Although primitive societies often use the word “witch” for any person in touch with the supernatural, the association in Western culture is usually with people working magic in secret. The Indo-European root word “weik” has to do with religion and magic and is related to another word, “weik,” which means to bend or change.  Thus a witch was one who could bend or change reality.  In Old English, “wicca” was a male witch, “wicce” a female.  Although witches today sometimes refer to their order as “the Wise,” Old English “witan,” which means to know, is unrelated.

The Roman Catholic church tolerated witchcraft and minor sorcery for many hundreds of years, dismissing them as delusion and superstition. The witch trials and burnings began in earnest in 1300s as witchcraft became associated with heresy and witches were believed to have made a “pact with the devil.”  Persecution continued until the 1700s and killed an estimated twenty million people, better than half of them women.


During the Inquisition’s five hundred-yearlong reign of terror, the accused witch was stripped naked, shaved, then examined for signs of witchcraft. These included:

  • The Devil’s Mark: Sometimes a scar, mole or birthmark. The mark was variously described as a mole, wart, birthmark, pimple, pockmark, cyst, liver spot, wen, insect bit, ulcer or any other blemish.  If nothing was visible on the body, the witch was “pricked” all over in search of the insensitive spot where the devil had given his binding kiss.
  • The Witch’s Mark: Any protuberance on the body, considered to be a “supernumerary teat” sucked by demons and familiars.

Other signs that someone was a witch that were accepted by the Inquisition included: talking to yourself; talking to animals; keeping a black animal (especially a cat or lamb); being too fond of any animal; spinning around; having freckles, red hair or “unusual” eyes. According to Reginald Scot, a disbeliever, those most likely to be accused were the “old, lame, blear-eyed, pale; wrinkled, poor, sullen, superstitious; lean and deformed; doting, scolds, mad.”  Any unusual behavior was enough to invite suspicion, especially in the wake of accidents or illness.  The Witch of Newberry was executed for surfing on a board in the river.

Failing the discovery of any marks, the accused witch might be subject to trial by fire, being forced to hold red hot irons (the innocent would not be burned); trial by water, a practice called “swimming the witch” (the innocent sank); or trial by weighing the witch against the weight of a Bible (guilty if the witch weighed less than the massive books of the day).

Today, anthropologists recognize several types of witchcraft. A good discussion of them can be found in Isaac Bonewits, Real Magic.  He recognizes four types of witchcraft: classical, gothic, family or tradition, and neo-pagan.


Classical witchcraft refers to the primitive, so-called “low” magic found among most peoples where adepts cast spells; make potions (and poisons); and practice divination, herbalism and, often, various types of healing and medicine, especially midwifery. It survives today in a variety of shamanic practices around the world.


Shamanism is mostly solo magical work, though shamans usually apprentice and endure many years of training. After an initial vision quest to find an animal familiar, the shaman will continue to go into a trance through various means (solitude, drugs, drumming, dancing) to work his magic.  The shaman does much of his magical work on an astral plane not unlike the one ceremonial magicians seek through Hermetic wisdom, meditating on the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life, or the other methods discussed in the previous chapter.

This oldest of pagan paths is enjoying a modern revival thanks to the works of Mircea Eliade, Michael Harner (the father of neo-shamanism) and others.

Harner proposes a Shamanic State of Consciousness (SSC) in which the shaman is able to travel into the underworld or into the branches of the World Tree to discover his or her power animal. The shaman enters a trace through one of several methods: rhythmic drumming, chanting, rattling, meditation practices, dancing or swaying or the use of hallucinogens.  He then calls upon his power animal to guide and protect him on his journey to the spirit world.  Once he arrives there, if he’s involved in healing, he battles the offending spirits, or if he is divining, he asks for spiritual assistance.

Many modern shamans are influenced by Carlos Castenada’s series of books on Don Juan. The books detail the initiation of Castenada into the shamanistic practices of the desert Native American tribes, including a full description of a peyote ceremony and much “energy work” with the strands of power said to surround every individual and connect him with all others.

Serge King, in his book, The Urban Shaman, outlines a shamanism based on the ancient beliefs of Hawaiian Huna.  The Huna shamans claim the ability to heal instantly, to change the weather and many other seeming miracles through the application of a pragmatic creed.  The principles of Huna are:

  • Ike: the world is what you think it is
  • Kala: there are no limits
  • Makia: energy flows where attention goes
  • Manawa: now is the moment of power
  • Aloha: love is being happy within
  • Mana: power comes from within
  • Pono: effectiveness is the measure of truth.

Hawaiian Huna teaches meditative and thinking practices that resemble modern neuro-linguistic programming techniques so closely that psychologists and NLP practitioners have studied this Polynesian system.

A kahuna is a master who, through proper cleansing of his mind, body and spirit, attains control of psychic powers latent in everyone.  He heals by placing one hand on a patient’s power spot (base of the spine, tope of the spine at the neck, top of the head or some such spot) and another on the troubled body spot.  The kahuna keeps his mind connected to both of his hands so that the energy may stream through them.  Huna, by and large, is a mental discipline.

Northern Traditions

Norse, Icelandic, Germanic, Teutonic, Frisian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian religious traditions all survive among some groups to the present day. The northern traditions usually give far less emphasis to the goddess and more to the values of the warrior than other pagan traditions.  Adepts study shamanism, artistic skills, writing in runes, the martial arts and brewing to achieve goals of honor, honesty, courage and duty to family.

Seidr is the oldest of the Norse traditions and is based on many shamanistic practices. The chorus sings a sacred song that induces a trance in the prophetess, called volva or vala.  Frey and Freya of the Vanir are the principle deities.  Adepts reportedly practice sexual magic.

Iceland has the distinction of being the only European country where paganism enjoys equal status with Christianity as the state religion. Iceland’s literature preserves much of the mythology of the north, in the prose and poetic eddas, plus various sagas.

Native American Traditions

Each tribe has its own name for the Great Spirit, though beliefs have much in common. In recent years, the language of the Sioux, the last tribe to be conquered, has been adopted as a kind of religious lingua franca.  The Sioux revere “’Tanka as the Great Spirit and Watantanka, the Buffalo, as his sacred animal.  Most tribes have a great reverence for Mother Earth and are ecologically active.

Important Native American sacred figures include White Buffalo Calf Woman, thunderbird, Coyote, Raven and Kokopelli. Rituals include the sweat lodge; the pipe ceremony, where tobacco is offered to the four directions; the vision quest, a wilderness experience in which initiates seek their power animal; and the sun dance.  Personal talismans, amulets and herbs are often carried in a medicine bag around the neck.  Sacred shields depict scenes from the warrior’s vision quest.

The Sioux prophet Black Elk foresaw a world in which the people of all nations joined in a great hoop around the Tree of Life, but the time of the prophecy’s fulfillment has not yet come. His book, Black Elk Speaks, outlines his vision and the pipe ritual.

African Traditions

African religions went underground in the slave cultures of the Americas. The African gods acquired the names of Christian saints.  Common elements included drumming and dancing to induce trance, blood sacrifice and possession by spirits of the gods, called loas.  Initiates usually wore white.

