, forest fires, snowstorms, tornadoes, mountains, caves, ect were the elves, huldre folk, dwarves, trolls, pu’ki, kobolds, tomte, nixies, pixies, wyrms, mara, risar, thursar, giants, fossergrim, ect. All of this is part of the Old English tradition, which is essentially Teutonic and not Celtic, because the Old English, or Anglo Saxons had their roots in Germania (modern day Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and Austria) and had drove the Celtic Britons into modern day Wales(3).Their way of life and religion was very similar to their Scandinavian cousins, whom were identified with the Vikings.It should be noted that most of the peasents were practictioners of Wanic Troth(Old Norse:Vanatru’)(and not Aecer Troth(Old Norse:Asatru’),which was practiced by the social elite;except for the exception of Thunnor and Sif, which tended to overlap both the noble and the layman) and was more concerned with the Wanes,animistic gods and wights because it pertained to their everyday lives as farmers and tradesmen (although they could pick up pitchfork and flail and act as warriors at any times notice, after all Ing- Freo and Ostara-Frea were mighty warriors in the myths:Ing-Freo slew the giant Beli with a stag-horn(horned god?!) and Ostara-Frea commands half the walkreis, battle maidens of war!). Witches were concerned with providing services to their fellow laymen/women.
The Ways of Witchdom
The arts they specialised in were faring forth(projecting you hyde(astralbody)into one of the nine worlds of the Irminisil, or World Tree), sitting out(vision quest into the woods, graveyard, mountains, ect. to contact spirits), soothsaying(attracting spirits for the purpose of finding out knowledge, such as weather conditions, portents, ect.)shapeshifting (reshaping your hyde and taking on characteristics of plants, animals, elements, ect.), spellcraft(the art of harnessing and reshaping dweolma(unshaped power) or sending spirits to accomplish willed aims), lucundga(the art of leechdom(healing) and wortcunning(herbalism) and soulcraft(the art of using parts of soul to effect someone elses soul, for good or ill.This also overlaps shapeshifting, sitting out, and faring forth).
Reality Check, Fluffbunnies!
Our Old English ancestors were not afraid to inflict violence on their enemies and those that didn’t were deemed cowardly. Witches were no exception to this rule. This does not mean that they looked for a fight, it just means that they loved to live peacefull lives and will do anything to secure frith, even if it means war. Those that did not participate in securing frith (thus putting the lives of their own kinfolk and family at stake) were deemed cowards and put to death by being thrown into a wicker basket and then sunk in bogs.It should be noted that.It should be noted that witches never tried to seperate magical behavior from mundane behavior (although I know of many new age, modern wiccans that do) Thus, in ancient times witches did use battle magic (magically loading swords, war chants, even curse formulas) and did not see the differense between physically attacking someone or magically attacking someone. Revenge was not seen in terms of “two wrongs don’t make a right!” but as righting a wrong, thus returning the balance to the cosmos (thus their will be no adverse reactions from wyrd from one who meets out justice), therefor it was a holy and necessary act.It should be noted that “revenge” does not necessarily mean going out and killing someone, but could take different forms:court houses, lawsuits, suing, and other such actions are forms of revenge….even living a happy life when someone wants you to suffer (perhaps the sweetest form of revenge!)
