Written Interviews

An Interview with a Cornish Witch

Interview with Gemma Gary for Silhouette Magazine by Amy Chessman
Photography by Jane Cox

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Witchcraft is one thing that is left undiscovered, but why? It has been existent in the world for as long as we know, how come we don’t know much about the practice?
We have all experienced alternative life guidance at some point, whether it be browsing the horoscopes, or hearing about someone who has been to see a psychic, medium or a clairvoyant. Yet, we rarely know of someone who has received a reading or charms from a white witch. We see in the media that witches are still being tortured in other countries but, there is barely a mention about people that practice witchcraft in the UK. Are we scared to find out or are we just playing ignorance?
The stories we hear about ‘black witches’ has definitely left a dark mark against the practice of white witches. Whatever the reason, the negative stigma should be removed.
The existence of magic and spirit phenomena has always been something that has fascinated me, but I haven’t had the chance to explore the world of witchcraft until now. I have found Gemma Gary who pursues a practice of predominantly Cornish, and West Country folk-ceremonial witchcraft to answer a few questions for us.

AC. Thank you very much for participating in this interview. Give us some information about the witchcraft you follow.

GG. There are various practices and traditions that are considered to be ‘witchcraft’. The form of Craft I practice could be described as being what has come to be known as ‘traditional witchcraft’ or ‘Old Craft’, but even these terms mean different things to different practitioners who identify with them; so one cannot be dogmatic or generalise about it. For me, these terms refer to a Craft that draws upon the folk-magical traditions and historical witch-beliefs of one’s locality, in addition to the common ‘threads’ or ‘keys’ to be found in traditional witchcraft practices throughout the country. Living in the West Penwith region of Cornwall, this means I study and pursue a practice of predominantly Cornish, and West Country folk-ceremonial witchcraft. Folk-magical practitioners in Cornwall were known variously as ‘white witches’, ‘conjurors’, ‘charmers’ etc. and one term used in particular in Cornwall was ‘Pellar’; thought by some to be derived from a ‘repeller’ or ‘expeller’ of evil, although there are other interesting theories. This is a very ‘hands on’ practice of operative, or results-based witchcraft, in which charms may be created or spells performed to resolve all manner of needs; be they for matters concerning love, health, prosperity, protection, healing, curse lifting etc. Also there are the various oracular and divinatory methods, to seek answers or guidance. This operative Craft is not without its spiritual side, for it may be said to be ‘fuelled’ by devotional and mystical observance.

AC. How did you decide to become a witch?

GG. It is a moot point whether one can become a witch or is born to it, and I’m not entirely decided about this. I always had an inclination toward such things, and grew up in a family with a prevailing acceptance of the ‘spirit world’ and a fairly animistic outlook. I was a very strange child; extremely shy and happiest in moments of solitude; especially in wild or wooded places with my mind on otherworldly matters. Nature, wildlife, spirits and animals were my preferred company and I felt very separate and ‘other’ from the children and adults around me – the witch is a figure who has always existed very much on the periphery, or even entirely ‘beyond the pale’ of everyday society. History, folklore, superstition and magic fascinated me, and I was fortunate that some of the schools I attended held interesting books relating to these subjects, and even directly to witchcraft, in their libraries. I was fourteen or fifteen when I consciously decided to begin serious study of witchcraft practice. The only accessible information concerning actual witchcraft practice, tended to relate the Craft of the ‘Wica’; a form of witchcraft developed, possibly from earlier practices, in the late 40’s and 1950’s. Whilst I took well to some aspects of this Craft, much of it just didn’t seem to fit with my own thoughts on how witchcraft should ‘feel’ and had ‘haunted’ me from early childhood. And so I worked instinctively; merging those things I took to from the modern Craft literature, my own ideas, and, importantly, what I could glean from Cornish witch-lore. I went on to meet and work with and learn from a number of witches and occultists, but it wasn’t until I was entering adulthood that I encountered the elderly male leader of a traditional covine of witches that met in a beautiful wooded valley in West Cornwall. It wasn’t too long before I was invited to attend one of their ‘meets’, and it was in their rites that I discovered that incommunicable and instantly familiar ‘feel’ of what was to me real witchcraft. I also discovered much that was strikingly in line with my own instinctive practices, which served as a wonderful confirmation that I had been doing it right! In time, I was ritually passed the virtue to lead the covine myself, and have experienced a number of initiations into Traditional Craft ‘streams’, and today I still serve as ‘leader’ of a small covine in West Cornwall.

AC. How does one become a witch?

GG. Firstly one has to have the natural inclination. I feel one also has to develop and nurture the ability to seek instruction, wisdom and inspiration from the lonely wild places and the countryside. Here, via instinctive and open practice, one may well have encounters with spirit, and even the ‘Old One’. Then there is the studying of textual information, but the prior approach is the more important and without it, one cannot be a witch. One may dedicate oneself as a witch, or receive initiation into the Craft via apprenticeship to another practitioner, or via admission to a witch covine. In Cornish folklore, there are interesting traditions that one can become a witch by rescuing a stranded mermaid and bargaining with her for power in return, or by attending holy communion, and hiding away the wafer, to feed later at midnight to the Devil who will appear in the form of a giant toad, or by climbing onto a logan stone (rocking stone) nine times without causing it to move. Whilst I can’t claim to have rescued a stranded mermaid, I have been through rather hair-raising rites relating to the other two methods.

