Archive for Witchcraft

Ye Old Guidebook: Witchcraft Museum Castletown

Posted in History with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2012 by manxwytch

It is a sad state of affairs that the only documentation on the web from the Isle of Mann’s national website regarding The Museum of Magic and Witchcraft is a shameful piece of rubbish that only serves to demonstrate the lack of scholarly integrity and outright distain and intolerance of the beliefs and values of those outside of the perceived social norm.  That being said, I feel it is time to discuss The Museum of Magic and Witchcraft pamphlet with a more understanding view of the period, clarify errors of authors and perhaps add a more sensible response than the one from the IOM’s page written by “Katie Agnostopoulou”.

One must keep in mind, when reading anthropological, historical, folkloric and religious texts of the 19th and 20th century that the empirical methods of research which we pride ourselves upon today were only in the initial stages of being formed.  Therefore research by such notable forefathers as Eliade, Durkheim, Frazer, Douglas, Weber, Moore and many others should be regarded with the respect due to the research methods they afforded at the time, valued for their unique viewpoint and the intriguing theories offered regarding the subjects, honoured for their interest and development of the field and for their passion and interest in the preservation of lore.  Likewise, armchair authors, historians and insiders of cultural and religious traditions such as Gerald Gardner should also be respected with their own unique theories and faults of the time.  As an insider to a reviving and developing religion, Gardner’s (and other’s) insights offer us a rare historical glimpse of the founding of a new religious movement which will later take on a life of its own and span the globe.  Witchcraft the Old Religion is rising from the ashes and taking its place among what is presently termed ‘New Religious Movements’ (NRMs) and contains various pagan religions that were also ‘re-birthed’ at this time in history.

In July, 1951 Cecil Hugh Williamson along with Gerald Brosseau Gardner opened the Witchcraft Museum in Castletown, Isle of Mann.  These two highly knowledgeable men possessed exceptional collections of artefacts relating to folklore, witchcraft, magic, mythology and superstition.  As well, they each had their own personal contacts, and craftspeople who contributed items for the displays in the Museum.  The relationship between these two men is complex and ended on bitter terms however, they both played an important role in the development of present day Witchcraft, and their contribution to the survival of various folk traditions as well as the rekindling of the love of the Old Gods and Goddesses of magic.

This is the first version of The Museum of Magic and Witchcraft pamphlet which was written by Gerald Gardner for, and along with Williamson’s input.  This small sepia version which I have scanned and posted here is numbered 1 of 6 and it has been suggested that this was part of the initial prints offered by the Castletown Press for review by Gardner and Williamson prior to full publication.  There are later versions of this brochure, one that is specifically Gardner’s own and one that was published by Monique and Scotty Wilson after Gardner’s death.  Each brochure has its own photographic style but the wording of the pamphlet is little changed if at all.

I have placed the photo along with written text for simple viewing and commentary and have attempted to keep the text with the image provided.  I am retaining the format of original text in bold and my comments in standard.  You may click on any image to enlarge the view.


The Witches Mill, Castletown, I.o.M.

The cover of the pamphlet is drawn by Gerald Gardner.  The original is a large pen and ink poster on hard board archived in the James’ Toronto Collection of Gardner’s papers, purchased from the Ripley Museum sale in 1987.  Postcards were also made of this image and sold in the gift shop along with various other trinkets for the tourists.






Published for C. C. Wilson

The Witches Mill, Castletown Isle of Man


The Castletown Press, Arbory Street, Castletown



THE exact age of the old windmill at Castletown, Isle of Man, known as “The Witches Mill,” is uncertain; but we know that it was there in 1611, as it is mentioned in a court record of that date.

We know that the windmill was built in 1828.  It burned down and was restored in 1848.  There is no court record that accounts for the windmill in 1611 however, it is probable that Gardner misunderstood the history of the Arbory witches and confused the dates.  The trials of the Arbory witches occurred in 1666 and were in Kirk Arbory.

The Mill got its name because the famous Arbory witches lived close there, and the story goes that when the old mill was burned out in 1848 they used the ruins as a dancing-ground, for which, as visitors may see, it was eminently suited; being round inside to accommodate the witches’ circle, while the remains of the stone walls screened them from the wind and from prying eyes. 

There are two fundamental precepts of history that are often neglected by amateurs and historians alike.  The first is that you were not there and you cannot know for certain what happened.  The second, particularly in this case is that simply because something wasn’t documented doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.  And here it is important to note that the population in question, witches, were both by choice and necessity secretive about what they did and where they did it for fear of public censure and punishment.

That said, I will state clearly that the Arbory witches existed on the Isle of Mann both historically and during the period of the Mill Museum.  The last known surviving Arbory witch passed away quietly on Mann in the first decade of the 21st century.

The Mill Tower was well used by the witches on the Isle of Mann.  It is, as Gerald described it, “eminently suited for the witches’ circle.”  A round tower with an open vault to the heavens, moon and starry sky, protected from the wind, and able to keep a warm fire lit for the dancers.  It was in fact, perfect, though it was not the only site used on Mann or in the Museum for that matter!

After being abandoned for many years, the large barns of the Mill were taken in 1950 to house the only Museum in the world devoted to Magic and Witchcraft. The attractive grey stone walls of the Museum and the old mill stand in four acres of ground, thus providing a large car park, and there is an excellent restaurant on the ground floor of the building, where visitors may enjoy modern service in picturesque, old-world surroundings.

As the Museum is only a mile and a half from the Airport (5 minutes by taxi), many visitors fly over from the mainland to see the Museum only, and return the same day.

The Isle of Mann was a tourist haven in the 1950s and 1960s.  It was an easy boat ride from Britain, Scotland or Ireland for a vacation not too far from home and not too costly on the purse.  The Isle of Mann prided itself upon it tourist trade with its Grand Promenade in Douglas, street vendors, horse drawn trams, cinema, buggy rides, costal path and sandy beaches that at one time, some thought rivalled the shores of Southern Europe.

The policy of the Museum is to show what people have believed in the past, and still do believe, about magic and witchcraft, and what they have done, and still do, as a result of these beliefs. It contains a unique collection of authentic material, some of which has been given by witches who are still living or only recently dead. It shows how witchcraft, instead of being extinct, or merely legendary, is in fact still a living religion, and the possessor of traditions of great interest to scholars, anthropologists, and students of comparative religion and folklore. Witchcraft is actually the remains of the oldest religious traditions of Western Europe, some of which seem to have come from the Stone Age.

The idea that Witchcraft was the remains of one of the oldest religions of Western Europe was not a view unique to Gerald Gardner alone.  It was part of a new theory of religious study which identified religion as evolving from a primitive past to modernity and an often hoped for secularism.  Such early proponents of the evolutionary theory of religion were Max Mueller, Lucien Levy-Bruhl, Sir James Frazer, Herbert Spencer, E. B. Tylor to name a few and there were many others with similar theories.  Gardner’s thoughts were clearly working within the theoretical models of his time.

Apart from the other material, the Museum also possesses a large collection of Manx bygones, including what is said to be the only known specimen of a Manx Dirk, of the type which made the Manx Dirk Dance famous; the dance still exists, but is now performed with wooden weapons.

There are many cultural dances throughout the world and the Isle of Mann also had its own dances.  Though I am not familiar with the historical Manx Dirk, I can say that I have read accounts of Manx dances in historical records.  Many traditional songs and dances were collected by the 20th century Manx Folklorist, Mona Douglas who did a great service to preserve Manx cultural traditions.

From time immemorial the people of the Isle of Man have been believers in fairies and witches. The celebrated “Fairies’ Bridge” is only six miles away from the Museum. There have been a number of witch trials in the Island; but it appears from the records that the favourite verdict of a Manx jury in cases of alleged witchcraft was “Not Guilty, but don’t do it again.”

The Isle of Mann holds a substantial amount of Faery Lore for such a small island.  “The Fairies’ Bridge” referred to is the mock up for the tourist industry and is still in use on Mann today though now-a-days it hangs with more brassieres and notes to win the TT than with prayers to the Mooinjer Veggey.  Many a coach driver had lots of fun with the tourists passing over the bridge during the heydays!  The actual Faery Bridge of Manx historical legend is located in Braddan.

In reference to the “Not Guilty” verdicts of witches on the Isle of Mann, as far as modern day historians of witchcraft can find, it was a common practice in the courts and not unique to Mann.  As records of the witch trials are only recently being examined, reviewed and discovered, there is no way that Gardner or those of his time period would have had this kind of information so his surprise at the leniency of the courts is simply understood.