Voodoo from Haiti (where it’s spelled in the French manner, vodoun), incorporates Dahomean, Ibo and Mago tribal influences.  Initiates acknowledge a Supreme Being, Gran Met, who is considered remote, but worship a huge pantheon of lesser gods called loas.  Principle loas include Danbhalah, the Great Serpent, the oldest of the ancestors; Maitress Erzulie, the moon; her husband Legba (called “Papa”), the sun, who governs all entryways and fences, including the spirit gate; and Baron Samedi, god of death and the graveyard, who wears dark glasses, drinks alcohol and smokes cigars.  During ceremonies in the hounfour, or “holy of holies,” the summoned spirits “mount the horse,” possessing their chosen devotee who retains no member of what happens during the possession.

Santeria developed in the Spanish-speaking areas, especially in Cuba. The African influence comes largely from the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, whose language is still used in liturgies. Santeros and santeras join with the high priest, called babalawo, in worshipping the orishas, ancestor spirits led by Obatala, the oldest ancestor depicted as a white man on a horse, and his wife Oddudua, a black woman usually depicted as breastfeeding an infant.  (Orisha is a popular name for the African traditions in the U.S., especially Santeria.  It means “the deities.”)  Coconuts and herbs play important parts in Santeria.  Divination methods include reading a throw of seashells or the meat of a coconut.  Bablawos, who are always male, consult the Table of Ifa by throwing sixteen shells onto a straw mat.  The pattern of the shells determines each person’s orisha, plant, birthstone and animal.  The ceiba tree is the cult’s most holy plant, thanks to its ability to attract spirits, and water is used to ward off evil spirits.

Macumba came from similar Yoruba roots in Portuguese-speaking Brazil. Some elements of the tribal religions of the Amazon are mixed in as well.  The three types of macumba are candomble, Umbanda and quimbanda. Candomble is very similar to Santeria, except that the priests are often female.  The orishas are most often known by the names of their associated saints.  The year’s biggest ceremony honors.  Yemanja, goddess of the waters and an aspect of the Virgin Mary, on January first.  Over a million celebrants, dressed in what, wade into the surf at dusk and launch small boats loaded with candles, flowers and figures of the Saints out to sea.  Umbanda is a recent religion mixing elements of the African tradition, especially spirit possession, with elements of Hinduism and Buddhism, and is aimed at spiritual healing of previous incarnations through communication with the spirits. Quimbanda is the black magic tradition, calling upon King Exu, the dark lord.

Earth Magic

James Lovelock’s book, The Gaia Hypothesis, presents the idea that all the living matter on earth, in the air, in the oceans and on land are part of a system that acts as a single, living biosphere controlling things like temperature and the composition of the atmosphere.  The goal of many New Age pagans is to awaken Gaia’s planetary mind, a concept much used in science fiction.

Traditional Earth magic has always operated from this perspective, studying the powers of Earth as a holistic organism. Earth magicians study dowsing, ley lines, stone circles and sacred sites.  Their rituals are intended to correct energy imbalances caused by bad planning.  These imbalances are believed to create a “black stream” of energy associated with illness, accidents and poltergeist activity in the area.  In China, Earth magic is called Feng-shui.

Shinto, the official religion of Japan, also shares many of the concerns of Earth magic.  Anything unusual in nature is considered “kami,” or divine, and worshipped.  Japan is dotted with Miya shrines next to odd rocks and trees.  The Japanese “Way of the Gods” is a phallic fertility cult, involving purification rites and ancestor worship.  Onogor is the Central Pillar of the Earth; Amaterasu, the sun goddess.

Ritual Magic

Based on the rites of the Golden Dawn, medieval grimmores such as The Key of Solomon, and Aleister Crowley’s writings, ritual “magick” (Crowley’s spelling) tends to be complex with many formal details including robes, tools, temple decorations and verbal formula that must be recited precisely.

Thelemic magick was Crowley’s own system of ritual magic, including many sexual rites. It’s named for his “abbey” in Thelema, Sicily.  The authorities threw Crowley and his friends out of the country after only a few years.

Enochian magic is ritual with an entirely different predigree. It’s based on a secret language revealed by angels to John Dee, Elizabethan England’s greatest magus and alchemist.  The language seems to have no antecedents, but the spells that form part of it are said to have exceptional power to summon spirits.  Dee and his scryer, Edward Kelley, used the calls or “keys” to invoke angels before scrying in a crystal egg or black obsidian mirror.  The Order of the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley, who claimed to be Kelley’s reincarnation, made use of the calls.


Gothic witchcraft is the sort confessed to by the witches tried by the Inquisition. Their witchcraft was a form of Christian heresy with many holy Church symbols and practices reversed or defiled, as in the Black Mass.  Witches were believed to make a pact with the devil.  Other elements of Gothic witchcraft: secret meetings at night, orgies, child sacrifice, cannibalism, the desecration of the Eucharist and crucifix, and the “ride by night,” usually through the air.  Accused witches “confessed” to most of these rites under torture in hopes of a more lenient execution.  The charges bore a strong resemblance to accusations brought against heretics throughout the history of Christianity.  The Gnostics of the third century A.D., for instance, were accused of the identical set of crimes.

Some perversion of the Christian rites undoubtedly occurred in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, probably at first by renegade priests who would perform the requiem mass (called the Black Mass at the time) for a person still alive, thus cursing him. It’s impossible to discover the extent of these practices and their continuance to the present day, because they quickly made their way into literature, becoming a branch of pornography, especially in France.  An outbreak of actual black magic, complete with masses said on the body of a nude woman and child sacrifices, seems to have occurred in 1678 during the reign of Louis XIV, under the patronage of his mistress Madame de Montespan.

Though today most practitioners of “The Craft” follow “the right-hand path” (white magic), but some seek “the left-hand path” of black magic. Most are solitaries, but some belong to organized groups.


Anton La Vey’s Church of Satan is the present-day descendant of the anti-Christian cults. The press has accused it of blood sacrifices, both animal and human, and sexual orgies, but little has ever actually been proved.  La Vey’s disciples follow an inverted gospel: “Blessed are the strong for they shall possess the Earth.  If a man smite you on one cheek, smash him on the other!”

Other black magic cults prefer the spelling “Shaitan,” and follow pre-Christian, often Babylonian or Persian, practices.


Family or traditional witchcraft involves secret traditions passed down through families, usually from other to daughter, but sometimes to apprentices. It is a religion of hearth and home, perhaps preserving various domestic rites performed by women in ancient times.  Several modern witches, including Sibyl Leek and various Gypsies, claim this traditional form of witchcraft.  Typical elements include: worship of Mother Earth, the oak or another tree used to represent the male principle; the use of kitchen implements as tools of magic, such as brooms or cauldrons; the primary practice of agricultural magic, to “work” the weather for the benefit of crops; and simple divination used for seeing future husbands, children and the like.

Strega is the path of witches following an Italian tradition. They use red chili peppers on their stalks as wands.  The peppers are decorated with either a male or female crown.  The path is strongly matriarchal and uses much traditional herbal knowledge.  Paraphernalia includes a tiny bronze sickle to harvest herbs.

Gypsy Magic

The wandering Gypsies may have set out originally from India. Many of their beliefs and practices derive from rites originally native to the civilization of the Ganges Valley (circa 1000 B.C.).  On their travels through Europe, they made their living by fortune-telling.  Favorite Gypsy methods of divination include: gazing into a crystal ball, palmistry, reading teal leaves, tarot cards, bumps on the head (phrenology), lines on the face (metoposcopy), dice or dominoes.  The apple is often used by Gypsies in rituals, and marriages are solemnized by jumping a broom.


Although ancient pagan beliefs survive in holiday customs, folk beliefs and popular sayings, there is little evidence of the survival of an organized pagan religion of witchcraft such as Margaret Murray wrote about in her 1912 book, The Witch Cult of Western Europe.  Neo-pagan witchcraft is a modern development, rising from folklore and literature with only intellectual ties to ancient practices.  Influenced by studies of anthropology, the neo-pagans seek to rebuild a culture linked to the earth and its seasons, a link lost in the development of modern civilization.  This loss, many believe, depletes our quality of life and endangers the future of our planet.  Today, neo-pagan witchcraft falls into three basic categories: Wicca, a revival of ancient goddess worship; revivals of other traditional religions and mystery cults; and New Age neo-paganism, based on modern works of fiction or philosophy.

The Literary Background of Wicca

Charles Leland’s Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, published in 1899,  began the modern renaissance of witchcraft.  (Aradia was said to be a daughter of Diana and Queen of the Witches.)  He claimed to have discovered this manuscript among the peasants of Italy.  It contained the secrets of “la Vecchia Religione” or the Old Religion.  Though Leland’s “discovery” has since been discredited by scholars, Aradia made many contributions to the Wiccan revival, including emphasis on the goddess as its main deity.  Most Wiccan paths use some form of the “Charge of the Goddess” found in Aradia: “Once a month, and when the Moon is full, Ye shall assemble.”

Two works of folklore had special impact on the Wiccan revival. The Golden Bough (1922), by Sir James Frazer, explored the widespread existence of pre-Christian times of fertility cults based on the death and rebirth of a god, often seen as both consort and son of the goddess.  In 1948, Robert Graves published The White Goddess, discussing the ancient and beautiful cult of the earth and moon goddess of many names.

Margaret Murray, folklorist, anthropologist and Egyptologist, had an even great influence on the development of modern witchcraft. In The Witch Cult of Western Europe, she traced witchcraft to a pre-Christian religion centered on a horned deity she identified as Dianus, or the Roman Janus, a two-faced god.  As described by murray, this was a fertility cult similar to the ones described by Frazer in The Golden Bough.  The god’s death and rebirth reflected the cycle of the seasons and crops.  The high priestess of the coven of thirteen members typically took the name of Diana.  This “Dianic” cult celebrated eight great sabbats during the year, at the solstices and equinoxes, plus four “cross-quarter” days.  Lesser esbat ceremonies were celebrated at each full moon.  Murray believed that this religion originated in Britain, created by a race of “Small People” who later entered European folklore as fairies, elves and pixies.  Murray identified at least two of the cross-quarter festivals as preagricultural (May Eve and November Eve), having more to do with the fertility of animals than of crops.

Murray’s views, though much criticized by modern anthropologists, especially for her uncritical acceptance of testimony given under torture during the witch trials, hugely influenced a generation of occultists. Gerald Gardner cited her theories as corroboration of his revival of witchcraft.

Wiccan Beliefs

As practiced today, few generalizations can be made about modern Wiccan witchcraft. Unlike traditional ceremonial magic, witchcraft puts little emphasis on the “correct” recitation of incantations or exact pronunciation of names and spells.  In fact, neo-pagan witches are encouraged to use their goddess-given creativity to create new spells, invocations and rituals, which often take the form of poetry or songs.  Many books of these rituals have been published, and more continue to be published every year, each giving birth to its own “path.”  A writer trying to create an authentic witchcraft ritual can feel confident as long as she stays within certain parameters.

Witches meet in covens, usually on the night of the full moon, and are led by a high priestess. Principal gods are the Triple Goddess, known by many names, and her consort, the Horned God of the forests.  Their rites celebrate the cycle of the year through the ritual drama of the goddess and her consort, from their courtship and marriage through death and rebirth.  Gardnerian and Alexandrian covens traditionally practice their rites “skyclad” (i.e., in the nude) but there are many “robed covens” as well.

The most central belief of Wiccan groups is the Wiccan Creed (or Rede): “An’ it harm none, do what ye will.” Attributed to Gerald Gardner, it puts the Wiccan movement well within the definition of white magic.  Gardner probably based it on Aleister Crowley’s governing principle, derived from sexual magic: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.  Love is the Law, love under will.”  Related to this is the general Wiccan belief of threefold return: If a spell is cast unjustly, the effects will rebound on the spell-caster in triple strength.

The most common form of spell used in Wicca is candle magic. A candle of an appropriate color – red for love, green for health and prosperity, blue for mental tranquility and so on – is anointed with oil and then burned.  The witch then meditates upon the flame, using visualization to imagine the desired outcome.

In recent years, the many groups of practicing Wiccans tried to come to some agreement on beliefs. The Pagan Federation identified three universal beliefs in Wicca: (1) adherence to the Wiccan Creed; (2) love of nature; and (3) a belief in reincarnation.

Common Elements of Wiccan Ritual.

  1. A circle is cast and sacred space purified through the use of the elements: fire, earth, air and water.
  2. Powers are invoked to guard the circle and aid the rites. These powers of the four directions are variously referred to as Mighty Ones, Lords and Ladies of the Watchtowers, etc.
  3. Music, dancing, chanting and/or running in a circle around an altar are used to raise a “cone of power.”
  4. The coven partakes of a “feast,” often of crescent moon-shaped cakes and wine.
  5. “Drawing down the moon” is the most typical ceremonial act, though methods of doing so differ considerably. The high priestess “draws down the moon” in some ceremonies.  In others, the high priest “draws down the Horned God.”

Tools of the Craft

Aleister Crowley identified eight tools or “weapons” of magic. Though Wiccan covens differ in which ones they use, all use some, though meanings attributed to them may vary.

Athame: black-handled, double-edged dagger used for sacred activities

Biolline: white-handled dagger used for carving and other “mundane” activities

Cauldron or Cup: represents elements of water, female principle, the womb, the Grail

Censer of incense: used to create a purifying smoke, or smoke in which an apparition can take shape; may be a flat stone, shallow bowl of sand or thurible of brass, ceramic or wood, set on a three-legged tripod or hung from chains

Pentacle: round disk of metal inscribed with a pentagram; represents the elements of earth

Scourge: a whip or cat-o’-nine-tails, used to purify but never to draw blood

Sword: represents element of fire

Wand or Stang: represents element of air

The Gardnerian Path

Gerald B. Gardner founded modern witchcraft or Wicca in the 1950s in England, where witchcraft was illegal until 1951. He based it on a combination of influences from traditional witchcraft, folklore literature and his experiences with Aleister Crowley and various ceremonial magic traditions.  Gardner, called the “Grand Old Man of Witchcraft,” wrote High Magic’s Aid (1949), a novel containing two initiation ceremonies, plus Witchcraft Today (1955) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959).  Citing Margaret Murray, he claimed that Wicca is the surviving remnant of pagan rites from pre-Christian times.

