The exciting thing about the work of Mr. Philip Heselton (whose most recent book Witchfather was reviewed by Scott, here at the Juggler) is that, in making the claim that there was a pre-exisiting New Forest coven that genuinely initiated Gerald Gardner, he pushes the onus for Wicca (or modern Witchcraft, as Mr. Gardner called it) back upon these earlier individuals- and then potentially back into English Culture itself. Now, in the ideal world of worlds, we would be able to find connections between this “modern survival of English Witchcraft” (as Gerald called it, in Witchcraft Today) and what we know of Witchcraft, back in the last period when we know all of England maintained a firm belief in the Power of English Witches, to influence and change the future, through their Craft.
Such was the early 1600s, the Jacobean Era of the first of the Stuart Kings of England, King James I (formerly King James VI of Scotland, and Elizabeth’s nearest relative when she dies in 1603). James believes in Witches (having published the anti-Witch book Daemonology, and having interviewed suspected Witches, both in Scotland and in England). All of His Majesty’s subjects believe in Witchcraft- including his son, Prince Henry, who dies a teen-ager in 1612, and (most importantly) the popular play-writer Ben Jonson (who, if he does not actually believe in Witchcraft, is at least clearly very, very knowledgable and educated on the subject).
A favorite writer for the court, Johnson scripted The Masque of Queens, performed at the royal palace the day after Candlemas (Feb. 2), 1609, intended obviously to play upon the King’s interest in the Arts of Witches- as well as Prince Henry’s, who is fifteen years-old at the time, and whose excitement over Witches is so keen, that Jonson gifts him with a special copy of the Masque, copiously outlined with Jonson’s notes upon the habits and behaviors of Witches, drawn from both the English culture of Jonson and His Highness’ time, as well as from an impressive array of Roman writers, to whose Latin works Jonson often refers the young prince. How exciting, then, to discover that Jonson’s original script is available for study at The Holloway Pages (I find this very exciting: although I have read the Masque before, in the Norton anthology, as well as in Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History, as well as Katharine Briggs‘ notes), I have never had the opportunity to study at length Jonson’s asides, which are quite insightful as to understanding the attitudes of the learned Jacobeans regarding Witches (both of their own period, and of the Classical Era).
The Masque can be difficult because (as I’ve discovered before), one finally wishes to pursue it line-by-line. A number of things- the commanding presence of a Dame or “High Priestess”; the formation of Witches into a Working-Circle; the Veneration of the Moon- suggest the need for a Juggler follow-up on The Masque of Queens, and what it says it presents as English Culture-Witchcraft. The dramatic presentation of Witches under James (author of the anti-Witch book Daemonology) needs to be considered, as does the overall impression of the Masque, which suggests strongly a modern Energy-Raising ceremony.
However: the Fourth Charm (found on Page 349 of The Holloway Pages) is probably the most significant thing to Pagans immediately, as it suggests so clearly a conception of Energy-Raising. The Witches have gathered various Implements and Tools of Witchcraft, which they are burying into the earth, chanting this Incantation over:
“Deep, O Deep, we lay Thee to sleep: we leave Thee drink by, if Thy chance to be dry [the Witches are pouring out Libations upon the earth]- both milk and blood, the dew and the flood. We breath in Thy bed, at the foot and the head; we cover Thee warm that Thou take no harm [check out how these Jacobean Hags sound oddly like grandmothers putting little children to sleep]:
And when Thou dost wake, Dame Earth shall quake, and the Houses shake, and Her Belly shall ache, as Her Back were break, such a Birth to make, as is the Blue Drake whose Form Thou shalt take.”
Whoa! Intense Charm, right? It starts off so gently, burying these Magickal Devices in the ground, covering them up with blankets of earth, quenching their thirst with poured Libations- and when these Charms wake up: there will be earth-quakes, as Dame Earth apparently goes into a sort of Child-Birth, in releasing the Manifested Form of the Witches’ Spell: a Blue Drake.
“Drake” being both a dragon, and a comet- commentators tend to interpret the Blue Drake Manifestation of the Witches’ Charm as akin to firing off a shooting star out of the earth, or something; as indeed the Dame seems to, in her next line, when she observes with annoyance, “Never a Star yet shot?,” meaning that the Drake (the Star) has not yet “shot” out of the earth into the skies of the Heavens (as Above, so Below).
This perception of Jonson’s Jacobean Hags, that their ritual intends to “shoot” a Star from the earth into the Heavens, creating a Magickal Event that will be equal to both an earthquake as well as a Cosmic Birth of some kind- can actually be explained by Gerald Gardner’s descriptions of Energy-Raising, in Witchcraft Today: especially when compared to other examples of Witchcraft in period-drama (such as Macbeth).
In his notes to the teen-aged Royal Prince to whom he is addressing this copy of his script, Jonson explains the Witches’ Intention, in this Fourth Charm: “they speak as if they were creating some new feature.” Their Intention is to “create some new feature,” or something that has not existed before. Granted (according to Jonson’s careful clarification), this is done under the Devil’s “persuasion.” But he says that this Ceremony of Creating some New Feature- resulting in the Shooting of Star, that is the Blue Drake-Manifested result of the Witches’ Charm- is often accompanied by the “pronouncing of words and pouring out of liquors on the earth.” As his authority, he cites Agrippa, and then Apuleius.