The Inner Mysteries: Progressive Witchcraft and Connection to the Divine
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The Inner Mysteries: Progressive Witchcraft and Connection to the Divine

by Janet Farrar

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A look into the underlying principles behind modern magic in Witchcraft, this investigation provides an integrated training system for both solitary Witches and coven-based trainees in the form of magical energy practice and cosmology. By fully explaining the values of Witchcraft, this work makes numerous Wiccan practices approachable, including Circle casting,


A look into the underlying principles behind modern magic in Witchcraft, this investigation provides an integrated training system for both solitary Witches and coven-based trainees in the form of magical energy practice and cosmology. By fully explaining the values of Witchcraft, this work makes numerous Wiccan practices approachable, including Circle casting, raising energy, elemental work, and drawing down the moon. Illustrating how Wicca is a modern, nondogmatic, and dynamic tradition still in a state of evolution, this book also features a history of the spirituality of Witchcraft.

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"This book is essential reading for all, whether they have been in the craft for days or years."  —Pentacle Magazine, on first edition

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The Inner Mysteries

Progressive Witchcraft and Connection with the Divine

By Janet Farrar, Gavin Bone

Acorn Guild Press, LLC

Copyright © 2012 Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-936863-80-8


In the Beginning: from Witchcraft to Wicca

Study the past if you would define the future.


First we must look at the true origins of witchcraft, those hidden in the mists of time. This is a subject that has been written about many times by many authors. This, of course, may be quite repetitive to those who have been involved in the modern Witchcraft movement for several years, but they must bear with us, as this book is just as likely to be picked up by those who are making the first steps in the sometimes confusing world of the neo-Pagan movement. It is our hope though, that we have given some different viewpoints to its origins that have not been covered before in our own, or other literary works.

Witchcraft's Origins in Shamanism

Looking at cave art and archaeological artifacts, we can theorize that the earliest magical practices came about when Homo sapiens began to migrate east and west from Africa. Their magic revolved around the most basic instinct of mankind, survival. Imagine the following scene: In a firelit cave, a man dresses in deerskin and dons an antlered headdress. He begins to chant; the chant grows into a grunt; the grunt into the recognizable hurnnn call of the rutting stag. As he slowly circles the fire, the other male members of the tribe come out of the darkness. Each tightly grasps a stick as though it were a spear. At a given moment, they lunge on the costumed figure. In a frenzy, they symbolically kill the stag. By doing this form of magic, they see themselves as successfully procuring meat for the tribe on the following day's hunt.

A division of sexual roles was often noticeable in hunter-gatherer societies. This was not sexism, but arose from the reality that men were better capable of defending the group and hunting large game due to their physical build and strength. We think men were, therefore, responsible for defending their communities and providing meat, while women cared for the young and the old. During the hunt, the women of the tribe gathered berries, nuts, and tubers to supplement the tribe's diet and, more importantly from a magical perspective, had the opportunity to gather herbs for the sick. As we have seen, the male mysteries probably revolved around their role in the preparation for the hunt. Here we see the female mysteries in the treatment of the sick, and in caring for other women during pregnancy. As they were healing the sick, they also found themselves dealing with the spirits that caused the illness. We still see this division between the sexes today in hunter-gather communities, such as the aboriginal peoples of Australia. Within this culture, there is a strict division between "men's business" and "women's business" when it comes to the mysteries. This division was probably responsible for mistrust of the old feminine magical ways during the period and the development of the feminine descriptive word witch.