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AC. How can someone find out more about being a witch?

GG. Today there is a bewildering array of books available exploring the ways of witchcraft, although those that are worth reading are very few. I always recommend the books of witch and author Doreen Valiente to those seeking their first information on witchcraft; for her work straddles both traditional witchcraft and the Craft of the Wica. Despite also being a witchcraft author, I do echo her sentiment when she said: “I’d say to a person who really wanted to know what was the spirit of witchcraft, that they’ll learn more by, say, going out on the downs at midnight and listening to the wind in the trees and looking at the full moon; they’ll learn more of the spirit of witchcraft; the real spirit of witchcraft in that way than they will by reading any amount of books.”
Also, if one possibly can, I would strongly recommend that someone seeking to learn about what it is to be a witch makes a visit to The Museum of Witchcraft, in Boscastle, North Cornwall. This extraordinary museum contains a huge collection of witchcraft related artefacts and regalia; many relating directly to the traditional magic of Cornwall and the West Country. Many of these artefacts exude a very potent atmosphere, and collectively, they give the sensitive visitor a very good ‘feel’ for the Craft in its many forms, both light and dark.

AC. Describe the process of conducting a reading.

GG. Here I can only speak of my own approach to this, as every practitioner will have their own ways and methods. I prefer to give ‘distant’ readings as I’m not happy to be always on call or have strangers coming to my home like those who fall under the category of ‘village witches’. I’m a very shy, reclusive and private soul; besides, I doubt many clients would be happy to drive their cars down the long, narrow and bumpy lane that leads to my cottage – most people aren’t, and often seem to have great difficulty finding it! Traditional West Country witches do what I call ‘sending forth the spirit’, and so working with clients at a distance has never been a problem; be it for readings or other magical work, and there are many accounts of charmers stopping blood (when a person or animal has been wounded) or charming warts over great distance.
There are a number of things I make use of when doing a reading; I find the tarot a good and thorough tool, and alongside this I employ such things as ‘dark mirrors’ and ‘shew’ stones. Fire and smoke are also helpful visionary tools, but most important of all is the aid of what traditional practitioners call their ‘friends’; the spirit helpers or ‘familiars’. Many old time witches kept a human skull as the housing for such a ‘friend’, and I have an old human skull that I like to consult during visionary and oracular work.

AC. What kind of mind state do your clients have to be in?

GG. An ‘open’ state is most helpful. I like to let a client know the date, and approximately what time of day I will be doing their reading; this aids the process of ‘contact’, and allows them to naturally ‘link in’ and be open to the working.

AC. What are your clients’ usual responses to your readings?

GG. To date, all clients I have heard back from have reported that the guidance they have received has been very helpful, and some have had further question to ask. Others I never hear from, and going on the old saying that ‘no news is good news’ I must have a 100% success rate! In reality though of course, I can’t imagine that is actually the case.

AC. What type of rituals do you perform?

GG. Gosh, there are many types of ritual; from simple daily devotions, to magical rites for all manner of needs, up to celebratory and devotional covine rites. For magical rites, the moon is very important. In its waxing tide to full, it is a good time to work for increase, empowerment, the encouragement or conjuration of things desired, and other generative workings. On the moon’s waning tide to dark, it is conversely a good time for banishment, diminishment and exorcising of all things undesirable, and in certain cases for cursing, or ‘owl blinking’ as we call it in the West Country.

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AC. How do you maintain your abilities?

GG. ‘Use it or loose it’ and ‘practice makes perfect’ are phrases that come to mind here. Working with the cyclic nature of things; the tides of the moon and of the seasons, the accumulative experience of mystical insights and spirit phenomena in ones practice, and fully living one’s Craft at all times nurtures a potent inner magical awareness. Potency, virtue and wisdom may be found in the land, as mentioned previously, and so the witch walks the land in pilgrimage to imbibe of these things, to be drawn upon and utilised later when needed.
What holidays do witches celebrate?
The cyclic seasonal story of birth, growth, zenith, repose, death, nadir, and rebirth, are of great importance to witches, and in the various traditions there are ‘high nights’ or ‘holy nights’ that mark these times in the journey of the year. In my own practice I observe Candlemas, May’s Eve, Golowan – the Cornish midsummer festival and feast of St John, Guldize – the harvest end ‘feast of ricks’, Allantide – the Cornish Hallowe’en, and Montol – the Cornish midwinter festival.

AC. Do you worship gods and/or goddesses, and if so, how do you worship?