(Please see the video at the end of this blog for an introduction to the academic study of witchcraft with a focus on historical witch trials in Great Britain).

The only recorded execution of a witch in the Isle of Man took place within a short distance of the old Mill, when in 1617 Margaret Ine Quane and her young son were burned alive at the stake near the Market Cross in Castletown. She had been caught trying to work a fertility rite to get good crops; and as this was in the time when the Lordship of Man was temporarily in the hands of the witch-hunting King James I, she suffered the extreme penalty. A memorial to Margaret Ine Quane, and to the victims of the witch persecutions in Western Europe, whose total numbers have been estimated at nine millions, is in the Museum.

The execution of Margaret Ine Quane happened under the rule of the Stanley Family who were ‘given’ the Isle by King Henry IV in 1405.  The estimation of the victims of the witch craze in Western Europe is largely exaggerated.  We clearly do not know the number of victims though there have been various academic guesses… none of which can be claimed with accuracy.

The memorial to Margaret Ine Quane was painted and designed by Gerald Gardner in the museum.  There was also a makeshift plaque for many years that rested on the Candlestick in Castletown, outside the George Pub.  It memorialized the passing of Margaret Ine Quane and though it disappeared in the 1980s, it has again resurfaced.  Knowing Isle of Mann sentiments towards witches and magic I doubt it will remain there for long.

One cannot understand history without some knowledge of our ancestors’ beliefs, and what they did because of those beliefs. What manner of people were these magicians and witches ? What went on in their minds ? What was the difference between them ? These are some of the questions this Museum sets out to answer.

Ceremonial magic gave its rites a Christian form; whereas witches were pagans, and followed the Old Gods. Hence the witch cult was fiercely persecuted, while ceremonial magic was sometimes studied and practised by churchmen. The idea behind ceremonial magic is that of commanding spirits, good or evil, in the names of God and His Angels, and thus making the spirits do your will; and the proof that this is how magicians’ minds worked is to be found in the old magical books called Grimoires, of which the Museum has a large number, both printed and in manuscript. The procedure laid down in them is complicated, and required a certain amount of

education, often involving a knowledge of Latin and Hebrew, to understand it. Also, the rites they specify needed costly equipment, such as swords, wands, magical robes, pentacles of silver and gold, etc. Hence it was only members of the upper classes, or of the learned professions, who could work such rites.

Ceremonial magic originates in the magical rites of the Abrahamic traditions and is historically evolved from the grimoire traditions of the early medieval period.  The earliest grimoires invoke the name of the Abrahamic God, his angels and demons, as well as classical Gods, Goddesses, spirits, beasts, mythic figures and garbled language for all manner of purposes.

The witch cult, on the other hand, was something much closer to the soil, its practitioners could be, and probably most often were, completely illiterate. It is the remains of the original pre-Christian religion of Western Europe, and its followers possessed traditional knowledge and beliefs which had been handed down by word of mouth for generations. In spite of the great persecutions (some grim relics of which, in the form of instruments of torture and execution, are preserved in the Museum), the cult has never died. Some remnants of it still exist to this day and the Director of this Museum has been initiated into a British witch coven.

Gardner clearly tries to draw a distinction between Ceremonial Magicians and the Witch Cult.  He defines Ceremonialists with wealth, education, professionalism, and sophistication.  Witches he defines as more down to earth, rural, illiterate, with oral traditions handed through generations.  This is a common stereotype of definitions of “high” and “low” magic which is often viewed as: high magic, gendered male-ceremonial and sophisticated, and low magic, gendered female-witch and primitive.

Magic is the art of attempting to influence the course of events by using the lesser-known forces of nature, or by obtaining the help of supernatural beings. Doing anything for luck, or to avert bad luck, is a form of magic.

Throughout history, magic has exercised a great influence on human thought. Stone Age cave paintings and statuettes show that the ancient people of Europe practised magical rites. They made images of animals on the walls of their caves, and depicted them with spears or arrows thrust into them; it is thought that this was intended as a spell in order to gain power over the animals in real life. The same principle is at work in the old spell of making a wax image of someone and sticking pins into it, in order to do them some harm, which is practised to this day.

Fertility magic became increasingly important with the discovery of farming. Magic then was chiefly to ensure good crops, increase in flocks and herds, good fishing, and many babies, in order to keep the tribe strong. From the days of the first rites in the caves, there is evidence that dancing, magic circles, and fires, were part of magical practice. Later, people began to learn the use of herbal remedies, drugs, and poisons (the latter being useful for killing wolves). Each tribe would have its “wise man” or “wise woman,” probably people with natural psychic powers. This is the origin of the word “witch”; it is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word Wica, meaning “The Wise Ones.” The earliest magic was for the benefit of the whole tribe; later “private magic,” such as love charms, or spells to obtain personal desires, began to develop.

Again, Gardner’s theories are contemporary with his time period.

SORCERY originally meant “to cast lots.” The word comes from the late Latin sortiare. It is an ancient and universal practice to gather a number of objects, such as marked stones, or bones, assign different meanings to each, cast them on the ground, and “tell fortunes” from the way in which they fall. However, the word “sorcery” has come to mean almost any sort of magic.

RITUAL MAGIC, Art Magic, or Cabalistic Magic, seems to have evolved from Egyptian and Babylonian magical beliefs that there were many

great spirits, minor gods, angels and demons, who could be bribed or Impelled to cause events to occur, by means of long rites and conjurations, with or without blood sacrifices. A very important branch of this magic was to know the Names of Power, by which such beings could be summoned and controlled. When used for good purposes, these practices were called White Magic; but if for evil purposes, they were called Black Magic. This last term is nowadays much abused, being often applied to anything occult. We have illustrations, by means of books, pictures, and actual instruments and objects, of all of these types of magic in the Museum.

ASTROLOGY aimed at discovering what the future was likely to be from studying the stars. Its basis is the old Hermetic axiom,”As above, so below.” It is still widely believed in, and is the mother of Astronomy. We have some examples of the tools, books, etc., used by astrologers.

ALCHEMY aimed at finding the Philosophers’ Stone, which would turn all other metals into gold, and the Elixir of Life, which would cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely. It was the mother of modern Chemistry; though alchemists expressed their art in a curious mystical jargon, to prevent their secrets being stolen. We have some objects and manuscripts relating to Alchemy, but regret we have no Philosophers’ Stone or Elixir of Life to show you.

NECROMANCY was attempting to compel the spirits of the dead to return and give information. It was usually performed with the corpse of a person recently dead. Spiritualism has been attacked as being Necromancy, but this is false, as there is no attempt to impel the spirits to communicate, and no dead bodies are used. We have some pictures of the practice of Necromancy.

PACTS WITH THE DEVIL. We have copies of what are alleged to be pacts with the devil, and other diabolical papers, including the alleged signatures of various devils, from the French National Archives and other sources; but we think the originals were either forgeries or cheats to deceive the simple-minded.

DEVIL WORSHIP is usually regarded as meaning the worship of Satan. We have some relics which are said to have been used in such rites; but we have no real evidence that the people who used them were more than jokers in rather bad taste. Witches have been accused of “devil-worship”; but the Old Horned God of witchcraft is pre-Christian, and “the devil” is a concept of Christian times.

THE BLACK MASS. Many practices which may or may not have taken place have been denounced by this name; but there is little convincing evidence of its real existence. However, we are always willing to receive proof, and the Museum has some objects alleged to be associated with it.

Gardner’s brief descriptions are exactly that and not meant to be definitive in any way.  These are introductions to little known subjects for the entertainment, and humour of the tourists.

We have in this Museum the following Exhibits:

On the first floor are two rooms. One represents a Magician’s Study, of the period circa 1630, with everything set out for performing what is variously called Ritual Magic, Cabalistic Magic, Ceremonial Magic, or Art Magic; these terms mean very much the same thing, though some writers use one and

some another. There is a large and complicated circle drawn on the floor, and an altar made to certain Cabalistic proportions. Beside it is the magician’s consecrated sword, and behind it two columns, with a light upon each. If used for good purposes only, this kind of magic was called White Magic; but if used for evil or selfish purposes, it was called Black Magic. The latter might involve the use of blood, and the summoning of demons, who were kept at bay by the Divine Names written around the circle, and were only permitted to manifest in the Triangle of Art drawn outside the circle, where they could be commanded to do the magician’s will.

