Cornish Witchcraft

Cornish Witches

Cornwall is notorious for its fabled land of pixies, elves, faeries, witches, and magical folk. The entire area of England is just absorbed in magic and folklore … and most people … even if not magically connected will state that very fact … especially with Cornwall being the tromping grounds of King Arthur, Excalibur, and Merlin. My first visit to Cornwall I experienced none-other than sheer enchantment. From magical megalithic sites, mesmerizing coastlines, enchanted wells, to frolicking with Faeries on Lake Colliford my adventure was beyond magical. Cornwall also hosts a plethera of brightness and darkness … as it is entwined by leylines and magical practitioners such as Shamans, Witches, and Druids. Lore about mischievious faeries wreaking havoc on those who have crossed faerie paths or disturbed faerie mounds. The entire landscape is littered with evidence of Pagan beliefs, Paganism, Ritual, and Religion. No other place however has provided as much archaeological evidence of some of the macabre practices as was found in recent years at Saveok Mill in Greenbottom. This site involves purification pools, a possible sacred well or spring, and macabre rituals involving swans, magpies, and other birds in what could only be described as ‘offering pits’. Some of these ‘offering pits’ were still in practice even during the 17th century when the law of the Bible dictated that one should not suffer a witch to live and during a time when Cromwell’s army would surely have condemned anyone practicing such rites. Cornwall has appeared to have escaped the Roman vanquishing of Celtic Paganism as ‘Magic’ stayed alive and well there. However, throughout England it became illegal to practice magic and witchcraft. Even with the official bans, there is evidence of practice throughout the land. The first Witchcraft Act was passed in 1541 which propelled the Witch hunts, the Inquisition, the Witches’ hammer, and suffering for those accused of witchcraft which ended in 1735. Witches however, especially in Cornwall, and throughout the British Isles, have taken care of their neighbours by curing toothaches and aches, weaving love spells, telling fortunes, and blighting crops. This wasn’t exclusive to Cornwall nor England – it was pretty common throughout the world. Whether by the art of magic or through the course of an actual religion, Witchcraft was alive and well throughout the ages even to this very day back in an age where it can be practiced openly in broad daylight with minimal reaction from the mainstream bystanders. Witchcraft offered its participants the ability to bend, twist, and shape reality – to create change; to control the world by means of magic, ritual, and spellcraft. It all began quite secretive as an oral tradition – often passed on through family lines – changing through time – and varying today in the modern age where it is now written about, practiced throughout the world heavily, and embranced through an assortment of religions, traditions, and sects. Oddly enough, you can even get a “Witchcraft for Dummies” book from Barnes and Nobles. Depending on the scholar you talk to, there are roughly 9-13 different “types” of Witchcraft each with potentially hundreds of different traditions encompassed within those ‘types’.

Types of Witchcraft:

(Derived from occult-expert’s Isaac Bonewit’s classification system)

  1. Anthropological Witchcraft
    (This can include Root or Indigenous Witchcraft such as Voodoo, Vodun, Santeria, Yoruba, Bruja, Cunandero or that which is typically written in classical anthropological texts)
  2. Christian Witchcraft
    (Often the mixing of Neo-classic or Neo-Pagan Witchcraft with liberal Christianity, but this can include Catholic mutations with Paganism and Huna, Voodoo, Vodun, Santeria, Yoruba, Bruja, Cunandero, Celtic Christianity)
  3. Classical Witchcraft:
    The Craft aka “Witchcraft” or “Cunning Craft”. Common amongst Gypsies, Tinkers, Travellers, and those who utilized magic as a trade, business, or livlihood.
  4. Criminal Witchcraft:
    Not necessarily “religious based” but the use of magic (and often called witchcraft practice) for negative or wrongful purposes.
  5. Diabolic Witchcraft:
    formerly called “Gothic Witchcraft” by Bonewits, this is the “Devil Worshipping” Witchcraft that Fundamentalist Christianity Foams at the mouth about with their Biblical passages for not suffering a witch to live. Historically quite imaginary delusional cults of Satan worshippers that the Medieval Church dreamt up for the Inquisition, those that do practice Diabolic Witchcraft today are usually Satanists in the forms of misguided teenagers mimicking what they saw on a horror movie.
  6. Dianic Witchcraft:
    Practiced by some modern Neo-Pagan faiths of Goddess Worshippers, original Dianic tradition claims roots with medieval Cults of the Goddess Diana or Dianus worshippers. Also a form practiced by some Feminist Witches today.
  7. Eclectic Witchcraft
    (Mish-mash of Neo-Paganism, Meso-Paganism, Paleo-Paganism with Witchcraft or Witchcraft practice)
  8. Ethnic Witchcraft
    Magical-based Faiths or Practices by People of non-English language that are often labelled “Witches” by Western Culture. Some of these are based in Norse, Asatru, Odinism, Hindu, Huna, Mama Chi, Native, Indigenous, Voodoo, Vodun, Santeria, Yoruba, Bruja, Cunandero, Strega, etc. influences and some do label themselves as “Ethnic Witchcraft”)
  9. Family Tradition or “Fam Trad” Witchcraft

