[This issue, we sit down with Kerry Wisner. Here, Wisner discusses traditional witchcraft; their book, The Willow Path; and upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Does it have a name, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Kerry Wisner: I want to thank you for inviting me to appear in your publication. I practice a form of Traditional Witchcraft, or as I prefer to call it “The Art”. While it certainly does have a spiritual aspect to it, the reality is that it is a way of living, a way of approaching life through the use of traditional magical techniques. It is largely animistic in nature, seeing a living pulse in nature that the Witch learns to merge with and, in turn, gain her power and wisdom from. One can even go so far as to say that this is a living consciousness alive in nature, lying just beyond the awareness of most people. So, as Traditional Witches, we seek harmony with nature in order to become aware of the forces and spirits inherent in the land, in nature itself.
On a less esoteric note, Traditional Witchcraft has its roots in cunningfolk practices, and rural folkloric magic and customs. These, at least in part, reach back to ancient pagan beliefs and shared experiences that managed to survive to this day. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that there was a single unified unbroken pagan religion that was universally practiced in secret. Far from it. Rather, any pagan customs and beliefs that did survive were broken and scattered, surviving in folk tales, rural folk magic, and some seasonal customs. What is interesting is that during the Middle Ages, Hermetics and ritual magic began emerging in urban centers in Europe. It was only a matter of time before these would eventually blend with local practices. This, in essence, forms the foundation of Traditional Witchcraft.
I have found though that there are certain fundamental concepts that do appear to run as constant threads in all forms of Traditional Witchcraft that I have knowledge of. Central to these is very animistic view of reality, seeing life and spirit in nature. As such, at its core Traditional Witchcraft is shamanic in the sense that the Witch seeks to become familiar with, even partnering with, these spirits and otherworld beings. There is also a deep reverence for nature as the Witch seeks the living pulse in the land. Some call this the Dragon’s Breath, the Serpent’s Breath, or as I like to call it, the Geassa – the Bond.
ev0ke: Which Deities, powers, or other spirits do you honor?
KW: In our system we work with the spirits of nature in the locale that we live and practice in. These range from simple elemental forces, to very complex elder beings who inhabit the mountains in which we reside. As for deities, most Traditional Witches work with a series of beings who oversee this system. Among these you will hear some refer to the Dame, the Lady, the Witch Queen, or the Queen of Elphame. We often refer to Her as the Mistress. In myth She is often aligned with such deities as Diana or Arianrhod, as well as the Fae or Faery Queen Sibyl. In my practice I also call on certain Ancient Egyptian deities as I have spent several years researching and using Egyptian magic.
ev0ke: You wrote The Willow Path: Witchcraft, Hermetics, and the Hidden World of the Magical Arts. First, congratulations! Second, how did this book come about? Why did you decide to write it?
KW: Thank you! This was such a huge project for me, as it and the two subsequent books in the series, represent a culmination of a lifetime of study and practice, with much of the information coming from teachings passed to me in private. While I have trained in a variety of systems over decades, with several talented teachers, I base much of this book on the practices of my first teacher. I was led to her through a series of correspondences and meetings back in the 1970’s. Hers was a private family practice with roots in Basque teachings, yet she was very well read and used a variety of techniques in her family’s form of Traditional Witchcraft. As I am now approaching the later portion of my current life, I felt it was important to put what I have learned into writing. So, these books are in essence a codification of what I have come to understand and practice of the Art.
ev0ke: The Willow Path is the first in a projected trilogy, The Geassa. Can you give us a hint as to what we will find in the following two volumes?
KW: Absolutely, the second book is now out. It is entitled Horns of the Moon: Techniques in Traditional Magical Arts. This takes up where the first book left off. In this I discuss the core elements of traditional magic itself. With this there is an examination of the different ‘bodies’ of the Witch including a deep look at the subject of the Fetch and its relation to the ‘second skin’. This essentially is a part of the Witch that is able to be projected and shaped, through certain techniques, into various forms. In folklore you will find this in the accounts of the Witch changing form into different animals. I look closely at these procedures. I then discuss ‘traveling in spirit’ or what contemporary occultists might term as ‘astral projection’. Yet I go into clear detail on how Witches achieved this in the past and do so today. The book also looks at the need to form relationships to the otherworld beings in the locale where one lives. I offer several rituals in the book that cover these subjects. Yet the book has much more than this, as well.
The third and final book in the series will be a clear presentation of many of the actual spells, rituals, and methodologies that I use. This will include chapters on ritual preparation, our method for awakening the Dragon’s Breath, house spirits and their use in the Art, protection and counter magic, planetary magic, amulets and talismans in Traditional Witchcraft, summoning spirits including rites of necromancy, mirror magic, the placing of a glamour over others or a place, traditional cord and wax magic, prosperity magic, as well as our own Full Moon and Fire Festival rituals. The book will also include sections on the uses of iron and salt, different powders, oils and incenses, along with a section on specific incantations we use.
ev0ke: The Willow Path draws upon traditional Basque witchcraft. Can you give us an example of how Basque practices and beliefs differ from those of other witchcraft traditions?
