Considerations of Exilic Wisdom in the Old Craft, 2006
By Daniel A. Schulke
Sorcery is an incarnative road, as much a pathway of flesh as an emanant spirit-track. The path of the sorcerer twists in perpetual exile among living and dead, such that wherever the wanderer places his foot, there the power abides. This may be understood in a metaphoric sense, as a mirror of one’s own spiritual path. However, it is the conscious actuation by deed —not by conception of metaphor— that the Path becomes one own. While the road of each Seeker is certainly different, and the wisdom attained from its walking variable, the relationship between knowledge, the step, and the spirit-track remains a constant force engaged by the initiate, whether consciously or not.
The dynamic reciprocity of Pilgrimage and Sojourn is thus understood in some circles of traditional witchcraft as the Twin Serpents of Way and Waymark. One Serpent is fluid and extended as a mirror of the path in motion; the other is coiled and vigilant, its body in stasis, its power held in reserve. Of the many persistent features of the Old Craft, it is the lore of Cain, reckoned in some traditions the son of the Serpent, that is here relevant. Cainite Gnosis—exemplified through the body of teaching and praxis within the Cultus Sabbati called ‘The Crooked Path’— has also been described by its stewards as “The Faith Beneath the Wanderer’s Heels”. While the lore of Cain holds manifold inner meanings for each stream of the Faith, apposite our consideration is the aspect of Cain’s exile: the attainment of divine knowledge by perambulation of the wilderness.
Looking at the history of the Craft, one aspect of the stance of exile is the peculiar but well-defined place of the Witch in relation to the dominions of mankind: a station occupied at the margins of mortal gods and laws. This has been interpreted both positively and negatively in different places and at different times, but regardless of mundane misunderstanding or tragic consequence, it has afforded the exile a certain measure of power by virtue of his separation from the vulgar. It shall ever remain a mystery why, after the murder of Abel, Cain should receive from the wrathful a Mark, not only setting him apart from the rest of mankind, but also protecting him from harm. Again, it is the path of exile which illumines the soul-trajectory of the sorcerer, separated from the presence of the offended god, whose powers he transgresses, but also from the herd of mankind, who would seek destruction of those powers’ earthy vessel. The Mark, in this case, is the mediating power between two extremities of the winding Path.
Let us consider this in the context of the sorcerer’s power. In material terms, exilic status removes one from the stasis of the familiar, and collocates him in unknown territory, where the powers one encounters are unreliable and often quite different than their masks. In such places, and by traversing them, the virtue of the sorcerer is tested on the harshest the gods’ terms, rather than his own: this is but one arcanum of the Formula of Opposition. The proof of such ordalia will determine whether the wanderer continues upon the road, bearing the burden and blessing of the Mark, or meet his fate as a blood sacrifice on the altar of an Unknown God. Yet where exile is imposed, it is Cain, father of sorcerers, who claims the crooked road as his own, thus reorientating the Flight as a path of holy pilgrimage, rather than an event of regret or anguished reflection. For even in the first act of banishment, there is a hidden design.
However, the wanderer is also the Path of the Wise made god: for the Way ever turns between the place of First Exile, the Crooked Track, and the Place of Arrival – the soul’s eternal procession from Shrine unto Shrine. Each part of this threefold pilgrimage, in its turn, portends a mystery of the Path, and indeed mirrors certain arcana of the sorcerous modalities of Egress, Congress and Ingress. Though the Path by its nature is not static, power is crystallised within each step, or reflective pause, that comprises it.
Thus are the Shrines of the path, or Waymarks, cognised in the forms of grove, hedge, field, stone, church, bone-yard, and well. Each portends its own wisdom, and partakes in the eternal nature of the Lonely Place, the hidden plot well-beloved of Elphame’s kin. Inasmuch as it is the Waymark Shrine which sustains the initiate, it is the ever-turning Track which tries and tests, and sets opposition before him. Thus the unity of Way and Waymark are ever united in the step. Sojourn is the perfected abiding of the soul in the place of sanctuary: its work is the veneration of local gods, shrines, and the protection of the faith in unity. Pilgrimage is the Path made manifest, the reification of spirit by deed of the step, and the offering of one’s labour in service to the work. Its work is the going-forth between the Waymarks, the keeping of vigil along the spirit-roads, and the gathering-up of previously unknown spirit-currents and wisdom.
Cainite Gnosis also manifests in the Old Craft by the presence of syncretism, or the equilibrium of ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ elements present in a religion or spiritual practice. British folk magic has long acted as an absorptive cauldron for the sorceries and magical constructs of the world, be they continental grimoires, Freemasonry, Bible-divination, Romany charms, and other diverse streams. Cunning-craft in particular, with its historical admixture of urban and rural practitioners, was no exception, and though in most cases the rural portion served as the foundational rubric, influences from far away made their way into corpora of magical practice.
