'Witchcraft into the Wilds'
By Rachel Patterson
Moon Books, 2018
Rachel Patterson has written a number of books about witchcraft. She has an easy-going writing style, and a very common sense approach to her subject. Perhaps she has dealt with the more arcane, mystical elements of the Craft elsewhere, but this book is very much a practical guide.
The cover shows a cloaked figure standing in front of a misty woodland, their back to the viewer. It intimates a solitary connection to nature, and a turning away from the world. In a way, the focus of the book is exactly that. But, at the same time, we are welcomed and befriended by this engaging author, somewhat off-setting the presumed solitude of the journey we are considering.
The connection witchcraft hones with nature is of central importance to any practitioner. Witches commune with an ever-changing environment. Their interest is almost the polar opposite to the stable, monolithic certainties of most religious ideologies. Witches embrace change, and adapt seamlessly to circumstance. Their attention to the craft becomes a natural rhythm. It is embodied by symbols from nature - collected items that denote meaning through metaphorical properties. Spells draw together such items, the collection of which imbues special meaning to the practitioner. So, knowing what seed, root, flower, or berry holds what meaning is of great importance. This book presents collective understanding of many categories of things, as drawn from centuries (millennia?) of mostly British folklore and superstition. But it also acknowledges the personal meaning we each attach to items - from memories, associations, ideas. So there are no hard and fast rules at play, just guides and almanacs of items.
It also seems to matter little where we live. Delving into the wild to forage for materials for spells and rituals may maintain a romanticised vision of witchcraft, but it is far from necessary. City dwellers can find nature at work, in gardens, parks, or even weeds breaking out through the cracks in the pavement. The author asks us to rely upon our intuition to seek out fields of energy within the environment, and hone our sixth sense. The environment is full of spirits; it is our quest to feel their presence and interact with them in a constructive way. Rachel Patterson is our guide along this spiritual path, offering encouragement - and making us mindful of some of the potential pitfalls.
The eclectic mix of magic on display in this book runs the full spectrum. My wife's ears pricked up when I read out short passages on some of the spells described. A couple of hundred years ago, one would have kept such material very much under wraps. Now it is presented with a literary wink and glint in the eye. But I get it. Witchcraft is about communing with nature, and nature has many sides to it; its captivating beauty, its revitalising life force; but also its potential for wanton destruction, and its disposition towards natural justice (or selection). Witches might wish to tune into energies that take them in an assortment of directions, depending on where their lives and experiences (and desires) take them. There will always be parallel aspects in nature to guide their practice; light or dark.
The author peppers the book with witchy anecdotes and historical asides, keeping an upbeat and occasionally mischievous feel running through the book. Dark humour instils some of the deeper sections. The book also explores the etiquette of stepping beyond social norms in the pursuit of the right happenstance. Like hanging around in graveyards to collect soil samples, for instance. This reminded me of my ghost-hunting days (or rather, nights)!
The book also contains descriptions of how to go about conducting simple rituals and spells. It considers the pagan deities within nature, and their important aspects (I'd have liked to learn more). It ponders the importance of season, and natural cycles within nature. It reflects upon the character and animism of fauna, as well as the spirits within the environment that are not described within the pages of natural history textbooks.
All of that said, it is not the collected items and tools of the Craft that make the witch. Instead, it is the power and intent within:
"You don't need any magical tools, you don't need any quarter representations, you don't need a wand or an athame. In fact, you don't need any tools or items at all. Just you, your intent and your imaginations and you have yourself the most basic or elaborate ritual you can conjure up in your mind's eye. The power is within you not any items or tools." (p183)
Still, it's always handy to know what's what in the witchy world.
Book review by Andy Lloyd, 19th March 2018
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