KW: This book does draw some from Basque techniques, but please understand that this was as I was taught by my teacher, Julie. She was very well read and wasn’t afraid to blend other teachings that she found compatible to her family’s practice. Still, for her the Hearth was the central focus of her system. This was the altar at which she and her family gathered and worked their magic. It was the liminal place in the home where all worlds met and the Witch was the force that controls these. So, if anything, this would be the defining teaching of her family, though she certainly discussed several other techniques with me. Again, though, the Willow Path as I have come to learn and practice this, really is a combination of traditional techniques.
ev0ke: Which “other worlds” are recognized in the Art of the Willow Path?
KW: This is a very complex subject and one which I discuss at length in the first book. To understand the worlds of the Traditional Witch one has to stop thinking in linear, top-down models. It is so common among occultists today to view reality in terms of the Abrahamic model of lesser worlds that somehow fell out of grace from some far-off divine source. The Witch views reality in very different terms. For her all worlds and realms are sacred and equally important. Spirit is alive in everything. Our material world isn’t some terrible or evil place to be shunned. Rather it is a part of the whole that is everything. Having said this we do recognize that there are many other realms. For us these are best understood through some of the ancient pagan imagery and terms. I prefer to use Gaelic names and images for these, but if one digs deeper you will find parallels to these in other ancient cultures, particularly those that practiced arts which were distinctly nature-based and shamanic in their approach.
So, on one side of the material realm one encounters the Annwn, which is often referred to as the ‘underworld’, a realm that is seen as beneath or behind all that is. This is the realm of faery and elemental forces. On the other side of the material realm can be found the Abred. This can be loosely equated to the ‘astral’ of contemporary occult practice, yet the Abred encompasses much more than what is typically seen as astral. Both the Annwn and the Abred are seen to be immensely vast in their scope, containing within them many different worlds and states of being. In comparison, our material realm, as big infinite as it seems to be, for the Witch this is seen as very ‘thin’; a threshold between these two much greater and diverse realms. Because of this we find in nature those places were these other two realms crossover into this world. This is found primarily in the liminal places of nature.
Returning to the Abred, this is seen as eventually giving way to a realm we refer to as the Gwynfyd. This can be equated to traditional images associated with the ‘summerland’ or ‘field of reeds’ of the Egyptians, or the realm of the Gods. This has a richer, even more vibrant aspect to it than those worlds experienced in the Abred.
At either end of the spectrum, however, whether approached through the underworld of the Annwn or the summerland of the Gwynfyd, lays Caer Wydr – also known in Celtic European mythology as the ‘castle of glass’ or the ‘crystal mountain’. This is perhaps the most abstract realm that we as mortal beings can comprehend. Yet it really does lie at the heart of most traditional magical practices, at least as I have come to understand them.
ev0ke: Where can readers find The Willow Path?
KW: Both The Willow Path and Horns of the Moon are available online through Troy Books in the UK at https://www.troybooks.co.uk/the-willow-path/ Or you can find links to these on my website at www.akhetservices.com
ev0ke: You are also the author of several books on ancient Egyptian spirituality, such as The Eye of the Sun and Song of Hathor. What draws you to Egyptian beliefs and practices?
KW: I have been deeply fascinated by Ancient Egyptian culture and magical practices my entire life. For me there is such a rich system of spiritual practice that was clearly very deep in its approach. In particular the practices surrounding the worship of the Goddess Hwt-Hrw who was later named Hathor by the Greeks. There is such wonder and beauty in the inscriptions dedicated to Her. As such, I have spent several years studying this ancient system of the Art.
ev0ke: Which book fairs, conventions, or other events do you hope to attend in the foreseeable future?
KW: I am very open to any on-line events. The internet has made so many more resources available to authors. As for in person events, this is difficult as I also hold down a full time career with a local company. However, given enough notice I can travel to events if invited.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
KW: There is so much I want to do. One never gets bored when practicing the Art. Teaching and public speaking remain a strong focus for me. However, after finishing the third book in the Traditional Witchcraft trilogy, I want to publish expanded versions of the Egyptian books. They are close to twenty years old and I have much more material now that I want to add to these.
I am also working on a formulary book that will present Traditional Witchcraft potions, powders, and incenses along with in depth herbal lore and spell. This has been a huge undertaking, over several years of gathering information from many historical sources.
On top of all of this I am revisiting a project begun ten years ago involving research into a certain medieval alchemical work that clearly has links to both rural folkloric practices as well as roots in Ancient Egyptian teachings. This has been a real labor of love comparing the alchemical text to several other sources. Lastly, I have been able to secure a late period Egyptian text that has very clear parallels to the later Greek Hermetica. It is my hope to one day dive deep into this.
I am open to speaking engagements and providing classes or single workshops. If any of your readers are interested please let them know that they can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or they may visit my website at: www.akhetservices.com