The Witches' Craft: The Roots of Witchcraft & Magical Transformation

The Witches' Craft: The Roots of Witchcraft & Magical Transformation

by Raven Grimassi

Set foot on the well-worn path…follow the the time-honored traditions of the Craft as it was once practiced by the village witch. This meticulously researched reference guide preserves the authentic history and practices of Witchcraft, much of which has been forgotten, misplaced, or discarded through the years.

Award-winning Wiccan author Raven Grimassi


Set foot on the well-worn path…follow the the time-honored traditions of the Craft as it was once practiced by the village witch. This meticulously researched reference guide preserves the authentic history and practices of Witchcraft, much of which has been forgotten, misplaced, or discarded through the years.

Award-winning Wiccan author Raven Grimassi presents many aspects of Witchcraft never before seen in print, including the entire unedited method of constructing the witches' ladder. You will learn all the essentials of the art of Witchcraft, as well as how to strengthen your magickal power through self-discipline, patience, and perseverance. Also included is the author's correspondence with Doreen Valiente.

Ancient and powerful, the traditions of the Witches' Craft must never be forgotten. Honor the memory of those who have gone before you, and take your own magickal practices further than you ever imagined when you return to the old ways of Witchcraft.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Grimassi (Wiccan Mysteries; Encyclopedia of Wicca and Witchcraft), a practicing Wiccan for nearly three decades, has trained in at least four schools of The Craft. Here he makes a powerful case for returning to the ancient traditions that he believes have fallen by the wayside in the last 20 years. He complains that "many modern books on Witchcraft will describe a technique or method of performing a spell or ritual, and then go on to inform the reader that almost everything described is optional, and that the prescribed items can easily be substituted with other things." His approach is different than those "modern" books he chastises more traditional, more rooted. His substantive research in the first third of the book traces the written history of witches over the past 2,500 years. Having thus established his traditional credentials, Grimassi then turns to the tools, techniques and tried-and-true methods such as instruments, states of consciousness, implements, and the like. Much more than the standard gallop through the sabbats (seasonal observations), Grimassi delves deftly into more cerebral issues such as "right and left brain consciousness" and "myth and metaphor." He also manages to put into perspective more provocative avenues such as "sex magic" and "ritual flagellation." Grimassi offers a well-researched history of ancient magickal techniques, including some that have been preserved orally and are here in print for the first time. Everyone who cares deeply about the witchcraft tradition will want this impressive work. (Oct.) Religion Notes Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
These two new titles from Llewellyn focus on witchcraft, or Wicca, a cluster of religious rituals and beliefs deriving from ancient European polytheisms or paganisms. The author of seven books on witchcraft, Grimassi is a practicing Italian witch (a strega) who has researched the history and theory of witchcraft back to antiquity, with a view to recovering and preserving teachings and lore. As a result, her book is primarily a historical study of various European witchcraft traditions. Even when considering magickal techniques for the focusing of natural power or discussing methods of psychic development, the author takes pains to cover their historical development. While Grimassi's book will appeal more to scholars of religion, Penczak's book will appeal to believers and interested casual readers. An active witch and teacher of modern neo-Paganism, Penczak teaches classes (mainly in New England) on witchcraft and various other New Age practices such as reiki, shamanic journeying, and past-life regression. His book aims at using Wiccan techniques (generally termed "Magick") to aid in personal growth. Accordingly, after a brief history and some basic theory of Wiccan spirituality comprising four chapters, there follow 13 lesson-chapters on techniques of spiritual growth, each followed by appropriate exercises. A minor criticism: some of the material discussed, while probably hermetic or occult in origin, is not ordinarily considered Wiccan but pertains to other religious traditions. Astral travel, for instance, is more often a feature of Shamanism, while chakras are a part of yoga. Both books provide a useful introduction to modern witchcraft and are recommended for both academic and public libraries, particularly those with substantial religion collections.-James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

The Witches' Craft

The Roots of Witchcraft & Magical Transformation
By Raven Grimassi

Llewellyn Publications

Copyright © 2002 Raven Grimassi
All right reserved.

ISBN: 073870265X

Chapter One

Roots of the Old Religion

Many modern scholars believe that Witchcraft as a religion is a modern construction largely to be credited to Gerald Gardner, who wrote books on the subject during the mid-twentieth century. In this chapter, and throughout the book, we will explore the fundamental aspects of the religious and ritual concepts of the Craft, demonstrating their antiquity and longevity. In doing so it will become apparent that too many archaic elements exist in the religion of Witchcraft to have been a modern construction traceable to Gerald Gardner and a small handful of cohorts. It would have required the combined efforts of mythologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, and highly trained occultists working together over several decades to create the complex layers and inner connections that appear in just the published material on Witchcraft alone, not to mention the restricted initiate material that was available within a ten-year span of Gardner's writings. It seems highly unlikely that such collaboration ever took place, and the simplest explanation would be that the essential foundation already existed.

