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Why Witches May Not Cross Water



There is a longstanding tradition that Witches cannot cross water. Understanding why this is believed when it is clearly not true in a practical sense casts some light on the original practices of witches.


The roots of the tradition are seen clearly in works of fiction. The first of these is in the Robert Burns poem the Tam O’Shanter. In this a farmer passes by a church on the way home from a pub. He sees witches dancing but he is noticed and the witches chase after him as he rides his horse. Tam understands that if he can get to the bridge then the witches will not follow him. He gets to the bridge but one of the witches gets hold of the horses tail and pulls it off.


This idea is also referenced in the Harry Potter novels,


“Even though Petunia was raised alongside a witch, she is remarkably ignorant about magic. She and Vernon share a confused idea that they will somehow be able to squash the magic out of Harry, and in an attempt to throw off the letters that arrive from Hogwarts on Harry’s eleventh birthday, she and Vernon fall back on the old superstition that witches cannot cross water. As she had frequently seen Lily jump streams and run across stepping stones in their childhood, she ought not to have been surprised when Hagrid had no difficulty making his way over the stormy sea to the hut on the rock.”


The basis for this idea is that when witches cast circles they create a magic castle, often surrounded by four watchtowers. This castle is surrounded by water. To get to the castle the witches cross the river between the mundane world and the magic castle. In woodland working this is often shown by small brook, for example the workings of Robert Cochrane show this. Alternatively a broom can be used to show this, and witches can cross the broom to get into the castle. Once everyone is in the castle a circle is usually formed. Once the circle is formed it is not permitted for anyone to cross back into the mundane world. In this case Tam should have been right in that if he was spotted in the circle the Witches would have only followed him to the edge of the water. If he crossed it they would not follow.


The idea of forming a river around the edge of a magical assembly is fairly universal in Witchcraft and Wicca. In some traditions water and salt are mixed at the beginning of a rite and this is the representation of water at the edge of the circle.


The origin of this belief and practice is revealing. The ancient witchcraft of Britain is a fusion of two different traditions. The first of these is the shamanic practice of dancing the cloven hooved animal, often a deer as seen at Abbots Bromley or a horse. This tradition includes the myths and fairy tales of Britain, many of which include magic castles.


The second origin is the Babylonian Witchcraft tradition. In this four quarters are cast. These are based on the idea of the creation of the universe. This is recorded in the Old Testament, but is actually based on older Sumerian and Babylonian myths.  In this prior to the creation of the world there was a salty ocean called ‘The Waters’ The creation of a magic circle involves the creation of these four elements. The spirit calms the water (water), creates light (fire) and then separates the firmament of the air (air) from the earth (earth).


In both of these the magic space is surrounded by water, and we can therefore see how the idea that witches would not cross water could have a basis in reality.

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Film site

A website dedicated to Wicca in film is currently being planned as part of this website. It will be dedicated to illuminating the portrayal of Witchcraft and Wicca in film. We review films that have elements of these and provide a background to the following films.

The Coven (2015)

The Craft

The Wicker Man

The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project 2: the Book of Shadows


The Coven: film review


The Coven 2015 reviewed from a Cochranian Wiccan standpoint.

Spoiler alert: this review deals with the detailed plot and its interpretation from a Cochranian Wiccan perspective.

The Coven is a full Hollywood style HD movie released in February 2015, produced by London based film makers, FX Team Productions. The film is in the horror genre, and superficially appears similar to the Blair Witch Project, complete with shaky camera work and scary moments. In reality it is a completely different, and far deeper film, which deals with theological conflicts within modern Traditional Witchcraft. Large parts of the film are underpinned by true events. It is not possible to enjoy the film fully without having a full understanding of the background which is in places fully explained and in others only either referred to or alluded to. Early reviewers found it difficult to understand the role of the characters and found the plot very thin as a result. In fact there is a wealth of hidden references within the film which detail many aspects of Cochranian Wicca, and as a result this movie is beloved of Cochranian Wiccans. Viewers would need to watch it more than once to appreciate it, preferably with the ability to pause the film.

