Drew WibergComment

Hedgewitches and Wards

Drew WibergComment
Hedgewitches and Wards

The moon is waning and boy, do I feel it this cycle. I was thinking to myself as I stumbled down the stairs this morning at 3:30 AM, unable to sleep yet so full of aches and pains that all I wanted to do was lie down, I was thinking that I can really palpably feel the lunar cycles now that I have aligned myself with them through my weekly prayer routines. Maybe I felt them before and just didn't correlate this type of fatigue with Lady Luna sucking the magic out of everything as she disappears behind her veil of shadows.

With my physical energy goes my mental Jedi forces as well, and I was having a difficult time finding the spark that I needed to write this week's post, so I did what I do when writing fiction, I used my daily tarot card draw to inform myself on the direction that my contribution needed to take.

The card I drew was the Page of Cups. Let's quickly do an analysis of this 'Honors' card.

The Page of Cups: Keyword - Garçon Blond: Gracon maps to Old Saxon Wrekkio - Exile, and Blond means to Shine, Flash, or Burn. Cups map to the discipline of alchemy through the Trump Temperance and the keyword maps to hedgewitchery. Other points include Emotional work, femininity, feminism, daydreaming, youth, and divination.

Nice! I had my direction, or thought I did. I've always wanted to 'prove' a gender neutral definition of the term hedgewitch, ever since I had first heard it on Rune Soup, way back when he interviewed Sarah Anne Lawless. There are a number of definitions, pulling from Terry Pratchett and from The Magicians by Lev Grossman, but nothing really older. I pulled my etymological tool from my 'Dead Ringers' style medical kit, donned my red surgical robes, and got to work.

Beginning with the first part of the term, hedge, we find a clear path back to the term 'hag', through the Old English cognate, haga. The word zunritha, from Old High German, is translated to 'hedge-rider' and, like OE's haga, is traced back to the Porto-Indo-European term *dhewes-, which means to fly about, smoke, be scattered, or vanish (all pretty witchy activities). The second part of the term, witch, is problematic at best and really can only be traced back as far as Old English before you have to start making guesses. In OE, the term wicce, is very specifically referring to a female magician or sorceress. The male version (and I found this to be significant) is wicca. This could be an issue for a modern woman practitioner in a host of different ways, to my mind, but that is a different thread and maybe I'm not the one to mansplain it anyway.

Hedgewitch, then, can't be mapped back to a gender neutral source, both the OE haga and wicce belong to women and can't be appropriated by a practitioner that identifies as male. This leave us (me, I'm not anyone else cares) with the problem of identifying an appropriate male cognate for hedgewitch. While trolling through etymonline's data base I came across an entry for the surname 'Hayward', which was listed as coming from the same OE fount that gave us hedgewitch and mapping back to hege-weard or the guardian of the hedge.

I quite like that, actually, if we are to have gender-specific designations then it isn't a far stretch to suggest that they have different jobs as well. The hedgewitch's job is to ride or straddle the hedge, the hedge being the barrier between the world of the material and the world of the spirit. The Hedgeward, the male version of the hedgewitch, has the job of guarding that barrier, from either side, to keep the denizens of one from escaping into the other. The hedgeward has a lot of tools in his kit to help him with this work, banishing, exorcism, binding, pacts, and all other Solomonic-like tools. The hedgewitch is the door between the real and the spirt and the hedgeward is the lock.

My recent magico-literary experimentation pushed me to try and find a correspondence in Lovecraft's oeuvre with the Page of Cups and the concept of the hedgeward. I believe I succeeded with his short story, The Evil Clergyman. In this story, a nameless protagonist is given access to an attic room where something terrible happened, or was caused to happen, by an antagonist only referred to as 'He'. In this attic room there were two furnishings, a table with a matchbox on it and a bookcase filled with books that Lovecraft is very specific about; Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus, Trithemius, Hermes Trismegistus, and Borrellus. The authors easily lend authority to the correspondence through their alchemical explorations and the matchbox on the table is a direct line from the Page of Cups, through Temperance (and possibly the Wheel of Fortune), to Trump number two, the Magician.

The story has the quality of a dream (in fact it is the recounting of a dream according to my sourcebook) and the protagonist pulls from his pocket what, from the description, can only be an LED Flashlight. Impossible, right? Listen to description of the device:

"The light was not white but violet, and seemed less like true light than like some radioactive bombardment."

If that isn't a description of an LED light more than one hundred years before their regular use I'll eat my top hat and the rabbit inside it.

Picking it up in his hand, the protagonist examines the matchbox. The object is then activated and creates in the room a projection of the past, pulling back the shade on a window into the spirit world. The evil clergyman, whom Lovecraft describes very specifically of being in his thirties and wearing a type of Anglican garb that was familiar but also somewhat off, is shown in a group of his peers. This phantom shadow show proceeds with the anti-Anglican pulling books from his shelf and burning them in an ethereal fire projected onto the harp. The clergyman’s spectral cohort leaves and, with his head hung low, the ghost walks towards a noose how hanging from a rafter in the room. Our protagonist calls out and the mood of the projection changes from one of voyeurism to one of malice.

The spirit recognizes our protagonist, and with a grin, turns and heads for him. Our hero, thinking (or unthinking) quickly, shines the LED flashlight onto him, causing the spirit to recoil and fall out of the room. To me, our protagonist is fulfilling the role of the Hedgeward, investigating the spirit world and its denizens with a distinct (even foolhardy) curiosity but keeping the barrier between their world and ours intact. There is also something here about technology having the ability to dispel spirits that has a real Ghostbusters flavor to it that I really dig.

In closing, I’d like to reiterate that in mapping back of the term hedgewitch and furthering a gendered alternative, the hedgeward, it is not my intent to say that women can only do one type of magic and men another. It is my intent to assert that both hedge as it is connected in the distant past with the word hag and the witch belongs squarely with those that identify as female. Those are their words. I find the terms hedge wizard or hedge warlock to be clunky and relatively ineffective ways to describe the necessary male counterpart to these important figures in historical and contemporary magical practice. The Page of Cups is an excellent archetype for this role for just this reason, as the figure on the card is at the best of times, androgynous. The Page in all of the tarot honors cards are represented as both male and female in different decks throughout the history of tarot. 

The Page from the suit of Cups, with its associations to alchemy and the inner journey towards psycho-spiritual refinement, is an excellent representation of the protagonist in the Evil Clergyman, who with his future techno-magic, is able to keep the worst from that side of the hedge at bay.