Coarse Witchcraft is a squint-eyed look at what passes for Craft in many modern groups and just how much of the teaching has been dumbed down so that everyone can acquire rank and have a “crack at the priesthood”. This blind grope for titles, rank and public acclaim have replaced the enlightened quest for genuine wisdom and ability, while the old Witch-magic is practised by fewer and fewer of those who would call themselves Witches. There are also those who insist on being recognised as instant Adepts in a system that takes years of study and preparation – but book-learning is not enough as many have found to their cost when confronted by real Old Crafters. Coarse Witchcraft is a no-holds-barred view of what is going on today in many Craft circles. Hopefully, those who read this book will laugh, and realise that it is possible to mix mirth and magic, while still retaining respect for oneself and the Old Ways.
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About the Author
In addition to being the commissioning editor for Compass Books, Suzanne Ruthven is also editor of the popular quarterly creative writing magazine, The New Writer (which she produces in partnership with literary agent, and publisher, Merric Davidson). She lives in County Tipperary, Ireland.
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The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy
Craft Working Carry On Crafting Cold Comfort Coven
By Mélusine Draco
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2013 Mélusine Draco
All rights reserved.
Joining a Coven
Pris hoisted her skirt up over her hips, toasting her buttocks in front of the log fire while Rupert poured a generous helping of Famous Grouse. 'The bloody Craft gets more like amateur dramatics with each passing year,' she complained.
Although I'm Dame of the Coven, I prefer to leave Craft spin-doctoring to Pris and Adam. She's a striking looking woman with a slight Gothic bent (which she's gradually growing out of), and there's no one can swirl a cape quite like Adam when he's going for maximum demonic effect. Rupert's trouble is that he's a bit on the conservative side. He's more than likely to mutter, 'Have you got any idea what you look like?' when an eager neophyte turns up to the pub moot in full fancy dress and sporting a pentagram suitable for picking up radio waves from the Voyager space probe.
Until Pris and Adam volunteered to act as proculators for the Coven, the envoy was selected by the drawing of straws. This meant, of course, that the senior members, who actively loathe public affairs, used their magical powers to push the short straw onto the less experienced. (Of course it was unfair, but there's little point in having witch-power and not using it!) Needless to say, it was quickly realised that the least likely people were acting as the public face of Craft. An hour of Gordon pontificating on the various methods of cause and cure of colic in horses can produce a glazed expression on the politest of people. Pris reckons he did it on purpose, so that he wouldn't be asked again because he's perfectly articulate when working in the stable yard. Granny was not an option. So here we sat, waiting for the latest report on the changing face of eclectic, generic, multi-faceted, seasonally shifting paganism.
Having made the wrong response to a telephone invitation, Pris and Adam had found themselves included in an introductory evening for wanna-be witches. Observing the usual custom of never going anywhere empty handed, they arrived to find the party in full swing with five people sitting in animated silence! They handed over their bottle of wine and a generously portioned pizza – simple but plenty being the order of the day on these occasions. The pizza hastily disappeared into the freezer but before the wine could be spirited away, Adam reached for the corkscrew and poured himself and Pris a large glass each. Being seasoned campaigners they can read the signs a mile off.
After the introductions and the invitation to help themselves to food – a plate of Hobnobs, a bowl of crisps, cheese and a bunch of grapes – Pris found herself next to a woman whom she'd not met before but who was obviously not a 'beginner'. Pris was promptly inspected from head to foot before being informed that her fellow guest didn't believe in 'dressing up' to meet new people. She peered closely at Pris's flawless make-up and remarked that she was glad she didn't need to plaster her face with the stuff. In the next breath Pris learned that her companion was the Southern Counties star of TV and radio on the subject of Craft – in short, a dreaded Media-Witch.
As Pris said, it quickly became obvious that the five guests were there in the supporting role of awe-struck spectators. The real stars of the evening were the Media-Witch and the Host (so named because he elevated himself above all others), who were cast as Duelling Egos for the delectation of the visitors. Desperately vying with each other for mouth-space, they dredged up every interview they'd ever given, bandying producers' names around like a Who's Who of popular entertainment.