Some Gardnerian covens today claim “apostolic” succession from Gardner’s original coven on the Isle of Man. Others are neo-Gardnerians, basing their rites on published accounts of Gardnerian rituals.

Gardner composed “162 Laws of the Craft,” contained in the secret Book of Shadows, the major text of Gardnerian witches.  The main one of these, called the Witch’s Law, limits the working of witches to so-called “white-magic,” as previously mentioned: “An’ it harm none, do what you will.”  Gardner claimed the book was very ancient, inherited by him from his parent coven, but it contains much material authored by Aleister Crowley and sections from Leland’s Aradia.  Initiates swear to keep the book secret and copy their own versions in longhand from their high priestess’s or high priest’s copy.  Though all give an oath never to reveal its contents, various versions and excerpts of the Book of Shadows have been published.  The mistakes and misinterpretations became so divergent that Doreen Valiente, high priestess of Gardner’s coven, cooperated with Janet and Stewart Farrar in publishing what she claims is the correct text in their 1984 book, The Witches’ Way.  Valiente is credited with emphasizing the goddess in Wiccan rites, while downplaying much of the sexual magic derived from Crowley.

Gardnerian witches hold their rites in the nude or skyclad, basedon a Celtic belief that nudity provides supernatural protection and, possibly, because of Gardner’s own interest in nudism. Adornments traditionally include a girdle, sometimes made of a nine-foot-long braided red yarn used to measure the magic circle.  The witches usually wear necklaces, and often other rings and jewels.  The high priestess may wear a tiara.

The Horned God is called Cernunnos on the Gardnerian path. The Triple Goddess – Maiden, Mother and Crone – is worshipped under many sacred names.  Gardnerian witches avoid using these names in common speech, referring to her as “the Lady” or “Aradia.”

A circle is cast using a ritual similar to one found in The Key of Solomon, followed by the Charge of the Goddess, often drawn from Leland’s novel, Aradia.

During rituals, the priestess incarnates the goddess and “draws down” the power of the moon into a nine-foot circle protected by candles and ritual, where the power is raised further through dancing and meditation before being used to work spells and other magic. According to Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, Gardner identified eight methods of raising magical power in his Book of Shadows: (1) meditation; (2) chants, spells and invocations; (3) trance and astral projection; (4) incense, wine and drugs; (5) dancing; (6) binding parts of the body with cords; (7) scourging; and (8) ritual sex.

Witches advance through three degrees of initiation: priest or witch; magus or witch queen; and high priest or priestess. After completing the third, called the Great Rite, they are qualified to “hive off” and become the high priest or high priestess of their own coven.  The Great Rite is widely believed to be a sacred act of sexual union, either symbolic or actual.  Symbolic sexual images pervade Gardnerian ritual as, for instance, when the blade of the athame is dipped into a cup of water or wine.

The Alexandrian Path

Alexander Sanders claimed to have been initiated into witchcraft by his grandmother at the age of seven. Later he began his own system of witchcraft, perhaps after having been refused initiation into a Gardnerian coven, though this rumor has never been documented.  However, he took many, if not most, of the elements of his ceremonies from Gardner.  The Alexandrian ritual can be found in Stewart Farrar’s What Witches Do.

Alexandrian witches refer to the goddess and her consort as Aradia and Karnayna. They use a version of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows.  Elements shared by the Gardnerian and Alexandrian paths include: skyclad ceremonies, ceremonial scourging, anointing with water and wine in “the five-fold kiss,” and the use of a ritual password: “Perfect love and perfect trust.”  Alexandrian ritual adds a unique element to the initiation ceremony: pricking the finger of the initiate so that all pledges are sealed with blood.  The Alexandrian path also uses herbal extracts to “condene” ectoplasm, and borrow John Dee’s “angelic language” from enochian magic.

The Dianic Path

Dianic covens worship the goddess in a more or less monotheistic way in her three aspects of Maiden-Creatrix, Mother and Old Crone (although the Mother aspect does take a consort in most covens), or as a Triple Creatrix: Moon, Queen of Mysteries; Sunna, Queen of the Stars; and Mother Earth. Rituals emphasize the moon; the myths, lore and mysteries associated with the thirteen lunar months; and the Beth-Luis-Nion tree alphabet of ancient Britain.  Robert Grave’s The White Goddess is their basic reference.  Dianic covens are very ecologically concerned and environmentally active.

One brance of the Dianic path is feminist witchcraft.  On this path, men are excluded from covens.  Z. Budapest, who claims a family tradition of witchcraft, is credited with starting the first feminist coven in 1971 – the Susan B. Anthony Coven.  More recently, Starhawk’s writings, especially The Spiritual Dance, greatly influenced this path.  Feminist covens worship both moon and sun goddesses, but more influence than usual is attributed to the sun, under names such as Sunna and Lucina.  Matriarchal ideas and institutions predominate.

The Church of Wicca

Though some witches argue that this is not true Wiccan path, many covens are based on its teachings. Gavin and Yvonne Frost established the School of Wicca and began offering correspondence courses in witchcraft.  The lessons combine certain ritual elements of Wicca with a monotheistic belief in an abstract, unknowable god.  Students advance through ten levels of the astral plane, called “The Side.”  The aim is progressive reincarnation into higher levels.  Kundalini sex practices, including introitus, are part of the course, but the system is considered antimatriarchal.  The Egyptian ankh, symbol of regeneration, and the artificial phallus play important symbolic and ritualistic roles.

Seax Wicca

Raymond Buckland wrote The Tree, subtitled The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft, in 1974.  It outlines a ceremonial system based on Saxon mythology and Wiccan ritual.  Cerridwen, goddess of the cauldron, heads the list of deities.  Se-ax is the Saxon name for the athame.  Buckland outlines a complete guide on self-initiation and how to start a coven.  He makes no claims of ancient origins for his rites, recommending them on the basis of their effectiveness.

The Fairy Paths

First, revived in the early 1970s by Victor Anderson and his student, Gwydion Pendderioen, the path of Fairy Wicca incorporates elements of European folk magic and material from the Gardnerian Book of Shadows.  Pendderioen later founded Forever Forests, dedicated to the Green Man, aimed at reforestation of the Earth.

Another fairy path honors the Irish fairies, the Tuatha D’ Danann. Kisma Stepanich, among others, has published several guides to Wiccan rites based on Gaelic fairy lore.  Dana is their goddess.  She receives offerings of warm milk and honey with a pat of butter melted into it.  The Fairy Queen, who takes various other names as well, prefers violets, rides often at night, and lives beneath an enchanted mountain where a mortal year passes in a single evening.

Fairy shamans wear a cloak of invisibility made of bird feathers over simple hooded gowns and mantles. They carry staffs or magic wands, often tipped with crystal, a magic bag of tricks and make music on a “musical branch,” a rattle made from the branch of a tree and hazelnuts, the symbol of wisdom.  Many smoke pipes.

Fairy Wiccans use the usual athame, cup and pentacle in their ceremonies, held inside a fairy ring. Other objects used in spells include the four traditional Gaelic talismans: the Sword of Nuada; the Spear of Lugh, Undry; the Cauldron of the Dagda; and the Great Fal, Stone of Destiny.  Those on the fairy path study the Oghans of the alphabet of trees described in Graves’ The White Goddess.