This can be observed, in simple terms, with plant lore present in some Old Craft lineages. Frankincense, a product of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, has long been valued by the British folk magician for spirit-summoning, purification, trance induction, and other less widely-known purposes. Though its sorcerous usages are known from medieval and early modern grimoires, its practical means of introduction into Britain was likely by way of the Christian Church. However, its origin as a non-native plant, hailing from a desert thousands of miles to the south-east, from a religion alien to ancient Albion, does not negate its status as a valued adjunct to the practice of traditional British magic, for it is the very nature of Cainite Gnosis that all power —fair and foul— be adapted to serve. This has also been the case with the co-mingling of ‘native’ forms of British magic and Christianity, the so-called ‘dual-faith observance’. In another curious example, certain forms of historically-derived Welsh craft make use of burnt offerings of tobacco and sage, in a manner most similar to Native American traditions. Though not endemic to the British Isles, tobacco has been present since the sixteenth century, when it was introduced to England by Sir John Hawkins, Sir Walter Ralegh, and Sir Francis Drake. That its hedonistic usages should assimilate to the total exclusion of its sacred magical applications is debatable, given its modi of dissemination throughout Britain, which included captive Native Americans brought to introduce its virtues; and the resourcefulness of cunning-folk, who did not hesitate to adopt exotic powers alongside familiar ones.
The ever-twisting Road of Cain has also brought numerous spiritual understandings into the sphere of British Magic in general. Though he was first and foremost an initiate of Cunning-Craft, Andrew D. Chumbley’s magical work spanned many fields of sorcerous influence, including Sufism, left-hand Tantra and Petro Voodoo, all originating beyond the shores of Albion. Such was also the case with Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner, quintessential English magicians of the twentieth century, both of whom were well-travelled and integrated ‘non-native’ components into their respective bodies of magical praxis. Similarly, the British sorcerer Austin Osman Spare counted among his familiar spirits the entity known by the mundane name of Black Eagle, the discarnate spirit of a Naragansett Native American. The cult of the Mandrake, originally a Levant-dwelling plant, wandered many miles and underwent many magical permutations —notably Greek, Roman, and German— before its adoption in British Witchcraft.
Arguably a partial consequence of both trade-routes and Empire, such influences are far from alien impositions, but rather sympathetic and synchronous spirit-streams which flowed, by crooked means, into the great Spirit-Alembic of Albion. Certain topological outlines of Sabbatic Witchcraft, for example, are also to be found in the folk magic of continental Europe, Scandinavia, and North America, among other places. Though expressed according to locale, cultural milieu, and the ingenium of spirit, its sorcerous action remains remarkably uniform. The similarities, for example, between Native American shamanic practices and some of the rural magics of British cunning folk are considerable. Of the traditions passed down to me by my own teachers, of particular interest is the presence of obscure Latin charms, and a body of praxis surrounding them, to be found in the founding lineages of Cultus Sabbati. Such charms have been historically linked to seventeenth-century German-Swiss Anabaptist faith-healers, who supplemented scriptural study with occult and astrological practice. By extension, such practices are also linked in force and form with the ‘Hexenmeisters’ of the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch in North America, who are descended from the Anabaptists.
The mere presence of syncretism within the Old Craft, however, does not legitimise the blending of sign with symbol, charm with conjuration, and tradition with tradition: the way must be warded in accordance with the Old Laws, Oath and the counsel of the shades, that it maintain the inner integrity of its mysteries. However, an educated defence of the Old Faith must arise both from veneration of locality and from the ever-turning path of the Initiate; from the hallowed waymarks along the pilgrim’s route, and the spirits manifest from path of exile, wandering, and return. Sworn initiates of the Old Craft must recognise their native inheritance in totality, whether its components originate in their back garden or further afield, but not to the exclusion of historical fact, nor by the dubious act of raising the gross idol of cultural supremacy. Truth in word, honour in deed, and a flame well-tended must inform all, elsewise the appeal to nativism is revealed as unenlightened bigotry, and indeed the dense, bullying nature of Abel the shepherd.
Thus is the sorcerer, wherever he may wander, become one with the Path of Cain, and the wisdom of the step is declared anew. First, by the stance of Exile as one apart and alone. Second, for the path declared, but also transgressed, its points of oscillation betwixt cure and curse: here the way is bifurcated and become Crooked. Third, for the threefold patterning of Exile, Pilgrimage, and Sojourn that is the bridge linking point-to-point-to-point in crystallisation of knowledge of the Way. And on the road of exile shall the Pilgrim True go forth, bearing the multitude of masks of mortal man’s religions, that the twin powers of Way and Waymark bring forth wisdom in flesh.