By Nigel Pennick

Centuries of Christian domination under the Church and Monarchy never stamped out the ancient wisecraft of Old England, the indigenous powers used for good or ill by the wise women, witches, cunning men, male and female wizards and ‘old wives’, whose tales are recounted to this day. Every part of these isles has its own tales and memories of these people, whom modern historians dismiss as interesting yet insignificant byways of history, yet whose existence was a fundamental part of the life of the pre-industrial communities. The folklore of almost every village has been collected together somewhere in print, yet the parallel tales of practitioners of the Old Craft are always looked at in isolation as if each were unique, rather than part of a practice, which, though it had its own local variations, was national in its occurrence.

The historians of modern Wicca have tended to concentrate upon luminaries like Gerald Gardner or Margaret Murray, whose investigations and practice of the craft took it through the transition from old country wisdom into a more formalized and organized branch of the Pagan religion that it now is. The old wives, operating solitarily, or occasionally getting together at fairs or the old festivals, were largely concerned with everyday life: the protecting of animals (or their destruction), the control of horses, cures, etc. The religious elements of their craft were implicit; indeed the terminology employed was very much mixed with the Christian-derived demonological nomenclature which still plagues wisecraft today when it becomes mixed with Satanism in the uneducated mind. However, the modern historians have tended also to dwell upon atrocities perpetrated against witches in the persecutions mounted by the Roman Catholic faction of Christianity after 1484, when the notorious work Malleus Maleficarum was published, and later the witch mania engendered by the various Protestant tendencies of Christianity, manifesting in such detestable figures as Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General. However, the political need that some find to describe torture and murder of innocent women and men at the hands of Christian fanatics, has tended to overshadow the praxis which can be investigated in the era after witchcraft was considered a danger to the commonweal. This is the era which history teaches us in school that technology was taking over, and that the rural ways were thus devalued and reduced to superstition of uneducated rustics. These rustics, largely illiterate and hence despised by the educated classes who looked to the Church and ancient Greece or Rome for their models of ‘oughtness’, preserved certain knowledge which could not fit in with the new era of money, business, industry, share capital and employees. The old wisecraft, applicable to horses or to rural crafts, was out of place in the steam locomotive workshops, or the dark satanic mills of industrial productivity. The mechanization of life, where Sunday was the only day off work, and the old festivals were ignored in the interests of productivity, obliterated observances based upon the phases of the moon, or festivals such as Lammas, dependent on things other than the need for “bank holiday” festivities, or the approved festivals of Christian worship.

The flight to cities, still occurring in the “third world” where the production of goods – the reign of quantity – is the only aim, and whose results are held up by monetarist politicians as that which we should all hold dear and aim for in our lives, devalued and deculturalized the rural values in social fragmentation such as that seen in Handsworth and Tottenham. Things rural, tainted with the calumny of backwardness, and anachronism, have lost out, and finally the urbanization of the countryside through self-propelled vehicles has dealt a major blow to handed-down traditions in the old sense. Thus we find ourselves in a curious position unlike any which (to our knowledge) has existed before: people with access to more knowledge about these things than ever before, yet with much of the context gone. The wise folk who are dealt with here come from the era when the old ways were on the way out, accelerated and finished finally by the Great War (1914–1919 (or 22 if we include the Russian, Latvian and Irish campaigns of the British forces). The old ways were very much tied up with {2} the social structure of the peasantry, which was disrupted and broken for ever by the unprecedented holocaust of the Great War, when a larger proportion of young men died in the mud and blood of Flanders than in any previous war, which had not required conscription to keep the cannon fodder up to numbers. Those who returned after being gassed, blasted and seeing their comrades blown apart or torn to shreds on the barbed wire were hardly likely to be daunted by the threats of old women who claimed psychic powers. Combined with the now-universal literacy afforded by schooling since 1870, with the concomitant attitudes of “official view of the world”, the structure behind traditional wisecraft was weakened seriously. Radio, too, destroyed local culture, with the official culture of London being implicitly considered superior to country craft, and with “religious broadcasting” strictly Christian, other views were not propagated, those holding them being considered passed by by the tide of events, silly old women who had no place in the brave new world of wireless, motor cars and aviation. Likewise, the presses, owned by those who wished to reinforce the establishment view of things. Meanwhile, the opposition to the church’s hitherto dominant views was not Pagan or wisecrafty, but either atheist Marxism or the new credo born out of the World War – Fascism. The former, atheist by nature, derived from freethinking, anarchist and religion-rejecting Jewish thought of the nineteenth century urban environment, had deliberately demolished the churches of Russia and set out to wipe out all belief in the non-material world. The latter, born of a nationalism shorn of monarchist allegiance, allied with sociobiological ideas derived ultimately from Charles Darwin, and with a rejection of Judaeo-Christian ethics, nevertheless had no part for wisecraft, for it, too, was of the mechanized urban environment. Britain fell neither to Marxist–Leninism nor Fascism, and its long tradition of folklore led to the recording of ancient traditions, which include witchcraft and cunning. However, the changes wrought by mechanization on the farm, the flight to the cities, alterations in social status of women, the dismantling of the old near-feudal agricultural setup, and the waning power of the church after 1945 placed the old ways in serious jeopardy, and makes it difficult for well-fed, mechanically-educated, urban intellectuals to understand the old ways in their true form.

It is with this historic background that we must approach the cases of Old Mother Redcap and her spiritual sisters (and brothers). The conditions operating in the rural environment eighty years ago were vastly different from those of today, less “advanced” than in all but the most poverty-stricken “third world” countries today. The poverty and oppression which the country people suffered in Britain before World War I is something scarcely touched upon in historical “romance”, the popular fiction or the mass media fodder of TV and film. The plight of black slaves in America, the persecution of the Jews, the extermination of the Red Indians, these are celebrated themes, as are the “Trade Union History” of working-class urban proletarian struggles in strikes and insurrections, or down the mines. Yet the grinding poverty and oppression which the majority of British peasantry suffered under their Lords and Masters both temporal and spiritual, is forgotten with an idealized rural Arcadia presented to the consumer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fatigue, cold and hunger was the everyday life of the farm worker, and the meagre basics of life were scarcely available in the good times, whilst in bad times, famine was the norm. John Irons of Eynesbury, Huntingdonshire described the norm in the 1860s in an eminently arable and prosperous part of England: Breakfast was eaten on the farm, on arrival at 6 am, consisted of bread brought from home, to which was added milk supplied by the farmer. Lunch was bread only, eaten during a short interval at 9 am. Dinner was taken at the farm at 2pm, when the horses had finished their day’s work, This was a flour, lard and onion dumpling, and a small piece of fat pork, boiled in a bag and brought from home ready cooked. If the farmer’s wife was kindly, she might warm up this fare, and also give the workers soup, soup being the water in which meat or vegetables had been boiled. In bad times, the piece of pork would be taken home uneaten to flavour the next day’s dumpling. Supper was eaten with the family at home, being bread and lard with vegetables. No butter was ever eaten, and bread was made once a week at home and taken to the baker for baking. It was made of grain gleaned at harvest from the ground. Medical treatment, if one was taken ill, was by recourse to the local wise woman, who was also the midwife who brought babies into the world, and sometimes procured abortions. There were no paved roads, no piped chlorinated, water, no sanitary or washing facilities, no electric or gas lighting, no mass communications media, or machines of any kind save the windmill and the Parish Pump. It is from this environment, where anything to mitigate {3} the effects of the unremitting grind of harshness was welcome, that the wisecraft dealt with here comes.

To survive in a harsh environment, whether it be the farmlands of Cambridgeshire in 1885 or the streets of New York in 1985, requires certain survival techniques, as any good soldier knows. For in these environments, one lives on one’s wits, for such environments are not experienced by the rulers, though at times they may call upon those who do live like that to maintain their status quo. In such an environment, the exhortations of the authorities, even when they are well meant, usually do not have any survival value, and are thus ignored, or, if compulsion exists, lip service is paid to them and nothing else. The background of traditional wisecraft is in this tradition, of methods of getting by the harsh world in ways officially proscribed by the authorities who themselves never had to live like that.

The era of wisecraft which is apposite to the development of the modern craft is roughly 1800 till 1930, an era whose changes have been detailed above. The era of Witchfinders General was over, and, though occasional local outbursts against wise women occurred, sometimes as a result of local feuds or personal squabbles, the days of official persecution were gone, and the result of such squabbles might be the arraigning of the attackers in court, such as happened in 1808 when Ann Izzard of Great Paxton, Hunts. was assaulted, and her assailants were jailed. By then, the rise of large cities like London, Birmingham etc. had truncated these beliefs in the centres of administration, and hance the legal profession was no longer interested. This came at the same time that dissident Christians were beginning to be tolerated, and the bete noire was no longer witches, but Atheists, whose belief was (rightly or wrongly) seen to be allied with French Republicanism and was thus a threat to the state politically.

An aside on the status of atheism and other religions than the Church of England in England: Until 1655, there was no “other religion” permitted, but in that year, Cromwell brought Jewish merchants and bankers into England from Amsterdam and they were allowed to practise their religion in private. in 1677, capital punishment was abolished for heresy, a slight retrenchment from the Conventicle Act of 1664 which forbade all religious assemblies save the Church of England. In 1689, the Toleration Act made non-attendance at church no longer criminal (though the last person fined for not attending church was in 1866), it enforced an oath of allegiance to the crown and repudiation of Popery. In 1698, an act of Parliament against “blasphemy and profaneness” stated “If any person having been educated in or at any time made profession of the Christian religion ... shall by writing, printing, teaching, or advised speaking deny any one of the persons of the Holy Trinity to be God, or shall assert or maintain that there are more gods than one, or shall deny the Christian religion to be true or the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be of divine authority..” he should be subject to severe penalties under the law. In 1727, Dissenters were tolerated, that is non-confromist Christians, for they did not deny the articles of the 1698 act, which, by default, the wise women and cunning men did. The Christians who drafted the Act doubtless considered all people who were not Jews (for the wording explicitly excludes such people, not eductated in or professing Christianity), to be, by default, Christian, and anyone professing or practising otherwise, to be on the other side, that is, the Christian anti-God, Satan or the Devil. The stipulation that all “scripture” was “divine” includes of course the appalling torments and atrocities of the Book of Deuteronomy and other passages cited by the tormentors pf the Elder Faith in earlier times.

The toleration of Roman Catholics followed the toleration of Non-Conformist dissenters, with the franchise for the catholics in Ireland in 1793, and, later in Britain, after the Act of Union of Ireland and Britain in 1800. Atheists fared worse, as their cause was seen to be allied with the French Revolution, which in its original phase had been anti-clerical and anti-religious. In 1811, Shelley was thrown out of University College, Oxford, for professing atheism, and in 1831, a man was hanged after the Bristol riots (in which 750 perished) for saying “Down with the Churches and mend the roads with them”. In the early 1840s, G.J. Holyoake was imprisoned for six months (in the prisons of the time, far worse than the present state of British prisons) for saying at a public meeting that there were better things to spend money on than building churches.

In this era, the Unitarians eventually broke through, and by 1846, Unitarians who did not choose to call themselves Christian were deemed no longer liable to {4} official molestation. In 1847, the election of Rothschild to Parliament raised the question of Jewish disabilities: were the ancient enemies of Christianity to be allowed in the governing body of a Christian country? The Jewish Relief Act of 1858 overcame this problem, though the precise nature of a Jewish prime minister in the case of the appointing of Bishops in the Church of England has not been appraised. Benjamin Disraeli was a convert to Christianity, so the problem did not arise, but should Leon Brittan, Nigel Lawson or Sir Keith Joseph become prime minister after the fall of Margaret Thatcher, we shall see some religious problems arising.

Gradually, the proscription of religious beliefs other than those contained in the 39 Articles of the Church of England were abolished, lapsed or forgotten, but the traditions of wisecraft, rooted in the pre-Christian Pagan religions of the Celtic and Germano-Norse peoples, never came into the question because they were restricted to the lowest class of person outside the cities, and the practices were carried on in private as a result of centuries of persecution by the Christians. According to various laws, women were proscribed from being medical practitioners, which again made their wortcunning and healing, an integral part of the Elder Faith’s praxis, illegal and therefore underground. The magical praxis of wise people, the Gipsies, and Jewish qabalists was, according to the medieval view, and the Act of 1698 “blasphemy and profaneness”, equated with the Christian anti-God, the Devil, and, if the practices actually worked, this was considered worse, for it was evidence that evil spirits or Lucifer Himself was powering the show. Thus, although Jews were allowed to open synagogues, non-conformist chapels were permitted, catholic churches, and, finally, at Woking in Surrey, the first mosque in the last century, the Elder Faith remained embedded in “superstition” among the folk practices of country people, uneducated in the modern schooling sense of the state. Despite the tolerance of variant factions, cults and tendencies of the Christian persuasion, and the Jewish and Islamic religions, the old practices were often considered to be close to coming under the old legal maxim that “Christianity is part of the laws of England”, central to which are the “Blasphemy laws” which were last used against the homosexual magazine Gay News in 1977, when a poem about Jesus of Nazareth was published, which caused a storm of Christian anger, and the re-use of the laws which, until then were about to be scrapped as anachronistic. The assumption that the Christian religion, and its defenders in the law, have anything to say about religions which have no reference to Christianity, is a bad one which must be changed.

The attitudes of the ruling classes to the lower orders gave their folk beliefs less power than they actually had within the local community. Only when members of the learned classes or the moneyed came into contact with the courts can we see the attitude in action. Annie Besant, one of the leading lights of Theosophy, which in her tendency, was influenced by Hinduism, the Indian branch of the Indo-European Pagan religion, was deprived of her child in her divorce case before Sir George Jessel in 1878 because she had “atheistical opinions” and “having published an obscene book”. The connexion between religious unorthodoxy and obsecnity has often been made to suppress the religion, with witchcraft, Annie Besant and Gay News. It was also used to crush the Knights Templar and the Cathars, and its usefulness as a device remains today. The connexion of obscenity and blasphemy, which do not go together any more than blueness and murder, is typical of the methods of those who would control, as they have connected the Christian religion with eductaion. Until 1871, dons in Oxford and Cambridge colleges had to be church of England celibates, as though that improved teaching, but the connexion of schooling with the church has been with us since the institution of compulsory education for the young. It still exists, with unbelieving and uncaring children in 1985 being peddled with Christian teaching rather than learning something useful, all because of the 1944 Education Act, drafted in a age when the “bright, sunlit uplands” of Christian Civilisation (spelt with an “s”) were just around the corner with the defeat of Hitlerism. Of course, Hindus, Moslems, Jews, Sikhs, Parsis, Unitarians, Jains and Confucianists don’t have to attend the classes, compulsory for the rest of the children, assumed to be “C of E”. Such compulsory religion undermined the old ways in the country, for the official line was that the Christian religion in the factional interpretation then current had the inherent message that the old ways were blasphemous, obsolete and anachronistic for the Christian Englishman of the Nineteenth Century. No wonder they danced on the grave of Susan Cooper in 1878. {5} Susan Cooper was a wise woman who died at Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire, on April 25, 1878, at the age of 83. Just after her grave was filled, the children ran out of school (doubtless with Teacher’s permission) to trample down the soil on her grave so that the imps wouldn’t get out. The hostility of the new order to the old is shown nowhere better than in this incident.

The stories of local witches or wise women in the Cambridgeshire–Huntingdonshire area doubtless echo many from other areas, and are taken from the period 1800–1930. Fortunately, many names and incidents are known, which gives us some indication of what the craft that these people followed actually was. The title of this work refers to one of the most famous Cambridgeshire witches, Daddy Witch, who lived in the “Witch town” of Horseheath, lived in a cottage on a patch of ground almost encircled with water, a sort of moat called Daddy Witch’s Pond in a place called Garretfield. The name “Daddy” may appear to indicate maleness, but it may be that Daddy was an old name for the Lord or Male deity of traditional wicca, for at Torquay in Devon is a cave called Daddyhole, Daddy there being said to mean the Devil, a typical misinterpretation of a Pagan deity as the Christian anti-God. Perhaps this lady was a devotee of the Horned One. The Daddy Long Legs, the giant Crane Fly, is of course a sacred animal of the Lord. Daddy Witch was reputed to have a magic book called the Devil’s Plantation, whose contents or whereabouts are unknown. When she died, her body was buried in the middle of the road (as it was not permitted to bury her in consecrated ground of the Christian churchyard). The place was close to her house, the grave being marked by a consistent dryness of the place, reputedly caused by the heat of her body, but possibly a place of some unspecified energy.

According to Catherine Parsons (Notes on Cambridgeshire Witchcraft, 1915, and Horscheath, Some recollections of a Cambridgeshire Parish, unpublished manuscript 1952): “Daddy witch in her prime would be amongst the many witches and wizards who flocked for miles round Horseheath to attend the frolic and dances held at midnight in lonely fields by the master witch of the neighbourhood. We hear that the witch from the neighbouring parish of Withersfield was often seen by Horseheath people riding thrugh the air to attend these revels upon a hurdle, and that witches and wizards returning in the early hours of the morning were seen to be in a terrible state of perspiration”.

Daddy Witch’s successor appears to have been one of the several Old Mother Redcaps known from around the country. This title, said to be the badge of office of fortune-telling women at Cornish fairs and Old Mother Redcaps are known from Essex, Sussex, Lancashire and Cambridgeshire at least. There were probably many more. Parsons refers to “The Witch”, who was probably Redcap: “I knew and admired this woman because of the number and interest of her skirts (one of which was always draped around her waist), her crossover and the poke bonnet she always wore indoors and out”. This was probably red in colour. Old Mother Redcap was a witch of the twentieth century, whose delivery of familiars in 1928 was a famous instance. In that year, a black man appeared at her door with a book for her to sign, in receipt for a rat, a cat, a toad, a ferret and a mouse, as her familiars. Some versions of the story say that the former witch at Horseheath had just died, and that the black man delivered a box from one end of the village to the other. The familiars were called Bonnie, Blue Cap, Red Cap, Jupiter and Venus. The story version giving the names says that Redcap inherited the familiars from her sister at nearby Castle Camps. She would never have died unless someone, against her orders, had opened a hutch in which the imps were kept wrapped in a red underskirt. This underskirt motif reflects the note by Parsons of “The Witch”, and is part of the “regalia” which included the red cap.

Horseheath Fair in the last century was known for “a witch, who it is remembered, danced the hornpipe better than any man or woman for miles around”. The tradition of Pagan sacred dance, which survived into this century as the “English Country Dance” was of course done extremely well by a witch, who understood its ritual meaning, and “all men, young and old, were eager to dance” with the witch at the Fair, obviously for reasons other than her undoubted expertise.

The importance of the Old Craft at Horseheath is attested by a story of a witch who lived by the Green, who refused permission for her husband to be buried in the churchyard when he died. Forced to agree, the bearers carried off the coffin, but after a short distance, they could no longer carry the weight, so they set it down {6} and opened it, only to find that there was no corpse, but the coffin was full of stones. Such lengths, with the body disposed of elsewhere, shows that the practice of burying witches in roads or at crossways may not have been the exclusion of Unbelievers from Christian consecrated ground, but a positive wish to be buried at centres of energy. It has always been assumed that the opposite is the case, but the abhorrence of adherents of the Elder Faith for Christian burial is an important one which should not be overlooked.

When any problems occurred on Church Farm at Horseheath in the last century, the tenant used to send five shillings to the local witch to pay her off, or to get her to practise magic against the problem. One woman, who had made several batches of heavy bread, paid the witch a fee to break the spell. Writers on these subjects always infer that the witch was the cause of the trouble, but equally the witch could have been countering the interference of another magician or extraneous demonic interference, The witch told the woman to burn a piece of the troublesome dough, at which time the witch’s cap ignited also, but which witch’s cap is never stated. It is hardly likely that a witch would be so incompetent as to incinerate her own liturgical headgear!

Survivals of the Elder Faith exist in many churches: the Sheila-Na-Gig and her phallic consort at Whittlesford, and the unfortunate desecration of the new grave in 1878 at the same place are not unconnected. The parallel existence in society of more than one tradition or tendency (now given the jargon term of “multi-cultural”) is not a new phenomenon: the beliefs of the Christian church have always been just one option for belief, which, although forced on the people by law, like many laws, was unpopular or evaded by those who wanted to evade them. The useful parts of wisecraft, such as the manipulation of horses by psychic or magical means, was too useful to be discarded as “evil” by literalists in the church. Many tales of witches and members of the Horseman’s Guild tell of how horses which would not go would be started miraculously by the cunning person, or how someone who had offended to cunning person would be unable to move their horses or cart until that person willed it. At Horseheath, near Money Lane, a carter got stuck fast, and, realizing that the horses were bewitched (perhaps by being in a part of a field which had harmful earth energies), called for the witch to overcome the problem. On arriving, the witch told the man to whip the wheels, not the horses, and the cart was moved at once. Sometimes, horses stopped dead outside the witch’s cottage, as if forces emanating from it affected them, perhaps generated as a by-product of the witch’s activities. When the witch came out and patted the horses “pretty dears”, they then moved on. A man whose cart got stuck in Silver Street, Cambridge, threatened to fetch a gun to shoot the horses, as he believed that this would kill the witch he believed to be responsible for the problem.

At Histon, near Cambridge, in about 1900, a witch was annoyed when the van driver who should have delivered flour to her, went straight past without stopping, so when he came back in the late afternoon, she caused the horses to stop dead outside her cottage, and to stay there until nine pm, at which time she came out, whispered to the horses, at which they moved again. At Willingham, Cambs, at the same time, Miss Disbury had a similar power over horses and other animals. The connexion between the horse – Horseheath – the use of horseshoes to ward off “witchcraft” and the worship of the Goddess in her form of Epona at Wandlebury, just up the Roman Road from Horseheath, cannot be coincidental. The control of “supernatural” forces inherent in shamanistic magic of which wisecraft is a part, naturally allows one access to the control of animals – even the Christian church admits this with the Nativity story and St Francis of Assissi. It appears from these tales that quite often the problems encountered with horses were cleared up by consulting with the witch, or that the stopping of horses was done only under provocation. The extraneous, accidental effects of witch practices, as a sort of by product of activities, is a possibility rarely considered.

In Norfolk, another of the Eastern Counties whose survivals of the Elder Faith were very strong into this century of the common era, there is a curious story concerning the Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VII, “Protector of the Craft”, a title assumed to refer to Freemasonry in which he was a leading light who formed it into the organization which it is today. When the Prince bought Sandringham in 1863, he expelled “several wise women” who lived in a group of {7} cottages there which he had torn down and replaced by modern ones for his servants. Only one old “Wise Woman” was allowed to remain, at Flitcham, for, it was said the Prince’s agent dared not remove her. She was endowed with a vast knowledge of herbal cures, and was known to wander miles in search of a certain herb needed for a specific cure. The Prince, like his successors to the present day, was an enthusiast for horses which he kept at Sandringham.

In 1880, the Prince was taken ill, and he was advised to use the herbal remedies of the old wise woman, who made him take mandrake wine for his cure. The woman’s name, is unrecorded; however, she was known as a herbal medic, an abortionist and a practitioner of the use of Rue Tea. It is a pity that such important historical material remains unrecorded, for if we knew the facts, then the appellation of Protector of the Craft may not have applied to Freemasonry after all. But that must remain speculation unless some documentary evidence comes to light. One thing it does show is that the cures and craft of the Old Wives were respected and used by the highest in the land, when nothing else would work. This ambivalent attitude in law of the upper classes is not unusual: it was exemplified in the laws on male homosexuality at the time, and in more subtle ways today.

Other famous horse stoppers and starters were Bet Cross, of Longstanton, who also rode on a hurdle (rather than a broomstick). She also operated some other magic, for when seen on a hurdle, she told the witness “Young man, you can tell on it when you think on it”, but it was not until her funeral many years later, that the spell was broken, and the man remembered seeing her airborne on a hurdle. A norfolk witch, known for her red cloak, Mother Staselson, is another who had the power over horses, though there it was known as the “evil eye”.

If was are to get any value out of these stories, and for them not to remain as entertainment or spectacle, then we must analyze their characteristics and attempt to interpret them in terms which can give us valid results. Too long have folklorists given those stories analyses which are based on academic nomenclature rather than an understanding of magic, geomancy and the praxis of the Elder Faith. The first thing (arbitrarily chosen, giving it no absolute value of prcedence) is the colour red, as in the red skirt, red cloak and red caps mentioned. This has been interpreted as being the colour of Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) the red-capped mushroom whose use in shamanistic practices as an hallucinogenic substance is known from Lappland, and is a common motif in children’s fairy-tale books. Secondly, the red cap is mentioned as an essential component for flying among witches in Ireland in Patrick Kennedy’s Fictions of the Irish Celts (1866). In this the cappeen d’yarrag is worn, and the formula “By Yarrow and Rue, and my Red Cap too, Hie Over to England” is used for flight on twigs or straws. It has also been noted that the badge of a heretic during the Spanish Inquisition was a red cap. And the tradition lingers on, for in the November 1985 edition of the “girlie” magazine Fiesta, the cover has a “witch” in red pointed hat, red cloak, and red underwear, which she takes off inside. Thus it appears that in the popular unconscious, and in witchcraft tradition in various parts of the British Isles, there is a connexion with the colour red.

Secondly, we have the consistent connexion of the wisecraft with horses, and especially control over them. The connexion of the Goddess with the horse is well known, and her manifestation as Epona, one of the chief Celtic goddesses, is known from Wandlebury, where there was a major shrine marked by the Gogmagog hill figures. Whittlesford and Horseheath are not far from this shrine, so the local survivals of the Elder Faith there may indicate a particularly powerful tradition just to the south of Cambridge. The taking off of “spells” on horses seems to have been a major trade of certain witches, and, as mentioned above, this could well have something to do with the control of earth spirits or energies. One famous witch’s house, on Wallasea Island, Essex, was known after the death of Old Mother Redcap who lived there as the Devil’s House or Tyle Barn. It was not possible for anyone to live in it because of the horned demon reputed to haunt it, and it is supposed to have driven a man to suicide by an insistent “Do it Do it!) until he did it. Bombed by the German Air Force in World War II (it was the only building on the island), it was finally obliterated by a tidal wave in the 1953 floods. The psychical energies obviously present at the house may have been instigated by Redcap, though it is possible that she chose such an active site for her house so that the powers could be utilized. Such witches’ houses would need their own special geomancy if they were to use, rather than to blank out, these energies.

{8} Present information is sparse, though the fact that Daddy Witch’s house was on a sort of island may indicate some geomantic parallel with Redcap’s house on Wallasea Island and another Old Mother Redcap’s house on Foulness Island. Water is a good geomantic (and magical) protector, but further research is required before any preliminary conclusions can be drawn.

Thirdly, we have the connexion with dancing. England has its own sacred dance as much as anywhere else, but, like so many of our indigenous Pagan traditions, it has been subordinated to imported things like Sufi or Red Indian dance, which, whilst containing their own mantic power, are inappropriate for the English psychical environment, The people who wished to dance with the witch at Horseheath fair would have done so for the transmission of some of her power, and also perhaps to learn the correct way of doing the dance, whose precise form is vital for the performance of effcctive magic. The fact that she did it at a fair, a place and time when normal legality is suspended, and which generally marked some pre-Christian festival, is another indication of the nature of the dance.

Fourthly, there are traditional places for the practice of the old craft. Horseheath in Cambridgeshire, Canewdon in Essex and Warboys in Huntingdonshire are three. The precise geomantic positioning of these places, and their layout has not yet been worked out, but this may give some clue as to why witchcraft survived in such a vigorous form and into the modern era at these places. Warboys was the site of a witch-persecution between 1589 and 93, when John, Alice and Agnes Samuel were executed for witchcraft, and Sir Henry Cromwell, Lord of the Manor, appropriated their goods and chattels as a result. He endowed a sermon, to be preached annually by a fellow of Queen’s College, Cambridge, at All Saints, Huntingdon, against “The Detestable Sin of Witchcraft”. Notably, All Saints Day is November 1st, of whose eve, Hallowe’en, is indelibly connected in the popular mind with witchcraft. The sermon was discontinued as late as 1812, the year after Shelley was expelled from Oxford for Atheism. Other places such as Great Covens Wood, not far from Cambridge, are redolent of the old craft, and the burials at the crossroads near Bar Hill, discovered in the late 1970s, indicate considerable practice in the area.

Fifthly, written works. The old wives were most probably in the main illiterate and uneducated in the school sense. The book The Devil’s Plantation is said to have belonged to Daddy Witch, and there is known to have existed an Infidel’s Bible at Great Gransden windmill in Hunts. However, the names given to these books of shadows by outsiders may not have been the names by which they were known to initiates. It is hardly likely that anyone would have taken care to examine such a work if it came into their possession, for instances such as the burning of Cunning Murrell’s books and also the incineration of the Great Gransden Mill book shows the fear which they engendered.

Sixthly, magical objects. The former witchcraft museum at Bourton-on-the-Water held a clay pyramid, pierced for hanging, which was reputed to have belonged to Ann (or Nanny) Izzard. Very few attested objects exist in the Eastern Counties; again, the possession of such things was held to be evil by those who were of the churchly faction, and they would be destroyed if found.

