Beliefs and Practices of Folkloric Witchcraft
Many Kinds of Modern Witchcraft
With a need for unrestricted, rebellious, alternative paths of spirituality and religion came the rise of modern witchcraft in the first half of the twentieth century. Individuals like Gerald Gardner, Sybil Leek, and Laurie Cabot came out of the "broom closet", so to speak, and announced to the world that witchcraft was their religion. And that they were proud to call it their way of life. In a society that mostly shunned any religion other than the mainstream, these individuals cleared a path for future spiritual rebels and visionaries to create their own traditions and practices.
Today there are those who refer to themselves as pagan, Wiccan, and even as witches. Some say Wiccans and witches are the same, but those who are witches that don't consider themselves Wiccan will strongly disagree. Witchcraft has its own traditions and practices, and now there are set traditions of the craft separate from the religion of Wicca or neo-pagan religions. One of the newer forms (with a focus on the old craft) is called Folkloric Witchcraft. But what is it and what does it entail? How is it different from Wicca, Traditional Witchcraft, and other forms of witchcraft? Find out here.
What Is Folkloric Witchcraft?
Folkloric witchcraft is a form of witchcraft that focuses its beliefs and practices heavily on folklore and history. A folkloric witch seeks to mirror aspects of the witch from folk tales and historical documents. Within this definition, there is a lot of lee-way and open opportunity for the individual practitioner to tailor his or her craft to meet his or her spiritual needs and unique path. Folkloric witches may use folklore from their local area and include it in their practice in some way. They may also use folklore from the lands of their ancestors, or folklore from the a culture of their interest.
Why use folklore as a basis for a religion or practice? Folkloric witches believe that folklore is a blueprint or map of traditions and beliefs that have been passed down from person to person for centuries. Folklore was originally passed down verbally but in more recent centuries, folklorists like Jacob Grimm, Claude Lecouteux, and Emma Wilby have studied and recorded folk tales into written works for all to enjoy. While folklore isn't necessarily fact or "history", it gives us an idea as to the morals, fables, lessons, and traditions potentially used by our ancestors or by the people who once occupied the land on which we live. To study and practice the "old ways", we have to have some sort of idea as to what the "old ways" might have been. Folklore isn't historical fact but gives us a peek into the past.
From where is this information retrieved? Sources used by folkloric witches may include books of folklore, fairy tales, folk magick, folk medicine, and even historical aspects of witchcraft based on documents from the witch trials in Europe and elsewhere. Works of mythology can also be used in folkloric witchcraft practices and traditions. Much of this information can also be found online, though the practitioner should be mindful of the legitimacy of the sources used.
Examples of Folklore Books for Witches
Irish & English
Ozark Magic & Folklore by Vance Randolph
Fairy & Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry by WB Yeats
Grimm's Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm
American Superstitions by Claudia DeLys
The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by WY Evans-Wentz
Teutonic Mythology by Jacob Grimm
Salem Witch Trials (historical)
The Celtic Twilight by WB Yeats
The Black Forest Its People & Legends by Lisbeth Gooch
American Witch Stories by Hubert J. Davis
Wicked Enchantments by Joyce Froome
Encyclopedia of Norse & Germanic Folklore by Claude Lecouteux
Basic Beliefs and Practices
Folkloric witchcraft studies folklore and uses it to inspire beliefs and practices unique to the individual witch. It is a "book heavy" practice, but also condones the practitioner to connect with his or her natural landscape and the spirits that reside there. Many folkloric witches work with the genius loci as their familiars and guides. The folkloric witch might tend a garden or grow plants that are mentioned in certain folk tales.
Folkloric witches often practice or seek to reconstruct the practices of the witch of folk legend, including: shapeshifting, flying with the use of flying ointments (trance-work and astral projection), working closely with local wildlife (as mentioned before with the genius loci), working with ancestors and the dead, as well as working with the wee folk (sidhe/fairies/etc).
If the folkloric witch is basing his or her beliefs off of local or ancestral folklore, they might use a specific book or passage that resonates with them. In American Witch Stories, there are folk tales that mention a "witch ball". The folkloric witch might choose to use this in his or her practice by attempting to recreate the witch ball based on the folk tales. The gods and spirits spoken of in folklore might be deities the witch chooses to work with in his or her daily life. The witch might set up an altar for this deity or leave offerings for it based on what folklore says.
Fairies are a large part of Irish, English, and folklore elsewhere in Europe, and folkloric witches could be drawn to working with the wee folk because of their presence in folklore. WB Yeats' works on the Irish folk tales is a great resource, as well as WY Evans Wentz' book on the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. Fairies are found in folklore all over the world, so this is an easy topic to research and include in one's folkloric witchcraft. It is traditional to leave offerings for the fairies on one's back step or porch.
Folkloric Witchcraft vs. Traditional Witchcraft
There is a witchcraft establishment known as American Folkloric Witchcraft developed by two witches in Indiana, U.S. Their practices are close to that of folkloric witchcraft, but they also use a mixture of practices from ancient Egypt and Britain, among others. They claim to be inspired by the works of Robert Cochrane and Robert Graves, which are two of the authors and witches who helped to found Traditional Witchcraft in Britain.
Is Traditional Witchcraft and Folkloric Witchcraft the same thing? This is up for debate. Some believe they are different in that Traditional Witchcraft is often inspired by the writings of Robert Cochrane, Robin Artisson, and Andrew Chumbley. While folkloric witchcraft focuses mostly on folklore and works of mythology. However, as Sarah Anne Lawless states in her informative blog, "Traditional Witchcraft is much bigger than any one tradition. It is an umbrella term much like 'Pagan' or 'Reconstructionist' to classify all the hundreds of traditions and practices that fall within its shelter." This could mean that folkloric witchcraft falls under the umbrella term of traditional witchcraft in that it seeks to revive the image and ideals of the "folkloric witch" from the pages of fairy tales and legend. What do you think?
© 2017 Nicole Canfield