At the core of Witchcraft as a religion there exists a basicstructure containing elements known to exist in ancient times. These include a God and Goddess mated pair, mysterious guardians, spirits of nature, a belief in reincarnation, the veneration of the Moon, the practice of magic, and secret ritual gatherings. The concept of a goddess and god consort was common in the great deities of the Aegean/Mediterranean such as Zeus and Hera of Greek religion or Uni and Tinia of Etruscan religion. Guardians of the Underworld are common in ancient mythology as are tales of nature spirits. The belief in reincarnation was known among ancient Greeks and the Druids. References to the practice of magic and the existence of secret societies and moon worship are far from absent in ancient literature. No basic element of modern Witchcraft lacks a correspondence in ancient European religion. Therefore the argument becomes: did anything survive down through the ages?

Renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell, in chapter 3 of his book The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology (Viking Penguin, 1972), speaks of the remains of ancient pottery shards at excavation sites. Campbell comments on the period between 4500-3500 B.C.E., stating that "a multitude of female figurines" appear among the, potsherds and are suggestive of an association between "fertile womanhood" and the "motherhood of nature." He states that this period contained no writings allowing us to discern its myths and rituals. Campbell then comments "it is therefore not unusual for extremely well-trained archaeologists to pretend that they cannot imagine what services the numerous female figurines might have rendered to the households for which they were designed." The current phenomena within academia of this tunnel-vision approach to discerning our past makes it quite difficult to consider the many possibilities that exist that could lead to our greater understanding of the truth.

Campbell presents an interesting theory: that myths arise from the patterns of our own biological experience of the world around us. This is what Campbell calls the "firm syndrome" of human experience. With the rising of the sun, our primitive ancestors awoke from the night and the realm of dreams. The night was a time of danger, and dreams often produced fearful situations. Therefore the association of light with dispelling not only darkness itself, but also the dreamworld/night fears, elevated light to the status of a rescuer and a protector. Human experience became patterned with biological response to environment, which then became the format and structure for the expression of our myths and the themes they contain. Campbell states that this reflects the unity of "the race of man" not only in its biology but also in its "spiritual history," which manifests as a "single symphony" expressed in the myths of all cultures.

Anthropologist Hartley Burr Alexander, in his book The World's Rim (Dover, 1999), argues for the idea that ceremony and imagery are part of the "human commonality" expressed in rituals and myths throughout the world. Alexander's position is that a comparison of these cultural elements from distant parts of the world reveals identical patterns combined with different expressions of the one single insight. The commonality of the human experience, and of human expression, cannot be denied as key ingredients in the development and structure of cultural myths and rituals. In this sense, the "Old Religion" has been with us since the formation of humans into tribes and clans, and in this lies the unbroken chain of transmission, for at its core, the Old Religion is not a mere collection of rituals and myths. The Old Religion is about the human experience of the soul, in both the physical and metaphysical realms. It is about the understanding of the "inner mechanism" of nature, which reflects the divine process operating behind it.

Our ancestors clearly encountered the "imprints of experience" that manifested as the three distinct periods of human growth and susceptibility: childhood, maturity, and old age. No doubt these had a significant impact on the consciousness of our ancestors. The creation of the three Fates who weave the lives of humankind must surely be rooted in an ancestral acknowledgement of the three distinct stages of life. In ancient iconography the Fates are always pictured together and appear as a young woman, a mature woman, and an old woman. It seems unlikely that the basic concept of the "maiden, mother, crone" images reflected in the symbolism of the three Fates governing the three stages of life is nothing but coincidence. The ancient Greek writer Hesiod wrote that the three great mysteries are birth, life, and death. Today we might phrase this as where did we come from, what are we doing here, and where do we go when we leave here?

Birth, life, and death are powerful imprints of experience in the human psyche. Among these three, death appears to capture the most attention. Campbell states that the "earliest unmistakable evidence" of ritual and mythos associated with burial dates from between 200,000-75,000 B.C.E. in the graves of Homo neanderthalensis, a remote predecessor of our own species. Excavation shows these individuals were buried in a fetal position, with an east-west axis alignment matching the course of the sun. Next to the body various supplies were placed, along with a food source animal such as a bison or goat.