GG. Whilst witchcraft is not a religion, nor do witches necessarily have to align themselves with any particular religion or spiritual philosophy, in Britain, and elsewhere in Europe, witches and folk-magical practitioners have traditionally operated within a curious, but not entirely contradictory, observance of Christianity and Paganism. The Divine is the Divine, and no living human, or their religions, can fully comprehend its true nature. The witch will call upon aspects, manifestations and perceptions of the Divine Truth; the ‘Ancient Providence’ and Primogenitrix of all, in accordance with their tradition or the nature of their Craft. Within my own tradition, working with the cyclic, tidal and dualistic forces of nature, we work with the old Cornish manifestation of the Horned Spirit/Deity – The Bucca – being a Deity of the weather and tidal forces, and both light and dark in nature. Witch rites of worship are rites of Love, Beauty and Truth, and it is through The Bucca that we seek experiential phenomena and glimpses of the Divine Truth; for all goddesses and gods are fragments of that Truth.

AC. How does spirituality enter your domestic life?

GG. One tries to cultivate a permanent spiritual awareness, and within domestic life there are a variety of ways in which I interact with spirit. Through daily simple devotions and meditations at the hearth are maintained an awareness of ‘one-pointedness’; an awareness that ‘all is one’. Household charms need to be maintained through their regular acknowledgement, and household spirits kept happy through the provision of sustenance and comfort via hearthside rites of offering.

AC. What are your favourite aspects of witchcraft?

GG. That is a lovely question, and a happy one for me to think upon. Whilst, like all things, it has its costs, there are many wonderful benefits. Enjoying an inner, working relationship with the landscape around me and the spirits of place, the pleasure of solitude and the joy of the company of the covine family, the awesome experience of spirit phenomena, the satisfaction in helping others, sharing one’s home with some extraordinary spirit-filled items and living a far from ordinary life… these are a few of my favourite things!


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An Interview with Gemma Gary
By Michael Foster of The Wiccan Pagan Times

TWTP: When was it that you first became aware of Witchcraft and what were your initial thoughts about those who practiced it?

GG: Like many people, witches and witchcraft permeated my consciousness in childhood via fairytales, particularly those collected by the Brothers Grimm from Germanic folklore. However, the figure of the witch didn’t in the slightest bit frighten or repel me, despite the fact that fairytale often portrayed her as being a far from pleasant person!

As I lay in bed as a child, looking through my fairytale books, it was the wonderful illustrations that caught my imagination, more so than the stories; these strange and mysterious people, who seemed to have a foot in both the human world and the otherworldly, and who lived reclusively with animals, spirits and wonderful magical items, being at home in the darkling wood with its nocturnal creatures and hidden presences. I so very much wanted the gated garden, well stocked with luscious green lettuces (one of my favourite foods) like the witch in Rapunzel (I’m far too snail-friendly to ever maintain a very healthy lettuce crop though), and to have the strange cottage in the middle of the wood like the witch in Hansel and Gretel – although I wasn’t keen on the idea of it being made of confectionaries; I imagine it would all get very sticky when it rained!

TWTP: Do you remember when and the specific circumstances surrounding your own decision to embrace Witchcraft as part of your life?

GG: Really, no. I suppose it sounds a little clichéd, but it was always there, I always desired and sought it; “witch” being to me a goal to be striven towards, rather than a label to slap immediately upon oneself. I remember as a child one summer, being in a ploughed field with my father who was looking for any ancient bits and bobs that might have been brought to the surface. There was a big old oak tree in the upper corner of the field, which my father told me was a ‘witch’s tree’ and that if I gave the tree a kiss the witch might grant a wish. So, off I plodded, up to the tree and gave it a kiss and made my wish – to be a witch.

Suffering congenital difficulties, being physically frail, tall and thin, and being of a strange, extremely quiet, reserved and shy nature, I was hated, even persecuted throughout much of my schooling by those for whom ‘normality’, conformity and belonging to the crowd/tribe were of all-consuming importance. Being also terribly stubborn, I refused to submit or conform, and withdrew even further to live a life on the edge, ‘Other’, and exiled from ‘normality’ – very much like my ideal of the fairytale witch. In the end, I chose not to attend school very much, other than being happy to take part in art class, I would often just take myself home, or would spend time in the school library reading through books on antiquities, folklore, superstitions, customs, country ways and witchcraft. I was already pursuing a path of witchcraft long before I left school.

Outside of books, the first glimpses I had of witchcraft as a contemporary practice were catching brief clips of Tony “Doc” Shiels performing cliff-top rituals with a coven of nude women on local television. Yes, it may well have been staged for the television cameras, and he was known to be a surrealist, bizarre magician and entertainer, but less understood is that the ‘Shiels Clan’ did indeed practice witchcraft. Later, I was to work with a gentleman witch who had been a friend of Shiels when he lived in Cornwall, and had knowledge of the sincere rituals that the family practiced in private, away from the television cameras, and his daughter “Cait Sidhe” was very openly a practicing witch. The bizzarr creatures that their publicised rituals seemed designed to conjure; the Cornish sea monster “Morgawr”, and the mysterious “Owl Man” of Mawnan, may have been pre-existing entities, or they may have been the creation of the Shiels themselves. In either case, these creatures did indeed have life, existed, and were seen and experienced by others. I was immediately intruiged by the glimpses of these mysterious people, doing strange things in remote Cornish places; they seemed to be defiantly re-enchanting an increasingly mundane world.

