Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of frequently asked questions you may wish to read before considering joining our Coven:

  • How do I join?

By downloading and completing our Application for Membership and emailing it to us at thecotswoldcoven@gmail.com.

  • Is it possible to meet prior to joining?

We prefer to meet potential members in a public place for coffee and a chat prior to any meeting with the Coven where possible. We strongly advise anyone thinking of joining a Coven to do the same. There are reputable Covens and disreputable Covens. Your safety is important.

  • How often does the Coven meet?

Presently we meet once a month, although this may at times alter.

  • Is attendance obligatory?

Attendance is not obligatory for pre-Initiate levels, however, it is strongly advised. However, if a member wishes to receive Initiation, the requirement for attendance is indispensable.

  • If I don’t attend, how do I learn?

Our online courses contain a mass of information and training materials. You must complete these step-by-step in order to progress. Your work is submitted to an allocated mentor, who will guide you and correct any errors.

  • Are there any hidden fees?

There are no hidden charges of any kind, however, if attending a Retreat in which food and accommodation is required, members are expected to contribute an equal share.

  • Does your Coven hold open rituals?

No, we don’t. Our meetings (Esbats and Sabbats) are for members only.

  • Does part of your practice include the worship of deities?

Yes, but in a traditional pagan manner.

  • What deities do you worship?

We hold that there is a male and a female deity, but we do not feel it appropriate to be over-prescriptive in this respect to our members and therefore provided that members accept that there is duality in the Divine, we leave it to them. It should be noted, however, that chosen deities must be European in origin.

  • I’m a little shy and concerned that I won’t fit in?

The Coven is friendly and welcoming and we go out of our way to make new members feel at ease so that they quickly assimilate as a member of our Coven.

  • What is the age range of the Coven membership?

We have members ranging from 21 through to our oldest member who’s 75. We do however require members to be reasonably fit and physically active.

  • Do I have to be 21 to join?

Yes, unfortunately, we do not accept members younger than this age.

  • Does the Coven practice any form of animal sacrifice?

No. We do not accept that animal sacrifice has any part in our practice.

  • Are your rites Skyclad (naked)?

No. Our rites are conducted in robes of types according to the grade of member.

  • Does The Great Rite form a part of First, Second, or Third Degree Initiation?

Our Coven does not follow Wicca in this regard and we do not believe that to achieve any Initiatory Degree a sexual act must be performed. Indeed, we regard this as fraught with potential for abuse. So the answer is a clear no.

The Witch’s Blade – Some Notes on the Athame

I suppose I was prompted to start writing this article because yet again I heard ‘athame’ pronounced in a somewhat idiosyncratic way (I’m being polite):  ‘ath-ah-may’, ‘ath-aim’, ‘ath-ugh-mee’….I’ve heard them all.  So let’s be very clear from the outset:  ‘Athame’ is pronounced  ‘ath-ay-me’,  not ‘ath–a-may’  or ‘ath-aim’ etc. But how do we know that?

athame1

The co-founder of Wicca, Doreen Valiente (and you don’t get a better authority than that!) says so on  Page 78 of her book ‘Witchcraft for Tomorrow’:

The typical weapon of Witchcraft is the athame, or ritual knife (pronounced ath-ay-me)’.

Now to be very clear, Doreen isn’t writing in a phonetical sense, so the last syllable is ‘me’ as in ‘you and me’ and definitely not as in ‘may’.

We can go off into all sorts of speculations about where the word originates from and how it might have been pronounced in whatever language back in the late Middle Ages, but frankly, this would be ‘an exercise in futility’ to quote Mr. Dillinger who used the phrase in a very different context.  We don’t pronounce the word ‘through’ in the guttural phonetic way it was originally pronounced by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors (like it is spelled), we pronounce it ‘thru’ today. So let’s put an end to the debate once and for all – athame is pronounced ‘ath-ay-me’ ( the middle syllable ‘ay’ as in the word ‘hay’ and the last syllable ‘me’ as in ‘you and me’).

I have long pondered leaving behind the word ‘athame’ and simply using instead ‘ritual dagger’, but somehow ‘athame’ feels right, probably because I have known it for so long now, well over 30 years.

An athame traditionally has a black hilt (= handle). The authority here again is Doreen Valiente:

Traditionally, the athame should have a black hilt, a circumstance which caused Gerald Gardner to think that it might be related to the Scottish Highlander’s skean-dhu, which literally means ‘black knife’ and, in fact, usually has a hilt of this colour’ – Page 78,  ‘Witchcraft for Tomorrow’.

I suspect that Gerald Gardner was being a little disingenuous with regard to his Scottish speculation – he almost certainly knew that ‘athame’ was one form of the word used in some French manuscript versions of the medieval grimoire ‘The Key of Solomon’.

