Hedgewitchery, or Hedgecraft, is a kind of combination of Witchcraft and Shamanism. For the most part, this path comes from the Traditional Witchcraft and Cunning Folk traditions of Europe from ancient to modern times. It is something of an eclectic tradition, but just how much so depends on each individual practitioner.
The basic modern definition of Hedgewitch is comparable to older definitions of wisewoman, cunning man, medicine man, shaman, herb healer or folk healer. It is loosely based on the old wise wo/men, cunning folk, herbalists, faith healers and actual witches throughout history. Hedgewitches are involved with herbalism and healing, along with a deep love for and understanding of Nature added to the mix. If you think “Hedgewitch” and picture the strange old lady who sold herbs and magickal charms, acted as midwife and healer in the ancient times, you are not far off. Nor are you far off if you picture the wise sage who would cast bones to divine the future or journey in the Otherworlds to heal members of his community.
Throughout history, shamanic, wise-woman and cunning-man traditions have risen and fallen all over the world. These kinds of traditions have never truly died out. In recent years, more and more people within the Western world are turning to them and adapting them to modern times. Modern Hedgecraft is the study, adaptation and practice of these ancient nature-based, spiritual, shamanic and healing traditions in our modern lives.
Hedgewitches can come from any cultural background, but the majority of Hedgewitches seem to come from European ancestry. This means that most Hedgewitches will practice based on the folklore and traditions of the ancient Celts, Vikings, Romans, Greeks, Slavs, Anglo-Saxons and so forth.
Most Hedgewitches look to their own heritage to find inspiration and lore. Yet some are drawn to the traditions of other cultures. Some may seek to learn from other cultures to gain a better understanding of their own heritage, as well as a greater respect for others. Hedgewitches are not opposed to the study of modern tradition as well, for they strive to bridge the gap between old and new. To blend old traditions with a modern lifestyle in a workable and practical manner is a hallmark of Hedgecraft.
The shamanic aspect is the most important of all in Hedgecraft, for to call oneself a Hedgewitch is to call oneself a shaman. A shaman is a person who traverses the axis mundi and who enters the Otherworlds to commune with ancestors, gods and spirits for many purposes and using many different techniques. The word “shaman” comes originally from the Turkic word “šamán” and translates as “one who knows”. This word has been used by peoples of the Turkic-Mongol and Tungus cultures of Siberia for many centuries. It was introduced to Europe from Siberia to Russia and then into Germany.
Later, white colonists coming to the New World and Africa applied the words “medicine man” and “witch doctor” to the healers and holy people of tribal cultures. These titles were eventually replaced by “shaman”. This is why people of European decent are often told by “shamans” of other races and cultures they should not call themselves “medicine men” or “shamans”. Those of us who have white skin need not borrow words from other cultures for such practices. For we do have our own traditions and words, and names, for such people, and we can (and should) use them with pride.
“Hedgewitch” comes from the Saxon word “haegtessa” and the Old English “hægtesse”, which can roughly translate to “hedge-rider”, with “haeg” meaning a “hedge”, “fence” or “enclosure”. However “hægtesse”, and the shortened “haeg”, not only translates to “hedge-rider” and “hedge” but can also be translated as “hag”, “witch” and “fury”. From this we have the modern English word “Hedgewitch”. Since we take the name for this form of Witchcraft from the word “hedge”, let us take a look at what a hedge means to the Hedgewitch.
The concept of a boundary hedge in a spiritual and magickal sense stems from the tradition of hedgelaying, or growing hedgerows. Hedgerows are carefully landscaped intricate layers of plant-life. The European landscape has been crisscrossed by hedgerows since the time of the Roman occupations and possibly before. The Anglo-Saxons also used hedgerows extensively, and many of these ancient hedgerows still exist today. The early European colonists in the New World put up hedgerows, though often with different species of plants. In Europe the most common species growing in hedgerows are the hawthorn and blackthorn, whereas in North America cedar and juniper hedges are more common.
These often-large rows of shrub, herb and tree are boundaries for farmsteads, pastures, villages, ditches and roads. In ancient times, at the very edge of a human settlement, there was a sturdy hedgerow keeping the wilderness and wildlife out of field, pasture and garden. Crossing a hedge means crossing a boundary of some sort, such as walking into the wild, going from wheat field to cow pasture, or entering another person’s property.
A hedgerow is not just a boundary, but is also a protective home and shelter to all kinds of wildlife, such as rabbits and birds. They provide shade and act as a windbreak. The hedgerow is also a place where foxes and hares being hunted may hide and where hunters will send their hounds to flush game. Hedgerows were also very important in keeping the herds in and the predators out.
Berry and fruit bearing trees and shrubs are grown in hedgerows, making them a source of food for both animals and humans alike. They may also have both healing as well as baneful herbs and plants growing within them. While beautiful, these hedgerows will typically sport thorn bushes and other plant life that can be hazardous if you are not respectful of the hedge and what grows and lives within.
For the Hedgewitch, “the Hedge” is not just a physical boundary but also a metaphor for the line drawn between this world and the next, between reality and dreamscape. It represents the threshold between the many Worlds. In short, the Hedge is what many Pagans refer to as the Veil. It is also the boundary between civilization and the wild, the place where the wildwoods and the urban jungle meet.
The more one learns of the tradition of laying hedgerows, as well as about hedges themselves, the more the use of “hedge” for this Craft becomes clearly appropriate.
In a 13th century Icelandic text called the Poetic Edda, we find a long poem called Hávamál, and in that poem the god Odin recites a list of Rune-spells he has learned while hanging upon the World Tree (axis mundi). This part of the Hávamál has come to be called the Song of Spells. The tenth of these spells particularly interests and inspires Hedgewitches. There are many translations of this verse; here are four of them.
For the tenth I know,
if I see troll-wives
sporting in air,
I can so operate
that they will forsake
their own forms,
and their own minds.
~ Benjamin Thorpe
A tenth I know: when at night the witches
ride and sport in the air,
such spells I weave that they wander home
out of skins and wits bewildered.
~ Olive Bray
If I see the hedge-riders magically flying high,
I can make it so they go astray
Of their own skins, and of their own souls.
~ Nigel Pennick
A tenth I know, what time I see
House-riders* flying on high;
So can I work, that wildly they go,
Showing their true shapes,
Hence to their own homes.
~ Henry Adams Bellows
* House-riders: witches, who ride by night on the roofs of houses, generally in the form of wild beasts.
A Hedgewitch is thus a person with some shamanic qualities. They can ‘ride’, as in travel through and over, the boundary of this world and into the Otherworld. They can leave the “enclosure” or “hedge” of their own body, experience soul-flight and send their spirits to wander in the night. It also appears that at least one god knows how to confuse their shamanic travels and send them packing back home!
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