TWTP: What were some of the biggest misconceptions that you held that were dispelled once you understood what Witchcraft was all about as a practitioner and not as an outside observer?

GG: Scale and diversity. I had believed that witches were an extremely rare breed, existing very few and far between, and that they were wonderfully strange, reclusive and otherworldly beings living entirely strange and otherworldly lives. Of course, when one enters the world of modern witchcraft, one finds that a bewildering array of people, with varying degrees of sincerity and dedication, willingly carry the label ‘witch’, and that today it has become so common as to be almost ‘normal’!

Whilst there are of course those who fully live the witch’s path, and are marked as ‘Other’ and different from mainstream society, particularly those indigenous witchcraft and folk-magical practitioners in various parts of the world, there are also those who manage admirably to balance an ‘ordinary’ life alongside a sincere and dedicated practice of witchcraft. There will also of course always be those with only a passing casual interest who label themselves witches; it is indeed a very broad term.

TWTP: Could you talk about your views as to whether you approach Witchcraft strictly as a magickal practice or whether you feel that there is a spiritual component to the practice as well.

GG: My approach is very definitely both operative and spiritual in nature. Whilst the old regional practices of folk magic that inspire my work might be seen to operate solely for the achievement of desired goals, perhaps in the areas of health, love, personal fortune, protection etc. such work is often performed with the aid of spirit forces and presences. A relationship with spirit is thus cultivated by the practitioner; a relationship with the familiar spirit, with other spirit friends and helpers, and with the spirits and virtues of place that both empower and inform the witch’s Craft.

The magic of what might be called traditional witchcraft might call upon the aid of the presences and virtues of the stream, holy well, hedge, wood or standing stone etc. Whilst the magic may be a vital concern of the everyday work of witchcraft, the witch is kith and kin with the hidden, and through the rites of spirit contact and communion, the witch is nourished via unity with the ‘Other’. As well as the potent and lonely places of the land, rites of spirit also occur in the home of the witch, particularly at the hearth where devotional rites of communion will be observed, or magic sent forth, often via the familiar spirit. Many of the old spells, rites and charms employed by the folk-magical practitioner of course make good use of Psalms, and call upon the power of saints, angels and the Holy Trinity. So, for practitioners who work in these ways, I would say that a clear distinction between magical and spiritual practice would be very difficult to make.

Also, the Craft practiced by myself, and others of like ways, includes a working relationship with not only the spiritual reality of the land, but also certain manifestations of divinity, as well as rites of seasonal observance and initiatory mystery.

TWTP: Were you initiated into any particular tradition when you decided to follow this path?

GG: I have experienced numerous initiatory rites, bringing together various traditions or ‘streams’ of witchcraft, but these didn’t occur until some years after my decision to follow the witch’s path. My first was what might more appropriately be called a ‘solitary dedication’, however, I am of the opinion that such rites are never truly solitary, for they involve exchange and experience with external virtues, potencies and presences. This was at the time when I was living in the tiny cottage my parents had in the parish of Breage, building my Craft instinctively, sifting through what has been recorded of Cornish witch-lore and West Country magical tradition, and working out and about in the surrounding landscape. I loved venturing out at dusk, and the village was often shrouded in thick mist that rolled in off the sea and created a most eerie atmosphere; with the dark blackthorn hedges that bordered the fields being just visible. I loved walking the long narrow footpaths, the dramatic cliffs above the tumultuous sea, or climbing the tall carns of Tregonning Hill and Godolphin Warren. It was a landscape set quite literally amidst the old witchcraft stories of Lord Pengersick and Lady Godolphin, and it was in this landscape that much of my Craft was formed into being.

Whilst the Craft of the Cornish witch is predominantly a ‘solitary’ affair, and mine will always be predominantly so, I did wish to work with and encounter other witches. My first experiences with group ritual came as a result of meeting Geraldine Andrews (now McCarthy) when we were both studying art at Cornwall College. I found her to be exquisitely eccentric, and loved the fact that she owned a two or three ft tall carved wooden phallus, the end of which was pierced with an iron ring for the attachment of a rope, with rotating testicles that functioned as wheels. I understand she was fond of leading this marvellous contraption sun-wise around her vegetable plot to encourage her crops to grow! Geraldine organised open rituals on her smallholding at Wheel Rose, and in Tehidy Woods; a beautiful and rambling estate and hunting park of the Bassets. These rituals varied from the simple, to the theatrical, but were always beautiful and often based upon classical mythology. One particularly enjoyable ritual, to travel the worlds and meet the ancestors, was presided over by the late Monica Sjöö. In addition to these open rites, there was also a closed ‘inner group’ performing rites in private to which I was later invited.