Spells, many using butter and milk, invoke various fairy spirits and much ritual use is made of herbs and teas. The tradition of “crossing with butter” to mark possessions survives in folklore: people put butter on their cats’ feet to keep them from wandering.  Other spells are cast using white candles and quartz crystals.

Cows are considered sacred on the fairy path. They represent Dana in her aspect of the white cow.  Cows are driven between two fires in a ceremony to insure the fertility of the earth.

Eclectic Paths

The creative bias of Wicca encourages many seekers to combine different elements from other paths with their own individual vision to create new paths. Among them:

George Patterson of Bakersfield, California, began the Georgian Path.

Wiccans with Hebrew backgrounds explore their prepatriarchal roots on a path they call Jewitch.  Rites are held on Fridays, when they light white candles to invite Shekinah, the Sacred Bride, into their homes.

The Pagan Way is an open, nature-oriented path that demands no initiation or membership of participants.  It sponsors large, public celebrations at the sabbats, and sometimes at the full moon, which incorporate many of the sacred rituals of Wicca without the vows of silence and secrecy imposed upon initiates.

The Society of the Inner Light, otherwise known as the Western Mysteries, was founded by Dion Fortune in the 1920s.  At first it owed much to the rituals of the Golden Dawn, of which Fortune was an initiate.  But after her death,  it moved away from pagan influences.  Today, it’s a mixture of Alexander postural techniques, dianetics and scientology.

Chaos Magick is a product of the 1980s. It combines magical and occult traditions with quantum physics and computer technology.  It’s creed can be summarized as “Nothing is true.  Everything is permitted.”  Ultimate responsibility is placed on the individual.

In addition, many “solitaries” practice witchcraft outside of a coven, choosing rituals that appeal to them from the immense literature on witchcraft, or designing rituals of their own.

Traditional and Mystery Cult Revivals

A wide variety of traditional religions enjoy a modern revival as people seek to rebuild their links to Earth and its seasons. Based on the newly available folklore studies, various ethnic groups now recreate the religious rites of their forefathers (and mothers)s.  Others feel more drawn to archaic religions examined in archeological works.  A swarm of nature-oriented Earth religions, most based on the gods, goddesses and mythology of old, attract adherents.

Rituals typically include the elements found to make effective psychodrama by the ancient masters of Greek tragedy: rhythmic chanting, songs, drums, flutes, pots of flame and smoking torches. Garb invariably includes robes, often color-keyed to the cult member’s level of initiation.

Mythology as well as religions provide exceptionally rich fields to mine story ideas. The drama of family strife among the Egyptian pantheon, for instance, has been successfully repeated many times.  Osiris is killed by his brother Set, avenged by his son Horus.  Shakespeare’s Hamlet uses the same plot, as does Disney’s The Lion King.  The psychological theories of Carl Jung explain the attraction of these archetypes as stories that can be told again and again.


The Druids resumed their rites early, reestablishing the summer solstice festival at Stonehenge in the late 1880s. They follow as closely as possible the Druid practices recorded in literature, including the ritual cutting of mistletoe, and festivals at the solstices and equinoxes.  Druid groups are particularly active in ecology projects, reforestation and the protection of sacred sites.  Ritual garb includes white robes, torques of precious metals and crowns of oak or other leaves.  The National Eisteddfod, the annual Welsh competition of music and poetry, is conducted as a ritual using Druidic symbols.

Ar nDraiocht Fein, established by Isaac Bonewits, represents one path of neo-pagan Druid practice. Initiates are organized in groves named for various sacred trees, and they wear white berets and long white robes.  Sacrifices of tree branches, fruits, flowers and vegetables are offered.  Symbols include a circle pierced by two parallel lines and a branch sprouting from an oak stump.  It is an order of scholars and artists.

The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids was organized in 1717, eventually growing to become the largest Druidic order in the United Kingdom and Europe.  Initiates achieve the three grades of scholarship by studying healing and divination, in addition to the Arthurian and Grail cycles of myths.  Full Druids can form their own groves.  The organization is especially active in replanting sacred groves.

The Reformed Druids of North America began in 1963 at Carleton College as a humorous protect against mandatory chapel services.  A group of faculty and students declared themselves Druids, donned white robes and began holding services in oak groves and on nearby beaches and hills.  They recited ancient Welsh and Irish poems, passed the water-of-life (whiskey), and sang hymns to ancient Celtic and Gaulish gods: Danu, the Earth Mother; Be’al, the masculine spirit; Dalon ap Landu, Lord of Groves.  Other deities included Grannos of the Healing Springs; Braciaca, god of malt and brewing; Belenos, the sun god; Sirona, goddess of rivers; Taranus, god of thunder and lightning; and Llyr, god of the sea.

The organization named New Reformed Druids of North American recognizes related groups including Norse Druids, Wicca Druids, Hassidic Druids, Zen Druids, Irish Druids (who conduct their rites in Gaelic) and various other eclectic orders of Druids.  Arch-Druid Isaac Bonewit’s work The Druid Chronicles (Evolved) provides history and liturgy for most of these groups.

Celtic Traditions

The Pan Celtic movement is one of the strongest in neo-paganism. Pipes, drums and harps are usedin rituals that aim to renew Celtic culture. Inner Keltia, the major journal of the Celtic revival, is published in Scotland.  Neo-Celts participate in “dressing” sacred wells, believe in the fairy folk, and celebrate great fire festivals at the cross-quarter days.  The Celts named the Horned God Kernunnos or Hern the Hunter and identify him as Lord of the Animals and the Great Shaman.  His image is found on the Gundestrop cauldron, one of the masterpieces of ancient Celtic art.  The winter solstice is often celebrated with dancing in horned costumes.

The Celts began their year at the feast of Samhain on the eve of November. At the feast of Beltane on May Eve, all fires are extinguished, then relit from Bel’s Fire, sacred to the solar-fire god Bel (Balor or Belenus).  On May Day, Celts dance around the maypole.

In the Irish tradition, harps are considered essential to effective ritual and rituals are often performed in Gaelic.  The fire goddess Bridget, goddess of fertility and healing, is honored.  Her major festival coincides with Candlemas in early February.  Magic is sometimes practiced through plaiting rushes, in which spells are woven into a basket or braid.

The Welsh and Cornish traditions use the Mabinogeon myth cycle as a source of rituals, poetry and deities.  Merlin is a major mage.

The Bardic path is an individual one within the Celtic and Druidic traditions.  Devotees travel from place to place, reciting mystical poetry, song and mythology.

Neo-Viking Traditions

Asatru, the Scandinavian “belief in the gods,” recognizes two pantheons: the early agricultural gods, the Vanir, and the invading warior gods, the Aesir. Gods include Frey, Odin, Thor and Tir.  Goddesses are Frig, Freya and the Norns or Fates.  The usual solstice and equinox days are celebrated with rituals, plus the annual festival of Althing and Ragnar’s Day, March 28, celebrating the Viking sack of Paris in A.D. 875.  The winter solstice was sacred to Odin; the spring equinox or “summer finding” when the color red appears in the ceremonies, was sacred to Thor; the Summer Solstice was sacred to Baldor and a time of great fairs and festivals.