The other room represents a Witch’s Cottage, with furnishings of about the same date as the above, and with the witch’s magical implements set out for use, with the circle, the altar, etc. It will be seen that these are much less elaborate than those of the magician. The room is an ordinary living-room, with a bed in the background, and a few domestic articles scattered about; the altar is a chest; the circle is a simple chalk line. At an alarm of danger, everything could quickly be made to look quite normal.

The witch’s altar is set out as if for an initiation ceremony. One of the objects upon it is a necklace, the only “ceremonial garment” a witch needed; whereas the magician might wear elaborate robes.

The Exhibits again follow Gardner’s earlier stereotypes of High vs Low magic.  (Magician’s Study vs Witch’s Cottage). The manikin in the Magician’s study highly resembled Gardner.

In the First Gallery starts the famous collection of objects connected with Magic and Witchcraft.

Here follows the high point of the Witches Museum!  The Galleries!!!

I will not go into lengthy detail as these descriptions are beautifully descriptive however, I will say that the objects on display were both owned by Williamson and Gardner respectively, as well as many items that were ‘on loan’ to the museum, crafted by artisans, previously used by witches and magical people and brought to the museum through their individual contacts.  Some were ‘real’ and many were contrived for tourist entertainment.

Case No. 1. A large number of objects belonging to a witch who died in 1951 given by her relatives,

who wish to remain anonymous. These are mostly things which had been used m the family for generations. Most of them are for making herbal cures. The herbs required to make charms or medicines had to be cut at the rime when the moon or the planets were in the particular part of the Zodiac “under the right astrological aspects,” as a practitioner of the art would say; and the curved sickle or “baleen” was used for this purpose. She had a very fine ritual sword, which for many years was lent to the Druid Order which holds the annual Midsummer ceremony at Stonehenge, because it fitted exactly into the cleft in the Hele Stone.

As discussed briefly earlier, this was an exciting period in history when NRMs were being formed in contrast to the oppressive stagnation of Christianity.  Besides Witchcraft, Druidry and other pagan religions were being revived.  Modern Druidry is also a revived religion of the 18th century.

Case into. 2. A large collection of magical rings and other jewellery, used for the purpose of protection and as luck bringers, and for various other magical purposes. This case contains exhibits illustrating the development of present-day amulets from primitive pagan symbols. There are a large number of “Lucky Pieces,” ranging from the crudely mounted “Badger’s Paw” to intricate and costly astrological jewelry made according to the wearer’s horoscope. Among these is the mediaeval magic ring formerly belonging to the Earls of Lonsdale, set with the fossil tooth of an animal, and surrounded by precious stones. It is a thumb ring made large enough to be worn outside a glove, and was supposed to have a mystic power over its possessor.

Case No. 3. A large number of objects used to ward off the “Evil Eye,” dating from Ancient Egyptian and Phoenician to modern times. The “Evil Eye” is the supposed power to cast a spell upon

another simply by looking at them, ant these mascots were thought to be able in various ways to deflect this dangerous glance. This is probably one of the oldest occult beliefs in the world.

Case No. 4. A representative collection of objects used by witches in their rituals, including a witch’s riding staff, which gave rise to the “broomstick” legend. Its actual use was like that of a hobby-horse, in a kind of leaping dance that was part of a fertility ritual. There are several gazing crystals, and a black concave mirror made by a witch in modem times and consecrated at the full moon in accordance with an ancient formula; all of these are used for “skrying,” as crystal-gazing used to be called the idea being that visions could be seen in them. There is a flask of witches’ anointing oil in a silver case. The case also contains objects used in the witch persecutions, and some relics of Matthew Hopkins, the notorious “Witch-Finder General.” Among the instruments of torture used on witches, shown in this case, are thumbscrews, pincers which were used red hot, and a three-inch-long hand-made pin of the type used to prick for the so-called “Devil’s Mark,” which was supposed to be a spot which would not bleed and was insensitive to pain; also instruments used when witches were burned alive.

Case No. 5. A collection of objects used by witches, given by an existing coven of witches. Naturally, they have only lent articles which they are not using, hence the collection consists chiefly of implements for the making of herbal cures and charms; there is, however, one very fine ritual wand, and a curious old desk containing seven secret drawers, in which they used to hide some of their possessions.

Case No. 6. A large collection of talismans engraved on metal, prepared according to the formulas of the “Key of Solomon” and various other Grimoires. These talismans were consecrated with magical rituals, and had to be made and consecrated under the correct astrological aspects for the object they were to achieve, e.g., to gain someone’s love, to obtain money, success in a struggle, or the cure of sickness, and for many other purposes. The person who wished to achieve some such aim by means of a talisman, after it was made and consecrated, had then usually to wear it next to the skin.

This case also contains a collection of charms used against the “Evil Eye,” mainly Arabic and Italian, and examples of the “Medusa’s Head” charm, which was used to avert evil, and the “Mermaid” and “Sea Horse” charms for the same purposes.


Case No. 7. A complete collection of the secret manuscripts of the Order of the Golden Dawn, a famous magical fraternity to which Aleister Crowley, W. B. Yeats, and many other well-known people at one time belonged. It was founded by the late Dr Wynn Westcott and S. L. MacGregor Mathers, and claimed descent from the original Rosicrucians. Aleister Crowley quarrelled with the Order and broke away to found his own fraternity. The magical working of the Order of the Golden Dawn is founded upon the Hebrew Cabala, and its Cabalistic knowledge was kept very secret, though some of it has now

found its way into print; but most of the contents of this case have never before been available to the public.

The case also contains a number of documents from various sources, pertaining to other Orders which claim descent from the Rosicrucians.

Case No. 8. A collection of objects used for divination and fortune-telling, and a number of ancient and modern books upon the subject. Also a number of ancient and modem packs of Tarot cards. These cards are the forerunners of our modern playing-cards, but consist of 78 cards instead of only 52, as in the modern pack. They were (and are) much used for fortune-telling, especially by Continental gypsies. The Trump cards have many curious figures upon them, an of which have an occult meaning. Their origin is unknown, and some authorities have postulated that they came from Ancient Egypt. They certainly date back in Europe to 1392, and there are possible earlier references.

Case No. 9. A large collection of pictures showing what people have thought witches looked like, from prehistoric times to the present day; together with pictures of the practice of necromancy, and illustrations of sorcery and dealings with the devil. Reproductions of various pacts said to have been made with the devil some bearing the alleged signatures of demons.

Also some copies of the court records of Manx witchcraft trials, some being of cases which occurred in the close vicinity of this Museum. The latter illustrate the old Manx belief, “If a person is a witch, why shouldn’t they do a bit of witchcraft if they want to ?”.

Case No. 10. A very large collection of books on magic and witchcraft, including a number of ancient manuscripts, ranging from the latter part of the Middle Ages to the present day.

Case No. 11. Types of “killing magic,” including the “Pointing Bone” of the Australian aborigines, and the Malayan “Keris Majapight.” Both of these instruments were used in more or less the same way, namely they were symbolically pointed at an enemy to cast a spell upon him whereby he would sicken and die.

Also some stone implements used as charms for protection against lightning.

Some modern instruments said to enable one to see the human aura, and to gain clairvoyance; together with some instruments used in water divining or “dowsing” of various kinds (the modern term for this being “radiesthesia”).

Also a baby’s caul, used as in amulet to enable lawyers to win cases, and as a charm against drowning. (Charles Dickens mentions this belief in “David Copperfield”). The caul is a membrane sometimes found upon the head of a new-born baby, and sailors in olden times would pay a good price for one, and carry it to preserve them from the perils of the sea.

The case also includes a charm compounded in Naples in 1954, to enable a guilty man to be acquired when tried!


Case No. 12. A collection of magical objects from

Africa and Tibet.

Case No. 13. Books, letters and personal relics of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), a famous and controversial figure in the world of occultism; called by some “The Wickedest Man in the World,” and by others “The Logos of the Aeon of Horus.” The collection includes a Charter granted by Aleister Crowley to G. B. Gardner (the Founder of this Museum) to operate a Lodge of Crowley’s fraternity the Ordo Templi Orientis. (The Director used to point out, however, that he had never used this Charter and had no intention of doing so, although to the best of his belief he was the only person in Britain possessing such a Charter from Crowley himself; Crowley was a personal friend of his, and gave him the Charter because he liked him.)

Case No. 14. Various articles illustrating the derivation of the present Arms of the Isle of Man (which are three legs) from the Celtic trisula and similar forms, such as the “Cross of St. Bride,” which were charms for luck and protection, being the signs of ancient gods. (Note: exactly the same device as the present Manx Arms, the “Three Legs,” has been found on a coin from Thrace, dating probably from circa 500 B.C., and upon another coin from Pamphylia, dating probably from circa 480-400 B.C. The Greek name for this device is the “Triskeles”).

