Friday, October 28, 2011

Mastering Witchcraft Bandwagon

I just can't resist chiming in on the ongoing discussion, begun at The Used Key Is Always Bright on the classic manual of practical Pagan magic, Mastering Witchcraft.
 
MW became available in my hometown in 1971, in its hardback original release. I was sixteen years old, and the discussion with my parents about my growing interest in occultism occasionally reached high volumes. I used birthday money, bought the book, and quickly scrawled my name across the front leaf so that it couldn't be returned. Despite more loud discussion, I retained the book, and from it I began to learn ritual magic.

Huson claimed to reveal the true names of the witches' Goddess and God, a tidbit that seems hackneyed now, but was rather monumental in those days. Gardner, Valiente and all the first-wave public witches made rather a show of concealing what are now openly worshipped names. He taught a simple, elemental ritual system using the tools based on the grimoiric tool-set, plus other minor tools. All this was presented in classical magical style, everything properly consecrated and devoted to the art. No Kitchen-witchy, using your turnip-knife for spells for our Paul. I had already found "The Black Arts", and was pleased to find ritual witchcraft that conformed to the description of magic in the souces I was reading.

MW doesn't exactly teach 'worship' of the gods, but it does teach effective techniques for invocation. While Huson pays a little lip-service to duotheism his actual system is based on the aid of a specific group of deities, arranged in roughly elemental style. Thus Habondia for Water, the chalice and love-spells; Hermes-Mercury for Air, the wand and divination; Cernunnos for Fire, the dagger (he says athame) and cursing; And Nocticula-Saturnus for Earth and bindings. Protective magic is given to the Elemental Spirits, arranged in the usual way in the four-quartered circle. A thread that runs throughout his witchcraft mythology is that of the "Watchers" - the Nephelim, ancient spiritual beaings that are said to have taught mortals sorcery. It's far from clear whether the gods that are actually invoked are to be thought of as Watchers, or what. The fact is, folk myth doesn't care, and neither does Huson.
 
One of Huson's great skills is the ability to take snippets of medieval lore and reframe them in working rituals. Every so-often I run across another piece of stuff quoted as a fragment or remnant that i recognize from Huson's work. His approach to crafting spells is still a major guide for me. He's also had a huge influence on the Pagan and quasi-Pagan magical scene. I doubt there are many performances of the Dumb Supper that don't rely on MW for their basic form, and the conjuration of Vassago is one of the earliest modern rethinkings of grimoiric ritual. The set of magical goals is thoroughly urban and personal. There are no 'fertility' spells, nor workings to recognize or support seasonal changes.
 
The chapter on 'The Coven and How to Form One' has been one of the most influential pieces in Neopagan history. Huson skips theology, for the most part, to give solid advice on how to organize a small magical group. He does recommend keeping the eight 'Sabbats', but gives no seasonal scripts. The little checklist of organization items (coven name, symbols, etc) have remained a basic guide, and were vital to the way new covens formed in the 70s and 80s. Rather than outline a hierarchy huson provides a pile of lore and ideas, encouraging readers to make of them what they will. By the time that the festival movement brought together the North American covens and working groups of the 70s it was very difficult to find a bootstrap coven or tradition that had not either been organized directly from that chapter or been directly influenced by MW. Sometimes I refer to MW as the "'Spiral Dance' of the seventies" because it both synthesized the magical feel of the moment, and provided practical support that allowed new groups to grow.
 
There's some dispute as to whether Huson had a connection with non-Gardnerian 'Traditional Craft' in Britain. Huson claims that his occult training came from post Golden Dawn sources, along with a personal curiosity about folklore and historic witchcraft. I did ask him a specific question in a personal correspondence, and he again said that he had no connection with craft lineage. At this moment I'm inclined to believe him.

That makes him rather a genius. He created a synthesis of traditional medieval magic with practical energy-work and visualization, reinvented the material tools and taught a generation how to cast spells and summon the Old Gods. Oh, also, he can draw rather nicely. The book is illustrated by the author, and his images of Cernunnos and Aradia have remained in circulation in the Pagan community ever since.

If there are ten books on magic that should be remembered from the 20th century, this should be one of them.

12 comments:

Gwydion Raventhorn said...

What would the other nine on your list be?

IanC said...

Gimme a day or three and I'll post a list...

Robert said...

Well, anyone that puts things in the drinks of what he refers to as "targets" to get them to have sex is no one I find much value in. Magical roofies are not in my tool kit. Nor is it in my lexicon to refer potential lovers at targets. I call them women. Doesn't that have a nice ring to it?

Omi said...

Ian,

Here is what I want to see - What 10 Pagans from the 20th Century need to be remembered?

Omi

IanC said...

Hey, Huson neither recommends nor forbids the traditional methods he teaches - he just teaches them. When he does talk ethics, he recommends caution and discretion, but it's a book about how to do magic, not about what magic should be done.

Earrach said...

I too owned MW as one of my first guides back in the early 70's. I was always impressed with this volume and another of my favorites "Mastering Herbalism" particularly in that they were phenominally good books but also they were great works of design. An important aspect Huson's contribution was as a stylist. He was (is) a very talented graphic artist and the layout of his works and his evocative hand-crafted illustrations through out his works did much to cement his legacy as more than simply a wordsmith.

Although I've had a number of MW paperbacks over the years, a couple of years ago at a flea market picked up my pride and joy: a G.P.Putnam first edition in hardback with his Wheel of the Year embossed in red on the front cover beneath the dust jacket... Sounds like the one you describe, Ian.



- EARRACH

b3e6d1b0-7d8d-11e0-a246-000bcdcb5194 said...

MW was one of my intro books as well, along with Diary of a Witch anf the Witches Almanac. As I recall, the material in MW dovetailed nicely with much of the material in the early Almanacs.
Oh, and the Almanac site has a nice interview with Huson, under internet extras for 2010.

IanC said...

There really needs to be a proper release of MW in a binding fit for its stature. Bet it's all wound up in contracts...

Kenaz Filan said...

Mastering Witchcraft is definitely a great and much-underrated work. The fact that it has no truck with the Threefold Law and tells people how to do traditional spells which may not measure up to contemporary ethical standards is part of why it is not as popular as some other works -- but it's also part of what makes it such a fantastic book. It was one of the first books on witchcraft I ever encountered, along with Idris Shah's Black and White Magic and Cavendish's The Black Arts.

Daniel_Eli said...

The name under the Goddess pic is Andred not Aradia.. it comes from the coven of atho

Raven said...

"Mastering Witchcraft" remains one of my top 5 favourite Craft books and is one of the two I recommend to would-be witches. His work is at the same time traditional and practical and is a refreshing breath of witchy air compared to the later "anything goes" books that flooded the market. I also have, and love, his "Mastering Herbalism."

Kal T. said...

"MW doesn't exactly teach 'worship' of the gods, but it does teach effective techniques for invocation. While Huson pays a little lip-service to duotheism his actual system is based on the aid of a specific group of deities, arranged in roughly elemental style. Thus Habondia for Water, the chalice and love-spells; Hermes-Mercury for Air, the wand and divination; Cernunnos for Fire, the dagger (he says athame) and cursing; And Nocticula-Saturnus for Earth and bindings."

What a great observation! Huson also talks about Hertha and Hecate, though he refers to the latter as Noticula-Hecate.