Seventhly, imps or familiars. Old Mother Redcap of Horseheath is special in that her animals were documented, with names. Interestingly, one was called redcap itself. The imps of Jabez Few, a male witch of Willingham, Cambs. in the later part of the last century and the early part of this (died in the 1920s), were a number of white rats which he had power over. He played practical jokes on his neighbours with these animals, even pitting one against a cat in a closed room, upon the opening of the door of which the cat was seen in terrified disarray, hanging on the curtains. Again, we see the control over animals which these cunning people possessed, part of the long association with magic which can be seen in the circus animal trainers’ art and the fakirs of India such as snake charmers. Modern commentators, imagining that people like Jabez Few were just practical jokers with animals as stage props have missed the point. The appalling destruction of such “imps” on the death of a witch, usually by burning in an oven, shows the fear which they generated.

{9} Eightthly, the control over the weather ascribed to wiccans. Here, we have the shamanistic tradition of the rainmaker or rainstopper, a common magical office in all continents before mechanization and westernization. Tradition in East Anglia ascribes the arising of a storm to the death of a witch. This connexion with the disruption of fine weather has parallels in the Wild Hunt, and the soul of the witch being carried off to Gwynvyd by the Wild Huntsmen. The manipulation of subtle energies which permitted the tuning in to the brainwaves of animals also permitted the generation and discharge of earthbound electrostatic charge, manifested as lightning, ghost lights etc.

Ninthly, the actual terminology: witch, wise woman, cunning man, wizard, woman wizard, planet reader etc.
We have the following categories recorded:

Planet Reader: Mr Rix of Shipdham, Norfolk (19th century)
Witch: Daddy Witch, Horseheath (19th century); Old Mother Redcap (20th century); Bet Cross, Longstanton (19th century); Susan Cooper, Whittlesford (19th c.); Mrs Mullinger, Monk Soham (19th century); Mother Staselson, Norfolk (19th c.); Tilly Baldrey, Huntingtoft (19th century); etc.
Cunning Man: Claypole of East Dereham (1880s).
Woman wizard: (unnamed) near Royston, Herts (17th century).
Alchemist: John Kellerman, Lilley, Herts (1820s).
Toadman: Any member of the Horseman’s Guild, also woman practising the same magic, such as Tilly Baldrey (Huntingtoft).
Wizard: Old Winter (Ipswich), late 18th century.
Wise Woman: The unnamed old woman of Sandringham (1880).
This complexisty of terms, each of which has precise meaning, defining a certain area of practice, shows that, contrary to the received opinion of Christian-oriented history, there was a flourishing non-Christian culture in rural England right up until its dissolution after World War I. This culture was practical, and did not rely upon the Christian ethos or the Christian rites in any way: indeed, as at Horseheath, it shunned these rites. It is remarkable that, except in a very few instances, the practices were tolerated by the authorities. The expulsion of the wise women from Sandringham is one exception: perhaps the Prince of Wales feared for his safety, though eventually he was forced to use one of them. In Arcady, For Better or Worse, A. Jessopp (1887) tells of the East Dereham coroner, conducting an enquiry in the 1880s on a woman found dead in bed, was informed of charms which she was wearing round her neck, having been purchased from the “male witch” or “cunning man” Claypole. The coroner had them returned to Claypole and threatened to prosecute him if he did not pay back the money to the woman’s widower. Later, Claypole’s apprentice met the coroner and told him how Claypole, terrified of prosecution, had destroyed his books by burial. The coroner’s anger was more of disdain for “rural superstition” than fear of the efficacy of magic, yet the effect was the same: the destruction of the old cunning, and the breaking of the line of apprenticeship.

The Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951, as it was thought that such things were passed by in the brave new atomic age of TV and jet aircraft. As late as 1947, Gordon Sutton of East Dereham, Norfolk, had been brought before the magistrates for physically attacking his neighbour, Mrs Spinks, for being a witch and practising witchcraft upon him. At the court, Mrs Spinks denied witchcraft, but, with her accuser, was bound over to keep the peace. Although by 1947, a somewhat truncated tradition on in both practice and numbers, its belief persisted, and in the ensuing years has taken on the form which now is practised widely.

The underground nature of the wise craft meant that it never had the sort of representation available to non-Christian religions in the higher echelons of society in England. There was no witch elected to Parliament like Rothschild: dissent against the Christian religion was not tolerated by those who “ought to have been Christian” – the indigenous working class countrypeople. Thus we come to the present day, where in the mid-1980s (common era) we have at last a realization that all of this traditional practice was in reality religious in function, as much as Christians blessing soldiers on the way to the Falklands War, the Christian blessing of new ships, Royal Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and other ceremonial which is taken for granted in Britain today. The wise women of the past did not realize this, for their function and praxis was part of their everyday being – it had no name at all. In the same way that the English Raj gave the collective name Hinduism to the {10} Indian Pagan religion, so the name Pagan is now applied to wiccan practice, Odinism (Asatru), Druidism and other Pantheon- and nature-oriented religious practices. Once something is recognized as having a name, then its description and dissemination is made simple: in the days of Nanny Izzard and Tilly Baldrey, the means of transmission was orally. There was no chance of the rites of the Toadsmen being printed: the presses were solidly in the hands of upstanding moneyed Christian gentlemen. Most of the practitioners were illiterate in any case, being farm labourers, carters or horsemen (and women). Oral culture was, at best, considered rough and rustic by those who had the presses, Its only chance of being noticed was in the journals of learned antiquarians or bowdlerized and sanitized into the sort of rural Arcadia myth now beloved of advertizers who peddle the myth in advertisements for Country Life Butter and the like. Upper class appraisals of Paganism came through the neo-Grecian angle, with writers like Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows, 1908) and D.H. Lawrence, drawing upon this theme (in a fully authentic manner), but ignoring their fellow countrywomen’s traditions which were being practised every day as they wrote. Magicians, like Crowley, Regardie and others, drew largely upon the Qabalistic tradition of High Magic such as would have been practised by certain wizards in the countryside. The wiccan tradition’s modern genesis has been dealt with at length elsewhere, so I will not detail that again. The Egyptian–Jewish tradition so prevalent in twentieth century magic has little place in the world of Toadsmen and Wise Women, who dealt with matters on a direct level.