The old grimoires give a variety of different markings that should be engraved on the hilt and/or blade.   The writers had specific reasons for these markings that may not be relevant to our own use.  I therefore believe that unless your particular Path or Tradition requires hilt markings, then unless you want to put them on….and can justify why you have done so…. then they are not necessary and your athame remains an athame even unmarked.

athame4

If you search eBay and other internet sites you will find a wide range of daggers being called ‘athames’.  Beware, they aren’t athames just because a seller calls them athames.  An athame should have a straight ‘dagger’ shaped blade or at least a blade the shape of a kitchen carving knife.  It can be single or double-edged, but those edges should not be sharp.  An athame is never used for mundane work such as cutting or killing for that matter. It is a weapon of the spiritual world, an extension of the will of its user as any ordinary dagger is, but the use of an athame is purely spiritual.  A lot is said about sharp edges being a danger in Circle work with others, this is obvious, but an athame still has a point even if it is blunt and if I fell on you with it, you are pretty much going to get stabbed. The real point about blunt edges and tip is that it emphasises its spiritual function.

The hilt of the athame should be wood, horn, blackened bone or even metal, but definitely not plastic or resin. The guard on the athame can be ornate or plain, it might not even have one.  The pommel (the bit on top of the hilt) can also be ornate or plain or, again, it might not have one.

The blade of the athame should be steel / iron or bronze.   Bronze would be unusual and perhaps more appropriate for a boline (the curved knife used for cutting herbs etc).  An athame does not have a blade made of wood.  Some people use them, but this is a modern invention perhaps promoted by crafters who can carve up a ‘wooden athame’ in a few minutes, burn a few markings into it and sell it on Etsy for a serious profit to the unwary.

I do not want to denounce innovations and so if you like your wooden ‘athame’, then fine, but don’t pretend to yourself that it has any traditional historical legitimacy as an athame.

And as to plastic or ‘bronze resin’ athames – ughhhh! Please don’t even go there.

The finest blades are hand-forged and are made by folding different grades of red-hot carbon steel over and over giving an end result of beautiful grain patterns on the blade – these are sometimes referred to as ‘damascus steel’, ‘watered steel’ or ‘pattern-welded steel’ blades.

athame2

Don’t be cheap when buying an athame. You buy the best cell phone you can afford so why buy a cheap and trashy athame from China when surely you should buy the most expensive one you can afford. After all, you intend to use it for spiritual purposes – the highest of all purposes.  Your purchase is a sacrifice – it should be, so don’t buy a piece of junk and wave it before the Gods and spirits as if you are proud of being cheap.

What if you cannot afford an expensive athame? Then buy what you can afford and save for a better one when you can afford it.  Think: ‘my cell phone cost ‘x’, surely, I can and should spend more on my athame’. Of course, you could always make an athame….and that is a real sacrificial act.  It doesn’t matter if you are not a master bladesmith, you tried and that is a true sacrifice and your athame, no matter how humble your efforts, will still be an athame and special.

But having said all this…Do you actually need an athame? It is after all a ‘prop’ and so whether you do or don’t is up to you. if you feel satisfied with conjuring a Circle by pointing your finger at the perimeter, dipping it into a chalice to exorcise the water in it, or even commanding a demon with your finger, fine!  Maybe all the medieval grimoires that recommended ‘black hilted daggers’ didn’t take into account such a powerful person as you.  Personally, I need to use and athame.

J.

athame3

(Many thanks to Arts-of-Darkness eBay store for the athame photographs)

The Witch’s Cauldron – tips for buying and maintenance

cauldron0

Cauldrons – to be cauldrons – should be cauldron shaped! If it isn’t that shape
you simply have a pot or pan. Frankly, that doesn’t matter for practical
purposes but somehow a cauldron looks and feels a lot more ‘witchy’
than a new stainless-steel saucepan just bought from the supermarket!

Very occasionally you might find a cauldron with a side handle like the one our
friend in the photo above is using, but the most common is this type with the
handle joined at both sides:

cauldron1
Here is some advice on what to avoid when choosing a cauldron for use in witchcraft (or just in general):

  • Look carefully at how the legs are attached to the base of the
    cauldron – Do NOT buy a cauldron with legs that have been riveted on rather than cast on all in one piece. Those with rivetted legs always leak or will do so sooner or
    later.

    cauldron2

    A riveted cauldron. Note and beware the three rivet marks inside!

