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Witchcraft and Magic

Ithell Colquhoun (published originally in The London Broadsheet, 1954 no. 1 [4]).



Picturesquely situated beside an old windmill, associated with the witch-cult in local legend, stands Dr Gardner’s Museum of Witchcraft and Magic at Castletown, Isle of Man.

Here are displayed the ‘tools of the craft’ and much other cognate material, collected from various countries and fully documented. In summer, Dr Gardner shows people around and answers questions, he is himself a devotee of the ‘old religion’, having entry to at least three covens in the British Isles. His account contains information based on his own ‘field work’.

Witchcraft is a Dionysiac cult of nature-mysticism, and what remains of it today is a genuine folk-survival from the Stone Age. It has no connection with the ‘Black Mass’ which is obviously a post-Christian phenomenon; and little with Ritual Magic which evokes spirits to obey the operator’s will. Rather, it is shamanistic, developing little-known powers of the human body and mind to achieve its effects.

Like Ritual Magic, Witchcraft uses the Circle; but whereas for the Magician this is a defence against hostile forces, for the Witch it is a psychic accumulator for conserving and directing the power raised by the coven. While the Magician often works alone or with a single assistant, the Witch, who may be of either sex, is gregarious, for the ritual demands a group of participants. The magician in operation is appropriately and sometimes gorgeously robed, but in the coven nudity is insisted upon because clothes inhibit the forces latent in the vitality-aura from which ‘the power is raised’.

There is, however, a certain overlap with Ritual Magic, since a sword after ‘the Lesser Key of Solomon’ design appears among the accoutrements of the Southern Coven at the museum, and their unguent smells very like Aleister Crowley’s ‘Rulhah’ — though this was compounded of animal ingredients while the witches’ perfume is said to be purely herbal. Crowley was a witch in his youth and was very much influenced by the craft; its secrets were perhaps the only ones he guarded.

Two chief deities are worshipped — the Moon in her Hecate-aspect, the ‘Triple Goddess’ or ‘White Goddess’ of Robert Graves’ study; and a Horned God who is night, ‘Death-o-what lies beyond’, almost the ‘Baron Samedi’ of Voudoun. Although each is allotted two yearly festivals, the Goddess is the favourite, as one might expect in a cult deriving from a matriarchal epoch; and all the monthly Sabbats take place at full moon.

Any power may be directed to ends socially useful or the reverse. Since witchcraft’s aims are mainly positive, fertility and healing, persecution by the Church was unjustified, motivated as it was by jealousy of a rival religion’s international hold.




Five issues of The London Broadsheet appeared between 1954-1955. Edited by Antony Borrow, Colquhoun had a regular column Between Heaven and Earth, and also contributed poetry and one drawing.

Thanks to Richard Shillitoe www.ithellcolquhoun.co.uk