It is in both male and female forms of magic that we see the roots of what we now call shamanism and its development into what we now call witchcraft. As humanity developed and settled into an agricultural way of life, the role of the tribal magic-worker evolved. It became a family affair, with the skills of one generation being passed down to the next. Here we see the idea of "hereditary witchcraft" first appearing, but it should be remembered that at this time all trades and skills were passed down through the family. Within the tribe/village, specific families would have been responsible for passing down specific skills, such as metalworking, torch making, farming, et cetera. This is the origin of such descriptive surnames as "Baker" and "Smith." In a harsh world, specialization is more conducive to survival than a strategy in which everyone is "a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none." The magical worker became a priest or priestess in the village; although they were not considered more important than any other trade, they were respected. Their roles might have included being responsible for keeping a track of the seasons and performing the seasonal rites. This could have involved making offerings to the local gods and spirits for good crops and good hunts. These are important rites in an agricultural society, and the priesthood had to understand the cyclical nature of the seasons to do them. They were most likely the keepers of the mysteries of birth, death, and rebirth. They looked after the sick with the herb lore they had accumulated over generations; they were responsible for the banishment of malign spirits, which caused disease. Here again, we can see the underlying reason for the existence of the magical practitioner was survival, but now the individual need was more important. The roles within the tribe/village were more specialized, and the death of one of its members would threaten the well-being of the whole tribe/village. Here we see the idea of the witch at its purest, without any of the preconceptions put on it by Christianity and the twentieth century.

Origins of the Word Witch, and the Mediterranean Cults

With the spread of several different cultures across Europe — Celtic, Germanic, Italian/Etruscan, Greek, et cetera — we see the next development within witchcraft, that of taking on cultural symbolism, including language. We see the origins of the word witch in Anglo-Saxon culture, and we see other words evolved in other cultures to describe the tribal magical worker. The word witch in old English has its origins in the word wicce. It would be wrong to say that witchcraft is of purely Anglo-Saxon origin just because witch is an Anglo-Saxon word. Witch is a modern descriptive word that crosses cultural barriers, and this is important to remember. It has several interpretations: it can mean "to bend and shape" (as in the forces of nature); others say it means "wise." Of course, this is the feminine declension of the word, the male being wicca, which was the word adopted by the modern Witchcraft movement in the early 1950s. Intrinsically, the meaning of wicca is no different than the word witch. This is important to remember, because in recent years some in the neo-Pagan community have felt it necessary to define these words differently, but more on this later in the chapter. Christianity turned the word wicce into wych, then wytch, and finally into our modern word witch. The use of the feminine word rather than the masculine form came about because of the underlying misogyny of the early Christian church. Women were seen as the root of all evil — ever since Eve took the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The idea of women being in prominent, responsible positions and dealing with spiritual forces was repugnant to the church. Not surprisingly, they adopted the feminine rather than the masculine word, as they considered all female mysteries to be inherently evil.

Similar words for "witch" exist in other cultures. The Old Norse used the word vitki, a word that obviously has similar etymological roots as the words wicce and wicca. The Italians use the word strega. According to Raven Grimassi, a noted author on the subject of Italian witchcraft, its origins are very different to that of the word witch:

The word Strega is derived from both lore and language. The cultural roots extend back to the Latin word strix, which indicates an owl (and particularly a screech owl). In archaic Roman religion there was a mythological creature called a striga. The striga was a type of vampire woman that could transform into an owl. The death of infants in their sleep (as well as the disappearance of babies) was blamed on the striga. This brought a supernatural connection to both words, and so strix and striga came to be interchangeable. In time the Latin word striga evolved into the Italian word stregare, which means to enchant. Then, over the course of time a female witch came to be called a Strega, literally an enchantress.

Grimassi has also recently discovered that there is a relationship between the earliest known word for a witch, the Greek word pharmakis(an herbalist who prepares potions), and the Italian word strigare, which means "to extract." He believes that the word strega may, in fact, have had its origins from this word rather than the word strix. This, of course, seems to link Italian witchcraft directly back with the origins we mentioned earlier in this chapter.

We once believed that there was no such thing as hereditary witchcraft, as we had seen no proof, but our contact with members of the Strega tradition has convinced us otherwise. The survivals of witchcraft, in hereditary form, into the modern era are very much linked to the early days of Christianity and its absorption of three other cults in the Mediterranean. Within the Roman Empire, during the early part of the first millennium, a new cult appeared in Rome — Mithraism. It had its origins in Persia and, ultimately, in Zoroastrianism.