This case also contains another collection of objects given by another coven of witches. This includes a horned helmet as used by the male leader in certain rites. Also two most interesting examples of the “Green Man” symbol, sometimes called the Foliate Mask. This was a favourite form of decoration in ancient churches but it actually represents the Old God of the witch cult, the “King of the Woods.” He was called the “Green Man” because he was depicted with leaves-often oak-leaves, -springing from his mouth, or with his face partly made up of leaves, or as if peering through a leafy garland. Some of the oldest examples of the Foliate Mask are horned. The explanation is that the craftsmen who built ancient churches and cathedrals sometimes belonged to the witch cult. They could build no shrines to their private beliefs, everyone being compelled by law to attend the Christian church, but they introduced the Old God into the fabric of the church under this guise, and he became one of the most popular figures for church decoration.

Case No. 15. A number of objects connected with what has been alleged to be “Devil-worship,” Black Magic and the Black Mass; including the form of service used at the funeral service of the late Alaister Crowley when his body was cremated at Brighton on the 5th December, 1947. This was fiercely denounced as being “the Black Mass;” if so, it must surely be the only Black Mass in history to which the Press was invited, and which was fully witnessed and reported by representatives of the local paper!

The case also contains a number of articles lent to the Museum by a magical fraternity, including a chalice used by them in performing Form of Mass for magical purposes. (This fraternity insists, how

ever that this was White Magic and not Black).

Also a magical death-spell, or curse, prepared by the late Austin Osman Spare in 1954. Spare boasted that he could kill anyone by Black Magic (he actually said this in the course of an interview he once gave on radio!). He was an artist, famous for his fantastic paintings

Also a number of other objects used in curious forms of magic, which, if not Black, were certainly extremely Grey. These include a magical lamp which was once the property of the notorious Hell-Fire Club founded by Sir Francis Dashwood in the 18th century. This started as “The Monks of Medmenham,” and was a parody of a monastic brotherhood; but the “Monks” were alleged to worship the devil and indulge in all kinds of licence as their “rule.” Later Sir Francis took his association to his palatial home at West Wycombe, where they carried out their rites in a labyrinth of mysterious chalk caves, now known as the “Hell-Fire Caves,” which may still be seen. The “Hell-Fire Club” was one of the scandals of its day, as many men of wealth and consequence were alleged to belong to it; Sir Francis Dashwood himself was at one time Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Case No. 16. A collection of modern charms and talismans, which people still pay good money for and wear for protection or good luck.

Case No. 17. A few articles used by astrologers and alchemists, and a number of boom upon these subjects.

Case No. 18. A number of books on the subject of magic, and some magical articles.

NOTE: Upon the wall of the Upper Gallery is a large round mirror. This is a Magical Mirror, which has evidently been used by a practising magician or a magical fraternity. It is convex, and backed with a dark substance instead of the usual silvering. Around the frame are the names “Michael,” “Gabriel,” “Uriel,” and “Raphael,” the four great Archangels who are said to rule the four quarters of the universe. Such mirrors as these have been used for many centuries to summon up magical visions


For introductory research and information on the Witches Mill, Gerald Gardner and Cecil Williamson, I recommend beginning with the following:

Crowther, Patricia, One Witch’s World, (Robert Hale London, 1998).

Gardner, Gerald, The Meaning of Witchcraft, (Aquarian Publishing Company, 1959).

Hesselton, Philip, Witchfather, A life of Gerald Gardner. Vol 1 & 2,  (Thoth Publications, 2012).

Howard, Michael, Modern Wicca, (Llewellyn Publications 2009).

Hutton, Ronald, The Triumph of the Moon, (Oxford University Press 1999).

Valiente, Doreen, The Rebirth of Witchcraft, (Robert Hale London, 1989).


This video is an excellent introduction to understanding the witch trials of the medieval period in Great Britain.  Enjoy.

Laa Luanys – Lugh’s Fair Day

Posted in Folklore, History, Poetry, Storytelling with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2012 by manxwytch

Laa Luanys (Laa Lunys) – August 1 (August 12th Old Calendar) is the Day of Lammas, which was moved to the first Sunday in August by the Bishop of Mann in an attempt to eradicate the lewd festivities of its original pagan festival of Lughnasadh, the Festival of the God Lugh, Foster Son of Manannan.[1]  Some interpret Laa Luanys as the ‘Day of Lugh’ substituting Luans or Lunys as Lug, Lleu, or Lugh.  Academics and historians of Religion know that Christianity ‘borrowed’ many religious days and festivals from various religions and cultures including the elder Celtic Calendral Cycles in an attempt to obtain converts and destroy the Old Faiths and practices.  For instance, St. Patrick replaced Lugh in Sunday Services.  On Ellan Vannin, Lugh’s festival, rife with apparent lewd behaviour on the mountains, seemed to be one of the most pernicious practices to destroy, with Christian priests complaining of its remnants even up until the late 18th century.

“The curates and wardens represent to the court that there is a superstitious custom, which is yearly continued and practiced in this and the neighbouring parishes by many young people (and some of riper age) going to the top of Snaefell Mountain upon the first Sunday in August, where (as they are informed) they behave themselves very rudely and indecently for the greater part of that day.”  Pg 70 Manx Calendar Customs

First Sunday after Old Lammas: This was Lhuany’s Day, the day of a festival dedicated to the god Lugh. An orgy was held at the top of Snaefell.” (

Now, to be clear here, the above quotes are as biased toward Christianity as the Manxwytch Tales are toward the Old Faith; so take it all with a grain of salt.  However, it seemed to take many years for such an enjoyable tradition to die out… though I’ve heard the coals are still kept warm.  The last reports of such open activities on Snaefell[2] were said to have occurred in 1870.  More exclusive celebrations were whispered to have continued in homes, fields and keeils, away from the eyes of prudish priests and those who “spend more time on their knees in church than their backs in bed.”[3]

Various attempts were made by the Parish to end the “profane customs” practiced and handed down through generations of Manx families.  One of the most outright offensive attempts was when the church sent Ministers[4] up to the top of Snaefell and South Barrule to collect alms for the Church and to read aloud both the Nicene Creed and the story of Jephthah and his Daughter from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament.  Briefly the story of Jephthah is that the Israelites were no longer worshiping God again and he got angry and gave them to the Ammonites.  Jephthah was born illegitimately and had only an un-named Daughter.  He becomes a leader and defeats the Ammonites and makes some kind of vow to God that whoever exits the door of his house upon his return will be sacrificed as a burnt offering to God on the altar.  And, since Jephthah’s wife is never mentioned, we can only assume that he might of known who would exit the door to greet him upon return home.  He bewails meeting his Daughter, but must keep his vow to God and sacrifice her.  She cries at the loss of her virginity (!?) (some scholars interpret this as that she mourns that she will never marry) and asks for a couple months leeway to prepare herself.  Then Jephthah carries out the deed and sacrifices her on the fiery altar, burning her to a crisp and all the women remember her for four days each year.   But pay close attention to the story and you might read how it fits what was going on at the top of Snaefell[5].  Worship of a god other than YHVH, sexual theme, sacrifice and mourning.  This all appears to fit quite well with the Day of Lugh.  Despite this dour story being read, I understand that the real killjoy was the demand for alms for the church.  Nothing kills a good ale drinking, laughing, singing, frolicking orgy than some Priest expecting cash!

There are many stories of Lugh in both Welsh and Irish mythology but I will emphasise the Manx legends as they are scantily discussed.  Lugh was the bright Solar Warrior God of the sun, corn and as mentioned earlier, Foster-Son to the great Wizard King Manannan.  Lugh was said to have spent his youth with Manannan on Ellan Vannin and it was here that he was trained in poetry, philosophy, music, smith craft, skill in battle, love and war, sailing, craftsmanship skills and cunning magic, all tutored by the Wizard King.  When his training was complete and Lugh was ready to fulfill his destiny as a warrior of epic renown, Manannan gave to Lugh his own great sword Fragarach, (the Answerer), whose power  forced anyone at whose throat it was held, to speak only the truth when questioned.[6]  Fragarach also bestowed command of the four winds to its owner and any piercing from its blade would deal a mortal wound that would never heal.  Manannan also gave Lugh flashing armour that could not be penetrated and a helmet that could not be broken.  For Lugh’s journey from the Isle, Manannan summoned from the depths of the underworld sea, a swift floating coracle called the Wave-Sweeper and lent to him his prized mare from his royal stables, the horse Aenbharr (Enbarr) whose hooves travelled as easily on water as on land.