The plot deals with events surrounding those faithful to the Wicca of Robert Cochrane who founded the Thames Vally Coven in 1962 and ran it until his death in 1966. It deals with Cochranian Wicca in the present day, which is the modern interpretation of Cochrane’s practices. Wicca itself is the modern reflection of Witchcraft, which includes a ‘new age’ addition ‘an it harm none do what ye will’, the Wiccan Rede. The Wiccan Rede, was released in October 1964 by Doreen Valiente who was a member of Cochrane’s coven at the time.

Plot summary
The film opens with a map of Queen’s Wood in Highgate. A burning tree appears in a dark night. There is a goats head overlaid visually in the tree. The scene then moves to a girls school where Mr Shears (Dexter Fletcher: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) is giving a lesson about Wicca. He is holding a book with a title page containing the words ‘Diabolus quod igneus frutex’, meaning the devil is the fire tree. This book is bound in red leather. He gives a brief explanation asking ‘Is Wicca a religion or little more than devil worship’. The explanation he gives revolves around Robert Cochrane who he says ‘founded a Wicca coven as recently as the 1960s’. He is interrupted by a woman who comes into the class room and introduces herself as Mrs Belial, posing as a supply teacher. She tells him that he needs to see the headmaster. He leaves and she takes over the lesson. She explains how there was a Wiccan leader Uri Clef who appeared recently. He went missing on Halloween with seven of his followers and they were last thought to be in Queen’s Wood. She explains that people were concerned about Clef’s radical views but could not stop him. She then states that ‘he did stop’ and smiles seeming happy about this. Mr Shears finds the headmaster away and returns to the classroom but Mrs Belial has disappeared. It is clear that he does not know her.
Four of the girls in the class decide to go into the woods at Halloween and camp to see if they can see anything. Meanwhile Mrs Belial is seen gardening where she cuts herself on a rose. She sucks the blood enjoying the taste, appearing to be the embodiment of evil. On a nearby bench is a blue book.
In the meantime the girls have headed to Queen’s Wood by bus. They are walking towards the wood when a biker goes very close to them in a frightening manner. They then go into the wood and discover that someone has put the word Lucifer in ash on the ground. They notice that their four names have first letters that are the letters of Lucifer. Izzy, one of the girls, writes this down in chalk. They head on into the wood and put up the tent. The film makes it clear that they are being watched, apparently by the biker who passed by them earlier.
The film then cuts to the lounge of one of the other girls in the class, Eve, who has not been invited into the woods. She has found a nursery rhyme that states ‘You can scare him off with a cross stick, you can scare him off with a shoe’. She asks her mother what the meaning is, but she thinks it is just a nursery rhyme. Her tutor comes and sits next to her and explains that it has a real meaning and is about the devil. He then says that there are plague pits in Queen’s Wood and that those who were buried went to the devil. He asks “I wonder how the devil gets people now”. He also has a blue book that he places next to him on the sofa. His face is not seen again in the film. Whilst this is happening two boys decide to take a short cut across the park, but they get lost. Their names, together with that of Eve who is later drawn to the wood, fill out the three missing letters from the word Lucifer.
Meanwhile Mrs Belial is seen alone in her flat. She is eating the raw meat of a stag and has some soil and foliage on which paper figures are laid. It appears that she is doing a harmful magic spell on the seven in the wood. In the meantime in the wood the boys become anxious. One climbs a tree but is struck by a stag’s tooth and falls to the ground injured and unable to walk.
The biker appears again and picks off the seven one by one. Uri Clef is seen in a dream like scene as if it is dealing with the past, as is one of his followers. They are skeletons, apparently long dead. Near the end a coven which is in the woods is seen dancing in theh distance. Izzy heads towards it and is not seen again. Eventually all of the seven in the wood are killed. The fire tree reappears and images of the seven are seen being sucked into the tree. The film ends with the singing of the nursery rhyme about the devil.

The plot is fairly involved but many of the key points are seen fleetingly. As a result it is possible that the viewer will get to the end of the film without understanding who the biker is or why the seven pupils are killed. This does not detract from the film as subsequent viewings reveal the detail. The mystery of Uri Clef’s own disappearance is also not resolved simply. The beauty of the film is that the clues are hidden and the references to Cochranian Wicca are real. Understanding these allows the plot and the murderous biker’s identity to be resolved.

