|Image taken from Legend of the Witches. (1969)|
“The Man in Black sometimes plays on a Pipe or Cittern and the Company dance. At last the Devil vanisheth, and all are carried to their several homes in a short space. At their parting, they say: 'A Boy! Merry meet, merry part.'”- Christina Hole, A Mirror of Witchcraft. (Chp. 2: “Coven and Sabbat: III. Meetings in Somerset. [Glanvil.])
A few weeks ago, Pat Mosley published an interesting blog entry on Patheos in which he presented the case “inviting Satan back to Wicca” which generated a few responses (see here, here, and here. EDIT: And HERE! I should note that I share certain opinions with Bro. B.) All things told: Mr. Mosley's perspective is fascinating and if you have not read the blog entry yet, please feel free to take some time and browse it before returning for my response.
More recently, Aaron Leitch has weighed in on the topic, largely flipping the discussion on its head, which I will return to in a bit.
|Moses. With Horns. But still not a God.|
“He is a God. You Know, with Horns.”
Early responses I saw to Mr. Mosley's thoughts varied, but some of them in particular stood out. One of these was the oft-repeated phrase seen in various Facebook comments to the point of: “Satan is not my Horned God!”
This phrasing, and many subsequent notions revolving around the “Horned God,” poses problems for almost any debate on the matter. One of these is that the titular God with Horns is identified variously, both within British Traditional Wicca (hereafter BTW) covens, and the name of the God can vary depending on the Tradition, and outside it. Inside the BTW structure, there can be no doubt as to who we worship: we know their names, and we shout their names and cry for joy and dance in their honor. But we've all taken oaths against revealing these names to the outside public, thus creating the need for the shorthand abstraction: “The Horned God.”
But in doing so, we open ourselves up to interpretations that may range far outside what was initially anticipated. When identifying the “Horned God,” those who worship him may refer to any number of Gods and individuals ranging from Pan, to Cernunnos, or even Herne the Hunter (who, as far as I know, was not a God, but did have horns). Given enough time, someone will inevitably discover that medieval images of Moses sometimes depict him with horns, and he'll be shoe-horned into the role... But I digress.
Nonetheless, the role of the Horned God, as a “Intercessor” is important regardless of who, specifically, the title refers to.
Even the Folk had Devils.
As I noted earlier, Mr. Leitch recently flipped the discussion on its head by arguing from a different train of thought as many of the others confronted by this debate. In his entry, he writes:
“But then there is the folk Satan. The Satan of the common people, and the one described in the grimoires. He is very much akin to the Horned God of Wicca, the Lord of Nature and Spirits. He is the Man of the Crossroads, summoned for divination and favors. He is the trickster. If you draw upon Biblical imagery for him, he is the angel who accuses you of wrongdoing on behalf of God (that’s right, he works for the Big Guy in the Bible) and offers temptations much as Pan did before him. Christian tradition actually establishes Satan as the “god of this world,” in charge of physical reality (again, working for God) until Christ comes to establish a new celestial kingdom.”
In doing so, he takes the discussion along a trajectory that I quite enjoy.
In her Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, Emma Wilby recounts the complaint of a clergyman from Scotland recorded in 1677 regarding a fairy familiar that:
“the vulgar call white deviles, which possibly have neither so much power nor malice as the black ones have, which served our great grandfathers under the names of Brouny, and Robin Goodfellow, and, to this day, make dayly service to severals in quality of familiars.” (P. 16. Emphasis mine.)
There is a sudden, curious orbit that we can take in the early modern period: it appears that even fairies, those elemental spirits beloved and known by the common individual (Agrippa's “poor and mean men”) could be understood as a type of “devil,” although certainly not as terrible as the typical demons of the Christian world. If we follow the orbit, we shall come upon precisely the sort of “folk devil” we are looking for.