As a corn (grain) and solar Deity, it is little wonder that the word lugh in Manx Gaelic means mouse.  The mouse, as a totemic animal of Lugh makes obvious sense when one examines the Celtic Harvest Festival named after him, Lughnasadh.

As well, we can possibly see fragments of the relationship between the solar harvest god who dies and is reborn, Lugh’s magical spear and John Barlycorn, though this song is not particular to Mann, it was still sung in a few pubs… and may still be.

John Barleycorn: By Robert Burns

There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.

They took a plough and plough’d him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on’
And show’rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris’d them all.

The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong:
His head weel arm’d wi pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.

The sober Autumn enter’d mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bendin joints and drooping head
Show’d he began to fail.

His colour sicken’d more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.

They’ve taen a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
They ty’d him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.

They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell’d him full sore.
They hung him up before the storm,
And turn’d him o’er and o’er.

They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim,
They heav’d in John Barleycorn-
There, let him sink or swim!

They laid him upon the floor,
To work him farther woe;
And still, as signs of life appear’d,
They toss’d him to and fro.

They wasted o’er a scorching flame
The marrow of his bones;
But a miller us’d him worst of all,
For he crush’d him between two atones.

And they hae taen his very hero blood
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.

John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
‘Twill make your courage rise.

‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy:
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho the tear were in her eye.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!

As has been noted, the pilgrimage to mountaintops was important on Mann to celebrate Lugh, light, the corn and the first harvest.  But this was only one of two pilgrimages on Laa Luanys, the second of which was to the Holy Wells.  For some reason, perhaps related to Manannan, it was important to visit the known healing wells, in particular Maughold[7], Laxey[8], and St. Patrick’s[9] though there were many others, these three appear prominent.  It was said that the curative powers of the wells were more accessible at this time and offerings were made to the Genius Loci of the well and its particular power.  This was often done by the exchange of a pin or a silver coin for its curative spirit.  During the offering, a prayer was made invoking the healing property to cure whatever the ailment was.  Once accomplished, the well was often circled three times and then dressed in ribbons, and flowers.[10]

There is so much that could be told of Lughnasadh, Lugh and his Harvest Festival but I will leave that for another time.  What we can see, is that on a tellurian level, the celebration took place both in the heights and in the deeps.  The very same locations  where the spiritual celebration of this Great Sabbat is held for all witches.

If you are really interested in reading further I suggest obtaining a copy of Marie Mac Neill’s book, written in 1962, titled ‘The festival of Lughnasa: a study of the survival of the Celtic festival of the beginning of harvest‘ and published by Oxford University Press.



[1] There was for many years a harvest fair that continued in the Parish of Santon.  Further there was a Laxey Fair, a Maughold Fair and a Fair at Ballasalla.  Take note of this as you will see, it is important because these were also places of prominent healing wells.

[2] Snaefell is the Isle of Mann’s tallest mountain and therefore those who celebrated Laa Lunys on its summit were as close to the sun as possible.  On a clear day you can see all seven kingdoms – meaning Ellan Vannin, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, the kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of the Sea.  From here, it was easy to give thanks for the harvest and all that could be seen.  Nowadays it’s tough to find a day without rain!  The jaunt up the summit is made easier by the electric train which takes you easily to the top where there’s a good cafe house / tourist shop.  As well, there is almost always someone flying off the peak in a chute.  I prefer to climb the way my Elder taught me, which is by an old footpath straight up from the Mountain Road.  It’s far more fulfilling for the spirit.  Besides this, he was climbing that mountain until well over the age of 75 and I feel that his pilgrimages added to his longevity, happiness and wellbeing.  I can only pray to reach his age and vigour!

[3] Perhaps you recognized it.  An altered quote taken from the classic movie The Wickerman in the extended version.  Apropos for this blog entry I would think.

[4] Ministers Parick Beg and William Giek in the mid 1800s.

[5] Also, there was said to be people who climbed South Barrule and other mountains on Mann but Snaefell seems to be the most prominent at this time.

[6] Magical items that force people to speak the truth are particularly emphasised in Manx folklore.  More on this in another post.

[7] A legendary witches’ haunt.

[8] At the foot of Snaefell, as it is at the beginning of the electric tram.

[9] Obviously re-named from an older Celtic Deity.  Possibly Lugh, as we know the Church replaced Lugh with Patrick during the festival.

[10] It is believed that as the bouquets fade, so too does the disease.

Midsummer Tributes

Posted in Folklore, History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2012 by manxwytch

On St. Johns Night, Midsummer’s Eve[1] it was the old tradition to pay tribute to Manannan Mac Lir[2] at South Barrule.  The People gathered two bundles of St. Johnswort, Midsummer Men[3], Meadow Rushes, Rue and Mugwort to pay tribute to the Just King of Mann for allowing them to live and prosper on His Holy Isle.  The first bundle was placed at the foot of the mountain and the second was taken up the slope to the top of the mountain where a small hill fort remains[4].  In effect this act pledged fealty to Manannan in all the heavens above and all the earth beneath.

According to an old Manx ballad, the only yearly tribute that was levied on Manxmen by the wizard-chief Mannanan was a bundle of rushes delivered to him every St. John’s Eve, i.e., the eve of the Midsummer festival. A survival of this is still seen in the custom of strewing the path from the Church to the Tynwald Hill with rushes, representing a former sacrifice or offering to the Spirit of Vegetation. “  (Manx Quarterly, #25, 1921)

For Witches, this was the eve to renew pledges to the Ancient Gods and the Ancestors. Sometimes, this was called Renewing the Pact, and was often done on Mann by either circling seven times deosil on the top of South Barrule, or seven times round a Midsummer Fire muttering old incantations.  One such incantation to Renew the Pact was said to be chanted by Witches in Cornwall on Midsummer Eve and it was:

Green is Gold – (Nature is clothed  in the Sun’s light)

Fire is Wet – (Candleboats are set afloat)

Fortunes told – (Divination that eve)

Dragon’s Met – (Green lines or serpent tracks)

Huge bonfires were often lit on every hill-top and sometimes fires were set out on small coracles to follow the currents of the Irish Sea.  Ellan Vannin was ablaze with fire, light, music and dance.

Manannan and his Faery Queen, Fand, began their royal ride with the 12 Fey Lords & Ladies of the Keys, from South Barrule, 15 miles to rule the High Court of Tynwald[5] at Baldwin in Braddan, Algare[6].  The King and Queen lead the Seelie Court, surrounded in song and dance, accompanied by faery music, fire brands, revelry and starlight.  Upon arrival at Algare (the Place of Justice) Old Tynwald court would be held and lasted a full week.  Disputes were settled, children, flocks and crops were blessed, the old laws were read and new laws proclaimed, wisdom and sage advice was sought from the Wise Sage of Mann, and titles and honours were bestowed upon the finest beasts and the most gifted men and women.  The People celebrated the summer harvest fair with the first seasonal fruits, herbs, honey and berries, drank mead wines and old ale libations were given.  The nights were warm weathered and many spent an enchanted night with their loved ones on the soft mossy floors of forest beds.

[1] Also called St. John’s Night.  One must remember that John is an old pagan survival, often called the Oak King and connected to Jack in the Green.  If this wasn’t enough, he was often called ‘Pan the Baptist’ much to the chagrin of the Christian priests.  This is because he was often depicted as a shaggy man, sometimes even cloven hoofed such as a satyr.

[2] Manannan often appeared in the form of a great Crane, his totem animal and a bird of esteemed magical powers.

[3] Sedum telephium

[4] This was also reported to be a place where one of eight cyclical castles of Manannan once resided.

[5] Tynwald is the oldest surviving parliament in the world, making a claim on the Isle of Mann to be at least 1000 years old.  It is now celebrated on July 5th in St. John’s and attendees still wear sprigs of St. John’s Wort as a protection against evil and to bring good fortune.

[6] Old Tynwald is north of St. Luke’s Church in Braddan.  Of an interesting note, the name of the homestead where Old Tynwald stood is still called “Algare” which is a word meaning “justice” or “A Place of Justice”.

The Witch’s Ride

Posted in Art, History with tags , , , , on May 19, 2012 by manxwytch

The besom (broom), pole or stang are well known horses for the witch’s ride to the sabbat and otherworldly realms.  Possibly one of the earliest European depictions of a woman riding a pole or besom is in Le Champion de Dames (The Champion of Women) written by Martin le Franc in 1451 and illuminated by Peronet Lamey.

