Read an Excerpt
Buckland's Book of Saxon Witchcraft
By Raymond Buckland
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1974 Raymond Buckland
All rights reserved.
The Saxons were practicing pagans during at least their first five generations in England. They worshipped four principal deities: Woden, Thunor, Tiw, and Frig or Freya. Since their temples, like their houses, were built of wood they have not survived, though their locations and those of their open-air meeting-places—groves, etc.—have. Throughout Britain today may be found innumerable place-names indicative of the deities worshipped and/or the locations of former shrines to these deities.
Brian Branston, in The Lost Gods of England (Thames and Hudson, London, 1957) says, "... usually, no opponents fight more bitterly and to the death than warring religions. True, the winner will sometimes wear its opponent's creeds like scalps-but not around the waist: every effort is made to obliterate the memory of whence the creed came and the scalp is worn like a toupé and passed off as real hair. The Christian religion had done this in the very beginning when it was struggling for dear life against the Hellenistic faiths of the eastern Mediterranean and Christ was duelling with Attis and Adonis and Osiris and especially Mithras; Christianity adopted alien ideas again when in England the missionary monks acted on the advice of Pope Gregory and incorporated local heathen customs into the conduct of the Christian year. Once Christianity was accepted in England the Church had no compunction about obliterating the memory of the heathen origin while retaining the custom of Yule-tide and harvest festivals for instance, or of the charming (now blessing) of the plough. The obliteration of heathenism from written records (not so from the lips of men) was particularly easy. It was easy because reading and writing were a Church monopoly with the result that what heathen literary memories remain have done so largely due to oversight. It is not to be expected that the writers in the cool cell and shady cloister would lend their quills to propaganda of the heathen gods. And because we moderns subscribe to the belief (or pretend we do) that 'the pen is mightier than the sword', we are apt to discount evidence which is unwritten, except where such evidence is of itself conclusive and verifiable from written sources: one of our modern shibboleths is that we must have everything in writing. It is a good thing that our pagan ancestors have, so to speak, writ large their heathendom on the English landscape. The gods of the English still in place-names retain a firm hold on the countryside."
Chief amongst the gods of the Saxons was Woden, and there are far more mentions of him in English place-names than of any of the other deities: Wansdyke (Wodnes dic), an earthwork, runs all the way from Hampshire to Somerset; Wodnes beorh (Woden's barrow) is close by, as is Wodnes denu (Woden's valley). In other areas are found "Woden's plain", "Woden's fortress", Woodnesborough, and Wornshill.
Freya was chief amongst the female deities. She too is found in Freefolk, Froyle, Fryup, Frydaythorpe, and Frobury.
Branston, again, mentions "Three Old English words attest the strength of heathen worship in the land by the widespread frequency with which they occur: they are ealh a temple, hearh or hearg a hill sanctuary, and weoh which means shrine or sacred spot. Ealh is rarer than the others but may still be found in Alkham near Dover; it occurred too in Ealhfleot an early name of a channel connecting Faversham with the sea. Hearh remains in Harrow-on-the-Hill (Middlesex), Harrowden (Bedford, Northants, Essex), Arrowfield Top (Worcestershire) and Peper Harrow (Surrey). Most common of all and most widely distributed is weoh which lives on in Wye (Kent), Whiligh, Whyly, Willey (Surrey), Wheely Down, Weyhill (Hants), Weedon Beck, Weedon Lois (Northants.), Weedon (Bucks.), Weoley (Worcs.), Weeley (Essex), Wyville (Kesteven), Weeford (Staffs.), Wyham (Lines.), and Patchway (Sussex)."
WODEN and FREYA were the two most important and most widely worshipped deities. These are the deities whose names are honored in the rites of Saxon Witchcraft today. Woden, of course, is especially remembered in the weekday "Wednesday" Woden's Day (Wodnesdaeg); and Freya in "Friday"-Freya's Day (the other days were: Sunday for the Sun; Monday for the Moon; Tuesday for Tuisco, or Tiw; Thursday for Thor; Saturday for Saterne).
The primitive west Europeans had called the god Wodenaz. This later developed into Wuotan (Old High German) and Wodan (Old Saxon). It is generally believed that he was first thought of as a sky deity-perhaps a wind or storm god-with great wisdom, and with some sort of powers over life and death. This may be evidenced by the derivation of Wodenaz from an Indo-European word, parent also of the Sanskrit vata and the Latin ventus, both meaning "wind". He could be compared to the Hindu Lord of the Wind, Vata, and the German storm giant Wode.
Woden had great skill as a magician or sorcerer (Galdorcraeftig = "a person proficient in magick"), and also as a shape-shifter. His skill is seen in one of the oldest existing pieces of Anglo-Saxon verse containing the Nine Herbs Charm:
"The snake came crawling and struck at none. But Woden took nine glory-twigs and struck the adder so that it flew into nine parts ..."
