Words of the Witches

Here it is way late, but its been a hectic weekend. So the usual post will be out sometime this afternoon or evening. Thanks for bearing with me.

I’m going to start with sharing one of the more well-known pagan or witch writings. It is called Words of the Witches and it was written by Doreen Valiente. I like to think of it as a call to knowledge. It calls to the basics of the Craft and to the structure of what we do. So I thought I’d dissect it a little.

But first, here is the poem in whole:

Hear now the words of the Witches,

the secrets we hid in the night,

when dark was our destiny’s pathway,

that now we bring forth into light.

Mysterious Water and Fire,

the Earth and the wide-ranging Air,

by hidden quintessence we know them,

and will keep silent and dare.

The birth and rebirth of all nature,

the passing of winter and spring,

we share with the life universal,

rejoice in the Magical Ring.

Four times in the year the Great Sabbat returns,

and the Witches are seen

at Lammas and Candlemas dancing,

on May Eve and old Hallowe’en.

When day time and night-time are equal,

when sun is at greatest and least,

the four Lesser Sabbats are summoned,

again Witches gather in feast.

Thirteen silver moons in a year are,

thirteen is the Coven’s array,

thirteen times at Esbat make merry,

for each golden year and a day.

The power was passed down the ages,

each time between woman and man,

each century unto the other,

‘ere time and ages began.

When drawn is the magical circle,

by sword or athame of power,

it’s compass between the two worlds lies,

in the land of shades that hour.

This world has no right to know it,

and the world beyond will tell naught,

the oldest of Gods are invoked there,

the Great Work of Magic is wrought.

For two are the mystical pillars,

that stand at the gate of the shrine,

and two are the powers of nature,

the form and the force of Divine.

The dark and the light in succession,

the opposites each unto each,

shown forth as a God and a Goddess,

this did our ancestors teach.

By night He’s the wild wind’s Rider,

the Horn’d One, the Lord of the Shades.

By day He’s the King of the Woodland,

the dweller in green forest glades.

She is youthful or old as She pleases,

She sails the torn clouds in her barque,

the bright silver Lady at midnight,

the Crone who weaves spells in the dark.

The Master and Mistress of magic,

They dwell in the deeps of the main,

immortal and ever-renewing,

with power to free or to bind.

So drink the good wine to the Old Gods,

and dance & make love in their praise,

til Elphames’s fair land shall receive us,

in peace at the end of our days.

And do what thou wilt is the challenge,

so be it in love that harms none,

for this is the only commandment,

by magic of old, be it done!

Eight words the Witches Creed fulfill:

An It Harms None, Do What Thou Will!

The Meaning

Now this is just my interpretation. I feel that these words were written just to show that our predecessors were finally able to even speak about the Craft again.  They wanted to share the basic tenants and draw both likeminded people and the curious back to the old ways.  This was a sort of call to arms to draw people back into the fold or to at least spark their curiosity. Or it may have just been a proclamation of a woman excited to no longer have to hide her faith in the dark. But here is what the words themselves mean to me.

Think about them yourself and see what they may mean to you. I’m going to keep it really simple.

Hear now the words of the Witches, the secrets we hid in the night, when dark was our destiny’s pathway, that now we bring forth into light.

This was written at a time when our ways were just coming back into the light. Our predecessors had been forced to hide what they were due to necessity, but now we bring it forth and into the light.

Mysterious Water and Fire, the Earth and the wide-ranging Air, by hidden quintessence we know them, and will keep silent and dare.

We know and learn the secrets of the elements and we follow the mantra of to know, to dare, to will, and to be silent.

The birth and rebirth of all nature, the passing of winter and spring, we share with the life universal, rejoice in the Magical Ring.

What I think is a fairly obvious celebration of the cycles of the earth.

Four times in the year the Great Sabbat returns, and the Witches are seen at Lammas and Candlemas dancing, on May Eve and old Hallowe’en.

The naming of the Greater Sabbats which we will be going over in the next couple of weeks.

When day time and night-time are equal, when sun is at greatest and least, the four Lesser Sabbats are summoned, again Witches gather in feast.

Mention of the Four Lesser Sabbats each of which is a midpoint between the greater. The Greater Sabbats take place in the middle of a season while the lesser are the turning points between the seasons.  They represent changes in weather and in the world.