The image of the Flying Women are easily overlooked and appear in the margin of a single page in the text seen here.

The book itself is beautiful on an artistic level and chronicles the great women of history, folk lore and mythology.  As a precursor to the Enlightenment Period, Les Champions de Dames criticises French aristocracy and points to corruption in politics and government.

Witch Hunts: Medieval to Modern Day

Posted in History with tags , , , , , on April 28, 2012 by manxwytch

The medieval model of witchcraft[1] retains its primary categorizations which were developed from Christian epistemological theories and hagiographies that demonized differing beliefs as heresy and can be observed in the Malleus Maleficarum.  I contend this model continues to be used by various evangelical Christian organizations today and I will demonstrate this by comparing the medieval Christian model of witchcraft articulated by contemporary scholars, with the present day Nigerian witch hunts promoted by Evangelical pastors such as Helen Ukpabio of the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries.  I will demonstrate how these two models of witchcraft are similar in many ways and also where they are also unique.  I will briefly identify the theorized causes of the Witch-Hunts and conclude with acknowledging the institutions of power that profit from the phenomena and suggest secular methods to end their influence.

Evolution of Heresy

Scholars who study the evolution of heresy[2] trace evidence of its existence near to Christianity’s inception and clearly account for its dogma originating with the early canonization of Christianity at its institutionalization[3].

“All survivals of pagan belief, worship and practice were condemned as demonic and gradually suppressed by Christian theology and law.  Roman law had been stern in dealing with sorcery.  Teutonic law was much milder.  But in the course of the eight and ninth centuries, the growing influence of theology upon civil law produced a legal association of sorcerers with demons” (Russell & Alexander pp 52).

In the early Medieval Church[4], heresy included the identification of theological and orthodox interpretive errors of the European indigenous community, and problems with a reversion back to the pagan practices of their ancestors which the Church actively preached against, believing that the education of orthodox cannon and penance would remedy these errors over time[5].  Unfortunately, this measure was unsuccessful and by the central period of the Middle Age Church, the concept of heresy evolved to become a bitter, dualistic battle of good against evil; an explosion of diabolical charges of witchcraft occurred which was no longer remedied by penance but instead, it became an unforgivable sin against God and Church punishable by torture and death[6].  There have been numerous theories proposed to account for the cause of the witchcraft hysteria that reached a peak during the period of 1200 – 1300 CE.  Some theories identify gender and socially marginalized groups, indigenous and superstitious traditions, medical, political, and economic, all of which are valid and give historians a holistic view of the many causes rather than simply a Christian religious war fought against pagan and unorthodox beliefs and practices.

Profile of a Witch

During and by the end of the witch-craze in the late medieval period, a construct had been formed that could be used as a template to distinguish and charge someone as a witch[7].  This involved the following fantastical identifying features: pact with the Devil and promise of malefic acts, night-riding or flying, supernatural power, secret meetings with other witches and recruits presided over by Satan, repudiation of God and church[8], desecration of holy objects, a new identity, sex with a devil and orgy, cannibalism and infanticide.

Lastly, whether rich or poor, the witch was almost exclusively described as lustful, power hungry, ignorant, perverted women who were willing participants of a type of Anti-Church whose sole mission was imagined as the destruction of the Catholic faith and the overthrowing of God.  The identity of the Witch became someone more than a mere mortal.  Her supernatural powers set her apart from the medieval laws of nature which, in the medieval mind, were made by God for man, and placed her within another realm[9] where she became a dangerously powerful object that was beyond human control and required Divine power to exterminate.

Medieval Witch-hunters

To facilitate the extermination of witchcraft a specially trained monastic order, the Dominican Order, was used to hunt out heresy and find witches.  The Dominicans were originally founded in 1170 CE and were at one time popular in managing community affairs.  Their ability to remain an ‘outsider’ of a community and not engage in local affairs was believed to give them immunity to pressure and to hold a distant and objective role in prosecutions.  It was believed that witches were well versed in scripture so the Dominican Order was academically trained in scriptural verse, rhetoric, philosophy, theological writings and law.  “Their zealous defense of traditional orthodoxy and tenacious advocacy of papal prerogatives meant that they could be trusted to make an accurate assessment of potential heresy, and that their learning would allow them to deal with the evasions of accused heretics” (MacKay pp 13).  The most infamous Witch Hunters are immortalized in the Malleus Maleficarum of 1487, written by Dominican Friars, Henricus Institorus and Jacobus Kramer.  It remains today as a sinister treatise of theological ontology, folklore, fear-mongering, torture, and misogyny[10].  Though some scholars have shown that the medieval inquisition was slowing down at the time of its writing, it should be noted that it did not die and in fact, Christian inspired Witch-Hunts have continued to present day[11].

Modern Witch Hunts

Though the age of the Enlightenment placed an ethical and rational hold on the torture of women accused of witchcraft, and modern secularism looks unfavorably upon superstition over science, modernity has not stopped violence incited by ideas of heterodoxy or religious demonization.  More than 500 years of civilization since the craze of the middle ages yet the diabolical witch stereotype still plays an important role as a scapegoat masking religious intolerance, predation of the weak, sexual discrimination and violence.

“Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.  We see it with racism, we see it with homophobia, we see it with terrorism.  It’s always the same process.  The person is dehumanized and violence becomes inevitable.  And that step is already and constantly taken with women”  (Killing Us Softly 4 video lecture, Jean Kilbourne.)

Christianity spread to Africa through Portuguese explorers in the 15th century, the diversity of people, languages and cultures made translations of scripture a difficult process.  Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries have colonized Sub-Saharan Africa and have traded, exploited and educated those they contacted with questionable degrees of success.  Indigenous faiths, language and culture have held perniciously to practices considered superstitious by Christian orthodoxy and in need of salvation and assimilation.  Even among academics, Indigenous healers were mis-labeled ‘witchdoctors’ by eager 18th century ethnocentric Christian European anthropologists who were excited to reveal the secrets of ‘primitive religion’ as the origin of religious belief.  Missionary agencies actively preached with evangelical zeal in Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa during the 19th century and though they were often rejected, a slow integration of conversion continues to this day.  Charismatic forms of Christianity have taken hold in parts of Africa, each with a unique synthesis of indigenous culture and Pentecostal evangelical worship[12].  As the new forms of Christianity spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, witchcraft and witchcraft accusations came along with it[13].

Today, thousands of women are living in safety by being exiled from their communities to live in “Witch Camps” north of Ghana while south of Kenya, mobs are cutting witches to pieces or burning them alive, meanwhile in Nigeria thousands of witch-children are mutilated, abandoned or murdered.  An epidemic of deep-seated fear of witches and devils had been created that is so thoroughly entrenched in the belief structure of the continent that the African National Congress began a Commission of Inquiry in 1999 (Federici, 22).  In some areas of the continent there are official laws prohibiting the practice of witchcraft and accused witches are jailed.  Many are found guilty because individuals in authority positions such as in the judicial system, police or government agencies don’t want to be associated or accused of being a friend to witchcraft.

Medieval to Modern Witch Accusations

A graphic portrayal of witchcraft fear-mongering is projected by Helen Ukpabio, a self-proclaimed Pentecostal prophet, Witch-Hunter, faith healer and leader of the Liberty Gospel Mission Church.  In Ukpabio’s self produced video End of the Wicked  her propaganda serves to demonstrate that the medieval personification of diabolical witchcraft is still promoted in present day Witch-Hunts.  In documentary style, Ukpabio’s twisted imagination is let loose to compose a horrifying story of child-witchcraft that clearly identifies the familiar medieval themes.  First, the child-witches are summoned out of their bodies in a supernatural flight to attend a secret witch meeting.  They are called by a leading witch-boy dressed all in black, who uses the sound of a baa-ing sheep to summon and collect recruits.  They arrive at the meeting and it is presided over by a Devil on a throne who uses his power to transform the innocent children dressed in white into a witch-children now dressed in black.  The new witches make a commitment to engage in tormenting and wicked acts.  They are given a new witch-name by the leading witch-boy who is now plagued with a skin disease, and each new witch is told to obey individual commandments that will cause problems to their family and community.  For example in the film they are to invite poverty, create loss of food, to act stubborn, show lack of interest in school, “waywardness”, become bad company and use destructive powers to break glass and cause fevers.  The witch-children are magically teleported into a dead man’s bedroom where they engage in cannibalism.  The leading witch-child invokes a grown man’s spirit to appear at their meeting and he takes out his eyes through a demonic power transmitted by a scepter that appears very reminiscent of an indigenous wand or rattle as it is covered in feathers.  The documentary flashes back to the same man who awakens suddenly from his nightmare and is in great fear.  Then the Devil appears in the secret meeting and commands everyone to cause wickedness in the world and this is done by the witch children ‘having lunch’, which means they cause sudden deaths in their community.  This is shown by a man having a heart attack and a child murdered during a football game.  It is expected that the witch-children will later engage in cannibalism.  The documentary ends with a woman being sexually violated by a female incubi / succubi in a nightmare from which she wakes up screaming having been dream-raped.    The only thing that Ukpabio is missing from the original medieval categorization of diabolical witchcraft is the desecration of holy objects and the repudiation of God and Church.  I expect that with further research into accounts of modern Witch-Hunts we may find these categorizations however, with the rise of the modern witch-hunts coming out of the Protestant streams of Christianity as opposed to the Roman Catholic stream, their absence may be understandable because of the lack of emphasis on relics and objects in Protestantism and its offshoots.