Woden appears in Norse mythology as Odin, the supreme deity, son of Borr and Bestia. He presided over the assemblage of the gods and over their feasts, consuming nothing but wine. As the wisest of the gods he obtained his wisdom from two ravens named Hugin ("thought") and Munin ("memory"), who perched on his shoulders. The ravens could fly through all the reaches of the universe and would tell Odin (Woden) what they had seen. Two wolves were also his constant companions.
Woden was bearded, wore a long cloak and either a hood or a floppy-brimmed hat. He leaned upon a huge spear as he walked. He it was who introduced the runic form of writing. In the Old Norse verse Lay of the High One (stanzas 138, 139 and 141) he says:
"I trow that I hung
on the windy tree,
swung there nights all of nine;
gashed with a blade
bloodied by Odin (Woden),
myself an offering to myself
knotted to that tree
no man knows
whither the root of it runs.
None gave me bread
None gave me drink,
down to the depths I peered
to snatch up runes
with a roaring screech
and fall in a dizzied faint!
Wellbeing I won
and wisdom too,
and grew and joyed in my growth;
from a word to a word
I was led to a word
from a deed to another deed."
The Woden of the Saxons was not quite the same personage as the Odin of the Viking Age (also, incidentally, the Old English waelcyrge were vastly different from the Norse Valkyrie). Woden was not concerned with organizing battalions of slain warriors, but more with walking the rolling downs and watching over his (living) people.
By the sixth century magicians and sorcerers had a good working knowledge of writing, useful in their secret arts. The writing generally used was the Runic discovered by Woden. One of the earliest examples of these runes is found on the Saxon cross now preserved in the apse of Ruthwell church, Dumfriesshire.
It is sometimes referred to as the "Futhorc", after the first six letters that appear there. It is also referred to thus, today, to distinguish it from some of the later variations of the runes. These main ones were Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Germanic. The Celtic peoples of England adopted, and adapted, the Saxon variety and a form of runic writing is used in many traditions of Witchcraft today. The Seax-Wica, however, stick to the original "futhorc" (see Appendix A).
Freya was born of Nerthus (Mother Earth), but later took on herself many of the attributes of her mother. The name Freya means "Lady". She is regarded as the equivalent of the Greek Aphrodite and the Roman Venus; a goddess of Love, a mother, a protectress of children and of women in childbirth. She is referred to in Norse mythology as "most lovely of the goddesses".
Snorri Sturluson, in the Prose Edda (1241), gives many details of the gods and includes a myth of Freya in search of her sacred necklace "Brisingamen" (This necklace, or torque, was named after the Brisings, the dwarves who made it. It is mentioned in Beowulf). Briefly Loki, the Mischief-Maker of the gods, stole Brisingamen (Brosingamene) from Freya and placed it on a rock, where it was later discovered by the god Heimdall. He retrieved it, after a fight with Loki, and carried it back to Asgard to restore to Freya.
Obviously, in this myth, Brisingamen represents fertility, or the spirit of vegetation. Its loss leads to the Fall and Winter months; its retrieval to the Spring and Summer. Similar myths are found elsewhere: Sifs loss of her golden tresses; Idunn's loss of her golden apples; variations on the theme of Ishtar's descent into the Underworld in her search for Tammuz. The actual Myth of the Goddess of Saxon Witchcraft is as follows:
"1: All day had Freya, most lovely of the goddesses, played and romped in the fields. Then did she lay down to rest.
2: And while she slept deft Loki, the Prankster, the Mischief-Maker of the Gods, did espy the glimmering of Brosingamene, formed of Gladra, her constant companion. Silent as night did Loki move to the Goddess' side and, with fingers formed over the very ages in lightness, did remove the silver circlet from about her snow-white neck.
3: Straightway did Freya arouse, on sensing its loss. Though he moved with the speed of the winds yet Loki she glimpsed as he passed swiftly from sight into the Barrow that leads to Drëun.
4: Then was Freya in despair. Darkness descended all about her to hide her tears. Great was her anguish. All light, all life, all creatures joined in her doom.
5: To all corners were sent the Searchers, in quest of Loki; yet knew they, they would find him not. For who is there may descend into Drëun and return again from thence?
6: Excepting the gods themselves and, alack, mischievous Loki.
7: So it was that, still weak from grief, Freya herself elected to descend in search of Brosingamene. At the portals of the Barrow was she challenged yet recognized and passed.
8: The multitude of souls within cried joyfully to see her, yet could she not tarry as she sought her stolen light.
9: The infamous Loki left no trail to follow, yet was he everywhere past seen. Those to whom she spake held to Freya (that) Loki carried no jewel as he went by.
10: Where, then, was it hid?
11: In despair she searched an age.
12: Hearhden, the mighty Smith of the Gods, did arise from his rest to sense the bewailment of the souls to Freya's sorrow. Striding from his smithy, to find the cause of the sorrow, did he espy the Silver Circlet where Loki Mischief-Maker had laid it: upon the rock before his door.
