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Tales of Snakes

One of the old stories my mother used to recount to me - and mentioned again last week - was the strange tale of one evening long ago when a friend joined Grandfather and Grandmother for the evening and told them of another family, one of whose members had just given birth to a child with a snake wrapped around it. From what I recall, Mum said that the man said that all the family were born like this. I assumed it must mean the umbilical cord was somehow wrapped around the child. My mother laughed; 'We've been having babies in Spain just as long as anywhere else,' she chuckled, 'We know what umbilical cords look like!' She never learned what happened to the snake.

The story came to my mind on hearing about the latest kerfuffle on the London alternative scene; there's a group, run in South London by a guy claiming to be Wiccan, which is gaining something of a sorry reputation re potential sexual co-ercion. Wicca doesn't have some great council of elders thing,but it does have a tradition of vouching. Of course, how would anyone know that unless they were already a Wiccan? In a tradition where 'the touch' is passed from one initiate to another, it doesn't take a great detective to work out someone's history. The guy claimed to be of the Gardnerian line, then of the Cochrane tradition, but those who have seen his actual rituals suggest that he knows nothing of the Craft's ceremonies. The guy is well known in quarters other than paganism, so naming him without proof is unwise, not least because so much is hearsay. All one can ever do is reiterate the need for commonsense, and it's being reiterated across the scene right now: If anyone offers you a supposed key to arcane understanding that costs you loads of cash, or requires sexual favours, or desires blood sacrifice or forces you to imbibe drugs/alcohol or inhibits your ability to choose, they're not a knower of grand things, they're a mad tosser. Walk away.

It isn't helped by the inevitable conclusion that the founder of modern witchcraft, Gerald Gardner, was a naturist with some background in freemasonry and a penchant for tall tales. He said he came from a line of practising witches carrying on a very ancient tradition in the New Forest. There are scholars who suggest that the New Forest Coven never existed, and there are those who say it did but that the practitioners were always robed. I am tempted to believe the latter. Even though the nudity involved in Wiccan tradition defines the freedom of trust and honesty within the Craft, there's no getting past the possibility that it might have been founded on Gerald's desire to get his rocks off. The gent was no messiah. Personally, I would like to go much further back, to the roots of the New Forest Coven. I think that Gerald's visions and writings may have brightened the pot but obscured what's in it.

Having said that, to my knowledge there's no evidence that Gerald co-oerced anyone into sexual relations or anything like that; on the contrary, he seems to have plucked tigresses by the tail and got bitten as a result; Women like Doreen Valiente and Eleanor Rae Bone became his high priestesses and told him where to go when he re-wrote his Book of Shadows with laws to suit himself, trying to bring them down a peg or two, and re-establish some sense of power - and personal frisson. His cult didn't just outlast him - it outgrew him. And where is the Craft now?

Possibly not as magickal as it was when it was really secret. Warm and open as people wish, though people don't always wish, and that's OK too. But the innocence of the circle is a place where people can be vulnerable. Tales of snakes are fascinating; may be true, may be false, may be crazy, may be poetry, may be misrepresented, may be allegory...may be anything at all. Sometimes, just the smallest touch of judgement is enough.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 23rd, 2015 10:46 pm (UTC)
I envy you! I would have liked to meet Doreen Valiente; I think the Craft gave her the chance to express a mighty poetry of her own - compared to her, GBG seems almost dilletante-like, puckish, more mischievous than wise...

It wouldn't surprise me if Terry Pratchett was familiar with DV, he had some connections with the pagan scene,and perfectly defined the most useful info between Crowley and Gardner with the word 'Headology.'
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