Ukpabio identifies child-witches saying, “if a child under the age of two screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health he or she is a servant of Satan” (Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft).  Unfortunately, Ukpabio`s deplorable religious charlatanism is not unique but is one of the most widely marketed to western media by child protection and social agencies such as Stepping Stones and Unicef who are attempting to bring global awareness to the plight of children in Africa.  Indeed, there are 1000`s of self-appointed prophets like her promoting their own brand of witch-hunts and religion.  Accusations of Witchcraft do not specifically pin-point children alone but include them in the highest vulnerability group along with women, albinos[14], the elderly and the ill in areas where the community is under excessive stress[15].

The Modern Witch-Hunt

Witchcraft accusations have been attributed to various causes ranging from the personal to political.  Community and social tensions where interpersonal relationships break down inciting feelings of anger and hatred are frequent as well as jealousy arising from extremes of economic disparity.  Attempts to define a cause for natural disasters, famine, ecological changes, illness (HIV) and death are also contributors.  It has been noted that there is a consistent rise in requests for ‘faith healing’ and its promotion by both Pentecostal prophets and indigenous healers[16].  People are seeking to define the age old philosophical question of ‘why me’ or ‘why do bad things happen to good people’ and the only explanation they have to justify their misfortune is that ‘evil’ is the cause and witchcraft is its form.  Christianity and specifically the Pentecostal revivalist churches[17] have had a striking influence on the rise of witchcraft accusations fuelling superstitious fears and stoking a zealous fire in an attempt to gain converts and wealth though the witch-hunt hysteria.

“ In many countries witchcraft accusations are exploited by revivalist, charismatic or Pentecostal churches. Their pastor prophets fight against witchcraft in the name of God, identifying witches through visions and dreams, and then offering treatment – divine healing and exorcism – to the supposed witches. This “spiritual” work, often of a violent nature, reinforces beliefs in witchcraft and increases accusations. “The more God’s servants fight against witchcraft, the more they get involved in treating witches, and at the end of the day, the more they extend the resources of witchcraft” (Tonda, 2002) as well as their own income”  (Cimpic pp. 3).

Many NGO’s such as Stepping Stones, the UN and Unicef, identify religious profiteering as a motivating cause of accusations.  Pentecostal charismatic preachers not only diagnose witchcraft in communities but for a negotiated fee will remove or ‘deliver’ the witch through religious faith healing or more violent methods.  Those who don’t have the funds to be saved from such accusations suffer horrendous abuses.  Accused Witches are sometimes tortured by religious mobs to extract confessions in methods gruesomely similar to those used during the medieval Inquisitorial period.  Many are physically mutilated with acid or knives and if they survive they suffer a lifetime of physical, psychological and emotional damage.  Some accused witches, often children, are abandoned and saved by welfare organizations whereas the unlucky ones are often picked up by predators for sexual exploitation and trade.  Lastly, if the accused witch is not murdered outright[18], they are outcast from their family and community.  Though women’s groups are calling for a uniting of staged ‘incivility’ of women to shame the Witch-hunters, it is certainly hard to implement when these women are being surrounded by gangs with ropes and petrol.[19]


The modern Witch-Hunt is the demonization of a vulnerable group to justify their victimization by their oppressor.  Children, women and the elderly are the ‘oppressed of the oppressed’ in African society because they are dependent on others for survival.    Similarities between Witch-Hunters in both ancient and modern times lead to the understanding that Christian theological and cosmological ontologies of evil provide credence for the continued violation of marginalized people’s basic human rights and allows the continued commitment of atrocities against other human beings.  We have observed that Witch-hunts are not unique to a historical timeframe but have continued throughout the ages whenever people have been dehumanized.  However, what supports the continuation of Witch-hunts needs to be examined and brought to light.  NGOs like Stepping Stones identify five major causes of the Child-Witch accusations which are “religious profiteering, extreme poverty, disintegration of the family structure, ignorance and superstitious beliefs and lastly, broken marriages,” however this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Social, political, religious and economic structures of power and privilege must also be clearly identified as assisting perpetrators and they need to take responsible actions if we are to end the Witch-Hunts.  Judicial bodies must address the problem of witchcraft abuse, outlaw accusations and charge the persecutors who incite hatred and commit violence.  It has been suggested by the United Nations that religious organizations that profiteer from accusations through ‘deliverance’ of accused Witches be either regulated or outright banned from missionary work in affected countries.

Laws passed such as the ‘right of ministerial exception’ that allows intolerance and hate speech towards minority groups based on “religious belief” must be recognized for its power to allow the demonization of others and continue the perpetuation of crimes against human rights, equality, dignity and freedom.  At the core, secular authority must take a strong stand against polarized religious fanaticism and wipe out religious intolerance, ignorance and hatred of others through education and law or Witch-Hunting will continue to spread like a wildfire in its many guises.


Chidester, David.  Christianity a Global History. Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2000.

Durschmied, Erik.  Whores of the Devil:  Witch-Hunts and Witch-Trials. Phoenix Mill, Gloucestershire, 2005.

Kieckhefer, Richard.  Magic in the Middle Ages.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, NY, 2000.

Institoris, O.P. Henricus and Sprenger, O.P. Jacobus.  Malleus Maleficarum.  Volume I & II.  Christopher S. MacKay trans.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2006.

Kors, Alan Charles & Peters, Edward Peters.  Witchcraft in Europe: 400-1700 A documentary history, 2nd Edition.  University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, NY, 2001.

Russell, Jeffrey B. and Alexander, Brooks.  A History of Witchcraft:  Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans.  Thames and Hudson Ltd., London, UK., 2007.


Cimpric, Aleksandra.  Children Accused of Witchcraft: An anthropological study of contemporary practices in Africa.  Unicef, Wcaro, Dakar, 2010.

Federici, Silvia.  Witch-Hunting, Globalization, and Feminist Solidarity in Africa Today.   Journal of International Women’s Studies Online.  Vol 10, 1, 2008.

Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries.

Steppingstones Nigeria.

United Nations Refugee Agency Authors.  New Issues In Refugee Research:  Research Paper No. 197 Breaking the spell: Responding to witchcraft accusations against children.  United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Geneva, Switzerland, 2011.  (Accessed 12/02/2011)


End of the Wicked.  Produced and distributed by Helen Ukpabio’s Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries.  (Accessed 13/02/2012)

Child Witches Nigeria.  The Guardian Films.  Guardian News UK.

Killing Us Softly 4.  Lecture by Jean Kilbourne Ed.D.  Educational video.


[1] When using the term witchcraft in this discussion I am specifically using the Medieval Model as outlined by such academics as Jeffrey Russell, Brooks Alexander and Richard Kieckheifer and not the modern categorizations of the new religious movements Wicca and Neo-Paganism.

[2] Heresy comes from the Greek and literally means “choice”.  Therefore, heretics in the Christian tradition were those people who chose to think differently than the cannon of the institution.

[3] Generally accepted as the period of the Roman Emperor Constantine from 307-337.

[4] The Medieval Church spans the period between 500 – 1500 CE

[5] For an example see Burchard (the Bishop) of Worms: The Corrector, sive Medicus written in 1008-1012 CE.

[6] This is a brief overview and the historical development is far more complex than noted.  One could easily include the influence of the Inquisition on the Waldencians, Cathars, and Knights Templar as well as the waging of various holy wars against Islam influencing the development of heresy and medieval witchcraft characterization.

