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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 9. 1ts May 1973

The Witch's Workbook

The Witch's Workbook

Conn of the Hundred Battles, Do not love Druidry.......

Anyone who has ever become interested in the so-called Black Arts will have been faced with an immense body of writings on each element of this subject. Most are interestinga few are useful.

One wonders whether there is a practical medium between the blind accepttance of such directives, recipes, and philosophies as the interested party is able to ingest, and the impossible luxuries of sceptical dismissal or complete empirical evaluation. It would appear that such an approach contains in part an enquiry into those physical laws and behaviour patterns which firstly are currently understood, and secondly have been visibly associated with activities previously described as witchcraft or sorcery. It should be noted here that witchcraft is essentially many religions, the devotees of which ascribe their powers to assistance by spirits. Sorcery is the exercise of preternatural powers supposedly derived from a knowledge and use of the occult forces of nature, without recourse to spiritual aid. Thus any serious approach to this phenomenon should consider the theological context in which it operates—that is, in absolute objective terms, not what the practitioner can identify. We may favour Rousseau's universe of pervasive good, or de Sade's of pervasive evil. Or the manichaean system of a Dual universe, in which the primeval conflict between light and darkness rages. We may accept as a theological axiom a universe populated by supernatural beings of varying potency and inclination. Or we may not see sufficient reason for assigning any value to the concept of supernatural presence and control.

While science is concerned with that which is measurable, it does not preclude the existence of anything beyond its immediate known boundaries. But in the absence of adequate evidence as to the theological constraints on the universe as we preceive it, a study of witchcraft would of necessity be initially only descriptive. The singularly ephemeral deities which have received Man's attention have all had the common power of being socially accepted by a majority of their supposed subjects. One of the usual objections to witchcraft has been its heresy.

This indicates that a behavioural approach to witchcraft would be of value. Studies in ESP and PK have demonstrated their existence and attempted to determine some of their 'laws'. Research has been made in varying degrees into individual and crowd psychology, hallucinogenic drugs and self-hypnosis, physiology, atavism, religious organisation, ritual, primitive societies, mythology and folk-lore, alchemy and its history, and genetics. It is suggested that all of these disciplines are relevant in considering witchcraft. Some studies have been done already in this field.

But why bother? Most people regard it as rubbish or superstition. Many who study or practice witchcraft are knaves or fools. Palmistry, astrology, necromancy, water divination, spiritualism—all of these activities are similarly dismissed by rational people. The main fault in such an attitude is that it is itself 'medieval' or 'primitive'—one should know why one does not believe in something. Another reason for constructing an analysis of witchcraft is that it has been notoriously persistent in all human communities. It is now enjoying a considerable popularity and much publicity.

Vitruvian Man drawing

Cave painting, new moons, goat-heads, phallic images are all magical. Bothwell, Alice Perrers, Faust—all denounced as witches. Bothwell and Perrers were cunning diplomats and courtiers. Defoe informs us in his "Political History of the Devil" (1726) that Faust was a Dutch printer's apprentice deemed a witch, Magician and Conjurer by the learned Doctors of Paris who were not familiar with printing, and considered his merchandise a product of the Black Art. Medieval Europe occasionally excused its persecution of the Jews on the grounds of witch-hunting, sometimes as the same time the Crusaders were being exhorted to slay the Saracens who were obviously wizards and magicians. There were witch-hunts in Germany, England, France, Salem. Heinrich Kramer, James Sprenger, Sir Edward Coke, Soeur Jeanne des Anges, Jame VI of Scotland, Cotton Mather; all believed in the demonic power of witchcraft, and babbled hysterically about them to what seems to have been a fairly receptive audience.

The literature was full of black magic: Skarp-Hedin sings from the burnt-out farmhouse at Bergthorsknoll, while his killers flee; before he is executed, Stigandi's gaze scorches the hillside through a rip in his blindfold; Eva places a terrible curse on the children of Lir; Merlin, Tannhauser, and true Thomas the Rhymer are all real and still in Faerie. Even after persecution has been dead for one hundred years, Joris-Karl Huysmans can personify Gilles de Rais as the archetypal witch and trace his personality from piety through refined criminal artistry to a repentant but still mystic end. 'Toil and grow rich, What's that but to lie with a foul witch', says Yeats.

Jesus Christ is variously equated with Pan, Tammuz, Adonis. Satan is Apollo, Asmodeus, Pluto, Lucifer. All this was believed—the key to any success in magic. Consider the ritual of the Christian church service, which contains the essence of magic—ritual, invocation, devotion, as welt as seventeen hundred years of success.

Today, the counter-culture has touched upon this long talc of woe, firstly as a grotesque curiosity and lately as a serious pursuit. "Rosemary's Baby" fills the theatres, and Roger Zelazny and James Blish are read everywhere. Magazines are produced devoted to witchcraft. Witch Supply Shops are established in Los Angeles and San Francisco. More than ever, the witchcraft ideal has been garbled by its environment—Ann Grammary's Witch's Workbook is a typically amusing pastiche of ancient and modern myth. The book is interesting in that it shows the sort of thing which has resulted from the current fad of Witchcraft. Ann Grammary (her surname means 'occult learning') has produced amongst all her spells and lists of demons to invoke, one or two useful ideas. In her introduction she makes the point that to make magic work, one must develop one's mind to believe in its success, and concentrate on achieving the goal. Miss Grammary qualifies the content of her book by saying that ritual is a fairly useful means of raising the mind to the level necessary to control ESP and PK powers—perhaps the most useful item in this Witch's Workbook. She also says that the ritual involved is 'fun'—if she believes in what she is doing, it is anything but fun.