  • Do not buy cauldrons where there is a lot of rust that has corroded the iron to
    make the base too thin so that it is almost breakable – rust is fine, it is to be
    expected on an old cauldron, but too much rust is another matter altogether.
  • Do not buy brass or copper cauldrons if you intend to use them to make
    potions or drinks; the metal can contaminate the liquid and so iron is best. If
    all you are going to use the cauldron for is burning incense inside then it
    doesn’t matter if it is copper, brass, iron or bronze.
  • Do not buy a cauldron made of pewter – any direct heat applied to it will cause
    it to melt like a candle and indeed, you can melt pewter over a candle flame!
    It doesn’t have to have a lid and most old / antique cauldrons either never had
    them in the first place or have lost them at some time because a previous
    owner didn’t want to use a lid.
  • Do not EVER buy plastic unless it is like the massive plastic one our coven uses in Element Rites. Plastic is of no use for any general purposes…. but
    dragging and carrying an immense water-filled cast iron cauldron to the middle
    of a wood is not a very practical proposition! ……and then of course there is
    the problem of hitchhikers……                                                                                                          cauldron3                                                    

Cauldrons can be suspended over a fire by their handles or chains from branches or a triangular framework in metal or wood:

cauldron4

From around the mid 1990’s cauldrons began to be made with the Wiccan
market in mind and are cast with pentagrams and triple moons etc. They are
made well and are inexpensive. Personally, we prefer the traditional
unembellished style but if the type below appeals to you they should serve you well.

 

 

 

One of our members recently found and bought the little antique iron cauldron below. It measures just 5 ½ inches by 4 ½” diameter (14cm x11cm). He’s been looking for a small
antique one this size for ages and uses it for brewing interesting potions
and also for burning incense inside. (Note of caution: add a liner to the cauldron when burning incense, or just put sand or salt in to insulate the charcoal and prevent burns!).
cauldron7.jpg
So, now you want to know where to buy a cauldron and how to look after it? 

…Even Amazon sells them now as does eBay. Old ones come up on eBay sometimes at reasonable prices and sometimes at prices bordering on insanely expensive…

Also, just because the seller says it’s a cauldron doesn’t mean it is – it has to look like one
and not just a pot or bowl – sellers put the word ‘cauldron’ into the description
to attract naïve and unwary buyers ….usually as Halloween approaches.

Having bought your cauldron, you need to clean it – a new one with warm
soapy water / an old one with a wire brush ….and then warm soapy water!
Check for leaks at this stage and if ANY water no matter how little is leaking
out, return it to the seller and get your money back. Leaks have a tendency to
get worse under heat or over time.

Once cleaned you need to ‘prove’ the cauldron: All you need is 1-2 tablespoons
of olive oil and some salt depending on the size of the cauldron. Pour the oil
into the pan and sprinkle salt liberally all over the inside. Heat over moderate
heat until smoking hot, and then carefully rub the salt and oil well into the pan
with a paper towel. Remove from the heat and wipe dry. Proving provides a
natural protective ‘Teflon’ type coating which is non-toxic (unlike Teflon).

Our Coven Is Recruiting

Today we celebrate May Eve, one of the most magical Sabbats bringing new life, inspiration, and enchantment into our world – mundane and occult alike.

This is also the season when our Coven begins a new period of recruitment and so we welcome membership applications from those sincerely interested in Traditional English Witchcraft and the Old Ways.

If you came across our website wishing to find like-minded people to honor the Old Gods with, celebrate the Sabbats in the truly magical way – outdoors – and study Traditional Witchcraft of England and the Cotswolds, then perhaps this might be a sign for You.

We are a friendly, supportive group of individuals deeply interested in the old witchcraft practices and dedicated to honoring the Gods, our ancestors, and the Spirits of the land. We are very practically oriented and welcome all those who not only love to read and learn, but also to get out in the nature and live what they believe in.

We are happy to consider applications from those new to our Path as well as from those who have been walking it for a long time but miss the powerful experiences that working in a group offers.

Although we never charge for teaching or membership, we ask for and value commitment in our members. We look for the willingness to learn, do some memorization and those who are prepared to attend Coven meeting at least once a month.

If this appeals to you, please feel free to contact us at thecotswoldcoven@gmail.com.

Bright Blessings and Merry May Eve,

Veronika

beltane

The Snowshill Manor Chest

chest 2Some of us have been to Snowshill Manor on more than one occasion and we all know of the secret room hidden in the roof.  For those who are unaware of both the place and the secret room here is a brief note:  Charles Wade purchased the manor just after World War 1 and as a trained architect with a family fortune, restored the manor from a dilapidated state and subsequently lived there.  There is much to say about Charles Wade and even more to say about his interests but this goes beyond the scope of my article.

When Charles Wade decided to retire to his family estate in the Caribbean, he made the extraordinary decision to leave both the manor and his vast collection of antiques to the National Trust.   The Trust began an inventory of the manor on Mr Wade’s departure and discovered a small hidden room in the roof in part of the main building.

