April 7th 2018
I have been digging through some of my old writing, and dusting it off. It's no use sitting on my hard drive, is it? This one was an article submitted for a publication that was looking at the idea of the Hedgewitch, a label I have identified with for nearly twenty years...
Picture this: As you walk through the forest, twilight falls around you, lengthening the shadows and making it harder to stick to the true path. Rain water drips from the leaves of the trees, giving the air a damp chilling bite that seeps through your clothes, and leaves you shivering. You frantically try to remember which direction you came from, and work out which direction you should be going in, but in this dim light, all the paths look the same. You are lost, cold, and darkness is fast approaching.
Then up ahead you see a light glistening between the trees, faint at first, but then growing stronger as you approach. A cottage sits nestled in between the trees, with a well-tended little garden wrapped around its walls, which overflows with herbs and plants, bushes and trees in flower or fruit, it looks like a little oasis of welcome amidst the fear of the unknown shadows. You walk up to the front door, hoping to ask for directions, but when you knock there is no answer, and the door creaks open with barely a push. You step inside, cautiously at first and calling out a “hello”, but there is no answer, and all in the cottage appears quiet. Surely it can’t hurt to step inside to wait for the person who lives there, safe from the cold air outside and the threat of more incoming rain. You take a deep breath and step over the threshold of the cottage. Looking around the room, you see that over to one side a black cat sleeps on a wooden rocking chair in front of a roaring fire, and over the fire hangs a cauldron that looks intriguing, so you step closer to investigate. The cauldron is filled with a bubbling liquid which seems to change colour as you look at it, and gives off a strong aroma of herbs, and the steam that rises from it has a faint greenish glow to it.
The cat wakes up, looks at you disinterestedly, stretches, yawns and leaps off the chair to go in search of food. The empty chair by the fire is so inviting, you take the cat’s place in the rocking chair, warming your cold hands in front of the flames. You sit back in the chair, and look around the room. Dried herbs hang in bunches from the oak beams that cross the old whitewashed ceiling, and the slate flagstone floor is swept clean. Along one wall sits a large wooden dresser, containing jar after jar of dried herbs and other unidentifiable objects that were possibly once living, and breathing, and maybe even hopping or flying around. The kitchen table is large and is strewn with more herbs, an overflowing basket of material and ribbons, many candles, jars of honey and lumps of beeswax. A large book is open on the table, and on it are written strange symbols that you have never seen before, and strange but colourful illustrations.
You hear a sound outside that startles you, and the door suddenly opens, and in walks… who? An old woman, muttering to herself and buried under layers of skirts and woollen shawls, looked ragged with a face that is wrinkled and worn, but with kindly eyes? Or maybe it is a young woman, beautiful and wearing long flowing skirts, with a wise face that belies her apparent young age? What would you imagine?
We all have ideas about what hedgewitches really are, and a person could be forgiven for imagining that there are hedgewitches that are like that. In fact, I will go a step further and say that many of us wish our world view looked like that, but sadly most do not. I have been a hedgewitch for many years now. You could date my progeny back to my childhood on Dartmoor, where I spent many a happy hour mixing wild flowers from our garden with spring water from the stream, and gifting bottles of what I called “perfume” to my Mum and my older sister (which actually smelt quite awful), or from the age of fourteen or so when I started working with essential oils and unwittingly did my first spell, but my first conscious steps on this path came when I started to actively learn herb lore and the solitary witches path about twelve years ago. So whether my pedigree is measured back twelve years or thirty, I have been on this path a long time now. I am a second degree Gardnerian, but my solitary practice is where I spend most of my time, and that is rooted very firmly in the realm of the hedgewitch. I am also a Master Practitioner of NLP, (sometimes referred to as Twenty First Century Magic) a writer, and a jewellery designer, and I have a day job too.
So do I fit the picture of the typical hedgewitch or hedgerider? On first glance I would have to say a resounding no. While I would love to live in a cottage buried deep in the woods, most of my adult life has been lived in the city (London) which makes me an urban hedgewitch. I live in a tiny studio flat with my husband (who is Muslim) and I have no familiar around me as I am allergic to cats. I am fortunate enough to share a garden with the next door flat though, and I do grow herbs and vegetables. So what makes me a hedgewitch then?
I was trained and work with the seven planets, a system that dates back to the Pre-Modern universe, when the world view was that the planets revolved around the earth, and not the sun. The seven planets included the Moon, Mercury, the Sun, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, and each one shone down on planet earth and its rays of influence would be soaked up by certain plants, animals, foods and stones, which could then be used to give us the energy of those planets to help deal with any given problem. For instance, if someone had a legal problem, then they might use foods under the influence of Jupiter to assist them, or if they wanted to draw love to them, they would work with the planet Venus. Now I know and you know that this system is not held up by the science of today (for we know that the planets orbit the sun and not the earth, that there aren’t seven of them and the sun is a star and not a planet) but science and logic aside, this system works for me. This system has been used for generations, and while scientists may scoff at my ignorance, I know that what really matters is the meaning you ascribe to something and not what someone else tells you that you should believe that counts. As my training in NLP has shown me, everyone has their own unique world view, and while you may not agree with it, you must at least respect it.
These meanings continue to work for me, and so I use them, and sometimes I work with the four elements instead, sometimes with Wiccan traditions, and sometimes with traditional charms handed down from Cunning Folk who used to follow this path before me, but the one element that runs through all of my practice, is a love of nature and working with natural energies.
Even in the city, nature is all around us, we just have to look and see it there. London in particular is surprisingly green; it has lots of parks, lots of trees, and the river running through it. My local neighbourhood boasts wild chamomile growing along the grass verges next to the road, and a nice quiet lane where my neighbours walk their dogs, and I gather elderflowers, nettles, blackberries, horse chestnuts, cleavers and all manner of wild plants (depending on the time of year and above dog height naturally!) Once back in my tiny flat, these are then transformed into a variety of things; handmade soaps and bath salts (which I sell through my website and in Treadwells, Covent Garden), elderflower cordial, poppets, herb sachets, candles, all manner of things. You see, in my spare time if I am not creating or making something, I feel a little redundant, and get a little tetchy. My hands love nothing more than to be making something, or learning a new craft – knitting, crocheting, cross stitch, painting, writing, candle-making, soap-making, the list goes on. So you could say that part is typical hedgewitch.
My friends tend to be hedgewitches too, although some of them may be consciously unaware of it. We all share that love of crafts, and making things, and working with nature in one way or another, but where we differ is in our background and what we choose to do for a living. I work in a drug counselling charity, and used to work in IT, some of the hedgewitches I know are scientists, teachers, actors, writers, you see being a hedgewitch doesn’t preclude us from living in the modern world, and participating fully in modern society.
So the worldview of the hedgewitch can vary enormously from witch to witch. We are a pretty eclectic bunch really. Some chose to work in groups, some chose to work alone, and we tend to be hedgewitches with a hint of… (insert whichever background flavour you like here, Hoodoo, Voudou, Wicca, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, I have come across them all) Some hedgewitches prefer to work in a shamanic way with drumming and trance, and some prefer to work intuitively, while others follow a particular system. You see the world view of the hedgewitch varies from witch to witch, which I believe is what makes us interesting. Some may label themselves as hedgewitch or hedgerider, and some may shy away from labels altogether, but the one thing we have in common, is our love of the natural world, our love of exploration, and an open minded desire to really find a deeper meaning in life, and to live as closely to the earth and nature as we can. And sometimes, you may find us with a misty look on our faces, as we dream about that little cottage in the woods and the cat that sleeps by the open fire.