Campbell also mentions a gravesite dating between 4500-3000 B.C.E. found in a site that contained twenty statuettes of female figures, which Campbell calls goddesses. The grave contained the remains of a little girl buried with ornamentation depicting a bird, fish, serpent, and spiral. These exact symbols appear much later in the cult of Ishtar-Aphrodite, but with the spiral symbol now that of the labyrinth. The bird, fish, and serpent symbols also appear on one of the oldest-known Witch charms, the cimaruta.

The mystery of death and of life is linked together, and at the center lies the woman as goddess. Her womb is the gateway through which life passes from the Otherworld into this world. Such an imprint of experience was clear and significant to our ancestors. The mother was the creator and deliverer of life itself. Therefore she must have power over both worlds, and so the passage of life into this world must go out through her as well. Campbell states that in Paleolithic and Neolithic art, the, woman appears nude while the man is costumed in some fashion. From this, Campbell concludes that the body of the woman was the important signifier, while for the man the importance lay in what he portrayed through his symbolic garb.

The ancient Greeks perceived the earth as the body of a goddess called Gaea, one of a race known as the "elder gods" that appear in literature as the Titans. Gaea was the source for all life upon the earth and for all the gods and mythical creatures that predate the twelve gods of Mount Olympus. This concept comes from an archaic: period predating the myths of the Olympian gods. The important factor here is the concept of a Great Mother Goddess figure from a forgotten time, which is something many modern scholars deny ever existed. The ancient Greek writer Hesiod was among the first to put the bardic tales of the Aegean/Mediterranean into writing. Hesiod's work, the Theogony, was composed sometime around 800 B.C.E. Therefore we have references to an older theology, one that was considered even older than the Olympic god mythos at the time of Hesiod.

References to Gaea in Greek mythology appear focused on openings in the earth itself, and are intimately associated with water. Caves have been described as the womb of the Great Goddess, a symbolism that spread to the cauldron and the well. Human birth begins with the loss of water from the wombs-the water that once sustained life now threatens to destroy it if the fetus is not soon born into the awaiting world outside. Campbell states that in mythology water is intimately associated with themes of life and death. He goes on to suggest that water guardians such as mermaids, Witches, sirens, "Lady of the Lake" figures, and goddesses may represent the personifications of the dual nature of water. In this lies the inner mystery teaching of the Witches' long association with the cauldron, a theme we'll explore further in this chapter and throughout the book.

In ancient myths and legends the cauldron often appears in the Underworld. Sometimes the cauldron lies within a cave or is hidden in a secret room within a castle. Cauldrons are often credited with magical powers and magical potions. Some famous cauldrons produced ever-renewing food, and others brewed potions that bestowed enlightenment or restored the dead to life again. All of these elements are associated with archaic beliefs related to Underworld themes.

The idea of burial, in a religious or magical sense, is connected to the concept of rebirth or renewal. To plant a seed in the soil and cover it with earth resulted in a new plant. Perhaps doing the same with a tribal member was to ensure rebirth. From the perspective of our ancient ancestors surely the earth itself generated life. To primitive minds viewing the emergence of animals from their burrows in the earth, and insects from their underground colonies, it must have seemed that something beneath the earth generated these creatures. Plant life, insect life, and a great variety of living creatures issued forth from another world beneath the world of humankind. What was this secret other world?

The Underworld is an ancient concept that features prominently in ancient literature. In the myth of Persephone, Campbell states that it was Gaea who opened the earth in order for Hades to draw Persephone down into the Underworld. Hecate, another Titan goddess, heard the cries of Persephone and assisted her mother (Demeter) in eventually recovering Persephone from the Underworld. Hecate becomes an important deity in understanding the antiquity of Witchcraft as a religion. This is explored in more detail in other chapters of this book.

The association of Witches and the goddess Hecate spans a literary period of over 2,700 years. Hecate survived from the prehistoric period of Greek religion. In one of the earliest recorded appearances (Hesiod's Theogony), Hecate is a goddess honored above all others by Zeus. To honor Hecate, Zeus granted her a share of the earth, sea, and the starry heaven. Hesiod says of Hecate that she grants victory to warriors and athletes, and to fishers and herders Hecate grants abundance. It is also noted that Hecate is "child nurse" to all living beings. As a granter of abundance and a nurse-figure, Hecate appears intimately linked with fertility and motherhood. Scholar Robert Von Rudloff, in his book Hekate in Ancient Greek Religion (Horned Owl Publishing, 1999), notes that in the earliest writings mentioning Hecate, she is associated with Demeter and Persephone. Von Rudloff also states that literary records indicate Hecate associated with "the Great Mother" on Samothrace.