Pris and Adam tried valiantly to engage the three would-be witches in conversation but they'd all developed a vacant, slack-jawed expression brought on by acute boredom and were incapable of forming a sensible question. Time dragged painfully by and at twenty-past nine, Adam had kicked her ankle for the third time. All the talk about himself had injected the Host with all the compelling fascination of a road accident. It was almost impossible not to watch him, explained Pris. His physical jerks and twists with his head had a sort of hypnotic effect, like a ferret performing its macabre hunting dance.
'His hair stood away from his writhing head in huge tufts, not exactly 'retro-punk', more a sort of 'recently escaped' look. His mouth had a horrible bewitchment – two rows of tombstones complete with lichen; tiny blobs of spittle that sprayed out with every 's' huddled together for safety at the corners of his mouth. Oh, the fascination. It wasn't anything to do with the drivel he talked, more the dribble that accompanied it,' she added.
Having put away three-quarters of the bottle of wine, Pris went off in search of the bathroom to while away some more time before making their excuses to leave. The Media-Witch seized the opportunity and followed, continuing to bombard her with a monologue of self-promotion. Nervously Pris eyed the space between the lavatory and the wall, fearing at any minute that she was going to be 'hag-tracked' as she sat.
She escaped and returned to find Adam incoherent with desperation, making excuses about having left the cats out and that it was drizzling! The other three took this lifeline and were last seen scrabbling for coats and car keys as they disappeared into the night.
'I bet that pizza lasted him a month,' said Pris as we went through into the kitchen for supper.
'And I bet none of the new ones will ever be seen again,' I added, pulling a large pot-roast out of the Aga and nearly tripping over the dog.
Rupert assumed his place at the head of the table. 'It's time some of these people were shown up for what they are,' he said firmly. 'Isn't this chap the one who believes that if you've read a book and understand what it means, then you don't actually need to practice magic to qualify as a witch!'
'Ummm,' confirmed Pris, her mouth full of hot, fresh bread.
The Host had been around for a while but there are dozens like him lurking about on the periphery of Craft; people who adopt the outward trappings but who possess little or no practical magical ability. The real problem is that these are the contacts seekers were coming across when they tried to find out more about genuine post-medieval traditional British Old Craft.
There wasn't any harm in the Host. He wasn't predatory or anything, except that he did tend to lean over Pris in order to stare into her cleavage whenever he got the chance. By the end of one evening they resembled twin Towers of Pisa until Adam had pushed a barstool under his wife's rear end before she fell over backwards.
'People prefer the play-acting,' said Adam quietly. 'They want someone who looks the part and they're not interested in whether it's a complete and utter prat, just so long as they talk the talk. Criticism is only seen as sour grapes.' He doesn't say a lot but when he does, it's usually pretty profound.
'But they haven't got a yard-stick to measure anything by,' I protested. 'Publishers are now accepting an author purely on face value and the book lists have hundreds of different titles giving out this airy-fairy drivel. As a result, the play-actors don't need to know any more than what's in the books, providing they can keep one step ahead of those who know nothing. As long as they can cast a Circle and recite an invocation, it's considered to be witchcraft and the newcomer knows no different.'
'I don't think they really believe in the magic, either,' said Pris sadly. 'It's like coarse fishing; it's seasonal; anyone can have a go; there aren't any rules; they can make up their own little rituals; it gets them out of the house for a few hours on a regular basis, and it doesn't actually have any practical purpose other than personal gratification.'
'Coarse Witchcraft,' said Rupert, spooning an unhealthy amount of mustard onto the side of his plate. 'A damned good title for a book. It could contain a worm's eye view of what passes for Craft among the uninitiated and warn the wannabes to be on their guard against the poseurs.'
We spent the next couple of hours making suggestions about who and what should go into this fictitious book. We got merrier and sillier. And then forgot all about it ...