Odinism is a cult of Asatru that recognizes only the Aesir. In the Odinic Rite, established in 1973, an individual takes Odin as his personal deity and undergoes a shamanic initiation based on Odin’s sacrifice as described in the Poetic Edda.  To gain knowledge, Odin hung on the world tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nights.  You can see him today on the Hanged Man tarot card.  The knowledge he gained was the ability to read the runes.  Odinists base their conduct on the Havamal, Odin’s sayings as a lawgiver, and seek to restore the rituals based on the eddas.  They are organized in hearths and have a teaching order called the gothar.  Larger assemblies, called witans, seek to make the knowledge of Odin more public.  The Odinshof is an activist arm of Odinism organized to protect the remaining wild woods of the world through both ritual magic and political activism.

The Skalkic path is the Norse equivalent of the Bardic tradition among the Celts.

Mediterranean Traditions

The Fellowship of Isis, founded in 1976, seeks closer communion with the Egyptian goddess Isis. The organization, based in the incongruous confines of Clonegal Castle, Ireland, claims thousands of members worldwide, including a large following in Libya, the goddess’s traditional homeland.  Rituals draw on Egyptian sources and are held on the usual solstice and equinox dates.  The Fellowship’s values include love, beauty, truth and abundance.  It practices total religious tolerance, forbids sacrifice of any kind and discourages asceticism.

The Church of Aphrodite also seeks love, beauty and harmony with the goddess.  Founded on Long Island in 1938 by Gleb Botkin, son of a doctor who served the last Russian czar, the church as three liturgies, which are performed in front of an altar bearing a reproduction of the Venus de Milo set against purple cloth.  Frankincense and myrrh burn on the altar along with nine candles.  The planetary sign of Venus stands in place of a cross.

The Church of the Eternal Source is a federation of revived Egyptian cults.  In the 1960s, Harold Moss began to organize Egyptian costume parties for a club he belonged to in California, the Chesley Donovan Science Fantasy Foundation.  Eventually these evolved into recreations of the rituals of the cult of Horus, the Egyptian god Moss felt most drawn to serve.  Other people researched and reenacted the cults of Thoth, Osiris, Neith, Isis and Bast.  Adepts dress in the Egyptian manner, usually including beautiful jewelry.  They study hieroglyphics and books about ancient Egypt, seeking out the best translations of the ancient texts.  Dates are recalled by their Egyptian names. Although they have no holy book, they generally recommend Dr. Henri Frankfort’s Ancient Egyptian Religion as a basic text.  Each cult is autonomous and rituals are held separately, but all participate in a large Egyptian New Year’s celebration held annually in mid-July at the first rising of Sirius.


Recent years ushered in a phenomenal growth in neo-pagan paths.  Many of them are combinations of elements from many traditional paths, combined with ideas drawn from astrology, Earth religion and science fiction.  In fact, science fiction and fantasy are fertile fields for developing religions.  Margot Adler notes in Drawing Down the Moon that “science fiction and fantasy probably come closer than any other literature to systematically exploring the central concerns of Neo-Pagans and Witches.”  Persistent rumors in the science fiction community insist that L. Ron Hubbard began scientology on a bet with Isaac Asimov, another science fiction writer.

The Church of All Worlds

Based on Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, the Church of All Worlds (CAW) was started by two students in Missouri in 1962.  With a group of their friends, they recreated the ceremony of water brotherhood, Atl, from the novel, passing around a goblet of water, “grokking” each other’s godhood and repeating the mantra: “Thou art god.  Thou art goddess.”

Tim Zell proceeded to organize the group into “nests” of celebrants, who advance through nine circles of initiation named for the planets through study that includes long reading lists.  They practice a new tribalism, based on the ability to grok a totally empathic understanding of and merging of identity with each other and the earth.  Serge King adopts grokking in his Urban Shamanism, saying Hawaiian kahunas develop an identical ability.

CAW members into speed-reading, memory training, karate, yoga, autosuggestion, set theory, logic, survival training, snakes and nudity. Besides Heinlein, Abraham Maslow’s theories of self-actualization and the novels of Ayn Rand influenced the group.  The CAW emblem is the tiki.  CAW has no creed, but its goal is to achieve total telepathic union of all life on earth.

Zell achieved a good deal of notoriety thanks to his winning performances at costume balls (complete with snakes), various DisCons and the 1972 WorldCon. He withdrew from CAW and retired to California to establish a Bene Gesserit shaman training institute, based on Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune.

Erisian Magic

Erisian magic or Discordianism worships Eris, goddess of chaos and confusion. It began in 1957 when two men in California claimed they were sprinkled with fairy dust in a bowling alley by Eris and inspired to form the Discordian Society, “a new religion disguised as a complicated put-on.”  The two, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (who took the name Modecai the Foul) later wrote a science fiction trilogy about their new religion, the Illumintus.  Sacred symbols are the apple and pentagon.  The group, called a cabal, follows the “Sacred Chou,” exploring the polarities of humor and seriousness, order and chaos.  The system has affinities with Taoism, anarchy and clowning.  Rituals are designed as nonviolent, absurdist, revolutionary and surreal experiences, using paradox to expand the perception of reality.  One Erisian ritual – the Ancient and Honorable Order of Bill the Cat, lord of the obnoxious and nasty, involving a crude caricature of the circle ritual – is sometimes used by other pagans as a check on egotism, pomposity and taking themselves too seriously.


This system of neo-paganism, begun by astrologer Frederick Adams, incorporates elements of the nudist, vegetarian, naturalist and utopian movements. Its goal is a return to the peaceful existence that existed in the golden age before the beginning of animal husbandry, blood sacrifice and the eating of meat.  Adams believed paradises such as Eden, Avalon and the Garden of the Hesperides were distant memories of this utopian existence humans once lived among the trees.

Feraferians worship Kore, the Young Maiden (also known as the Daughter of Demeter), Persephone and the Nameless Bride of Eleusis. She manifests herself in the modern age as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan’s Wendy, and, to some extent, Lolita and Barbarella.

Festivals use Greek rituals to retell the story of the maiden goddess and her lover in new terms. On May Day, the sun and moon become engaged.  On the summer solstice, they marry.  Lammas is their honeymoon.  At the autumn equinox, they return home to harvest their crops.  On Halloween, they prepare for sleep.  At Yule, the goddess awakes to find herself alone and pregnant.  At Candlemas, the new god moves in her womb, to be born at the spring solstice.

Devotees of Feraferia follow the Hesperian lifestyle, emphasizing organic gardening, tree crops and reforestation projects. They eat a diet of fruit, nuts, berries and leafy vegetables and keep no pets.  Areas of interest include ecology, the wilderness, astronomy, astrology and sacred building construction.  They build temples in nature oriented to the four directions and positions of the stars and planets in the Henge, or mandala, design.

The Dancers of the Sacred Circle are an offshoot of Feraferia.

The Sabean Religious Order

Frederic de Arechaga, who took the name Ordun, composed this cult from Basque, Yoruba, Sumerian and Babylonian sources. The stars are worshipped in a temple of the moon, decorated with columns topped with white elephants. Sabeans believe that history, both past and future, is written in the stars and they study astrology, astronomy, herbalism, temple building and the relationship of time and place.

