Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Serpent Songs - Living Traditions review

Serpent Songs is a diverse collection of fifteen essays introduced and curated by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold. It explores the world of Traditional Witchcraft through lone practitioners and tradition holders, from both family and clan and allows us a rare glimpse into the workings of the more secretive pro-ponents of the Craft. As per usual Scarlet Imprint practise this is a superbly produced volume, the Sylvan edition has been released in an edition of 750 with olive cloth gold and black blocking. The quality of the illustrations and photographs cannot be faulted and the cover is illustrated with a double serpent, it also has custom end papers and the font is easy on the eye and the paper is of exceptionally high quality.

The essays in this thought provoking volume focus on Traditional rather than modern craft, so often today “Wicca” has become so embedded with new age thought that it is hard to tell the difference and its mass market consumer format has become off putting, to say the least, to those who follow the Old Ways. The traditions here are non or pre-Gardnerian, folk and cunning man, among others, and covers aspects of the craft from historical to the personal, forbidden practises such as the use of blood and bone to significant figures such as Robert Cochrane, Evan John-Jones and Andrew Chumbley.
It is very easy to get caught up in a model of Witchcraft which speaks in terms of a purely pagan tradition and yet so often it existed in a hybrid form mixed with folk and ancestral traditions and later overlaid with Christian and other religious forms. In more modern times there has been a revival of pre and non Gardnerian craft from the Sabbati Cultus of Andrew Chumbley, the 1734 to the Clan of Tubal Cain.

As we wander through Serpent Songs we encounter Basque folk traditions, various modern adaptations of non Gardnerian Craft, the Stregona and the path to self deification, all explored in an erudite and academically rigorous manner. The Pellars of Cornwall provides a rich vein of Traditional Craft and Steve Patterson offers a fascinating look at their traditions and the nature of Bucca, the multifaceted god, devil, faery or spirit of that tradition. In the medieval period the line between the exorcist, physician, sorcerer and cunning folk was thin and as the official role of the exorcist when no longer sustained by the church saw many practitioners went into private practise. Richard Parkinson’s article on this period is a superb read. Interesting and lesser known studies such on taboo to avoid the witch becoming totally “other” and hence dis-solving into the otherworld and the lesser known of Throlldom of Scandinavia are excellent studies.

Of course Traditional Witchcraft didn't evolve in a vacuum and throughout Serpent Songs we explore the influences in the development of the craft including a significant piece on Bogomil and Byzantine influences. Too often the Gnostic elements of the Bogomils have been overemphasized with the folk, ancestral and traditional elements underplayed. The challenging essay by Radomir Ristic, author of Traditional Balkan Witchcraft, goes a long way to rectify this.

There is so much more in this volume that it becomes a little counterproductive to go through essay by essay, I would much rather than you discover the many joys and gems in this fascinating work yourself.

Review courtesy of :

No comments: