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The Horned God

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To the Celts, the Horned God was known by names such as Cernunnos, Cerne or Belatucadros, and was depicted as a humanoid figure who was more commonly depicted as having stag-like antlers rather than true horns. One of Cernunnos’ titles was Lord of the Hunt, but as time progressed agriculture could sustain alongside hunting and the Horned God became the god also of a broader fertility. Worship of this deity was hoped to not only maintain plentiful meat, but also ensure a bountiful crop harvest and even the successful procreation of mankind. In such we find the concept of life, death and rebirth, - a motif oft to be found within Celtic myth. As death is integral to the continuous circle of life, Cernunnos has also been associated to the Underworld, the realm of the dead. Whilst the invading Romans could associate the Horned God with some of their own belief concepts, such as the deity Pan or the horned spirits called Fauns and Satyrs, the developing Christian Church however could not comfortably assimilate this fertility icon into their own ethos and so Cernunnos was demonised. Thus the Horned God became Horny Devil.


 

The Earth Goddess

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The Earth or Mother Goddess was an extremely important concept to the faith of the Celts and Anglo-Saxons, as she represented the land itself (which they considered sacred) and was seen as the source of life. For this reason many springs and rivers were consecrated to her, as were hills that resembled womanly curves. Generally in humanised form the Earth Goddess is represented as a naked, sometimes heavily pregnant and wode-tattooed, beautiful woman. She could also represent the Tripartite or ‘Triple-Aspect’ common in some readings of Celtic Lore and as such could be the mother who nurtures, the sister who befriends or the lover who puts the knife in the back and twists. The Earth Goddess had many names according to time, tribe and locality but to all she was the fount of birth, life and death, of fertility, healing and regeneration. But as well as being beautiful and nurturing, like nature itself, she sometimes displayed a ferocious aspect to her character. As Dana, the Earth Goddess was the mother of the Tuatha de Danaan - the race of people that evolved into the Daoine Sidhe or Faeries. In other aspects she is the earth itself and mother of all.


 

Proto-Druids

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Little is known of the religious practices of the pre-Celtic people in Britain and Ireland, but as they were the architects of the many mysterious Megalithic monuments that grace these lands and as they were known to ceremoniously bury their dead, spiritual contemplation seems evident. It is highly possible that pre-Druidic religion in these isles was essentially Shamanic and concerned with totemic animism, ancestor worship and the veneration of the Sun and other celestial bodies. Either naked and marked with body-paint or tattoos, or clad in the fur or feathers of the tribal Totem, the Proto-Druid may have used meditation, musical mantras and psycho-active plants and compounds to attain an altered state of being. In such a condition they would behold visions or travel to the Spirit-realm in astral form (some Shamans are said to be able to transform fully into animal form or perform other astounding feats). Upon their return to the everyday world, they often related important messages pertaining to problems concerning the weather, agricultural, hunting, social, military or medical matters.


 

Druids

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The Druids were the Celtic priest-class but it is still uncertain whether they originally developed within Celtic society, preceded it or arrived in these isles separately (a romantic theory places their origins in the lost island of Atlantis). The Druids however were not merely preachers but, like the Celtic Gods, they were respected for being able to perform a number of different functions and abilities. They therefore needed to learn a lot of skills, preferably from an early age. Indeed Britain was said to host an exceptional ancient school of Druidry, to which students were sent to attend from Ireland, the Isles and also the French-Celtic regions of Gaul and Brittany. As well as augury, magic and ritual, they would also need to learn to be efficient judges, councillors and teachers. They could later concentrate on certain areas and assume specific roles such as Ovates (Shamanic bards and poets), Uatis (scholars of sacrifice and nature) or Brehons (diviners and judges). Females could also be initiated as Druidesses, or Drui-ban. Whilst Druids may very well have utilised the Megalithic monuments that preceded them, it seems probable that due to the reverence placed by them upon trees, that sacred groves and other natural sites would have been of equal if not greater importance to their worship.


 

Celtic Saints

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Though early Christianity sought to convert the Heathens and to wipe out the Pagan superstitions, it found that it couldn't dispel magic and the supernatural entirely. Some Pagan customs were assimilated and adapted by the Church and they considered the use of Sorcery and communication with the Faeries and other preternatural entities as extremely sinful. Yet magic and miracles surrounded many of the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Saints themselves. Some were taunted and tempted by evil spirits whilst wondrous deeds were attributed to the likes of Cuthbert, Patrick, Dyfed, and Columba amongst numerous others. However unlike the Sorcerers, Witches and perhaps the Druids, the Saints did not take any direct credit for the magic-making and instead claimed that they were merely a conduit for God’s divine power and will.


 

Seers

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Within the communities of Britain and Ireland, there was a tradition of people outside of an organised religious discipline that could be called upon to administer to supernatural needs (though it must be noted that some had strong Pagan or Christian faith - in fact individuals such as the author and Otherworld observer, Robert Kirk, and John Morrison, the Petty Seer, were actually men of the cloth). Known as Wise-men or women (or by a sizable variety of other names, some pertaining to particular abilities), these people were likely sought to cure ailments or dispel evil spirits that had proved too difficult for conventional physicians and priests. Other tasks they may be approached to undertake could also include countering the effects of Malefactors’ curses, locating lost or stolen property, preparing herbal remedies and protective talismans, predicting or advising on future events and possibly even delivering babies. Those living by the coast were also said able to assist maritime voyagers with fair winds and currents to assist the progress of their vessels. This was sometimes achieved by the use of knotted ropes or bound bags. Some Wise-folk would sometimes assist people without taking any payment in return, but others expected money or other gratuity for their services. Those who were born with or developed Second Sight (the power to see into the future or into the Otherworld, or other distant places) were often referred to as Seers.


 

Malefactors

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The word ‘Witch’ means ‘one who casts a spell’ in Old English, and can apply to both males and females either of a good or wicked disposition. It is however most commonly applied to those people who live on the fringes of society who use magic for malign and devilish purposes (Maleficia). Such Malefactors are believed to have been resident in Britain and Ireland long before the coming of either the Anglo-Saxons or Christianity. They have consistently used their powers to steal or extort the property of others, exact feats of spite or revenge, and to generally heighten domination over others. Such capabilities attributed to them were Overlooking, also known as casting the Evil Eye, or Ill-Wishing (causing misfortune, disease and disaster to befall people) and causing crop blights and the Murrain (disease in livestock). They were also said to possess the ability to fly, or transform their bodily size and shape into that of animals or other weird forms. Witches were also often blamed for provoking trouble and consternation at dairy farms by magically redirecting milk from cows’ udders to a tap in their residence, for causing their victims to vomit pins or other unsavoury foreign bodies, become infertile or impotent (Ligature) as well as being the procurers of sudden devastating storms at sea. Experts in the latter were known as Sea-Witches and could also be paid to ensure good sailing weather. Invocations, graven images and strange concoctions of herbs and animal & human body parts were also reportedly utilised in the casting of spells.


 

Familiars

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Also known as: Imps, Puckrels, Familiar Spirits.
Malefactors were oft accused of consorting with Faeries and the Devil, and also of forming intimate bonds with Familiars. Familiars are minor Demons resident in this world and under the servitude of Malefactors (though their ultimate master is the Devil). Either appearing in human form, as varied (but recognisable) animals, or as weird indefinable beasts, Familiars would assist malevolent Witches in the spread of their wickedness. Their service had a cost, however, as their human employers were required to feed their Familiar on warm blood direct from their own veins. Such suckling would leave a distinguishable blemish upon the body (the so-called Witch-Marks), or so the Witch-Finders claimed as they stripped Witchcraft suspects in search of physical evidence. Additionally further proof of guilt could be asserted should any creature approach a prisoner incarcerated under suspicion of crimes of magic. However as archaic dungeons were particularly low on hygiene, it would likely be inevitable that some vermin would be seen in the vicinity. Even a single beetle or such-like would sometimes be enough to merit a guilty verdict.