In 1598 a wandering Scottish healer from Aberdeenshire by the name of Andrew Man gave a series of curious confessions: that he had become the consort of the Queen of the Fairies, and in doing so had gained the power to heal various illness and to encounter myriad spirits. Amongst these spirits was what appears to be the most idiosyncratic interpretation of the Devil:
“He knew Satan by the name of Christsonday, believing him to be an angel, clad in white clothes, and God’s godson, even though the latter had a ‘thraw’, or quarrel, with God, and was the lover of the elfin queen. Christsonday had marked the third finger of Man’s right hand, presumably in proprietal fashion. Man reported that the Fairy Queen had control of the whole craft but that Christsonday was the ‘gudeman’ who held all power under God.Furthermore he had seen dead men in the company of these two supranaturals, among them Thomas Rymour and James IV. Christsonday had appeared in the form of a horse (‘staig’) while the queen and her attendants rode on white steeds, when she convened to receive the obscene kiss. The accused attested that elves or fairies adopted the shape and clothing of ordinary men, though they were mere shadows, but more vigorous than mortals, and could indulge in playing and dancing whenever they pleased. The queen could choose to be old or young, could appoint anyone she liked as king, and could make love with whomsoever she wished. Although Man apparently met the elves in a fine chamber he would find himself in a moss, or bog, the next morning, their candles and swords turned into grass and straws; he had no fear of these creatures since he had known them all his days.”
- Edward J. Cowan, “Witch Persecution and Folk Belief in Lowland Scotland: The Devil’s Decade.” (In Witchcraft and Belief in Early Modern Scotland, Edited by Julian Goodaire, Lauren Martin, & Joyce Miller. P. 84.)
We might dismiss this entire confession, except that this is not the only confession from Scotland in which “Christonday” appears: in 1597, Christine (Christian) Reid was accused of peddling witchcraft due to her ongoing problems with Aberdeenshire millers.
“Christian Reid told Walter Miller that he and his mill were bewitched but if he would pay her she would provide a remedy, at least for the mill, because she could do little for him personally. Miller pronounced that he was not so concerned about his own health as he was about the mill. Since his surname was Miller his family had presumably followed the craft for some generations and he was thus mindful that they should continue to do so in the future. Reid consulted a witch who urged her to scatter some sand upon the mill-stones and wheels in the name of God and Christsonday so that the mill would operate in the old manner. And so due to the wrecking of the machinery, meal was ground in the old, less efficient way, presumably by hand.”
(Ibid, P. 81. Emphasis mine.)
And finally there is the figure of Marion Grant:
“She knew the Devil as Christsonday, carnally as well as socially, and had often danced with him and with ‘Our Ladye, a fine woman’, clad in a white petticoat. Grant allegedly claimed that she could charm a sword to ensure that its owner would never be wounded. The swordsman needed to hold the naked blade in his right hand kissing the guard, and then to make three crosses on the road with the weapon, in the name of Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Christsonday, a ceremony learned from the last-named, who also advised of a protective spell involving a cross made of rowan, or mountain ash, placed on a person’s right shoulder, before he turned round three times invoking the same foursome. The dreaded Scudder gathered a number of ‘deid folks baines’ from the kirkyard at Dyce, washing them lightly in water which she used on the sick William Symmer. She then ordered William’s mother-in-law to cast the bones into the River Don, whereupon ‘the water rumbled as if all the hills had fallen therein’. Such accounts seem to fit well with the attributed locations of witches’ conventions, in kirkyards, or at crossroads, mounds, hills, cairns and waters.”
(Ibid, P. 88.)
If these trials reflect anything, they reflect that fact that folk beliefs in the dead and fairies had combined with (often misunderstood) Christian themes, and yet individuals continued doing what their predecessors had done before them: talking with the spirits, receiving their aid, and having them play the role of the “Interecessor,” mentioned earlier.
In this sense, the folk devil – be it a “white devil” that is a fairy, a figure such as Christonday, or the spirits in the Grimoires – has perhaps more to do with witchcraft than the practitioners of modern witchcraft are keen to accept.
And perhaps they also have more to offer us than one would at first suppose.
Be seeing you,