Via the contact pages of The Pagan Federation’s ‘Pagan Dawn’ magazine, I was able to make other contacts and friends, and found myself corresponding with, and eventually meeting traditional witches via whom I discovered the ‘Robert Cochrane Craft’. They were part of a group of witches in East Anglia, one of whom was a member of Cochrane’s ‘Thames Valley Covine’. This was a tradition I was intrigued by extremely, and found much of its ways to fit and compliment very nicely my own way of working. I had brief involvements with an Alexandrian coven based in St Ives, and a Gardnerian Coven based in St Austell, born from the Sheffield Coven. Whilst the ways of these groups were not for me, valued friendships were created.

Another contact with traditional witches came when I met the Magister of a small covine of witches, based in West Cornwall, during a gathering in Boscastle organised by the Museum of Witchcraft. From here began a correspondence and friendship, and it wasn’t too long before I was invited to attend the covine meets. The setting for these was extremely atmospheric; in a private circle in a haunting wooded valley. Within the group’s rites and ways, one could detect a number of influences, including Cornish witch-lore, folk magic, Garderian Craft and traditional witchcraft. This was unsurprising given the various lineages, experiences and influences those involved had brought into the melding-pot of the covine. The leader of the group was known as ‘The Devil’, the circle was entered by crossing a broomstick laid at its edge, and a beautifully carved antler-topped forked staff stood in the north. The rites were unscripted, spontaneous and outwardly simple, involving much ‘walking meditation’ in circumambulation about the central fire, which sometimes had a cauldron hanging from a tripod above it. I took to these ways instantly, recognising much in them from my intuitive exploration of Cornish Craft and my interest in the ‘Cochrane tradition’. The latter influences must have entered the group via ‘The Devil’ who had at one time celebrated with ‘The Regency’. The group also possessed an item made by a founding member of Cochrane’s covine (and from whom much of the covine’s ideas and ways probably originated). Eventually, I was ritually consecrated to lead the covine via the passing of the staff and horn, and naturally added my own ideas, influences and ways into the pot, some of which I understand are still part of the group today.

Another important and influential contact and friendship came via my correspondence with the witch and Cunning Man of Cornish tradition known as JackDaw. I have to say he is one of the few truly genuine, good humoured and easy going people one could have the good fortune to meet, and I have learned much from him. Also, encouragingly, I found that much of my intuitively pieced-together practice, with regard to Cornish Craft, was strikingly similar to aspects of JackDaw’s Craft, which acted as something of a confirmation.

Other initiatory experiences that I have experienced, as a result of such friendships and contacts, have included the Cornish toad rites of the Cronnekdhu, and Cornish land based initiatory rites employing ancient places of power. Gosh I’ve rambled on a bit there!

TWTP: How do you feel your location in a remote area outside of St. Buryan helps you to connect with the energies that you use in your practice?

GG: My current home and location is most suited both to my practice and to myself personally. St Buryan and the surrounding area would seem to have a long tradition of witchcraft, and is ideally situated for the many ancient sacred sites in fairly close proximity; I can even see the Merry Maidens; a late Neolithic stone circle, from my garden. I am a very private, quiet, and reclusive soul, and so my home being some distance away from the village, tucked away on farmland some distance from any roads suits me totally; I enjoy solitude and not having a mobile phone or television! I have a wonderful traditional hearth in the cottage, and a workroom, the garden has always been well stocked with herbs and I have immediate access to a large meadow, traditional Cornish hedges, a south flowing stream and a small wood; so I’m well provided for when it comes to having somewhere to work or finding plants and other natural items to aid my Craft.

I have been criticized for my reclusiveness recently by a couple of local pagans who feel a ‘pellar’ should be something of a social animal; being actively out and about in the community. There is certainly no such tradition and it is clearly something they have made up based on the way they choose to live. Some magical practitioners in Cornwall’s past may well have been social animals, but others were more reclusive; living away from the village, outside of ‘normal society and marked out as ‘different’ or ‘other’ and had to be sought out by their clients. Besides, one can often have a much clearer view of something from the outside than by being stuck in the thick of it.

There is also, I feel, much to benefit the witch in solitude and the traditions of ‘exile’. A preference for solitude, separation from the everyday world of the profane, and being in the wild and lonely places of the earth increases one’s ‘otherness’, kinship with, and ability to access the spirit world and the virtues of the land. It also relates to one of the four powers of the Magus; Tacere, or, ‘to keep silent’, which is a most vital skill of the witch; sadly all too neglected today. In any case, it is a way of living and practicing that works well for me, and with which I am happy. It is something I have come to accept is simply part of my nature and I’m certainly not going to change that for the approval of those who insist their way is the only way!

TWTP: One of your books is entitled Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways. First off could you define the term “traditional” as it applies to your practice and how that practice differs from those who might take a more non traditional form of Witchcraft?

GG: Although I certainly do use it, and it is a widely used term, I am not that sure I am entirely happy with the term “traditional” in the context of witchcraft. It means different things to different people and therein is the difficulty. To many people, “traditional” implies something that is old and unchanging – something that is stuck in the past, whilst others use the term to imply that their Craft is more authentic and ancient than someone else’s. Neither of these are ways in which I like to see the term used within the context of witchcraft.