Mithraism was a mystery religion whose followers believed in an entity of Good and an entity of Evil in conflict with each other on the spiritual plane. These manifest as the personalities of Mithras and Ahriman. Mithraism was widely adopted by Roman military officers and spread throughout the empire — a Mithraic temple has even been found and excavated in London. As the Roman officers settled in the new provinces of the far-flung empire, they became traders and the cult changed from having a militaristic focus to having one of business. The new, young, and open Christianity absorbed the idea of dualism from the older cult. This occurred because many of the converts in Britain and mainland Europe were settled Roman officers who already practiced Mithraism. But the biggest challenge to early Christianity was from another cult, one which would be difficult to absorb.

The cult of Isis/Artemis was centered in Ephesus in Asia Minor, which is now Turkey. Its rituals and practices are some of the best-recorded ceremonies of ancient times. Visitors described a haze of incense permanently settled as fog above the city. It was truly the pagan Vatican of its time, with pilgrims coming from all over the known world to worship and pay homage to the "Great Goddess." The cult had begun to develop into a more structured multinational religion that absorbed many of the other principle national goddesses existing around the Mediterranean basin: the Egyptian Isis, the Assyro-Babylonian Ishtar, the Roman Diana, the Greek Selene, and others became identified as this one Great Goddess who absorbed symbolism from them all.

This cult remained a thorn in the side of Christianity for four centuries. Women in Greek, Roman, and European culture generally refused to give up worship of the Great Goddess, and there was no replacement within Christianity. The misogynistic views and teachings of St. Paul of Tarsus made it difficult for Christianity to absorb the Goddess. The problem was finally resolved in 431 AD at the Council of Ephesus when the doctrine of Panagia Theotokos — the All-Holy Virgin Mother of God — was declared, thereby incorporating the Great Goddess into Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Christian religions, both Greek and Russian. Unknowingly, they had planted a seed that allowed the survivals of goddess and pagan practices to grow under the very eyes of the Christian hierarchy right up until today, and allowed the survival of hereditary witchcraft. Some authors and historians have suggested that witchcraft has its origins in the Goddess cult of Isis/Artemis, and we would not argue this point.

Witchcraft Survivals in Christianity and Their Similarities with African Diaspora Religions

The first act of established Christianity was to discredit the existing pagan religions. They destroyed the temples and statues dedicated to the old gods, while at the same time absorbing pagan symbolism into their practices, just as they had absorbed some of the philosophy of Mithraism earlier. The old gods became saints; their festivals became feast or holy days. The placing of churches on sacred pagan sites was encouraged to bring the existing pagans into Holy Mother Church. It was these very acts that allowed the village witch to survive. The old pagan priesthood of the community actively adopted these changes for their own survival while teaching those they trusted the pagan symbolism hidden within the new Christian practices. As time went by, many of the origins of these magical practices were diluted and became lost, particularly by the time of the Protestant Reformation.

In Roman Catholic Ireland we have seen folk magic continuing to be practiced under the guise of Christianity. We once discovered a "prayer" attached to a fairy tree at a holy well close to where we live. It was a piece of paper folded up in plastic and attached by twine to one of the boughs of the tree. The contents read, as closely as we can remember, as follows:

Blessed Holy Saint Martha, I ask of you to intercede on my behalf to Holy Mary Mother of God, and her Son Jesus Christ. Bring wealth, health, and prosperity to my family. If such blessings are not forthcoming, I will refuse to light candles to our Lady in the Chapel, and will not pray for the soul of — —. I ask this in the name of Holy Mary and her Son Jesus Christ.

