The Hearth Witch in Action

My kitchen is hung with drying plants, and my pantry contains jars of dried herbs for magic, tinctures and salves for healing, as well as brewing wines and jars of jam. I am a hearth witch. Though there are many paths to magic, and hearth witch is the term I invented some years ago to describe my own. [1] I consider my house to be a sacred place, a temple of the Gods where I live, work and worship. As I make a fire in the hearth or light a candle, I honour the living goddess of the hearth fire known as Brighid in Ireland, Hestia in Greece and Vesta in Rome, and her presence in my home. On the shelves beside my hearth is a shrine to my household gods, and as I clean and tidy, I think of it as honouring them. With intent, a physical cleansing can become a psychic cleansing, sweeping away negative energies.

My garden teaches me more about the magic of nature than any book, as I try to understand how each plant grows and what it needs, and how to work with it so that it will give me food, ingredients for wine, dyes and magical potions, or help me with my healing work. Season by season, I collect its wealth, along with the wild bounty of the fields and hedgerows around my village. I as prepare food, I try to do it with intent – to make my body healthy, to thank Mother Earth for her bounty, and to share it with love.  Each ingredient is honoured for its individual life force and its inherent physical and spiritual properties. All the vegetable peelings and scraps go on to the compost heap which will nourish my garden plants, and I think that recycling and composting are much more powerful ways of honouring Mother Earth than muttering a few words in a ritual now and again; the hearth witch not only believes that the earth is sacred, she treats it as such.

In this way, the hearth witch sees the sacred within the physical, the magical in the mundane, and uses this knowledge to incorporate spiritual practice into her everyday life. I suspect that most of us feel that we should make a lot more time in our lives for spiritual practice, chiding ourselves that we really must put aside that thirty minutes for daily meditation, or that evening for ritual, then struggling to fit it in and just being left with a feeling of guilt and failure. But this approach is a reflection of a culture that sees the spiritual and physical as separate. Traditional Pagan societies have always recognised that the spiritual and the physical are indivisible and that one is a reflection of the other. When we bring our attention and intent into cooking a meal, lighting a candle, or just being aware of our feet meeting the earth as we walk, it becomes a spiritual practice and opens up a deeper reality, the great matrix of Nature connected in a unified, sacred whole. We recognise that the land beneath our feet is not merely dirt, but a fountain of energy that sustains animals, plants and people. [2] When this realisation dawns, all space becomes sacred space, all time becomes sacred time, and all acts become sacred acts.

Paganism is not a man-made religion created by a human prophet or guru but one that continually evolves out of a spiritual relationship with the natural world. As well as providing shelter, food, medicine and all that is necessary for life, Mother Earth is the basis of our spiritual existence. [3]   Paganism’s many gods and goddesses represent the diversity of the natural world, indwelling divinity present in all things from a blade of grass to a stream, and from a mountain to a galaxy. When we open our souls to nature, we touch our Gods, but when we turn our backs on it, we feel a sense of alienation, of spiritual and emotional loss, because we are cut off from our divine source.

In bygone ages, of course, most of us lived much closer to nature than we do now. Once every woman had to be something of an herbalist and healer, responsible for her household’s health, since professional medical help was either unavailable or too expensive (and possibly dangerous to boot). Every home kept some drying herbs and flowers to make herbal infusions, powders, oils and poultices, brewed wine and ale, preserved fruit, made jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys, and many also made inks, dyes, soaps and household cleaners. A girl would be initiated into the secrets of these family formulas by her mother, along with her knowledge of folklore, stories, healing potions, minor surgery, gardening, brewing and wine making, spinning, weaving, dyeing, childcare, home management, animal husbandry, bee-keeping, fortune telling and cookery know-how.

And then there were those in the community who knew that little bit more, the village wise woman or cunning man. When joined my first coven Julia, our high priestess, told us stories of the herb wives of the past, who cared for the bodies and spirits of those around them, telling their fortunes, treating their bodily ailments with herbs, dowsing their lost property, and physicking their farm animals. She held them up to us as examples of powerful, magical women in an age when women otherwise had little influence. They were the midwives who brought new life into the world, she said, and who laid out the dead at the end of life.