The Pagan tradition as it now exists does have a considerable debt to this authentic indigenous religious tradition. It is almost de rigueur to claim spiritual or apostolic descent from one of the old wiccan associations of the past, or blood line descent from an old cunning woman or man, and this is a genuine authenticity which should not be underestimated. It shows that modern wiccan and other Pagan praxis is part of the chain of existence, from the past to the future, an unbroken chain of spiritual continuity. This is not a false claim of a new religion trying desperately to scrabble for forebears and antecedents to gain respectability: the records of the past, touched upon here, give this claim solidity. Naturally, the praxis of the Elder Faith today will not be the same as it was for Bet Cross or Susan Cooper, because conditions have altered in ways they could not have dreamt of. Howver, no religion stays the same, as the rotation of the signs of heaven deem it. The Christianity of 1985 is not the same as that of Torquemada’s era, nor that of Pope Sylvester II, in the same way that the monarchy of Queen Elizabeth II is not the same as that of Arwald, the last Pagan king in England. So it must be with Pagan praxis, for the era is different. This is not to change the ethos or the essence of Paganism, for to do that would be to destroy it. But we can learn from the practices of the past, and, with our vast access to information, evaluate them in a way never before possible. Thus the new Paganism is a revitalized force, far stronger than it has been for centuries, for it comes with the power of communication which was denied the likes of Mother Staselson.

Whilst the other non-Christian religions have now achieved acceptance in England (synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras and Hindu temples being common) with the influx of non-indigenous settlers, it is paradoxical that the Elder Faith, the true indigenous faith of the British Isles and Northern Europe has not yet been acceded the recognition it justifies, on a par with the others. Perhaos this is because of historical developments, where it was an illegal faith, suppressed for many years by the Christian hierarchy, whereas the others have arrived intact from outside, with their links to outside organizations in other countries. But the historical development of toleration, forst of Protestant dissenters, then Roman Catholics, then Jews, and now everyone else, should not prevent the official recognition of the Elder Faith, here and now. That it is not recognized is apparent from its exclusion from “religious broadcasting”, an anachronistic institution which guarantees air time on radio and TV to Christian opinion and worship (with the occasional Rabbi or Imam thrown in for goodwill). Likewise, the “religious education” in schools teaches the Christian faction’s view of things as true, whilst others (if mentioned at all) are taught as myth, legend or allegory, Worse, the Pagan ethos, and Pagan mythography, are not taught at all, despite their fundamental value to the indigenous population of these isles. The blasphemy laws, too, protect the good name of the Judaeo-Christian God the Father, and the Christian Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, against “defamation”. One is permitted to defame Krishna, or Mohammed, or Woden, or {11} the Great Goddess in her Waning Moon Aspect. This is clearly discriminatory and absurd, but when the blasphemy laws came up for scrutiny, the Gay News debacle effectively stopped further liberalization. It had been suggested that blasphemy should be extended to any religion or belief that worships a god or gods (goddesses were not mentioned, predictably). However, had this recommendation been taken further, and become law, then all of the Pagan persuasions would have been covered, and it would not have been possible for anyone to defame the Old Gods any more, and gas heaters called Thor and nuts and bolts called Woden would have been outlawed. This is no joke, for some years ago, safety matches were imported from India, of the brand name Jesus Christ. These were forbidden to be sold in Britain under the blasphemy laws.

All of this is unfair, because one of the principles upon which the modern British law is supposed to be based is equality for all: despite their shortcomings, the laws designed to eradicate racial and sexual discrimination are on the statute book, indicating a general belief in equality before the law. This is not the case for religion, which is, after all, a matter for personal conscience. Yet religions are considered differently by the state, and the attitude towards the Elder Faith is still one which is a leftover from earlier times of active repression. Only when the authentic practices of the wise women of old are seen as traditions to be proud of, native, indigenous traditions from our own roots, not rustic, backward, quaint and superstitious nonsense unfitting for educated and modern people, then the first step will have been taken to regaining that numinous, contact with the non-material world which these foremothers and forefathers of ours experienced.

References, literature, texts and sources.

This essay on the authentic tradition of the Elder Faith and its relationship to the law, the history of British officialdom and its status today is offered with the intention of clarifying certain important issues facing society today.

20th HUNTING, 1976 aT