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~ What is a Hedgewitch? ~

A Hedgewitch is a tradition within a tradition that is somewhat shamanic in nature, for lack of a better term. There are many different titles that those who follow this inner tradition are called: Hedge-Rider, Hedgewitch, Night Travellers, Myrk-Riders, Gandreidh, Badbh (name of a Goddess as well as a title), and Walkers on the Wind. These are the ones who engage in spirit flight, and journey into the Other World. It is this inner tradition which utilizes such things as flying salves and potions in order to gain access to the Other World. However, there are certain prerequisites which must be met before one can learn this particular tradition.

A Hedgewitch is able to go into the Other World, and call back the souls of those who are about to die. They can, in this capacity, be very powerful healers. They are also able to speak with those who have passed beyond.

A bird of one kind or another is usually associated with the hedge traditions. Two of the most commonly associated birds are the raven and the goose

A mention should be made that the hedge signified the boundary of the village. The fence or hedge represents the boudary which exists between this world and the spiritual realm. Not all cultures had hedges, though. Some had stone wall, or earthen works. Regardless, this term is adopted as a way to commonly identify these traditions.

It should be emphasized that not all Witches follow this inner tradition.

In regards to hedge traditions, the most impotant aspect is that of spirit-flight. In the twelfth century, a reference is made to a myrk-rida in the C. E. Law of Vastgotaland:

This excerpt refers to a Hedgewitch. She is earing a troll skin, or mask, as a part of a ritual so that the inhabitants of the Other World will recognize her. The liminality of her position between the two worlds is futher enhance by the timing of the ritual which is held on an equinox during which day and night are equal.

The Portugeuse witch, the Bruxsa, ventures out during the night as a large sinister nightbird. In Germany, the nightjar is called the hexe, and is thought of in local folklore as being a shape-shifted witch who has gone out to suck the milk from the goats at night.
Often, these Hedgewitches were seen as riding upon a broom or riding-pole and flying through the air. In Old German, one of the words for a male witch was Gabelreiterinnen and meant pitchfork-rider.

The broomstick, or riding-pole, represented the phallus of the Horned God. According to some traditions, the ends of these poles were carved to represent the erect penis and were concealed by being bound in either birch twigs or straw. The tops of these riding-poles often ended in two forked tines which represented the horns of the Horned God. Later these riding poles developed into the more common wand

To achieve the sensation of flying, poisonous compounds known as flying ointments were used. These ointments contained strong akaloids such as aconite, belladonna, and hemlock. The result of such ointments produced physiological effects such as mental confusion, impaired mobility, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

The purpose of achieving this spirit-flight ranged from speaking to the ancestors, to healing those who were near death and "calling them back."

It is believed that on the Cross Quarter-Days (commonly known as: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine, and Lughnasdah), the ancestral spirits travelled on invisible lines that linked togther burial places, graveyards, and mounds. Each culture had its own name for these lines:
  • Celtic faery-roads
  • Dutch death-roads
  • English church-ways
  • English coffin-paths
  • English corpse-roads
  • German geisterweige
  • Holland dood wegan
  • Saxon daeda-waeg

During these times the bounderies between the two worlds are thought to be lessened, and so communication is easier. At Samhuinne, however, the boundaries between the two worlds are believed to be at their thinnest point, making interaction betwen them much easier.

Copyright 1997 Crystal Miller, All Rights Reserved.