Witch of the Welsh Marches


Mitchell's Fold

Below is an article (c.1984) which was printed in issue #4 (Volume IV) [LOT22] of The Lamp of Thoth magazine, published by Chris Bray, of the SA, Leeds, England. The article was attributed to “Dave Myatt” and appeared under the title Witch of the Welsh Marshes.

However, the title of Myatt’s typescript was Witch of the Welsh Marches – but it seems that Chris Bray (the editor of the magazine) did not then know that Marches was (and still is) the word used by people of Shropshire for their border area with Wales, so he changed it to “marshes”. The word Marches has since become familiar to even non-residents of Shropshire. It seems that Mr Bray made some other small changes to the submitted MS (in terms of spelling, capitalization, word order, punctuation and grammar, and changed a few words, as well) not appreciating what was, even then, Myatt’s idiosyncratic writing style and his deliberate spelling of certain words (such as reflexion instead of “reflection”, “truely” instead of “truly” and saught instead of “sought”).

Witch of the Welsh Marches

It was quite by chance (or the will of the gods?) that I met what must be one of the few genuine “Cunning Women” left in Britain. Her pre-war bicycle, which she used to carry her supplies from the village shop to her isolated cottage, had suffered a puncture. I was exploring the lanes of the Welsh border by bicycle (the only really civilized mode of transport) looking for stone circles and sites of magical interest when I passed her and offered help.

Gruffly, she accepted, and soon the puncture was repaired. Thinking she might have local insight I asked her if she knew about any stone circles in the area. She shrugged her shoulders. Then I asked about the places I thought might be connected with Wild Edric. Did she think Bron Wrgon really exists near here? At this she showed some little interest and began to open up telling me about the border area she knew as a child when the horse was the only mode of transport and daily life involved much toil and struggle.

We chatted as we walked along the narrow, twisting lane until we came to her cottage which had been in the family for many generations. Her parents had scratched a living from the land. She herself kept a few cattle, chickens and geese. Inside, the cottage was dark, damp, without electricity or any form of heating save a wood fire and stove. It was by modern standards squalid. Not a place where a city-dweller could feel at home.

I asked what she did if her cattle took sick. She smiled at my ignorance and explained about the charms she used. As I listened and learned from her then and on subsequent visits, I realized that there was little that connected this cunning woman with the modern witchcraft revival.

Her charms and spells were simple affairs, deriving from folk beliefs. She lived alone and the little magic that she did was done alone, for the benefit of herself and the few local (and mostly older) people who on occasion sought her help, bringing simple gifts in payment – a few candles, a bar of soap, some tea.

She prayed to no god or goddess – all she knew was that her own mother, and her mother before, had used the same charms, spells and methods and they seemed to work. She believed that every part of the land possessed spirits. Some were friendly, others not. It was these spirits (which had no names) which brought sickness to cattle, blight to crops and made people ill. They could be won over, or tricked or cajoled to help. She always left a little bit of her own food for these spirits – would place little offerings or objects in the nearby stream, tie pieces of cloth or paper to the branches of trees. Every winter when the Sun turned on the shortest day (and it did not seem to matter to her that she might be a few days early or late) she would walk the lee of the hill whose valley bottom held her stream, to light a small fire to remind the Sun to return.

Her beliefs and practises were important to her. They might be a mixture of Saxon or Celtic “superstition” or custom – or be derived from an even earlier past – but she was part of a tradition born of rural life and nurtured by the isolation and in-breeding which often takes place in small communities. This tradition would die with her and could never be revived, she said, because it depended on a way of living that modern society and particularly “education” had destroyed.

This Cunning Woman – like most of her ancestors – was mostly ignorant of the world beyond her cottage and small rural area. It was this lack of knowledge which was in fact her strength and the source of her power (I was told by one of the Cunning Woman’s neighbours – who thought she had always been a little mad – that in her youth when she was fair and comely she had paralyzed a young man, who had annoyed her, for several minutes just by staring at him). She was part of the land in a way that it is difficult for us to understand – not part in any romantic, idealistic way or because she believed in an ancient faith (which she did not), but because she felt the planet around her was actually alive and connected, by spirits, to herself.

Modern Society, with its “sophisticated” ideas, would dispense with the Cunning Woman’s approach to life by labelling it as some psychological syndrome and then assume, because it had been labelled, it was understood. In many ways our lives for the most part are less real and genuine than that of this woman and her kind.

Modern Wicca (and the Occult in general) has lost this realness by its very popularity. By imposing a system of beliefs/ideas/rites/dogma between the individual and Nature, by not living directly upon the land (but mostly in towns and cities), by never having experienced the hardship of persistent manual toil and the pangs of real hunger the devotees of Wicca have lost the very connection from which all magic springs. One has to find this link individually rather than collectively.

The world of the past to which this Cunning Woman belonged was not a world particularly noted for its love and kindness, but there is a love which evolves from awe and reverence of one’s place in the Universe and the really important qualities between oneself and things. This love transcends sympathetic gooey sentimental romanticism. To discover again the realness of Nature and the source of all Occult power we should perhaps return to a way of living that our society has almost destroyed. Maybe then the children of the New Aeon will be born, and we by the simple magical act of living in such a natural way with our gods will have changed this world.

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