The tools of wiccecraeft are:
the staff(Ing’s phallical power, the ability to weild dweolma(unshaped power) as well as (un)set the ring or “cast/break the circle”), the ring(this is a circle of 8 stones or simply a traced circle, it represents Ostara Frea’s magical necklace(called the brosingamine) and the ability to receive and contain dweolma.It is also the witches holy stead), harrow(its simply an alter), recelsfeat(fire pot filled with hot coals for burning herbs), kettle/cauldron(used to prepare potions/salves by boiling/heating them in some sort of liquid)ale/mead(considered magical substances, used in making potions), butter/lard(used in making salves), cloth(used in straining herbs), worts(simply herbs, used in making recels, talismans, as well as making salves, oils, and potions), oil(often made from flaxseed, worts are often soaked in it to rub on the body and act as a painkiller, usually to sooth joints, sore muscles, or itchy/dry skin), sky water(also used in making potions, this is water gathered during the thunderstorm.It is especially holy because it has been hallowed by Thunnor’s hammer), red twine(this is used to tie herbs together for a talismanic effect.”To make red” means to imbue with magic because red is asociated with blood, a life imbuing substance.It can also be used in cord magic)taufr(these are “talasmins” used for different purposes.They are used to contain dweolma or even spirits.They can take form as rings, amulets, a curved tooth, a claw, o belt, a helmet, a sword, animal pelt, ect.), a seax(this is a non-iron(copper/bronze/silver), single edged working knife, it is used for digging up herbs and other such things), thread and needle(used in minor surgeries and sewing, this is usually a sliver of bone and tendon), fire bow(used to start a need fire), skot arrow(mini arrow used to trap harmfull wights and then shoot them away), scourge(this is a bundle of birch twigs tied together with red twine.It is used to beat out evil wights and bad luck inhabiting the body as well as drive in good luck), sauna(although it was a finnish custom, it seemed to have found its way into witchdom.the Old English leechbooks made references to special “houses” that were heated up with herbs burned inside to promote healing), besom(in early England a besom was made from an ash handle with birch twigs tied on the end with red twine.It is used to sweep away bad luck/wights and sweep in good luck), drinking horn(used to present a drink as an offering to wights that aid in ones witch-work.), blotorc(a bowl that holds the wights portion of an offering), oath-ring(used in oath-magic, this is used to swear oaths on.Their is usually a trigger-curse attached to deal if the oathbound individual breaks his promise.Very similar to the Celtic geas.Speaking of that, the early heathens(and modern!) had/has a saying “Never trust a Christian!” because of their willingness to break oaths and then “ask for forgiveness” from “Jesus” later).
The elements in Old English witchdom are Fire(projective power/sight), Ice (receptive power/hearing), Water(harmony/taste), Air(change/smell) and Earth(all potential/feeling).The elements arn’t “called into the circle” like in ceromonial magic but are used in various things such as reshaping dweolma(power), affirmation, as well as un underlying understanding on how vanic magic works as well as the tides of harmony, change as well synthesis and observances of the five senses.
The Irminisil and the Nine Worlds
The Nine Worlds that are within the Irminisil (World Tree) are Osyard(Home of the Aeces, above Elfhame), Elfhame(Home of the Elves, above Middle Earth), Middle Earth(Physical existance), Dwarfhame(Land of the Dwarves, below Middle Earth), Hel(Land of the Dead, below Dwarfhame), Muspelhame(Land of Fire,south of Middle Earth), Neiflhame(Land of Ice,north of Middle Earth), Gianthame(Land of Storm Giants/Air, east of Middle Earth), and Wanehame(“Land”(actually a body of water) of the Wanes/Water, west of Middle Earth).The Old English heathens had a complex veiw of the soul. It was divided into these parts: the lyke(physical body/taste,hearing,feeling,sight,smell), hyde(astral body), hugh(mind), myne(memory), athem(breath, acts a silver cord for the hyde and lyke), wode(level of inspiration), hamingja(personal power, luck, increases with deeds of honor and good action), shade(shadow self),fetch(gaurdian spirit, usually presense of energy, an animal, or a humanoid of some sort.Also the “familiar”), and self(ones identity as a whole being).
The holidays(not “sabbats”,that is a hebrew concept!)
the Old English celebrated were Yule, Disting, Ostara, May Eve, Midsummer, Thing Tide, Harvest, and Winter Nights. Holidays such as Samhaim and Imbolc are Celtic, thus the Old English people would not of celebrated those holidays. Since the word witch comes from the Old English dialect that means witches(that is, those that called themselves witches in early England) would not have celebrated those holidays either….although a sorcerer is the Celtic equivalent of a witch.
Wizards(not quite witches…..)
