The Ancestors of Witchcraft

Jul 9th, 2013 | By | Category: David Salisbury

david salisburyI’ve been on this huge history kick lately. Although anyone who knows me well can tell you that I’m always on a “huge history kick.” But the past 5 months or so have been different. While I normally enjoy reading about Witchcraft history from a historical and knowledge-based perspective, I’ve recently been making a conscious effort to incorporate those learnings into my regular spiritual and magickal practices. I’ve been doing that by honoring all of the amazing leaders and teachers in the Craft who have gone before.¬†

I do keep an ancestral altar in the middle of the living room in my home. It’s filled with photos and momentos of loved ones and blood relatives who have crossed over as recently as one year and as far back as 250 years ago. For a long time this reverence felt so substantial all on it’s own. But the more I worked with the dead over the years, the more I felt compelled to honor those who I may not be related to, but are still part of my “Witch Family.” Sure these include iconic characters like Gerald Gardner, Robert Cochrane, and Doreen Valiente, but they now also include lesser known Witch leaders from my local area and those connected to my tradition in some way. Aha, I had found the missing link!
In the first chapter of his book Witchcraft Today (1954, Rider & Company), Gerald Gardner mentions the ancestral Witches when discussing how his Witch contacts view the afterlife:
“It would seem to involve an unending series of reincarnations; but I am told that in time you may¬†become one of the mighty ones, who are also called the mighty dead.”
The comparison of these beings to “saints” clearly shows that they are not what we would normally think of as familial ancestors or the spirits of loved ones who have crossed over. Instead, these “mighty dead” seem to be a type of ascended masters, Witches who have achieved some kind of great status in the world beyond and have decided to play a role in guiding the living Witches of the present day. It’s also pretty clear that although the series of reincarnations seem unending, you may “in time” qualify to be among the mighty dead yourself! So in this case, the great Witch ancestors are not only beings that may be revered and called upon, but are also a sort of spiritual standard that we can look up to in some way. This is not unlike the idea of the Bodhisattva in Buddhism.
So what is the point of working with the great Witch ancestors and how can you do it? Well to start with, it seems that an immediate benefit is the transference of great personal gnosis in the areas of magick, lore, and the like. Although I do know others who have had other types of personal benefits, depending on which being is worked with. The “how” is something that in many ways can be left up to the imagination. ¬†In my tradition, one simply does the same sort of workings for the Witch Ancestors as you would all other ancestors, although you may involve them more in formal ritual activity. For example, many in the Anderson Feri tradition will brew up some black buttered tea for Victor Anderson or bake a pie for Cora Anderson. ¬†These are both things they enjoyed in their life and appeal to their sense of fondness for the physical plane. It’s not a teasing beckoning to draw them near, but a show of respect and appreciation for their attention and guardianship. The Witch ancestors are NOT goetic-style spirits that are “commanded” into task. They are the enlightened dead and should be approached with a sense of gratitude and admiration.
My spiritual practice has greatly improved by working with the Witch ancestors. I’ve already mentioned the feeling of magickal gnosis that comes from learning from them, but they can also provide a feeling of companionship and loyalty that a lot of Witches who aren’t in a coven structure might desire. This could be part of the meaning of the popular phrase “A Witch is never alone.” We are never alone because we are constantly surrounded by our beloved teachers and leaders of the Craft. They stand on the edge of the circle, waiting for an invitation to join in our rites, aiding us in the great work of keeping the old ways alive.¬†
david salisburyDavid Salisbury is Wiccan clergy within Coven of the Spiral Moon, a coven based in Washington DC. The focal point of his spiritual practice is one of service, activism and respect. He currently lives with his partner (a psychic medium) in the DC/Maryland area of the United States. 

One Comment to “The Ancestors of Witchcraft”

  1. Highland Hedgewitch says:

    I a first generation Solitary Witch, I come from a long line of Christian and Jewish faiths. My ancestors would all probably turn in their graves if they were to know how far from the path I had strayed.

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