Though such stories have often been wildly romanticised, folklore records and accounts do show that virtually every village seems to have had a wise woman or a cunning man of some sort. These village shamans had different names in different places, including handywomen, blessers, witches, conjurors, herb wives, wild herb men, snake doctors, fairy doctors and currens. [4] In some parts of England they had the title of Old Mother Redcap, since the red cap was a badge of office amongst wise women. There was often some oddity of dress among wise women and cunning men, such as odd socks or a garment worn inside out. [5] These practitioners didn’t use athames and magic swords but everyday objects – stones, keys, shears, sieves, pitchforks, brooms, divining rods, wax, bottles, paper and anything that came readily to hand from the kitchen or farm.

Guided by some of my early teachers in the Craft, I began to study the ancient wisdom of the grandmothers, the wise women, once passed down from mother to daughter and crone to apprentice, and then improved by a lifetime of study and the daily observation of the patterns of nature.  I certainly wasn’t brought up in this way or taught any of those things as a child and, as an ardent feminist, for years I refused to do anything traditionally defined as ‘women’s work’. However, I gradually realised that such expertise formed the pattern of women’s lives for thousands of years and that women developed highly skilful methods in all these areas, even though no contemporary historian wrote about them or accorded women due status for their invaluable work. Indeed, any woman practising fortune telling, midwifery or herbalism could be executed as a witch, while male doctors, astrologers and alchemists were left unscathed.  Following the fifteenth century Council of Trent, the Church specifically forbade women from having anything to do with medicine, [6] a profession they were not to be re-admitted to until the late nineteenth century. While male, university trained doctors were sanctioned by the Church, if any women stood before a tribunal accused of practising medicine or healing it was automatically assumed that she must have achieved any cure by witchcraft and she was put to death. [7] According to the infamous Malleus Maleficarum (‘Hammer of the Witches’), the inquisitor’s handbook, “If a woman dare to cure without having studied than she is a witch and must die”. Male doctors were trusted implicitly by the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum: “Although some of their remedies seem to be vain and superstitious cantrips and charms… everybody must be trusted in his profession.” [8]

Women’s knowledge has been derided and ignored for most of our history, and this is just as true today in western culture, in which knowledge is ‘owned’ by experts (mainly men) and can only be passed on through state-approved academic institutions, and where those seeking to follow traditional or alternative paths – such as herbalism – are dismissed as uneducated, naïve or even dangerous.

But this is our knowledge, our heritage – as women and as witches, both male and female. Discovering it and practicing my Craft has been a marvellous adventure for me, and it never ceases to fill me with wonder and awe at the power of Mother Nature. It makes me aware of the magic that flows throughout the world in every uncurling oak leaf in spring, every blushing rose petal, every humming summer bee, every rutting stag, and every misty shore.[9] This is the reward of the path of the hearth witch and this is what I want to share with you in this book.

© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Compendium, Llewellyn, 2017

[1] Anna Franklin, Hearth Witch, Lear Books, Earl Shilton, 2004

[2] Aldo Leopold,  A Sand County Almanac, Oxford University Press, New York, 1977

[3] Larissa Behrendt, Aboriginal Urban Identity: Preserving the Spirit, Protecting the Traditional in Non-Traditional Settings, Australian Feminist Law Journal, Volume 4, Issue 1, 1995, pages 55-61

[4] Nigel Pennick, Secrets of East Anglian Magic, Capall Bann, Milverton, 2004

[5] ibid

[6] Brian P. Levack (Editor), New Perspectives on Witchcraft, Magic and Demonology: Witchcraft, Healing and Popular Diseases, Volume 5, Routledge, 2002

[7] Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, trans. Montague Summers, Malleus Maleficarum, Bracken Books, London, 1996 (first edition 1486)

[8] ibid.

[9] Anna Franklin, Pagan Ways Tarot, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, Atglen, 2015

Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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