Wiccecraeft was not the only form of magic in the Old English (or any Teutonic) tradition.It was practiced by wizards which means “wise ones” in Old English and this form of magic is called Runacraeft.This form of magic is much different than wiccecraeft and was primarily an art reserved for the social elite (most witches were peasents…but not all). The Runes are puzzle peices of the cosmos and in the Old English tradition their were 33 Runes. They are internalised with intense meditation which carves the very mysteries into the heart of the wizard. At this point the wizard can unleash their power by going into a state of hyper-ego consciousness or “wode self”(by assuming a personalised god-form and declaration[all of which is historically proven, which I must say for you PC pagans]:”Ek Erilaz”[“I, the Runemaster!”, “They call me the Malicious One!” Other possibilities are:”I am the Hooded One”, “I am shrouded in darkness, they call me Shadowlord!”, “I am the Lord of the Storms!”, many of these names are quite fearsome sounding.) , tapping into ones hamingja(personal power,luck), and reshaping the cosmos with runic shapes, gealdor(incantation), hondstadhr(runic hand signs), and force of will.These wizards honored Woden, their patron deity, whom was a mysterious, wise, dark, and fearsome god, given to moody and complex behavior (nether the less he was and is the sovereign ruler of Osyard as well as the key force behind fighting against the forces of ignorance and inaction). The applications of runic magic was gealdor(operative magic), loading taufr(runic talismans), rune casting(divination), and self work(self transformation through increasing ones hamingja and refining ones soul to higher levels of power as well as expanding ones awareness and self control by not excepting “common knowledge” at face value, kicking bad habbits, that enslave the body and mind.It should be noted the exercise of living with honor and working great deeds increases ones hamingja). In anceint times these wizards formed councils called “witans“, just as witches formed groups called “rings“(not covens because the word “coven” comes from “covenent” which is a Christain concept).
Another important factor in Old English society were Godman/Woman(in Old Norse society they were called “Gothi” and “Gythia“).They presided over seasonal festivities and rits of passages(marriage/burial/ect) and were keepers of tribal history, religion, mythology, and laws. Many of them were also wizards and witches and had much in common with the Celtic Druids. The word “god” is something that came from teutonic dialects and has nothing to do with Christianity and comes from the word gheu which means “to invoke” Thus a Godman is “he who invokes” and a godwoman is “she who invokes”.The Godman/woman performed three major rituals: the bletsen, symble, and thing.A bletsen is a ritual blessing to the god/dess, the symble is a ritual toasting in which oaths are sworn, gods/heroes/ancestors are toasted, boasts are made, poems recited, songs sung, and just about anything. The thing is when the Godman/woman holds court.This is done to settle lawsuits, pass by laws, and when formal oaths are made.)
The Old English concept of cause and effect/time is called wyrd. Wyrd is a substance spun by the Wyrd Sisters, whose names are Wyrde, Metod, and Sculd. It touches all reality and all actions become as dew drops on this web which is then collected into the Well of Wyrd, which is then poured on the roots of the Irminisil, which also touches all reality thus effecting it. Thus one should observe their behavior and understand the consequences of their actions. A good resource of information pertaining to the ethics of the teutonic people can be found in the Havimal which gives advice abou the importance of treating others with respect, being wise in the ways of the world, common sense, and living with honor.Because witches lived in Old English society(which I must stress is Teutonic), they were expected to live by the same code of behavior as everyone else. Other interesting facts are that the words heaven, hell, sin, good, and evil date back to teutonic etemologies and don’t even translate into hebrew(the language of the Old Testement).These concepts also carried much different conotations than how the bible portrays them. In fact, the heathen idea of “good” and “evil” is stemmed from this:The word good comes from the word god, the gods were associated with Osyard, or Heaven, the realm of action and consiousness.The word “evil” is related to the word “down”.This is in reference to Neifhel, the realm of stasis and inaction.Thus, to be “good” meant to be aware and thriftfull and to be evil meant to be ignorant and lazy. In fact, the word “sin” originally meant “inaction”. There are also things outside of this spectrum such as honor and dishonor. To break ones word meant dishonor but to live up to ones words meant honor. Another concept was law, another word that had its orgins in the teutonic world(and not Christian!)Idealistically, laws are made to keep society and ultimately the cosmos from falling apart. Tiw’s function is to observe laws of mankind as well as keep the Irminisil from falling apart.It should be noted that the three worst crimes in any teutonic society was adultury(cheating on your spouse), murder(unlawfully killing someone without proboble cause), and oathbreaking(breaking promises and oaths).In heathen society these people were put to death.