13: Then was all clear.
14: As Hearhden took hold of Brosingamene (then did) Loki appear before him, his face wild with rage.
15: Yet would Loki not attack Hearhden, this Mighty Smith whose strength was known even beyond Dreun.
16: By whiles and tricks did he strive to get his hands upon the (silver) circlet. He shape-shifted; he darted here and there; he was visible, then invisible. Yet could he not sway the Smith.
17: Tiring of the fight Hearhden raised his mighty club. Then sped Loki away.
18: Great was the joy of Freya when Hearhden placed Brosingamene once more about her snow-white neck.
19: Great were the cries of joy from Dreun and above.
20: Great were the thanks that Freya, and all Men, gave to the gods for the return of Brosingamene."
The worship of a God and a Goddess ties in Saxon Witchcraft with other traditions of the Craft as being essentially a Nature religion. Everywhere in Nature is found a system of male and female; because that is the way of the Gods-a God and a Goddess-believe the Witches. No all-male or all-female deity. It is, then, a duotheistic religion. It stems, as has been well pointed out in such works as Murray's God of the Witches, Lethbridge's Witches, and this author's Witchcraft From the Inside, from early man's animistic beliefs. With man's 'original belief in many deities the two most important to his existence were a (horned) God of Hunting—later to become a (foliate) God of Nature generally—and a Goddess of Fertility. To the Seax-Wica these are now Woden and Freya.
Along with other traditions the Seax-Wica believe in reincarnation. It is a progressive reincarnation. Always in human form, each life will be better in some way than the previous one. There is no separate Heaven and Hell in the Craft philosophy. At death your Spirit goes to one place, known as The Summerland. This is traditionally thought to be, vaguely, "to the East". The Seax-Wica sometimes refer to it as Drëun. Originally Drëun was thought to be beneath the earth, its entrance being through a barrow. Today, however, there are few of the Saxon tradition who still think of it as being necessarily underground.
In Drëun you rest and relax. There are reunions with past friends and loved ones, of course, and there are meetings with the God and Goddess to plan your future life or lives. Eventually, when the time is right, you are reborn through the agencies of the Goddess into a new body on this earth. A number of such lives are gone through. In each one something necessary to your development is learned or experienced. The lives may be long or short, depending on how quickly the necessary learning or experience is dealt with. Usually there is no memory of a previous life during the present one.
Occasionally, however, there is and occasionally there is a "carrying forward" of previously amassed knowledge. This latter, the Seax-Wica feel, explains such phenomena as child prodigies. They feel there are usually seven incarnations undergone. It could be less, though this seems seldom to be so, in the case of a Spirit or Soul who learns quickly. Or it could be more, in the case of a slow learner.
There are new Spirits, or Souls, starting all the time, so any cross-section would show a certain number of "new Souls" along with the various "old Souls". It is felt that the theory of reincarnation explains many cases of déjà-vu— the feeling that you have been somewhere before. Not all instances can be explained this way, of course, but certainly a very large percentage.
In company with all Witches the Seax-Wica have little concern for the body after death. It is the Spirit, or Soul, which continues. The body was just a shell for a particular lifetime. Some Witches favor cremation at death, and are almost violently opposed to the high-cost funerals foisted on unsuspecting mourners by the funeral trade. More and more Witches are willing their bodies at death to hospitals, for research purposes. The ideal, some Saxons feel, would be the burial of the lifeless body in a simple basketwork coffin, or the like. In this way it could be easily absorbed back into the earth as it decomposed. Quite a reversal of the "life everlasting" lead-lined (highly expensive) coffins designed to contain the body in lifelike form as long as possible.
What happens at the end of the seven-life cycle? No one really knows for sure. When the Book of Shadows first came into being there was much that was still not written in it, but was passed on orally. Many of these oral traditions eventually became lost over the passing centuries. Another good example of this loss, is the Craft thoughts on the creation of the world.
Many, if not most, Witch traditions believe in retribution in the present life. There is no thought of "putting things off" till some big Judgement Day when you will receive your just rewards or punishments. No. In Witch beliefs you get back, at three times the magnitude, whatever you do ... be it Good or be it Evil. This (hopefully) causes you to stop and think about what you do, and the possible effects of your actions on others.
The Seax-Wica follow this general belief. They do feel, though, that you are entitled to help things along a little when it comes to protecting yourself. For example, should someone (obviously a non-Witch) be working against you in some magickal or non-magickal way, rather than just sitting back and waiting for them to get their own back-which might mean that you suffer in the meantime as a result of their actions-you can certainly set up protection for yourself. Something which will not only protect you but will also help send back the other's evil. They feel that in doing so they are acting as instruments of the gods. They would never, however, be the initial protagonists.
Excerpted from Buckland's Book of Saxon Witchcraft by Raymond Buckland. Copyright © 1974 Raymond Buckland. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.