Thirteen silver moons in a year are, thirteen is the Coven’s array, thirteen times at Esbat make merry, for each golden year and a day.

Here we talk about the full moons, which many witches hold in their own special regard. Different cultures all have different names for them, but the meanings are often, though not always, the same.  These are the Esbats. Here we also mention the magic number thirteen. In Norse mythology is was the Lucky number of Freya. During the days in which we hid, it was often thought that a coven should hold no more than 13 members lest they take greater risk of being caught. This is not to say that covens may not have interacted, but those who came before us could not meet in large numbers due to persecution.  The year and a day could be taken to mean the time that one was expected to study before becoming a witch or it could be a reference to the imperfection of the cycle of the seasons. There is a reason we have a leap year after all.

The power was passed down the ages, each time between woman and man, each century unto the other, ‘ere time and ages began.

We’ve been around in many forms throughout the ages. No matter what time, there has always been someone in the Craft, practicing it according to their unique culture, and passing it down through the ages.  We have never been a faith to say that man and woman are not equal and both have played their part in passing knowledge along.

When drawn is the magical circle, by sword or athame of power, it’s compass between the two worlds lies, in the land of shades that hour.

This is a reference to the importance of the circle. It is a connection between us and the worlds beyond us.  It is protection and a place where we can explore those concepts. A circle is commonly drawn by a sword or athame depending on tradition or preference.  It is supposed to represent a melding between the human world and that of the beyond.

This world has no right to know it, and the world beyond will tell naught, the oldest of Gods are invoked there, the Great Work of Magic is wrought.

For two are the mystical pillars, that stand at the gate of the shrine, and two are the powers of nature, the form and the force of Divine.

The dark and the light in succession, the opposites each unto each, shown forth as a God and a Goddess, this did our ancestors teach.

In my mind this is an introduction to the duality of the world. They are two sides of the coin represented by the God and the Goddess. The Lord and Lady are the divine forces of nature. They are two pillars in the world of power making up the divine.  They are masculine and feminine. They are light and dark. They are all the opposites of the world we know.

By night He’s the wild wind’s Rider, the Horn’d One, the Lord of the Shades. By day He’s the King of the Woodland, the dweller in green forest glades.

All about the God and his roles.

She is youthful or old as She pleases, She sails the torn clouds in her barque, the bright silver Lady at midnight, the Crone who weaves spells in the dark.

The Goddess in her many roles.

The Master and Mistress of magic, They dwell in the deeps of the main, immortal and ever-renewing, with power to free or to bind.

This is another allusion to the cycles of the seasons and the Earth. It is also a reminder that the power can be used with both good or ill intent both by us and by them based on the outcome of our own will.  It is also a reminder that the God and Goddess are always with us, constantly renewing themselves.

So drink the good wine to the Old Gods, and dance & make love in their praise, til Elphames’s fair land shall receive us, in peace at the end of our days.

Basically make merry in the lives that we have as we honor those people and the powers that came before us. Elphames is a reference to the land of the fairy. Another term for the summer land or the after life.

And do what thou wilt is the challenge, so be it in love that harms none, for this is the only commandment, by magic of old, be it done!

To me these are the most striking words as they speak to values and ethics. They remind us that we can do what we will, but that we are challenged to do the least harm we can, something I’ll talk about more when I get to the Witche’s Rede. To act in love, because that really is our only commandment. And honestly, if you live your life by love for all, it’s significantly harder to do any other harm.

Eight words the Witches Creed fulfill: An It Harms None, Do What Thou Will!

An emphasis on how important those final words are to our faith.

Conclusion

As I said, I just wanted to take a look at this poem. I feel that it is often read and then overlooked.  Most people are unsure what to do with it. I consider it a testament to our faith. An affirmation of what we believe told as simply and shortly as possible.  Yes, it is a poem, but it is a powerful one.  It evokes strong emotions from me, because of how it reminds me of everything I stand for. I often remember it when I find myself lost or looking for direction. I don’t know entirely why, but it puts me at peace.

I hope that by sharing my interpretation it can become something similar for anyone seeking their own path. It doesn’t matter if it ends up a phrase or turn of word means something different to you, only that you find significance for it in your journey, whether it be a momentary thought/shift or a life altering experience.  Whatever it may be, just read over it yourself and ponder your own meaning to the poem of a witch that came before us.

Blessed Be.

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