I doubt very much that the person placing this in the tree would consider herself a Witch, and being a good Christian soul, would have little knowledge about the fact that the tree is of pagan symbolic origin and that the holy well was originally dedicated to the pagan god Lugh! Raven Grimassi told us that such practices are still common throughout Italy, much as they are in Ireland. He recounts practices that involve the threatening and cajoling of saints, including the practice of turning statues of the Madonna on her head if the petitioner did not get her way. From traveling in Greek Orthodox Crete we can also report that the survivals of pagan magical practice are common there, too. We have in our collection a small beaten brass plate depicting a leg used as an offering for healing. It is obvious that magic is far from being just a Roman Catholic phenomenon, although it is, in fact, more common in non-Protestant countries. There are also interesting similarities with Afro-American magic.

When slaves were brought from the west coast of Africa to the Americas during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they brought with them their own spiritual and magical practices. These practices continue today with several names. The pure forms are still practiced in West Africa where they are known as Ifa and Vodoun, but in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and in the southern United States they have developed into distinctly separate forms. When the slaves were brought to the colonies they were, of course, converted to Christianity. Like early Christian Europe, they refused to give up their Pagan practices easily and hid their magical practices and beliefs behind the culture that had enslaved them. In French colonies, such as Haiti and New Orleans, this was less of a problem, as the French had a much more laissez-faire attitude to religion. Here we see the development of what is known as Voodoo, or as it is more correctly known, Vodoun, which has always been linked in the popular imagination with witchcraft. The old ancestral spirits, the loas of the West Africans, were quickly absorbed into existing French culture; a good example of this is Baron Samedi (Lord of Saturday), popularized by the James Bond film Live and Let Die. He was originally the West African spirit of death, Ghede — and his black and white, top-hatted face remains one of the popular icons of Voodoo in people's minds. Saturday is, of course, the last day of the week, and is ruled by Saturn, the planet and classical god who rules death.

In the Spanish colonies, Christianity was less forgiving. It became necessary for the slaves to hide their deities behind saints, just as the pagans did in Europe. This practice is commonly known as Santeria and its mystical practices bear striking similarities to the Catholic folk magic practices we have found in found in Ireland. There is one major difference though: the practitioners of Santeria are still very aware of its pagan origins and know whom the saints represent. One should bear in mind that only three hundred years have passed since the Christianization of their practices, as opposed to over a thousand years within Europe, but by looking at Santeria and Vodoun we can possibly see hints of what hereditary witchcraft — minus the cultural overlays — would have looked like up until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. What is also interesting is that hereditary practitioners still consider themselves priests and priestesses, just as we do in modern Witchcraft. This seems to confirm the idea that magical practitioners were always considered to be priesthood. Within Vodoun and Santeria, the idea of the spirit of the deity or loa possessing ("riding," as it is commonly known) the priest or priestess seems to be reflected in the process known in modern Wiccan ritual as "Drawing Down the Moon," in which the priestess allows a deity to speak through her. Again we see that Vodoun, Santeria, and the other African diaspora religions survived within prominently non-Protestant areas of the world, but we see few survivals in areas of the Americas that were strongly Protestant, such as Georgia or Virginia, but we do see an evolution of it into southern hoodoo or conjure practices among the large West African slave population.


Excerpted from The Inner Mysteries by Janet Farrar, Gavin Bone. Copyright © 2012 Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. Excerpted by permission of Acorn Guild Press, LLC.
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From the Publisher
"This book is essential reading for all, whether they have been in the craft for days or years."  —Pentacle Magazine, on first edition

Meet the Author

Janet Farrar is considered one of the world's leading experts on the subject of Wicca. She is the author of numerous books on the subject, including A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches' Handbook, The Witches' Goddess: The Feminine Principle of Divinity, and The Wiccan Way. Gavin Bone has been practicing Witchcraft for more than 20 years. He travels around the world leading speaker engagements and workshops on the subject. They are the coauthors of The Healing Craft and The Pagan Path.

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