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The Pellar Current
Traditional Witchcraft in Cornwall

 
 
   

The Pellar Current is a name given to a particular expression of Traditional Witchcraft. It is characterised by its initiates drawing upon Cornish and West Country folk-magical traditions, and their concomitant Crafts of service in the provision of charms, divinations, and other operations to clients as a trade.

Within the present resurgence of the Traditional Craft, numerous currents and recensions each form part of the deeper stream of the ‘Elder Faith’. The Pellar Current is but one tributary and initiatory stream propounded by only a few initiates, and even fewer gatherings such as the West Cornish Ros An Bucca, a recension of which I serve as the current Magistra, or Dyawles.

The Craft of the Pellar – a term proposed by some to be derived from a ‘repeller’ of evil, is a calling of wise woman and cunning man to the old path and persuasion, encompassing Christo-Pagan and folk-ceremonial magical practices, of magical protection from maleficia, or ‘ill-wishing’, the healing, exorcising and curse lifting of people, cattle, places and objects, making divinations, charms and conjurations of spirits. It is a Craft double edged; for the Pellar’s knowledge and ability in the practices of cursing and counter cursing are maintained both.
   
We are fortunate that many of the ways and practices, with regard to traditional West Country ritual, charms and working items, have survived and have evolved within the work of individual practitioners of Traditional persuasion who have had a continued and active presence in the West Country. Notably, a rich corpus of lore, tradition, ritual, belief, and magical practices for the provision of healing, the reversal of ill fortune, the lifting of ill wishing, the exorcism of troublesome spirits, the conjuration of helpful spirits, the ways to make divinations and indeed the dark ways of blasting had been gathered and preserved by the founder of the Museum of Witchcraft – Cecil Williamson. A practitioner, devoted collector and researcher of occult and magical practices; as a result of direct childhood encounters with Witchcraft. Cecil Williamson maintained a particularly strong interest in the old magic of his native West Country, resulting in his collection containing a vast array of artefacts relating directly to the Traditional Craft in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. Cecil was certainly a practitioner of magic himself who was not at all fond of the modern Craft of Wicca, preferring the results-based Craft of ‘the Wayside Witch’, which he viewed as vital to the small communities in which these ways operated. Cecil is believed to have encountered and received teaching from some eighty two Traditional Wise Women.
 

 

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.

Gemma Gary
Ammended 2010


Images from top:
The Rocky Valley Labyrinths - Cornwall © Jane Cox
'West Country Charms' drawing © Gemma Gary
Cecil Williamson collecting substances for a charm © Museum of Witchcraft
Cecil Williamson with poppet © Museum of Witchcraft


 



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Further Reading
Books and occasional items relating to the Cornish Craft and Traditional Witchcraft in general.

Cornish Witchcraft Archive
Containing articles, lore, image galleries and videos relating to Witchcraft and Paganism in Cornwall and the West Country.

Kord hag Olas
Ros an Bucca - a founding Hearth of the Pellar Current, and Modern Traditional Cornish Witchcraft

Links
A list of sites relating to Traditional Witchcraft and  Cornish Paganism, tradition, heritage and more