The Hedgewitch (Hagwychia variegata)
by Louise P. Hedgewitch & Midwife
The Hedgewitch is very common in Britain these days, though it was once thought to be on the verge of extinction in most places due to government suppression. It is most commonly found in woodland and on riverbanks, though it also thrives in other habitats. It can, with difficulty, be cultivated in urban areas, though it much prefers the countryside. The Hedgewitch is often slow-growing due to its preference for shady hollows, and due to its solitary nature it is often slow to reproduce. In rich seams of knowledge it grows more quickly, and may attempt cross-pollination with others of the species. However, when a group of this species does meet, each specimen undergoes substantial growth spurts. Very rarely, this group may evolve into the subspecies covenii, but this is an unstable strain, and it usually reverts quickly to its former state.
It is often difficult to distinguish between the male and female of the species due to their similar attire, which has evolved to allow ease of spread in dense undergrowth and woodland areas. However, the male is very rare, so unless there are other indications one can usually presume that the specimen is female. Tell-tale signs include twigs in the hair, a thin covering of mud, and a distinctive odour of cat-piss caused by its close association with elderflowers and other pungent herbs. Under close examination, it may tell you to 'bugger off and mind your own business if you don't want this big stick rammed somewhere unpleasant', so care must be taken at all times. Protective clothing may be advisable when handling.
Though once considered poisonous, the Hedgewitch may in fact have healing properties, if used correctly. It may be governed by almost any deity, or could also possibly have told it to 'bugger off and mind your own business if you don't want this big stick rammed somewhere unpleasant', an unusual attribute almost unique to this species.Extracted from 'The Reader's Direst Book of British Pagans' edited by Nodana Wink.
Hedge Witchcraft in Scotland Today
What is a hedge witch? You may have gained some idea from the above extract from the well-known text, 'The Reader's Direst Book of British Pagans'. There are two main groups of people who may be known as hedge witches. The first is the solitary Wiccan - this due to the fact that 'hedge witch' is often seen as synonymous with 'solitary witch'. This tends to be regarded as a misuse of the name, as usually these folk are using a form of Wicca that they practice alone from necessity rather than choice. The term 'between covens' is sometimes used for these folk. They are not the subject of this article.
The second group known as 'hedge witch' can be difficult to pin down, as they are generally highly individualistic. Ask a hedge witch to define her (or, rarely, his) beliefs and practices, and you'll probably get about six different answers - and that's on a good day.
Hedge witches are, as the name implies, frequently found in hedgerows, often because they are collecting or studying herbs, though occasionally because they've been to a Heathen moot the night before! They are often keen to learn all they can about plants, including their use for medicine, food and drink, crafts and dyeing. They will often have a good knowledge of where these grow locally. They may learn to observe the behaviour of animals in order to predict changes in the weather, and they may also be able to detect a coming rainstorm by scent - handy if you don't want to get wet! Some, though not all, will try to learn other skills historically possessed by the village wisewoman, such as midwifery or basic medical and healing skills. A good sense of humour is also useful.
They are probably, in modern times, the closest you'll get to the 'stereotypical' village witch, though this is unlikely to have been handed down directly - most have to learn it from scratch, but often start at a relatively early age. Their first words as young children tend to include 'what's that?', 'what's it for?' and 'how does that work?', and they may be very persistent. Though they may learn from others (and not always just other hedge witches), they often have to glean their knowledge from books of old lore, herbcraft, cooking and gardening, and also through the application of common sense and instinct. Though groups of hedgewitches will sometimes form, these tend to be short-lived due to their very independent nature and need to do things their own way.
The words hedge and hag have the same root, and it is possible that the original use of the word hag denoted 'one who sits on the hedge' - one who is on the boundary between the known and unknown worlds and acts as a conduit between the two (stemming from times when the hedge separated the village from the 'great unknown'). Hedge witches will frequently spend a lot of time in altered states of consciousness, whether performing kitchen magic, healing, or giving one of the Gods a good talking to. While they have a lot of respect for the Gods, they won't put up with nonsense, and if the Gods stick their noses in where they're not wanted, they'll tell them so! They tend to have a very personal relationship with their Gods, usually developed over a very long time.
But which Gods? Again, this is very individual, but because they tend to be very rooted in their locality, it tends to be those most closely associated with where they live, and those closely associated with their 'speciality'.
To give an example, as a midwife, I work very closely with Bride, who is also very much a local Goddess in my area - I can see the steeple of her modern-day shrine from my window. Because I'm working on the boundary between life and death, I also work closely with Cailleach on occasion. Hedge witches sometimes show a strong tendency towards animism (being aware of the sacredness in all things) and polytheism (belief in or a working relationship with multiple deities), but again, this varies between individuals.
The essential tools for a hedge witch are very basic. The minimum requirement is one mind and a good memory (or a decent notebook), but if you wanted a few extras I would recommend a very sharp knife and a pan or kettle - also useful for a midwife as the men can then go and make the tea. Anything else you can usually find lying around, though you might prefer a pestle and mortar over a couple of smooth stones. Learning to make a cook-fire is also very useful, especially if you like to look for plants or go 'on retreat' some distance from civilisation, or if you live in a village that's all electric and the power goes off regularly!
Magical work can be done with or without tools, though it's often easier to learn the techniques using basic tools to begin with. These can be bought or hand-made, or just something you found lying around that happens to suit your needs. Because she usually works alone, learning magic from scratch can sometimes be a hazardous business for the hedge witch - magical accidents are common, especially in the early days. You can be fairly sure that if a hedge witch tells you a particular work of magic is a bad idea, it's not because she's jealous of your abilities or trying to stop you learning. She's probably had something similar rebound on her.
At root, anyone can learn hedge witchcraft, and it can be incorporated into any of the other paths. You never know when some of those skills might come in handy!
As well as those mentioned here, Marian Green has also written several other very good books on the craft. N.B. It is good practice to use two or more medical herbals as all may omit some relevant information, and you are more likely to detect this by cross-referencing. Also use a good identification guide as some useful plants can appear very similar to others that are less useful, and safe plants can look similar to poisonous ones. If at all unsure, please err on the side of caution - better to resort to a medical herbalist than an undertaker!
- FL†CK, Hans Medicinal Plants: an authentic guide to natural remedies 1988; W. Foulsham & Co.
- HOFFMANN, David New Holistic Herbal 1993; Element Books.
- PALAISEUL, Jean GrandmotherÕs Secrets: Her Green Guide to Health from Plants (only available in print in French: English translation by P. Swinglehurst Ñ 1973; Penguin Books).
- GRIEVE, Mrs M. A Modern Herbal 1976; Penguin Books.
© Louise P. 2005, all rights reserved.