For me, tradition is a living thing, and for living things to survive they must change and evolve, otherwise they stagnate and die. Thus in my usage, “traditional” refers to forms of witchcraft that draw upon, or have their roots in the often regional old folk-ceremonial practices of the past, which have themselves always changed and evolved with time which is why they are still with us, but that adapt them for current needs rather than adhering to them unchangingly. To do otherwise, I feel such forms of witchcraft become stubborn acts of historical re-enactment, or an academic exercise rather than the Arte Magical.

TWTP: Do you view a traditional approach as having any advantages over other forms of practice that people might take up?

GG: For me there are advantages, but I view all forms of Craft practice as equally valid as long as they serve those who practice them with sincerity and dedication, and are productive of the results desired. For me the advantages over other forms of Craft that I have experienced include having a rich heritage, and corpus of magical lore and practice to draw upon, and the emphasis on magic, practical Craft, spirit contact and outdoor practice.

TWTP: Your book is a specific look at Cornish practices so is there a wide variety of traditional approaches as distinguished from one another by region or geographic location?

GG: Yes, it would seem that different landscapes, over time, inspire different magical practices and traditions. Landscapes have their own folklore, traditions, seasonal customs, ancient deities and spirit folk, and so these things are bound to have an influence upon the magical practices from region to region. America is home to an interesting variety of folk-magical traditions, and is a good example of how magical practices from different parts of the world adapt and evolve when transplanted into new soil.

In addition to the differences from region to region there are, of course, highly interesting similarities. I have often been surprised at the similarities Cornish traditional magical practice has with some practices in East Anglia, also with Scotland. There’s also the case that traditional magical practitioners often made use of the signs, charms and rites found in some of the old Grimoires when dealing with clients, and so there will be Grimoire derived similarities that pop up across regions also.

TWTP: Give me an overview of what your book Traditional Witchcraft covers and why it would benefit a student who wanted to do further research into traditional Witchcraft?

GG: After the introduction and what have you, the first chapter we come to is ‘The Cunning Path – The Land, the Serpent, and Becoming’ which explores the nature of the Cornish witch’s work, the importance of walking out in the land and to the wild and lonely places in search of natural potencies, working with the spirit world, the forces and virtues of the land and walking ‘the serpent path’ to perceive and harness the telluric fire of the land and its ‘spirit force’. Also encountered in this chapter are the spirit paths of power and gnosis, and encountering the ‘serpent’s breath’ for vision and intoxicating chthonic potency. The arte of Becoming is also explored, which can be summed up in the central tenet of many ‘Old Craft’ traditions as ‘All is One’ or ‘One-pointedness’, along with the magical techniques that require this state of being, such as ‘sending forth the spirit’ for works of distant magic.

The next chapter we come to is ‘The Dead and the Otherworld – The Faery Faith in Cornwall’, in which we encounter the various ‘faery tribes’ of the Cornish landscape such as the Piskies, Knockers and Spirggans. The not always pleasant ways in which these presences may interact with the living are explored, along with the reverence and traditional offerings made to the spirit folk which would seem to point to attitudes of dual-faith and ancestor worship in Cornwall.

There is then a chapter dedicated to The Bucca; a mysterious entity who would seem to have been regarded as a potent deity by the old Cornish. The Bucca’s association with the weather and his reverence amongst fishing and farming communities is explored, along with his twin/dualistic nature, synonymy with the Devil and associations with Odin, the goat and the horse.

‘Places of Power’ is a chapter exploring the various places of sacral potency within the Cornish landscape, but begins with the home which has its own traditional places of power and intersection with the spirit-world. The churchyard, which has long been a place of witch-magic in Cornwall and the West Country, is included as are the crossroads, fogous (mysterious underground passages) and holy wells, as well as sacred stones such as circles, monoliths, and quoits.

In ‘The Tools of Cunning’ the many and various items that may be employed by Cornish magical practitioners are explored, many of which can be gathered from the outdoors. The stick and staff type tools are described, along with the traditional virtues of the different woods that might be used to make them. Some of the tools used will be familiar to practitioners of other forms of Craft, however some of their uses may be quite different. There will be other tools that the reader may never have encountered before. Other items such as fossils may not have been thought of before as witch tools, however they have a long history of use within traditional magic.

‘The Witches’ Compass’ looks at the working circle and its attributes which, again, may be different in many aspects to the circle as employed in the Craft of the Wica. The manner in which it is conjured and put into use by some modern traditional witches in Cornwall, both for group and solitary occasions, is detailed.

‘The Trade – Village Cunning, Substances and Charms’ is the largest chapter and deals with the nature of Cornish witch-magic, both ancient and modern, the planetary virtues, a large formulary of magical substances, powders, incenses and oils, the making of charm bags – a common feature of Cornish magic, followed by a large collection of charms and magical techniques. These are arranged in the categories of workings of Protection, Healing, Love, Good Fortune, Spirit Magic, Weather Magic, and Versatile Ways.

The Chapter ‘Rites of the Moon’ explores the ways in which the virtues of the moon may be utilised magically in its waxing, full, waning, and dark phases.