'Gerry thinks the book is a great idea, providing we stick to fact and only include real-life situations,' said Pris over the telephone next morning.
'What book?' I responded, forgetting my grammar in my confusion.
'Pris,' I said patiently. 'It was a joke. A bit of fun. That's all.'
By the time Rupert came in for lunch she'd nobbled him on the mobile. 'Pris and Gerry think we should go ahead with the book,' he said tucking in to a large slice of cheese.
Rupert is appreciative of fine food and his outdoor lifestyle means that he can enjoy a good scoff, without losing that 'small and beautifully made' look, despite the fact that he's now over fifty. That 'we' was the most ominous sound I'd heard for a long time, particularly as I'm the one who earns my living with the pen.
'It's libel, darling,' I said firmly, trying to head him off at the pass.
'Do you honestly think anyone's going to hold up their hands and confess that the idiot on the page is them? Besides, we're not going to use names, and the instances won't necessarily be people of our acquaintance. We can go further afield ... Josh is always good for some gossip.'
Cynically referred to as the 'Witch of the North', we're never sure whether she attracts the comedians, or whether there's something in the water in that part of the country. Whenever we speak to her, there's always been some hilarity or histrionics to report. Like the instance of the neophyte who managed to almost sever an artery when he was taken out into the woods to cut his staff. He was so afraid of the Magister shouting at him that he didn't mention it until he'd almost passed out. This same lad later set light to his robe setting up the Circle – everyone noticed but declined to say anything.
Of course, there's always a depressing up-surge of interest in Craft whenever a programme appears on television. Which is surprising, considering that the media-junkies (or 'munkies' as we prefer to call 'em) parading around in the contents of the local theatrical costumier don't exactly flatter our beliefs. Or demonstrate a lot of integrity either.
Over the years some rather impressive names have been persuaded to appear on film, making complete idiots of themselves for the benefit of the camera. Some can even be relied upon to skip around the bonfire invoking all manner of peculiar deities, having cobbled together strange rituals for the programme-makers who know no different – but, in their defence, at least they're not giving away Craft secrets.
'Munkies', on the other hand, have no shame in flaunting their ignorance – which is faithfully recorded in print and on film for posterity. Like the silly old fool who appeared on television performing a love spell for two people already in love. This was worked at the wrong hour, on the wrong day, on the wrong phase of the moon, using someone else's hair (because it was only symbolic!) to bind the dolls – which were consecrated by appealing to Mars instead of Venus. It was a total magical travesty from an absolute beginner but the 'munkie' soon became a celebrity and appeared regularly on radio and television as a result of this performance.
Everyone has their own favourite performance by the PaGan Tips brigade, but as Pris commented the last time: 'No wonder the media has such a low opinion of us – so had I after watching the latest offering of pagan theatre. Why do even the well-known names continue to leap willingly into the humiliation trap? Or is it true – we are all barking? Couldn't someone go on television looking sharp, smart and intelligent for a change?'
The answer, of course, is 'no' because it doesn't make for 'good television'. As a result, this sort of media exposure always backfires and the contingent of new hopefuls at the next pub moot usually arrive in full regalia, only just stopping short of having 'WITCH!' tattooed across their foreheads – just in case the barman misses the point.
On the plus side, the moots ensure that we get to hear from newcomers about what's going on further afield, usually relating the story about a 'friend' who has fallen for the spiel of the charlatan. Like the variation on initiation – of a contemporary nature it can best be described as à la Bill Clinton. To attain initiation into the Craft one lass was informed that she would have to perform oral sex on her tutor as 'this is the way magical power is passed on'.
'I hope the poor, misguided girl remembered not to inhale,' Adam had commented dryly to the person telling the tale. The crimson blush confirming that the 'friend' was indeed fictitious.
'I've read a lot of books and performed a few spells but have never got any results. Can you introduce me to an experienced practitioner so I can get initiated?' asked one young man, wondering why Gerry's response was far from encouraging.