The heathen concept of afterlife was very complex, but it could be said that the most desirable places a heathen could go to are Osyard(for those of Aecer Troth or “Asatru”), and Wanehame(for those of Wane Troth or “Vanatru). Because of the Wanes ties to the Aeces(after the war in which the Wanes and the Aeces became allies), the halls Folkvanger(Feild of Warriors, Ostara-Frea’s Hall), Elfhame(World of the Elves,Ing-Freo’s hall) , and Noutan(Shipyard, Niord/Nerthus’s hall) are conduits between Osyard and Wanehame. However, those that do not exemplify the virtues of the gods go to Hel, the hall of the dead.It is not a place of punishment, in fact it is pleasurable in its higher levels and it is only a temporary existance in which one gets reincarnated back to Middle Earth. It’s lower levels, for those who have lead wicked lives, is beyond the River of Slith (blade-filled rapids) into the realm called Nastrang is a place of punishment, and even that is only temporary. The only permenant place is Neifhel(not to be confused with Neiflhame), which is the realm of non-conciousness and stasis, where they get devoured by Nidhoggr(Corpse-Tearer). Only the truely unredeemable would get cast into their. It should be noted that it is not the gods that decide the ultimate “destiny” of a man’s soul. It is ones actions that decide that and the soul will naturaly rise, sink, or go into any direction based on ones virue, and when you die that is where you are at (it should be noted that ones soul can go into any of the Nine Worlds).
Acknowledgements My research on the subject would not have been possible without the following resources: James Chisolm, Swain Wodening, Eric Wodening, Toney Linsell, Inga Steddinger, Stephen Pollington, Nigel Pennick, Lee Hollander, Jack Zips, Brent Bernard, Ellis Davidsson, and Kathleen Herbert. Last, but definitely not least, is Edred Thorsson. His text Witchdom of the True has provided a solid basis for much of my work and his competence in the study of Germanic history, mythology, religion and magical practices have proved invaluable to my Work.
Suggested Reading List (*Must Have!)
Book of Troth by Edred Thorsson*
True Hearth by James Chisolm*
Witchdom of the True by Edred Thorsson*
Poetic Edda(Hollander Version)*
Teutonic Mythology and Folklore
Gods and Myths of Northern Europe*
The Complete Fairy Tales of Brothers Grimm(Jack Zips Translation)*
Scandinavian Folk and Fairy Tales by Claire Boss*
The Golden Bough by James A. Frazer
Witchdom of the True by Edred Thorsson*
Leechcraft by Stephen Pollington*
Anglo Saxon Magic by Godfrid Storms*
Seidhr Packet by Diana Paxson
Northern Magic by Edred Thorsson*
Practicle Magic in the Northern Tradition by Nigel Pennick*
The Call of the Horned Piper by Nigel Jackson
Masks of Misrule by Nigel Pennick
Archiac Technques of Ecstacy by Elaide Mercia
The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner
The Silver Bough by Neil Miller Gunn
Runelore by Edred Thorsson
Futhark by Edred Thorsson
At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson
Rune Song by Edred Thorsson
Nine Doors of Midgard by Edred Thorsson
Valknuttr:Nine Lays of Power by Valgard
Skaldic Number Lore by Robert Zoller
Our Englishness by Toney Linsell
The Way of the Heathen by Garman Lord
Looking at the Lost Gods of England by Kathleen Herbert
Wordcraft by Stephen Pollington