‘The Furry Nights – Rites of the Year’s Round’ explores the six main ‘high nights’ or seasonal festivals in the Cornish calendar, and gives examples of the ways in which these customs are celebrated in Cornwall. A full ritual cycle of ceremonies for the witches’ year is given, drawing upon these old Cornish traditions.

The final Chapter is ‘Initiations on the Cunning Way’ in which I write about initiatory tradition in Cornish witch-lore, and give a rite of ‘self’ dedication unto the pellar’s path. This rite is based upon a mixture of elements from the admittance rite, and the rite of initiation as used within Ros an Bucca. The book is also extensively illustrated with beautiful and atmospheric photography by Jane Cox, and with ink drawings which I had great fun creating to compliment the text. It is my hope that ‘Traditional Witchcraft – A Cornish Book of Ways’ will be of benefit to those wishing to gain an insight into Cornish folk-magic, and the practice of witchcraft in Cornwall in days distantly past and in the modern day.

TWTP: You are also involved with Ros an Bucca as Dyawles/Magistra. Could you talk a little about the group, its reason for being and what you and the members have as goals for the group’s existence?

GG: Yes of course. It may seem something of a contradiction, given my reclusive nature, that I have always felt the calling to form a witch-covine; to draw together others who seek to explore the ways, magic, and mysteries of the witch’s path within a Cornish context. I had begun to do this whilst working with my parent covine, however Ros an Bucca (which means ‘Circle of the Bucca’) began as an ‘outer court’ of the inner group as a means of finding and filtering possible suitable initiates, and a new ritual staff for Ros an Bucca was blessed within their circle. However, I found the egregore and vision for this group grew very strong, very quickly, and I knew it should exist as a covine in its own right, and when the time came for me to pass back the staff and horn, I retained those of Ros an Bucca, and so the new covine was born from the circle of the elder.

Ros an Bucca has never been a large group, and I don’t expect it ever will be, as this way is not for everyone. Over the years its membership has consisted of Traditional Crafters, Romanies, Freemasons and hereditary witches. As the name suggests, The Bucca is our tutelary deity, although that is not to suggest that The Bucca is the only manifestation of deity to be encountered within our rites. We operate within the ‘Pellar Current’; a magical Craft of service both operative/results based and spiritual in nature, drawing upon the rich corpus of Cornish and West Country witch-lore, and folk-ceremonial magical tradition.

We operate almost exclusively out of doors, occasionally making use of the various ancient sacred sites of which West Cornwall is home to a particularly high concentration. However, given the frequency with which such places are visited by tourists and walkers, even after dark, we work most often at utterly private locations where we are in no danger of our work being disturbed; for the privacy of the circle is of utmost importance. The virtues, spirit force, and presences of place are of great importance to us.

Today, our kord (clan) includes people also living in other parts of the world, as far away as Australia. Our ‘distant Fellows’ are people who, for whatever reason, have a calling to the magical traditions of Cornwall and the West Country, and who are drawn to Ros an Bucca’s approach to traditional witchcraft. Our family is thus a web cast wide across the globe, of witches and pellar, linked in kinship, and working the same breed of Craft in their own unique ways.

TWTP: Your other recent book is called The Black Toad: West Country Witchcraft and Magic. What are some of the main differences in practice between the West Country and what you found in regards to the traditional Cornish practices from your other book?

GG: The Black Toad is very different in approach to the previous book, which deals with the beliefs, rites and ways of some of Cornwall’s modern traditional witches, drawing upon Cornish witch-lore and traditional magical practices. The Black Toad instead focuses more upon historical rites, charms, spells and remedies, employed within the West Country, with a particular focus upon Devon and Cornwall. It is a book encompassing traditional West Country witchcraft and popular magic. Many of the rites and charms described are a merging of Christian and pagan formulae; a hallmark of historical traditional British witchcraft.

Following the foreword, kindly given by Michael Howard, and the introduction, the book is arranged in the following chapters; ‘Power and Preparation’, ‘Old Mother Red-Cap’, ‘Old Mother Green-Cap’ and ‘Old Mother Black-Cap’.

The first chapter deals with the measures, preparations and impedimenta that aid and empower the work of the traditional West Country practitioner of magic. ‘Old Mother Red-Cap’ deals with the magic of protection and defence, curative magic, love, good fortune, and vision. ‘Old Mother Green-Cap’ deals with the old verdant artes of ‘wort cunning’; the use of trees, plants and herbs within traditional magic and curing. ‘Old Mother Black-Cap’ of course deals with the darker aspects of the West Country witch’s practice. This chapter details traditional acts of curse-magic and ‘blasting’ as well as the old artes of ‘counter-blasting’ and magical retaliation. Also described within this chapter are ways of weather magic, West Country beliefs surrounding the power of the circle, and dealings with spirits.

TWTP: Tell me about how you researched the information you used for both of these titles.

GG: Particularly for the first book, contact with traditional Cornish witches and magical practitioners, and of course my own ideas and working experiences of witchcraft in Cornwall were all highly influential upon the content.