The first key to understanding the film is the relationship between the key characters. The plot deals with Cochranian Wicca which is one of the denominations of Wicca. Cochranianism itself has its own divisions. Cochranians are predominantly gnostic, however they split between those who give primacy to Lucifer and those for whom Sophia or Wisdom is the primary deity. In this film the murderous faction, headed by Mrs Belial, are the Luciferians and Uri Clef’s followers are Sophian. The Sophians also also revere the horse and the stag, sometimes called the Oss-set or horse-stag, which they see as being the god of the Old Ways.
The Luciferians are portrayed as being the killers in the film. In Cochranianism red and blue are used to mean life and death respectively. As Cochrane wrote “Her vesture half of blue, half of red. Life and death are in her two hands”. Mr Shears is promoting Cochranian Wicca as the main tradition and appears to be a Sophian Cochranian sympathetic to Clef. He has a red book, signifying life. Meanwhile Mrs Belial and Mr Richards have blue books that signify death. The fact that they have similar books ties them to being part of the same coven and opposed to Clef. More powerfully Mrs Belial is seen eating raw venison, literally eating the god of the Sophian Cochranians. They appear as Luciferian Cochranians.
The murderous biker is working with Mrs Belial. Eve’s tutor has explained that there is a grave pit in the woods. This implies that if bones are buried they will be mixed up with all the other bodies and not be found. The fact that he has a blue book and that he is in the vicinity of the woods implies that he is the biker, whose face is never seen. The fact that he has Uri Clefs bike gear implies that he killed Clef.
The question remains ‘why was it necessary for Clef to be killed by the Luciferians ?’ and ‘why did they kill a second time’. The reason for the killing of Clef in the first instance is clear. It is stated that Clef was feared to be building a Wiccan army which would damage the fabric of society. This would be a threat to Luciferians who would see the primacy of Sophian Cochranianism as undesirable. By killing Clef and his seven followers they could ensure that Lucifer remains the primary object of worship. In the case of the second set of killings the film implies that Mrs Belial now has a taste for blood. The key to the need for the second round of killing is that Mr Shears appears to be trying to emulate Clef and draw in a new set of followers. It seems that he understands Cochranian Wicca well and does not know Mrs Belial. This implies that he is a Sophian. Mrs Belial has picked up that a new upsurge of Sophian Cochranianism is emerging and seeks to end it with the killing of those who are drawn to it along with others who are in the woods on Halloween.

This film is, of course, loved by Sophian Cochranians who see themselves portrayed as the good folk. The efforts that the film makers have made to incorporate a genuine back story linked to The Regency makes the plot interesting.

2500 years ago the playwright Aeschylus produced a play and attended its first performance. He performed as one of the characters. As he spoke his lines there was an outcry from the audience with the declaration “he reveals the holy mysteries”. Aeschylus fled the stage for the temple of Dionysus. There he could take sanctuary as no fugitive could be taken from the temple. He was then able to show that he had never been initiated into the mysteries and could not therefore reveal them. The makers of the film will doubtless state that they too have not been initiated and cannot have revealed the mysteries of Cochranianism. None the less the sub rosa, or under the rose, mysteries of Cochranian Wicca are revealed for those who look, but then as Cochrane stated “There is no secret in the world that cannot be discovered, if the recipient is ready to listen to it – since the very air itself carries memory and knowledge”. The makers of this film have produced a piece of extraordinary depth not seen before in presentation of modern Witchcraft. It is a film that will stand the test of time and become a classic example of its genre.

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Wicca is the native traditional path of Britain.

The tradition teaches that individuals are enlightened by their own actions. Knowledge is at the heart of the tradition and its most sacred site, Stonehenge, is an astronomical observatory. There is an avoidance of hierarchy as all rituals are based on the circle as the central feature. The ancient megalithic sites of Britain, generally circles, are sacred to the tradition, and the mythology of Britain based on the round table is its sacred literature.

The purpose of this site is to assist those who wish to adopt the Wiccan tradition.

We provide links to native British mythology and literary traditions and their interpretation, including Brythonic literature such as the Mabinogion. We also provide an interpretation of sacred sites, and the cycle of the year.