Witchcraft and Secret Societies of Rural England
The Magic of Toadmen, Plough Witches, Mummers, and Bonesmen
by Nigel Pennick
Bright Blessings, Readers!
If you are like me, you nab every book you can that explores magic on a historic level, as opposed to just flipping through modern spellbooks.
Pennick doesn’t disappoint in this 216 page book that was first published in 2011, and was sent to us to review, having been printed again this year.
A bit about the author- Pennick has published extensively on topics ranging from history of the occult, folk traditions, biology, and art. A UK native, he has been teaching, writing, and lecturing for decades. He drew knowledge from research, and involvement with groups, being a Mummer, himself, when he compiled material for this book.
The chapters delve into topics from Ritual Disguise and Resistance, Tools of the Craft, and Markets and Fairs. I will share from one particular chapter, Magic, Farming, and the Land.
He begins on page 163, “Straw, the by-product of grain farming, has many uses. Straw roping, or netting was used all along the western seaboard of Europe to tie down roof thatch.” Writing of more mundane use, he continues to the sacred, “ Straw is an important material symbolically. The Cambridgeshire courting custom uses a ‘true lover’s knot’ plaited from straw. The suitor gives his potential wife a straw plait, and if she wears it later pinned to her dress on the right side, it is a sign of rejection. If to the left, by the heart, with the ears of corn pointing right, it is a sign of acceptance.” He further lists a Norfolk harvest tradition dating from at least as far back as the 1800’s where the last sheath of the harvest is taken in, decorated, and venerated. He then goes into detail about various uses of corn dollies, shows photos, lists dates and accounts he drew from, and further writes about what he calls “Men of Straw”. This practice goes back to at least the 1500’s, as evidenced by a painting The Battle of Carnival and Lent by Breughel. Some straw men were made to be burned, and some were costumes men wore for celebrations.
I love learning about what folk traditions influenced modern neo Paganism. This book reminds us that one need look no further than modern day secular cultural celebrations that survived because they are so sacred, they transcend religion. Pennick lists example after example of these traditions, where they came from, and shows some modern folk who continue those traditions today.
It is a reminder that magic and witchcraft need not be fraternal, hidden, or done in circle, although it certainly can be. It does not necessarily entail candles, incense, or even religion at all. Sometimes, it’s just the living communing with the dead by doing what they did, and remembering events past, as the Wheel of the Year turns. It’s not necessarily mysterious at all, and can be as simple as what celebrates earth, people, and nature. It can be just for fun, and fellowship, as there are times when bonding with community and family, celebrating who we are, where we have come from, and teaching the children, is the most magical practice of them all.
Pennick has written not only this fascinating masterpiece, but various others (Nigel Pennick Books) you can use to learn of the true Old Ways, and how modern people keep them alive. Highly recommended reading!
Happy Reading, and Blessed Be!
About the Author:
Saoirse is a recovered Catholic. I was called to the Old Ways at age 11, but I thought I was just fascinated with folklore. At age 19, I was called again, but I thought I was just a history buff, and could not explain the soul yearnings I got when I saw images of the Standing Stones in the Motherland. At age 29, I crossed over into New Age studies, and finally Wicca a couple years later. My name is Saoirse, pronounced like (Sare) and (Shah) Gaelic for freedom. The gods I serve are Odin and Nerthus. I speak with Freyja , Norder, and Thunor as well. The Bawon has been with me since I was a small child, and Rangda has been with me since the days I was still Catholic. I received my 0 and 1 Degree in an Eclectic Wiccan tradition, and my Elder is Lord Shadow. We practice in Columbus, Ohio. I am currently focusing more on my personal growth, and working towards a Second and Third Degree with Shadow. I received a writing degree from Otterbein University back in 2000. I have written arts columns for the s Council in Westerville. I give private tarot readings and can be reached through my Facebook page Tarot with Saoirse. You can, also, join me on my Youtube Channel.