    Those claiming to come from blood-line or taught within family-lines the Craft. Also often labelled “Hereditary” or “Genetic Witchcraft”. Many of those claiming to be of this type are often fradulent or lying, or lied to by their teachers.
  10. Faerie/Feri/Fairy/Faery/Faeid Witchcraft
    (Most of these fall under Neo-Pagan, but various sects especially with Feri, Faeid, and Otherkin traditions cannot fit under the Neo-Pagan label. “Feri” is specifically Victor Anderson’s creation. Some “Faerie” Witchcraft represents homosexual, bisexual, or transexual orientation in their practice. Some Feri/Otherkin/Faeid practices are based around the Belief in Faerie beings living in the human world (think Lord of the Rings) and the Otherworlds. Many of these fall under “Neo-Pagan Wicca”. )
  11. Feminist Witchcraft
    New monotheistic or henotheistic faiths started in the 1970’s during the feminist movement and women’s spirituality. Often blended into Neo-Paganism.
  12. Traditional Witchcraft
    Often Neo-Pagan variants of Witchcraft claiming Traditional roots. Very much the founding roots of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft or Wicca, it is the ‘Orthodox’ version of Wicca. This can include Gardneerian, Alexandrian or Al-Gard traditions.
  13. Goth Witchcraft
    Witchcraft practiced by individuals or groups within the “Gothic” music sub-culture. Very much Neo-Pagan witchcraft or Wicca. Sometimes Neo-Diabolic Witchcraft. Focus is on darker Deities and magic.
  14. Grandmotherly Witchcraft

    Very much a part of Fam-Trad, those that claim their “Grandmother” or “Grandfather” taught them.
  15. Immigrant Tradition Witchcraft

    Meso-Pagan immigrants or peasants that brought their Pagan culture and belief with them mingling their traditions with the culture they are now a part of such as Native, Indigenous, Voodoo, Vodun, Santeria, Yoruba, Bruja, Cunandero forms of Witchcraft. Often the practitioners of these traditions don’t call themselves a witch in their own language, but are labelled as such by outsiders.
  16. Neoclassical Witchcraft
    Those of Modern times practicing the Craft of Witchcraft and calling themselves “Witches” and not necessarily Religion based or aligning themselves with Neo-Paganism or Wicca.
  17. Neo-Diabolic Witchcraft

    Labels and identification by Satanists who want to be everything that the medieval churches labelled as dark, evil, or as witchcraft. This includes practices of Black Masses, blasphemy of Christianity, orgies, etc.
  18. Neo-Pagan or “Wicca”
    Modern-day revival of “Witchcraft” as a Earth-based or Earth-worshipping Spirituality that is part of Neo-Paganism. These include traditions such as Buckland, Seax-Wicca, Witta, Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Al-gard, Celtic Wicca, The Grail Religion, Reclaiming, Druidic Witchcraft, and any other tradition that labels themselves “Wicca”, “Wicce”, or “Witta”)
  19. Neo-Shamanic Witchcraft
    Those recreating what is believed to be Shamanic Witchcraft in modern times. Often blended with New Age Spirituality or faiths.
  20. Shamanic Witchcraft
    Witchcraft based around plant-based Shamanism, ethno-botanical visions, or religious-drug culture. Originally beliefs and practices of postulated independent belladonna/Moon Goddess Cults claiming roots in pre-medieval Europe.
  21. Ceremonial or “Ceremonial Magick Witchcraft”
    Those claiming to be Witches that practice or incorporate Ceremonial or Crowley based Magic into their Witchcraft. Traditions such as Kemetic, Tameran, Discordian, Erisian, Chaos Magick, Golden Dawn, Reconstructionist, or Crowley can fit under this label)