Rituals celebrate the stars and planets in highly choreographed performances incorporating music, dance, art and song, along with elements of mystery plays. Weddings among the Sabeans are called “eclipses” and divination determines the union’s duration: a “solar eclipse” lasts for a period of years; a “lunar eclipse” only lasts for a period of months.  Margot Adler, in Drawing Down the Moon, reports attending a fabulous feast at a solar eclipse celebration where a huge Caesar salad was mixed by hand in a cauldron.  All meat eaten is killed in a ritual manner, reminiscent of Kosher rites.

The major Sabean god is Am’n, the “hidden, numberless point,” a source either single or plural, neither male or female, representing total knowledge. Am’n is personified by several goddesses representing the seasons and races of mankind: the red goddess of autumn and the Native Americans, the white goddess of winter and Caucasians, the black goddess of spring and the African peoples, the yellow goddess of summer and the Orient, and the blue goddess, ruler of Leap Year and people living “beyond the earth.”  Women are represented by the sun and the metal gold; men by the moon and the color silver.


When writing about magic, archaic terms seem to sound right. Grammatically, thou and thee are singular, you and ye are plural.

Many paths of witchcraft use the greeting “Blessed Be.” Spells are sealed with the phrase “So mote it be.”   But, of course, as Gerald Gardner would be the first to tell you, nothing is written in stone.  Thus, the following dictionary of terms can be used tohelp you create your own language for the rites and rituals in your work.


Akasha: All-pervading spirit ether.

Ankh: The mirror of Hathor and Venus, used in Egypt as a symbol of sexual union and the immorality of the gods. The yonic loop portion was painted red; the phallic cross, white.  Known as the key of the Nile, a sign of the mystic union of Isis and Osiris, and said to release the annual Nile flood.

Apex: A tall, conical hat, familiar to us as the headgear of Halloween witches; a brimless version served as the cap of Mithra and Frey; later worn by of Rome’s high priests, the Pontifex Maximus, and by various elves, gnomes and fairies, clowns, fools and dunces.

Athame: Black-handled, double-bladed dagger used by witches to cast circles and other sacred activities. Magnetized at each new moon in certain paths.  Name probably comes from “al-dhamme,” the sacred knife of a Moorish Andalusian cult of moon worshipers known as the Double-Horned Ones.

Autumn Equinox: A sabbat celebrated on September 21-23; Celtic Mabon, Christian Michaelmass. Days and nights are of equal length.  It is the time of Elusian Mysteries of the goddess Demeter in ancient times.  Associated symbols: acorns, hazel branches and brown and green candles.  The witches’ version of Thanksgiving.

Banishing: This has three uses in witchcraft: the circle is banished at the end of a ritual; an individual may be banished from the coven or from The Craft; and an entity is banished in order to disable a harmful nonmaterial being.

Beltane: Celtic cross-quarter fire festival celebrated on May Eve, April 30-May 1; German Walpurgisnacht. Festival of the Fairy Queen.  Marks the beginning of summer.  Time of sexual license: “the lusty month of May.”  Associated symbols: the maypole, flower garlands, wearing of the green.  All fires relit from the Beltane fire made with nine kinds of wood.

Biolline: White-handled knife used for carving; carried by a priestess.

Boomerang Effect: The belief of many witches that if you lay a harmful spell against an innocent person, it will return threefold.

Broom: Associated with domestic magic, marriage and midwives in ancient Rome; Gypsy marriages are still solemnized by “jumping the broomstick.”

Candlemas: Sabbat cross-quarter celebrated on Febrary 1-2; Celtic Imbolg or Imbolc (“the Womb”). A women’s festival honoring Brigit or Brigantia, goddess of fertility, healing and fire.  Time of the Lesser Eleusian Mysteries.  In Wicca, the most popular time to initiate new witches.  Christianized as the purification of the Virgin Mary forty days after the birth of Christ.  Associated symbols: red and white candles, plaiting of rushes, divination concerning the length of winter based on the weather (today popularized as Groundhog Day).

Candles: Used extensively in spells; one of the easiest ways to cast spells in witchcraft. Usually anointed with oil.  Spells may take three days, nine days or one night to cast.  Candles were sacred to Juno Lucina, Mother of Light, in Rome; her winter solstice festival of lights still survives in the Swedish tradition of St. Lucy’s Day.

Cauldron: Major female symbol of the old pagan world, symbolizing the womb of the goddess, able to assure rebirth or magic power to all who drank from it; frequently watched over by three goddesses, fates or witches.

Chalice (a.k.a. Cup): Drinking from a cup of blood, and later, wine (blood of the earth) represents a major act of communion since earliest times; in pagan (and Jewish) marriage ceremonies, the couple drinks from the same cup to become “one blood.”  Symbol of water in the tarot deck; later replaced by hearts.

Circle: A primary feminine sign, thought to be protective, drawn in a sacred manner at the beginning of every session of magic or witchcraft.

Cord: Used in witchcraft to tie or bind a spell; often worn as a girdle during rites. Originally sacred to the Egyptian goddess Ma’at, keeper of the law; used in healing amulets in Babylon because of their connection to the umbilicus.

Corn Dolly: Harvest figure made of stalks of grain (called corn in Europe).

Coven: Gathering of witches; originally supposed to contain twelve witches and a devil during the witch trials, mocking Christ and His apostles.

Covenstead: Meeting place of a coven.

The Craft: Name used for the workings of both Freemasonry and Wicca.

Crossroads: Said to the site of witches’ sabbats; sacred to Hecate and Hermes.

Deosil: Clockwise motion.

Elemental: Nonmaterial entities with the nature of one of the four elements: air, earth, fire or water.

Esbat: Celebration at one of the thirteen annual full moons.

Evoking: Summoning entities of a lower order than mankind.

Familiar: An animal or spirit kept to provide psychic support when working spells. The various “Small Peoples” were believed to be the familiars of witches during the witch trials.  More frequently, the familiar took the form of an animal, usually a cat or dog, but sometimes a rabbit, goat or other creature.  In France, most familiars were frogs, sacred to Hecate; the fleur-de-lis is actually a symbol of three frogs.

Fetch: A male witch who serves as messenger and assistant to the high priest and priestess of a coven; also called the summoner.

Gnome: An earth elemental.

The Grail: Originally the Celtic caldron of regeneration, full of the holy blood of the goddess; later the goal of an immense Quest literature, containing much Celtic imagery mixed with Christian plot lines.

The Great Rite: A ritual merging the polarities of male and female, usually through symbolic or actual sexual activity.

Handfasting: Wiccan or pagan marriage ceremony.

Herm: Phallic pillar with a head of Hermes on top that once guarded nearly every crossroads in Europe; reworked into crosses during the Christian era. Originally a Greek tradition; oddly, the Aztecs had an identical practice in the New World.  Travelers frequently made offerings to Hermes and Hecate, gods of the crossroads, and they were honored at festivals called Compitalia.

Hexagram: Six-pointed star, now associated with the Jewish faith, but originally a Tantric symbol of the sexual union of male and female.

Hieros Gamos: Greek for “sacred marriage,” the Great Rite (once widespread in the pagan world) by which a man became king through sexual union with the great goddess or her high priestess.

Hiving Off: Establishing a new coven.

Host: The Christian wafer representing the body of Christ in communion; its desecration was the charge in many witch trials.

Incantation: The singing-in of a spell or charm.

Invoking: Summoning an entity of a higher nature than human.

Lammas: Cross-quarter festival celebrated July 31-August 1; Celtic Lugnasad or Lughnassah. The Feast of Bread.  “The Games of Lud,” god of wisdom.  Marks the beginning of the harvest season.  First corn harvest and baking of first loaf from new crop.  Traditionally the time of temporary “marriages” lasting a year and a day.  Associated symbols: corn dollies, sheaves of wheat, grapes, green crowns and candles.

Macrocosm/Microcosm:  Principle that states the correspondence between large and small events – as above, so below.

Magus: Male occult adept.

Maiden: Assistant high priest in a coven.

Maypole: Center of the dance at Beltane when men and women celebrated the fertility of the new season. Origin of square dancing’s grand right and left.  The pole itself represents the May king’s phallus.

Medicine Wheel: Circles, usually marked out with stones, in the American West. Thought to serve the same purpose as megalithic stone circles in Europe.  Most have twenty-eight spokes, plus a center stone.  Sun dance lodges are still built to the same pattern.

Pentacle: A disk of metal, usually inscribed with a pentagram, placed on an altar to represent Earth.

Pentagram: A five-pointed star, representing the earth and the fivefold path; variously called Solomon’s Seal, the Star of Bethlehem, the Druid’s Foot and the Witches’ Cross (witches “cross themselves” with the symbol). Ancient sign of “gateless” protection used in ritual magic and Wicca, since it’s drawnwith one continuous line; derived from the apple-core star of the earth.  Sacred to Celtic death goddess, Morgan, whose devotees displayed it on a blood-red shield.  Sign of the earth element in the tarot suit (today, diamons).

Poppet: Doll used by witches when casting spells, a very ancient practice dating back to pharaonic Egypt.

Prana: Vital force of the cosmos operation on the etheric level.

Ring: Traditional symbol of a bond between giver and wearer, as the peoples of Middle Earth discovered to their despair when they accepted Sauron’s ring of power. Other magic rings in literature include those of the Niebelung, and Solomon’s magic ring with which he enslaved the demon Asmodeus.

Runes: Letters of an ancient Norse script, used for divination.

Sabbat: Eight annual major festivals, falling at the solstices, equinoxes and four cross-quarter days halfway between.

Salamander: A fire elemental.

Samhain: Sabbat cross-quarter festival, October 31-November 1; All Hallows Eve, Feast of the Dead, Halloween. Marks the beginning of the Celtic year.  Feast of Hecate, goddess of the crossroads; Mexican Day of the Dead, when the gates between the worlds of the living and dead open, allowing the ghosts of dead ancestors to visit their descendants.  The fairy hills in Ireland also opened on this date.  Summerend, the beginning of winter.  Associated symbols: black, red, white (the colors of Hecate), cauldron, black robes, masks.

Scourage: Ritual whip, symbolic of firmness; cords sometimes made of silk.

Scrying: Divination by gazing, usually into water, a mirror or ink.

Scythe: Curved blade derived from the crescent of the new moon; a symbol of the great goddess in her devouring aspect; later the tool of Father Time and the Grim Reaper.

Sigil: A symbol used to embody a concept or aspect.

Sistrum: Sacred rattle, originally used in the worship of Egyptian great goddess, popular at pagan rites today.

Skyclad: Ritual nudity.

Smudging: Purification by smoke; a very ancient practice.

Spiral: Sacred symbol dating to the Neolithic Age, connected with the ideas of death and rebirth.  Spiral labyrinths and occuli (double twists resembling eyes) appear on many megalithic monuments, European cathedrals and Native American rock paintings.

Star: Believed in most ancient traditions to be the home of spirits, either of the yet unborn, the dead, angels or gods. Composed of ether, the Greeks’ fifth element, said to be lighter, finer and more volatile than fire.  The goddess is identified with the morning star (Venus) under many names: Astarte, Venus, Ishtar, Esther, Stella Maris.  Lucifer (Son of Morning) and Christ both have associations with the morning star, as well.

Summer Solstice: Midsummer Eve, Celtic Litha, celebrated June 21-23 on the night before the longest day of the year. Christianized as St. John Day.  Traditionally a festival of fire when bonfires burned on the hills all  night.  Associated symbol: wheel covered with flowers.

Swastika: Ancient religious symbol of the four corners of the world. Arms pointing clockwise make it a masculine, solar symbol (used by the Nazis as their major symbol); arms that point counterclockwise indicate a feminine, lunar symbol.

Sword: Symbol of fire, virility and power. Most heroes of myth had magic swords forged in fairyland or by smiths of the underworld.  At the hero’s death, his sword went with him to the grave on a final journey over water or was thrown into water.  In parts of pagan Europe, his sword was often a man’s only possession; all else – the fields, flocks and household – belonged to the woman.  Sign of the Doom suit and the element fire in the tarot deck.  (Later became spades, thanks to the Spanish word for sword, espada.)

Sylph: An air elemental.

Talisman: Like an amulet, but worn for a specific purpose.

Triangle: Upright, symbolizes the male essence; reversed, the Yoni Yantra, symbolizing the genital area of the Threefold Goddess. Triangular cakes baked for sacred rituals by Egyptians, Jews (for Purim) and Scots (for Samhain).

Undine: A water elemental.

Vernal or Spring Equinox: A sabbat celebrated on March 21-23; Germanic Ostrara, became Christian Easter. Marks the beginning of spring, when days and nights are of equal length.  The return of Persephone from the underworld.  Associated sacred symbols: hare, egg, lily, the color white, doe, bow and arrow, silver and green candles.

Wand: A magical rod of power representing the element of air, used in witches’ rites; made of wood, bone, ivory or amber, often tipped with crystals and decorated with ribbons and magic (Bacchus) carried a wand made of a fennel stalk topped with a pinecone. Fairy wands are tipped with stars.  The sign of air in the tarot deck; later became clubs.

Wiccanining: The pagan equivalent of Christening.

Widdershins: A counterclockwise direction.

Winter Solstice: Germanic Yule, December 21-23. Shortest day of the year.  Odin honored at a great feast.  Time of the Roman Saturnalia, celebrating the birth of the Unconquered Sun; a time of gaming, exchange presents, sexual license and reversed social roles.  Associated symbols: red and green candles, holly, mistletoe, ivy, oak, logs, pinecones.

Wotan’s Cross: A cross inside a circle given various symbolic meanings in paganism: the earth and the four directions; the sun embraced by heaven; the union of the rose (feminine) with the cross (male) in cabalistic symbolism.



Acacia: sacred to Diana; used to commune with spirits

Angelica: sacred to Sophia; restores harmony

Cinnamon: attracts lovers, health and luck

Irish Moss: place under your rug for the “luck of the Irish”

Laurel: good luck; worn by victors

Mandrake: hold the root as you conjure to strengthen spells

Patchouli: sacred to Pan

Rose: sacred to Diana

Rosemary: offers protection; worn by pagan warriors into battle

Violet: sacred to the Fairy Queen

Witches Broom: purifies water




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