In our branch of Craft, no one can be formally accepted until they are at least 28 years of age – and that's the way it's been for as long as anyone can remember. Although our own offspring, Philly and Richard, are accepted as being part of the Coven, neither will be allowed to take their initiatory oaths until they have turned 28 despite their experience.
The cavalier attitude to magical practice is frequently demonstrated by Gerry's customers, who are always calling into the shop and asking to be bailed out. 'I've done a bottling spell to get back at a neighbour and now I've changed my mind. I've emptied the bottle into the river, so that it's no longer in my house. Will that stop the spell or do I need to do something else?' asked one.
'You can't stop it,' snapped Gerry in italics. 'Once a spell is cast, it's cast, it's working. It would be like trying to stop a bullet once you've fired the gun. You can't just throw it away and pretend it doesn't exist. And having thrown it in the river, you've no means of retrieving it. Inexperienced people shouldn't be messing around with spell casting.'
The customer didn't like this less-than-subtle criticism of her magical prowess and answered sniffily. 'Well, if I'm so inexperienced that means the spell won't work and I don't need to worry, then?' There was a long pause. 'Is there any chance of the spell rebounding?'
Gerry went into full witch-mode. 'Murphy's Law works in magic, too, so I'll bet you a pound to a pinch of witch-powder that if you carry out a working and then wished you hadn't, that one will work exceptionally well. And, there is always the danger of a spell rebounding,' continued Gerry warming to his subject. 'That's one of the chances you take if you go off half-cocked.'
'But there must be some way to stop a spell.' A slight hint of panic was detected in the voice.
'Only if you can remember every detail and perform the exact mirror opposite. But even then there's no guarantee that you'll be successful. Next time, think about the consequences before you start slinging stuff around,' Gerry had replied in best imitation of High Priestess mode, hoping that the spell-caster might have learned a lesson.
I hear the horse box in the yard and the rattle of steel on cobbles that means Pris has bought her horse. It's hardly a prepossessing animal, but Rupert's not looking displeased so despite appearances it must have a half-decent pedigree. I hesitate in joining them because Granny's just pulled up in her battered Volvo and Rupert, Pris and Gordon are jockeying for position in order that none of them have to stand down-wind. That battered old wax coat and hat will probably have to be removed with a blowtorch when she dies.
I hastily make the coffee and take the mugs out to the tack-room since Rupert refuses to allow Granny in the house after the incident with the Aga. It had been a bitterly cold morning and so Granny pulled up her skirts and coat to toast her behind (I've often wondered where Pris gets the habit from). The kitchen was suddenly enveloped in the 'rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril', as Shakespeare aptly put it. Whatever malodorousness lurked beneath those garments was exposed to the warm air and the rest of us turned green. Pris swears she caught sight of a large and knicker-less, wrinkled bottom; not to mention an ancient snakeskin garter held up by varicose veins!
Excerpted from The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy by Mélusine Draco. Copyright © 2013 Mélusine Draco. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One: Craft Working.................... 3
Chapter One: Joining a Coven.................... 7
Chapter Two: What Witches Do.................... 20
Chapter Three: Sartorial Elegance.................... 34
Chapter Four: I Read It in a Book.................... 44
Chapter Five: Coven Etiquette.................... 54
Chapter Six: Sabbats and Celebration.................... 62
Chapter Seven: Pub Moots.................... 78
Chapter Eight: Ancestry and Antecedents.................... 84
Chapter Nine: The Pagan Camp.................... 91
Chapter Ten: HPS or High Priest(ess) Syndrome.................... 102
Part Two: Carry On Crafting.................... 115
All Hallows.................... 118
Winter Solstice.................... 130
Spring Equinox.................... 148
Summer Solstice.................... 168
Autumn Equinox.................... 183
All Hallows.................... 206
Part Three: Cold Comfort Coven.................... 211
Curtain Call.................... 212
Forever Autumn.................... 214
Harvest Home.................... 219
The Rose Bay Quadrilles.................... 226
Hunter's Moon.................... 233
Overture for a Happy Occasion.................... 240
How the Stars Were Made.................... 245
Rites of Passage.................... 249