The ‘Pellar-current’ in Cornwall undeniably has a rich heritage to draw upon. In addition to the surviving and established traditional Cornish charms, to be made and issued to clients, are rites and observances to cure, to make divinations, lift the effects of ‘ill wishing’ and to counter-curse. Some of these traditions and practices are related to specific places such as Cornwall’s many Holy Wells, each with their concomitant rites, and ancient stone monuments around which much folklore may be found.
It may be said that Witch beliefs in Cornwall reached their height in the 19thC when Cornwall was home to many professional Pellars, Charmers and ‘White Witches’, a number of whom achieved considerable levels of fame and notoriety. The Craft in Cornwall was very definitely a trade and clients would often make long and difficult journeys for a consultation with a practitioner of repute, for which a hefty fee could often be expected. The local folk-magical beliefs and lore were there, as now, to be drawn upon by the practitioner, and the famous ‘grimoires’, available to 19thC practitioners via mail order, were also known to be made use of and provided many of the occult signs that were translated to parchment, intricately folded and enclosed within traditional Cornish charm bags. These books would also have provided the details of some ceremonial methodology, adopted into their practice, forming a marriage between the rural folk-magical and ceremonial magic traditions. Whilst there has undoubtedly been a marked decline in Witch beliefs in Cornwall, as Cornwall became less isolated and more accessible and influenced by modern ideas with fewer people willing to admit to believing in the power of the ill-wish, such ways did not die out entirely. It is the nature of a people living in a mysterious, relatively remote and ‘haunted’ landscape to, at the very least, be partially open to the idea of spirits, unseen forces and the potential for supernatural harm. Thus throughout Cornwall and the West Country there have remained, right up to the present day, folk magical practitioners, scattered few and far between, and the clients who seek their services not only to remove warts, but to reverse bad luck and ill fortune, lift curses, divine the location of things lost, secure love, bring prosperity and for guidance and advice to resolve a plethora of life’s difficulties.
Of course, time brings change and it cannot be claimed that the West Country’s magical practitioners operate in an entirely unchanged manner from their nineteenth century and earlier counterparts, for we are a different people living in very different times, operating in the presence of many different influences. However it is a trait of all true Traditional Crafters to utilize and adapt all that is found to be of use, just as our nineteenth century predecessors had done in their taking up of newly available ceremonial magical texts, embracing the grimoire tradition; adapting and co-mingling them with their inheritance of local folk-magical practice. Traditional Witchcraft has thus always been modern, in whatever period of history it is practiced. This is at odds with the cold ‘academic historian’ who rejects, in almost autistic fashion, the possibility that such traditions can change, adapt and evolve with time and retain authenticity. However, authenticity does not reside in unchanging and stagnant adherence to the past for, as I have said elsewhere, such would be mere historical re-enactment, not Witchcraft. Authenticity in modern Traditional Witchcraft resides in two areas; in the producing of results, and in being rooted firmly in one’s local historical folk-magical roots, yet ever refining and evolving, with discernment, for current needs.
As the times of change have rolled by, some practices, lore and traditions are lost through neglect or rejected through becoming irrelevant, yet much remains, some is cherished and preserved, some adapted and married with new innovations, many unique to the practitioner. The ways thrive, nurtured within the observances of the few closed circles and solitary practitioners, its lineal passing from initiate to initiate within the Circle of Fellows, or from master to prentice, as are the traditions, via the immersive experiencial, oral and Textual transmission of gnosis. Thus will the ways of the Pellar survive, ever unique to each individual practitioner.