In the secret room was a small collection of items of a witchcraft / occult nature.  No mention of this place had been made to the Trust about the room by Mr Wade and the National Trust -ultra conservative then and now, were horrified at the discovery.

At this time Cecil Williamson (of Boscastle fame) was running a witchcraft museum in Bourton on the Water, a small town a few miles away from Snowshill.  The Trust contacted him and requested that he take a look, he confirmed the occult nature of the secret room’s contents and to both his delight and surprise, was asked by the Trust to take away all the contents free of charge.

The museum in Bourton on the Water did not last long, the locals hated it and, Christianity still being strong in the 1950’s, saw the place as celebrating evil.

Cecil moved his collection to Cornwall and some of the items from the secret room are in the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall to this day.

I have seen some of these items and do not find them to have a particularly ‘witchcraft’ theme.  But, although self-described ‘showman’ Cecil certainly made more out of the discoveries than was justified, there was undoubtedly some kind of ritual activity going on in the room.  I know this from private discussions with Snowshill Manor staff who are tacitly forbidden from speaking about the room.  To this day, the public are not permitted to see the room.  I have not seen the room except the tiny window which is the only obvious clue to its existence.  Furthermore, the entrance can only be accessed by a ladder.  Members of staff have privately told me that within the room the walls are decorated with hand painted ‘Kabbalistic’ symbols they believe were painted by Wade for ritual purposes.  It should be noted that Wade was very familiar with astrology and interested in the way the rooms aligned with astrological aspects – on one or two doors in the house there are astrological sigils intricately made of metal by Wade.

But the title of this article is the ‘Snowshill Manor Chest’.  There are lots and lots of chests in the Manor, however the chest referred to here is the chest that was in the secret room and taken away by Cecil Williamson in the 1950’s.  He described as a chest containing ritual clothing /costume, but there is no evidence of any such clothing being in the box when Cecil obtained it.

The magnificent chest resided intact in the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle until 2004.  Then in August of that year and immense flood hit the village and swept through the museum destroying many artefacts and sweeping some into the sea – one item was found washed up on the coast of South Wales!  The chest was damaged to such an extent that now only the front survives.  I would have liked to have seen the complete chest, but never have.  I would also like to have seen the extent of the damage to the chest before the front was removed and the rest discarded!   To my mind, this must have been by far the very best item from the hidden room.  Here are some photographs:

 

 

Fire of Azrael

fire of azrael

Azrael is the Cabbalistic Angel of Death in a positive aspect as consoler and comforter who assists an individual through the transition between life and death. His fire in this sense is a link to the ‘otherworld‘ of the spirits and through which they may communicate.

Many years ago we held a retreat at an old farmhouse in the English Lake District.  The farmhouse was over 400 years old and in a very remote valley – ideal for a retreat.  It was there that for the first time we constructed a ‘Fire of Azrael’   I had read about this strange divinatory fire in Dion Fortune’s book ‘The Sea Priestess’ ( I have read all Dion Fortune’s novels, most are a good read, this one, for me wasn’t), like most of her novels there are numerous occult references and layers of meaning which do not necessarily become obvious on a first reading.  The heroine:

‘took the poker in her hand and pushed the flaming driftwood to either side, and in the hollow center thus left she piled the woods of the Fire of Azrael. Then we sat and watched them take the flame. And in those hours while the tide rose there was delivered to me things whereof but few have dreamed and fewer still have known, and I learned why Troy was burnt for a woman‘.

Dion Fortune’s ‘recipe’ consists of cedar, sandalwood and juniper.  We added Fuga Daemonum to make sure nothing unwanted turned up.  The juniper we collected in the hills where it grows wild, cedar we cut from a branch of a Cedar of Lebanon growing in a village near Coventry …which still grows there to this day… and the sandalwood we purchased from a supplier of incense ingredients – this was expensive and so was less in quantity than the other three ingredients.  All the woods are resinous and so lighting them is easy. Once the flames begin to flare up, gaze into the fire and let your mind focus on what you see without any effort – don’t TRY to see anything, just let it happen, enjoy the beauty of the fire and relax.

It is best to be skyclad (although not essential) for this ritual – the fire and its heat make direct contact with you on mental, physical and spiritual level with no barriers between you and it. We didn’t light it on a beach but in the ancient and massive stone, candle-lit, hearth. As the fire sprung to life the sounds of the crackling woods, the scents of resins they contained and the colours of the flames was a truly strange and wonderful sight.  I have always enjoyed looking into a fires flickering flames and as the fire dies down the embers continues to dance and glow in the heat.  We saw strange things that night and I would recommend that you try it!