Once the anti-witchcraft laws were repealed by the 1950’s … Witchcraft became quite popular through the ages in writing, media, film, and image. Today it’s quite hip to be a ‘witch”. But back in the day, here in Cornwall, it was practiced often in the dark shadows, hidden fields, and private places. Witch trials and hangings were commonplace in the 16th-17th centuries. Those falling victim to the Bible’s “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” quite often were not indeed a member of any type or tradition of Witchcraft, but in many cases a practitioner of an opposing faith or atheism from the person accusing them. All it took was to whisper that your neighbour was a witch that could lead to your opponents death. Witchcraft is so common and popular in Cornwall that it lead to a creation of a actual Witchcraft Museum. Today you’ll still find secret covens gathering under the dark moon light, at hengestones or stone circles, while others are quite out in the open and in-your-face with their religious practices and beliefs. Many of the stone circles and megalithic sites in Cornwall are re-utilized by modern day practitioners as a sort of ‘reclaiming’ by Celtic Shamans, Witches, and Druids. There is quite the difference between classical and traditional or craft-based Witchcraft from the modern Neo-Pagan movement of Wicca. In fact, many of the traditional Cornish Witches abhor the modern day movements of “Neo-Paganism” while others embrace it. The Practice of Witchcraft as a “craft” or magical practice is found throughout the countryside in terms of magical wells, wishing trees, folk beliefs, interactions with the faeries, love spells, cursings, and healing. Possessions of charms, amulets, and talismans are thought to be passed on in ‘lineage of Cunning’. Much of the Traditional Cornish practices and rites are passed on in small and rare associations and apprenticeships. Today there are believed to be various “Witch Cults” operating in Rocky Valleys of North Cornwall. Traditional Witchcraft in general is ‘regional’ in nature embracing roots with local folklore, customs, heritage, and traditions. Sometimes these are blended with other religions – such as Christianity, Catholicism, or other forms of Paganism. The Cornish “Pellar-current” tradition is said to be based on Witch beliefs in Cornwall that blossomed in the 19th century when Cornwall was home to many professional Pellars, Charmers, and “White Witches” when “witchcraft” here was a business and trade. It became quite a common trade in Cornwall to sell spells, cures, curse-reversals, charms, and traditional Cornish charm bags. Some of these were merchanted via mail order and today can be obtained via the internet. Much of Cornish witchcraft charms, spells, incantations, and rituals have been written down and published – some accurately based on historical practice while others based on hog-wash fantasy that someone just dreamt up. To attract clients or attention, there are a plethera of individuals, covens, and groups who will claim to come from secret family traditional covens, ancient hereditary “Pellar” blood-lines, or connections with historical lines when in truth they are frauds or making it up as they go. There exists libraries of lore about various traditions and heritages – and since much of “Witchcraft” practice was never “written down” … no one can be sure of any claim. You have tales of lineage from Old George of the New Forest Coven that Gerald Gardner (founder of modern day Witchcraft) claims to have come from and thereby able to ‘pass on the power’ to initiates as well as stories of “Matthew Lutey” who is said to have founded a “Pellar line” by rescuing a mermaid stranded in a rock pool – and for the act was gifted magical powers to heal and exorcise evil … is believed to have passed on those powers into the bloodlines of his descendants. There are stories of the “Penwith coven” who are a secretive lot who go under a different secret name than that label. There is stories of the Witch named “Madgy Figgy” who sat on her chair on the coast of St. Levan where she’d cast spells to whip up the seas and cause shipwrecks. There’s tales of Alex Sanders, the “Ros an Bucca hearth”, Ruth Wynn Owen, “Jack Daw”, Ithell Colquhuon, Tony ‘Doc’ Shiels, Robert Cochrane, and various others who claim to have obtained roots or knowledge from this area of England. Others claim the ability to “pass the power”. Whether fradulent claims or if powers could be passed by on by bloodline – these situations don’t qualify or disqualify a person from being able to practice magic, as any anthropologist or authority on magic can tell you its inherit in all of humankind. Yesterday’s Magic quite often becomes today’s science and technology. This is why so many modern variants of the practice of witchcraft is popular, alive and well throughout the world.

Popular Witch and Faerie Stories From Cornwall: Madgy Figgy who sat on her chair along the shores of St. Levan, whipping up spells to stir storms and cause shipwrecks flying over them to watch the chaos. But one day she met her match as a woman’s body washed ashore adorned with jewels that Madgy wanted. As she stripped them off and buried the body in the cliff – a light appeared that night in the cove, settling on the grave, and moving over to Madgy’s chair. This became a nightly event until a stranger appeared asking to see the graves of a recent shipwreck, eventually leading the stranger to Madgy’s theft of the jewels to the point where Madgy had to give the valuables to the stranger stating “one witch always knows another, dead or living”. Zennor has a legendary Witches Rock where local witches often meeet on Midsummer’s Eve. If the rock is touched nine times at midnight, one will be protected from evil and bad luck. The 9 year old boy from St. Allen (near Truro) who disappeared without a trace until three years later was found sleeping on a bed of ferns in the forest had claimed that a beautiful lady led him to an underground cavern of pure crystals supported by pillars of glass was fed fairy food and trapped in Faerieland. Tales of Spriggans on Trencrom Hill who are a clan of warrior faeries protecting the treasures in the hills that attack those trying to steal the gold. Tales of Knockers in the local mines that appear with large heads and faces of old men that are sometimes helpful, working ahead of the miners and leading them to rich veins of ore, but could turn mischief or peril just as often such as in the case of Tom Trevorrow of St. Just who caused him ill luck.

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