 

Witch-Hunters

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Though it is highly probable that the Celtic Brehons and the law enforcers of other early cultures in Britain and Ireland dealt rough justice to the Malefactors that proved threatening to society, it was not until 1563 that Witchcraft became an official capital offence in Britain. Between 1450 and 1750 much of Europe was to fall under the shadow of the Witch-Hunts. Although the number and harshness of British / Irish procedure fell far short of the quantity of suspects condemned on the European mainland (particularly Germany), that of course would have been of little consolation to the many people (innocent or otherwise) that did suffer as a result of the Witch-trials in these lands. Despite their very superstitious nature, judicial Witch-Trials did not occur very often in Ireland, though it is possible that vigilante action was taken against suspected Witches more often than is reported. In England and especially Scotland, Witch hysteria seems to have taken a greater hold and many people suffered as a result. There were those that profited from the misery, however, as the likes of Matthew Hopkins (the Witchfinder General) and other Witch Hunters and Prickers made decent careers from the accusations. Extreme Continental torture was employed in Scotland in order to gain confessions; though illegal in England the permitted forms of interrogation were still severe. Hanging was the usual means of execution for those found guilty of witchcraft in England, whilst in Scotland strangulation followed by burning was the preferred method.


 

Ceremonial Magicians

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Whilst claims were made that Malefactors would sometimes congregate in groups known as Covens, the archaic truth of this remains uncertain. Although many Sorcerers, Alchemists and Witches have preferred to work alone, since the days of the last Witch-hunts numerous magical societies and occult sects have developed within the British Isles. The aims and character of these groups have varied considerably, from the intellectual to the debased. Whilst luminaries of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, such as William Butler Yeats and Henri Bergson, sought to study magic as a philosophical and spiritual path, other groups such as the Hell-Fire Clubs used occult trappings as a means to explore decadence. Since the repeal of the Witchcraft laws, diverse groups such as Wiccans, Chaos Magicians, Satanists and many others now have the freedom to follow their own path without legal persecution, so long as no other laws are broken along the way.


 

Necromancers

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Necromancy is a form of Magic in which the practitioner seeks to foretell the future, or discover secret knowledge through the summoning of the spirits of the dead. Such rites would often require the actual presence of the corpse and would therefore either be performed in a cemetery or perhaps require some clandestine body-snatching. Obviously such procedures would be undertaken under secret conditions and, due to the taboos that surround the dead, Necromancy was often considered one of the vilest forms of Sorcery. Dr. John Dee (1527 - 1608; an English philosopher, mathematician, astrologer and reputed spy of great renown) was subjected to scandal and scorn, as well as mob justice, following allegations of Sorcery & Necromancy. The accusations of Black Arts levelled against Dee included the claim that he and a nefarious associate called Edward Kelly had raised, or attempted to raise the dead in rituals performed at a graveyard in Walton-le-Dale, Lancashire, and possibly also in his native Surrey. It has however also been suggested that Dee was not in fact present at the Walton-le-Dale incident and that Kelly's accomplice on that day was a man named Paul Waring.


 

Horse-Whisperers

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Horse-Whisperers were far more common in the times when horses were more widely utilised for transportation, agriculture and industry. Some horses more than others are loath to be ridden and strongly resist being tamed. It is in these circumstances that Horse-Whisperers would come into their own. They were so named because they were believed able to calm and train wild horses by whispering into their ears (the Horseman’s Word). There have been suggestions that concoctions of certain aromatic herbs may have also been utilised in the soothing of equine temper and nervousness. Whatever their true methods, it could not be disputed that the Horse-Whisperers generally had an excellent and impressive record of breaking beasts. Onlookers and clients would often conclude that supernatural powers were afoot, a supposition that Horse Whisperers did little to dispel and may even have encouraged. Not just anyone could become a Horse-Whisperer however, for they guarded their prowess with the utmost secrecy. Elaborate Masonic-style initiation was the only way into the ranks in Scotland, and women were never made privy to the Horseman’s Word. Rumours spread that the introductory rites and the deliverance of knowledge involved the presence of the Devil himself. The form of Horse-Whisperers known as Toad-Men heightened this sinister notion further. Their name was derived from their habit of carrying the skeleton of a Toad around in a pouch, apparently as a magical device.


 

All artwork and text © Andrew L. Paciorek

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