Modern scholars associate Hecate with the Underworld and depict her as a dark and fearsome goddess. This depiction of Hecate does not appear in ancient literature until the second half of the fifth century B.C.E. Hesiod, who wrote about 300 years earlier, makes no reference to Hecate being associated with the Underworld or as a figure to be feared. This suggests a transformation of some type that occurred at a later period. Von Rudloff comments that it was common in Greek and Roman literature to negatively portray goddesses honoring or empowering independent women that lived outside of society in both the literal and figurative sense. The followers of such goddesses were equally portrayed in a negative light, as we see in the case of Witches and the goddess Hecate.

Von Rudloff notes that Hippokrates and Plutarch demonstrate an attitude of "skeptical rationalists" as they ridiculed the superstitions of their "less-educated compatriots." Von Rudloff then asks the question: were the academics of antiquity prompted to comment on attitudes in ancient times that they felt were foolish, for the same reasons that modern academics are motivated to counter the so-called "irrational" but popular ideas of our own time? It is indeed interesting to note that the disbelief of scholars is as ancient as the very things that they disbelieve.

Hecate, the Underworld, and the Crossroads

Homer, the ancient Greek composer, includes Hecate in his Hymn to Demeter. Here he depicts Hecate as dwelling in a cave. In Aegean/Mediterranean mythology caves are entrances to the Underworld, which strongly suggests that Hecate served as a guide or escort for the dead. Von Rudloff states that some scholars believe Hecate served as a guide for people in transition of any type. Her primary role was to help individuals crossing difficult boundaries in general, particularly those in which the "crossing" itself was significant or involved a risk. Von Rudloff refers to Hecate in the ancient Mystery Traditions and suggests that Hecate may well have served as a guide for initiates.

The theme of approaching initiation itself can be thought of as coming to a crossroad. In ancient times a crossroad was the point at which three roads met to form a "Y" figure. The earliest form of Hecate was a pole (placed at a crossroad) upon which hung three masks, with one mask facing each road. These poles were called hekataion. In connection with this, Hecate was called Trivia, meaning "where three roads meet." In ancient Aegean/Mediterranean culture the crossroads was a place of spirits, which included Underworld spirits and spirits of Fate. The latter made the crossroads a place for meditation upon choices a man or woman needed to make in his or her life. In this way the person communicated with the Fates.

In the book Hekate Soteira (Scholars Press, 1990) by Sarah Iles Johnston, the author notes that while historians of religion regard Hecate as "the horrific patroness of Witches," there were Greek and Roman philosophers, from the Hellenistic age onward, who envisioned Hecate as the "connective boundary" between the divine and human worlds. Johnston also notes that Hecate was regarded as a facilitator of communication between the gods and humankind. Additionally the author notes that Hecate gave messages through the Chaldean Oracles and was considered the "Cosmic Soul." Homer's depiction of Hecate living in a cave demonstrates that she lives "between the worlds," standing above the Underworld and beneath the sky, the realm of the gods. When one considers the fact that the ancient Witch Medea was a priestess of Hecate, the role of Witches can be seen in a different light than the customary one offered by scholars and commentators.

The ancient writers Horace, Ovid, and Lucan were among the first to connect Hecate to the moon in Witchcraft, and to speak of the power of Witches to call the moon down from the sky. Later in the writings of Plutarch we see Hecate and the moon viewed in partnership as the "intermediary principle." The role of Hecate and the moon in guiding souls across the boundary between the Earth and the celestial realm was further developed in the first century C.E. In all of this we see Hecate reaching her own personal crossroad in which the negative and positive elements divide entirely into two separate directions or schools of thought.


Excerpted from The Witches' Craft by Raven Grimassi Copyright © 2002 by Raven Grimassi
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Raven Grimassi is a Neo-Pagan scholar and award-winning author of more than eighteen books on Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-Paganism. He has been devoted to the study and practice of witchcraft for over forty years. Raven is co-founder and co-director of the Ash, Birch, and Willow tradition.

Grimassi’s background includes training in old forms of witchcraft as well as Brittic Wicca, the Pictish-Gaelic tradition, Italian Witchcraft, and Celtic Traditionalist Witchcraft. Raven was also a member of the Rosicrucian Order, and studied the Kabbalah through the First Temple of Tifareth under Lady Sara Cunningham.

Raven currently lives in New England with his wife and co-author Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi. Together they direct The Fellowship of the Pentacle, a modern Mystery School devoted to preserving pre-Christian European spirituality.

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