For both books I am highly indebted to the 19th Century collectors of Cornish and West Country witchcraft, customs and folklore. The work of Kelvin Jones and of Cecil Williamson has been invaluable, and of great help in the research process was the Museum of Witchcraft and its extensive archive and library.

TWTP: Are there many active West Country practitioners these days and is the number of those who take up this practice increasing or decreasing?

GG: Like many parts of the country, services of a spiritual nature are increasing in popularity, both in the number of practitioners, and in the people who seek such services. The ‘New Age’ treatments and alternative therapies such as Reiki, Aromatherapy etc. are popular in the West Country, as elsewhere, but I would say that the number of people offering genuinely traditional magical services based upon historical West Country practices is very few. They certainly do exist, scattered here and there, but there aren’t many. Whether the number is going up or down, I really don’t know. However, I think a more general interest in regional folk magic and traditional witchcraft amongst those drawn to Occultism, modern paganism and the Craft is definitely increasing.

Whilst those who feel a calling to practice such things in a professional capacity will always be few in number, the amount of people incorporating traditional ways into their personal Craft observance, and adapting them for their own needs, would seem to be rising.

TWTP: What will the student who decides to buy The Black Toad learn about West Country practices and why is it important for a new generation to become familiar with this history?

GG: It is my hope that readers of The Black toad will gain at least a better understanding of the ‘flavour’ of traditional magical practice in the West Country; not only the outer details of the many and various items, materials, signs, charms, spells, rites etc. but also why these things were used, the ideas and beliefs behind them and why they were seen to bring about results.

I feel the importance of nurturing an awareness of historical and traditional practices is reflected in the rising interest, existing amongst those coming to the Craft, in folk-magic and traditional witchcraft. There would seem to be a sense that such things provide a fertile foundation, and a continuity with the past that some might feel is lacking in other forms of modern Craft. The fact that there are many aspects of folk-magical practice that are regional in nature, may also give Crafters a sense of having a working connection with their locality, or with the landscape of their ancestors.

TWTP: As a working Witch are you sought out by people in nearby villages who are familiar with what you do and who seek your advice and help? Are there also those who would just as soon see you not practice your craft and work actively against you?

GG: Yes indeed. I have tended to refer local clients elsewhere, due to my highly private nature, and out of respect for a practitioner who was working in this area before me. However, I have worked for people locally who, for whatever reason, have insisted on dealing with me specifically. Most of my work though is for clients who live at some distance, often in other countries, who communicate with me via correspondence. This would seem to be entirely traditional, as amongst the possessions of deceased cunning-folk, there have been discovered many letters from people seeking their aid.

It is also an important skill of the folk-magical practitioner to be able to operate at a distance via ‘sending forth the spirit’, and this is how I often work, whether it be to perform readings, create charms, magical substances, spell work, or to Craft potent working items for fellow practitioners.

The far West of Cornwall would seem to have far more than its fair share of eccentrics and ‘strange’ folk, so I think most people down here are either tolerant of such practices, or are quite interested in them. Others may be entirely uninterested, and just regard it as one of those things that are part of country ways perhaps best ignored or brushed under the carpet! I dare say there are those locally who would rather I didn’t do what I do; but if there are, they haven’t had the courage to tell me!

TWTP: Do you think that traditional practices will always be with us in one form or another or is there a chance that if people such as yourself don’t write them down they will become lost in the shadows of history?

GG: I think these things are pretty robust; they’ve survived the European Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and our present age of rampant materialism and they’ll survive a lot longer yet. I view these traditions as living things with a momentum of their own, they are an inseparable part of our deeper selves and there will always be those people drawn to such ways, with a natural inclination towards exploring and taking them up in practice, and there will always be those who will seek the aid of such things.

Much of these ways of course have already been preserved by the folklorist, folk-collector and historian, and these will always remain highly valuable resources, however, I think it is important that such things do not become entirely the domain of the historian, for then they are in danger of becoming regarded as mere ‘fossils’ and relics of the past. This is why I feel the practitioner-researcher-writer is important; to show that these things are living, evolving traditions and are entirely relevant to Craft practice today.

TWTP: Do you have a vision as to how traditional practices and teachings might be preserved for future generations and how are you helping to bring that about in your own life?

GG: In Cornwall, over the past few years, there have been very exciting developments with regards to the revival of our traditional calendar of festivals and customs, and it would seem that there is a real surge in interest in traditional community events, which can only be a very positive thing.

Likewise, in the Craft, there seems to be a similar reawakening regarding traditional ways. In my own little way, I like to think I am helping via my books (and I have more on the way!), my art, magical service for clients and working with Ros an Bucca.

Like I say; I think these ways are pretty robust, and the most helpful thing I think practitioners can do is to truly live their path, with quiet dignity and sincerity, ‘kindle the fire’ and keep the old practices bubbling away nicely.

TWTP: Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers in regards to your journey into Witchcraft to this point in your life?

GG: The old ‘path of One’; the ‘witch’s way’, is one of continual revelation; I really haven’t been around that long, not in this life at least, and so I really feel as though I have only just ‘scratched the surface’. There is always so much to learn, and I look forward to future revelations and experiences upon the pathways of the Arte Magical.