[7] Such as the treatise expressed by the notorious writers of the Maleus Maleficarium in 1487, Henricus Institoris and Jacobus Sprenger.

[8] This also created an idea of an anti-church that was lead by God’s Adversary, Satan.

[9] This realm would be the realm of folk-tales and myths.  The enchanted places of faries, imps, goblins and giants.

[10] An odd note about Henricus Institorus is that he was also a significant player in the later medieval rise of veneration for the Virgin Mary according to Chidester which suggests that his view of women breaches both impossible psychological extremes of categorizing women as either sacred or profane.

[11] Indeed there is evidence of witch hunts and accusations in every century up to this present day.

[12] Including spiritualist, African prophetic and revivalist churches.

[13] The numbers of accused witches murdered in Africa are difficult to acquire however, what we can account for shows the magnitude of the problem.  For more information on statistics see

[14] Albinos are killed and often their body parts are kept to act as a charm that wards off evil yet at the same time they are considered cursed holders of supernatural powers.

[15] Jill Schnoebelen, writing for the UNHCR points out stress caused by civil wars and political repression as a cause.

[16] It appears that Indigenous healers are also waging their own war against ‘evil’ and attempting to distance themselves from accusations of witchcraft though it doesn’t extend nor have the resources of the Pentecostal mission movement.

[17] Pentecostalism takes the stories of Indigenous religions and folk-lore very seriously by giving them an sinister exalted status, demonizing them as agents of Satan’s minions and power.

[18] By either family members or zealous mobs.

[19] Sometimes called “sitting on the man”, African women have been grouping together to perform shaming circles on the doorsteps of the accusers.  This is not always a successful act of civil disobedience and has let to sever acts of counter abuse.  (Frederici pp 20)

The Moddey Dhoo

Posted in Folklore, Storytelling with tags , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2012 by manxwytch

The Black Dog of Mann

Somewhere between folk tale and legend, the Moddey Dhoo  haunts the lore of Ellan Vannin from ancient times.  Black Dogs have a special place in many Celtic and European legends as both guardians of the sacred and profane; theurgic messengers from the Otherworld.  Different localities have given them different names, many are known as Ghost Dogs and their apparitions are often harbingers of death and doom to the person that encounters them.

Peel Castle is a beautiful red stoned ruined castle on a wee island off of the main town of Peel.  This island is now called St. Patrick’s Isle, but it was once a holy isle of the ancient pagan peoples of Ellan Vanin, the Druids, cunning folk and of course the early Vikings.  We all know that the  Christians appropriated all the sacred sites that they could in their thirst for dominion and power and they renamed everything under the names of their Saints, hoping that time would at some point wash away all memory of the Old Religions.  In many places, it did… but not on Mann…

Now the Old Moddey Dhoo as I’ve said, was a guardian of the sacred isle.  He watched over the graves of the pagan ancestors and protected their bones and sanctity.  When the Christians came, and took over everything, bringing with them their hierarchy and military institutions, their greed and their disrespect for the land, sea and sky… well, you can imagine, he was plenty worked!

And when in the 16oos Peel Castle became the garrison of the damned Earl of Derby’s soldiers, well the Moddey Dhoo just about had enough of them and their drinking and farting and carrying on!  So he kept a close eye on them to keep them in line and in their quarters.  He would wander into the guard room, and lay his big Moddey Head down by the fire, just as sun set to the west.  Every soldier knew he was no man’s dog.  He was that kind of otherworldly guest which makes the hair on your arms stand on end and your back prickle.  So every last one of them stayed sober around the Dhoo and not one uttered a curse word for fear of him.  Some even thought he was the Christian Devil, but we know better.

Each night, a pair of soldiers had to lock the great gates of the castle, venture through a dark passageway in a church which, as you know, was built on an ancient holy site, and leave the keys in the Captain’s Quarters.  And every time the soldiers went to leave the room, the Moddey Dhoo would rise from the hearth fire to follow and keep the fellows in line.  So scared were the soldiers to head out that they would roll dice to see who were the unlucky fellows of the eve to do the job.  No one walked alone with the Moddey Dhoo!

He prowled behind the key carriers, panting mist and smoke.  His seemed to grow larger in the dark and he made a sound like a low rumbling growl.  Some nights he just stood there baring his ivory teeth and scowling with his eyes the size of saucer plates ablaze.

And he would return with the soldiers to the guards room, lay down by the fire, and disappear at dawn without a trace!

Goodness he was a good guard dog, that black phantom!

And as it is with the world of men, they get familiar even with the uncanny after a time.  A miracle of childhood is only a sunrise in middle age.  Likewise, some men began to question their instinctual fear of the Moddey Dhoo and they started to think that he might just be a big ugly dog.  Well, you know, some people can talk themselves into any belief despite the natural wonders around them!

One soldier in particular had a real problem with the Moddey Dhoo and thought he would do best to show off that he was braver than the rest of them.  Now he was a most foul man, and it wasn’t just his smell, it was his very air and the Moddey Dhoo had been keeping one coal glowing eye on him at all times.  After calling on John Barleycorn for ample courage, this man began to boast that he wasn’t afraid of no Black Dog.

“Come on” he challenged “let’s see if you’re really a Devil or just a wee ugly pup.”

Well, what I can I say, the ancient immortal phantom just looked up and grinned like a Hell Hound.  And this drunken wanker picked up the keys and dared the Moddey Dhoo to follow him!  Some of the wiser soldiers tried to stop him but he was a big brute, drunk and was alreadypissed down at the gate.  The Moddy Dhoo just looked at the soldiers, got up from the hearth fire, sauntered out the door and prevented every last one of them from following with a haunting glare.  This set a few soldiers to all get down on their hands and knees for the foolish fellow and mutter prayers and weepings while others waited in quite fear for the outcome.  Either way, not another soldier left the guard room that night.

And there was silence.

Then from the dark came the shrieking.  The horrid screaming of the braggart guard.  A most agonizing sound in the dark to be certain.  Still not one soldier ventured out of the safety of the guard’s quarters.  They paled in fear, frozen in a grip of terror and stared wide eyed at one another.

Then, the door to the guard room swung open and standing there, was a man who was man no more.  The braggart soldier!  A man whose face twitched and contorted in dread for he had encountered the wrath of the otherworldly guardian, the Moddey Dhoo.  They helped him to sit down safelyin the room but he shook so uncontrollably that his tongue wagged out of his mouth and he was unable to speak.  He was nothing but a shivering, drooling, madman!  None of the soldiers ever learned what happened to him that night when he challenged the Ancient Guardian of Peel, and like all fools with Immortals,  he died three days later.

The  fearful fellow and the Moddey Dhoo are briefly mentioned by Sir Walter Scott in The Lay of the Last Minstrel

“For he was speechless, ghastly, wan
Like him of whom the Story ran
Who spoke the spectre hound in Mann.”

Some say, the Moddey Dhoo showed him the contents of his own soul.  Whatever the black dog did, he didn’t need to do it again.  The passageway in Peel Castle was walled up and no one was to ever venture in.

Some say that the Moddey Dhoo no longer haunts Peel Castle, but I can tell you it’s a lie.  The Moddey Dhoo is still there and I know many persons who have both seen and encountered him.

Those stories I’ll perhaps tell another day.

But this was the story as it was told to me by a Wytch of Mann.  If you want the boring old regular version of the story, you can go here.  It’ s neither as true nor as good as the Manx Wytch-Tales.

The Toad Bone Rite

Posted in Folklore, History, Video with tags , , , , , , on April 3, 2012 by manxwytch

Many have read and heard of the old Craft rite of the toad bone.  It has certainly been popularized by the inspiring work of Andrew Chumbley and his eloquent and delicate contribution to traditional craft, ONE: The Grimoire of the Golden Toad.  Karragan Griffith does an excellent overview of the ritual and book in the link I have provided for ONE.

The rite has many variations among traditional groups.  It often involved either the finding or crucifixion of a toad.  Its corpse was placed upon an anthill to have its bones licked cleaned and bleached white in the sun.  From there the witch would cast the bones into a stream running north and with a few incantations would scoop from the waters whatever bone was willing to be caught.

Sounds easy, but I assure you, toad bones are quite light and deftly slip through your fingertips in water. One must be both quick and have eagle eyes if someone is to attempt this by moonlight.  This bone was said to possess uncanny powers, it was coveted by many Toad Doctors and Cunning Folk and was held close to the body of the charmer.

Here is an old (1970s) clip from a BBC children’s tv show called Moon Stallion.  It demonstrates that the legends of the bone-man and cunning magic were a part of popular culture.