Friday, June 3, 2011

What is a Hedgewitch?

Hedgewitches are not Wiccans. The majority of us do not follow the Wiccan Rede, nor the threefold law, we usually do not follow Wiccan ritual structure, and we do not share all the tools and beliefs of Wicca. Now, it may seem strange that I'd start off an article on what a hedgewitch is by saying what we are not, but there are a few pagan authors out there who paint hedgecraft as nothing more than solitary Wicca (or just another "whatever you want it to be" belief), and I want to clear up that misconception right away -- Hedgecraft is a specific tradition that stands on its own.

So then, what exactly do hedgewitches practice and believe in? Hedgewitches practice a form of traditional witchcraft that has a heavy emphasis on soul-flight and spirit work. It is a path based on that of the wise women/cunning folk of old Europe. Now of course Europe is a fairly big place, made up of lots of history and different cultures. Some Hedgewitches may have an Italian focus, and other a more Scandinavian outlook. Hedgewitches may also pull bits and pieces from non-European cultures, depending on where they live, their ancestry, or for other personal reasons.

Hedgewitches walk a path of balance, preferring to walk the border between the right and left hand paths rather than follow a practice that is strictly one or the other. They have no problems with preforming a healing for someone on one day, and placing a hex on another the next day, if that is what they feel the situation calls for. They generally practice folk magic, sometimes called low magic (as opposed to high or ceremonial magic), and have an interest in folklore and the like. Hedgewitches also pull from more recent sources and ideas, allowing them to bridge the gap between ancient and modern.

Hedgewitches are most often solitary, preferring to work alone, although occasionally hedgewitches may come together in small groups for celebrations or particular workings. It is rare, although not unheard of, for hedgewitches to form more permanent or consistent covens.

There's a lot of room for flexibility and individuality in hedgecraft, but it does have core beliefs and practices that stand out as necessary to our tradition. Those core beliefs include:

Otherworld journeying and spirit work.
Arguably the most essential core belief. Hedgewitches use shamanic techniques to cross the boundary between worlds, to seek help and knowledge from the spirits there, among other reasons. This act is often called crossing the hedge, walking the hedge, or riding the hedge. The hedge, as a border between civilization and the wild, is seen as a symbol for the boundary between the worlds. (Similar to the concept of The Veil in Wicca.)
Drums, rattles, meditation and dance are some of the techniques used to induce trance. Some (but not all) hedgewitches also choose to use the traditional method of using various trance inducing herbs and plants, usually with the aid of a trusted friend to keep watch over their body as the spirit journeys. These flying potions/ointments are never used lightly. Great care is taken with them, and it can take years of careful experimenting before the hedgewitch finds their perfect blend. It is not a shortcut, nor an easy way to experience the mysteries or otherworld travel. (It is an easy way to make yourself sick, or possibly kill yourself, if you don't truly know what you are doing.) If you haven't become familiar with the necessary skills and traveling with focus, you won't get much benefit from such techniques.

A deep reverence for nature, and honoring nature spirits.
Hedgewitches celebrate and strive to live in communion with the cycles of nature. They study the lore and mysteries of plants and animals. Hedgewitches usually honor and work with the various spirits of nature. Herb and plant work usually plays a large part in hedgecraft. While a hedgewitch may have a garden, they are also likely to know where and when to forage wild plants and herbs - as well as knowing the habits of local wildlife. Hedgewitches are often drawn to, and spend a lot of time in wild and rural places, although urban hedgewitches are not unheard of.

A local focus.
A hedgewitch works hard to study the local plants and animals, and to know, work with, and be in tune with the natural rhythms around them. They can deeply personalize their path with this local focus, as the local wildlife and seasonal patterns can be vastly different depending on where one lives. In addition, they often serve and care for their local community in one way or another. A common way to do this is by practicing some form of healing - be it herbal healing, midwifery, animal husbandry, or another form of healing - but this is not the only way a hedgewitch can serve her or his community. Divination, journeying for knowledge, blessings, creation of charms and the like, all of these skills can be used to serve the community.

Ancestor veneration.
Most hedgewitches honor and work with their ancestors. They may petition them for help with crossing the hedge, to clarify information, or to ask for help with healing or for general guidance. For most, honoring the ancestors is not the same as worshiping them. It is more about paying our respects to those who have come before us (after all, without them we wouldn't be here), and learning what we can from their experiences.

Those are the core practices of hedgecraft. While how they are incorporated into individual practice can vary, each of the above will usually show up in one form or another. In addition to those core practices the following may be included with greater variance:

Ritual structure.
There is no common ritual structure, however, many hedgewitches do not preform ceremonial or elaborate rituals, and instead prefer simple, informal, and sometimes unstructured and spontaneous rites, celebrations, and workings. Some hedgewitches do use more formal methods on occasions. Some use more traditional methods to mark sacred space (you may see a hedgewitch talk about laying a compass rose, or preforming a Hammer Rite, among other terms), some enjoy casting a Wiccan circle, while again others have more informal methods. The specifics of such things are personal and vary from hedgewitch to hedgewitch.

Shrines, altars, and tools.
Shrines and altars, if used, follow no common layout - they are as individual as the hedgewitches who create them. Any tools a hedgewitch might use tend to be practical and simple (and are often handmade - but that is not a requirement). A walking stick, drums and rattles, a knife to cut herbs or carve with, or a pouch to carry odds and ends, a chalice or drinking horn.

Stangs are popular among hedgewitches - a stang is a staff (occasionally a smaller wand) with a fork at the top. They serve as walking sticks, and can be driven into the ground to become an altar of sorts, a representation of the world tree, to mark the working space (usually the center), or used as an aid in crossing the hedge. (For more information on the stang, please see this post.)

Gods and spirituality.
Another topic that is totally up to the individual. Some hedgewitches work with the pantheon(s) of their ancestors, others do not. Some are drawn to Gods and Goddesses of wild places or animals, others to Deities who rule over the magical arts, and some are more drawn to psychopomps. Some may simply honor Deity in general, others may not focus on Deity at all. Some have only one patron, others work with a Goddess/God pair, or any other number of Deities. Some are hard polytheists, some soft, some pantheists, some panentheists, deists or agnostic. How one worships, if they choose to, is just as individual.

Although there can be variance in holidays as well, a number of Hedgewitches follow the same Wheel of the Year that most Wiccans are familiar with - that is the solstices and equinoxes, as well as the cross-quarter days. How exactly they are celebrated may differ, but a lot of the themes remain the same. For example, Samhain is still seen as a time when the boundary between the worlds is thin, as well as a time to honor the dead and make offerings to the ancestors. However, for most hedgewitches the Goddess/God mythos of Wicca does not play a part (although it may for some). In addition, the cycles of the moon are usually noted and may be celebrated as well.

Ethical codes.
There is no common code of ethics, no redes or creeds - this is entirely personal. However, many who practice hedgecraft consider the call to "know thyself" to be important to their craft, as hedgewitches mold their spiritual path to fit their needs. What exactly a hedgewitch chooses to study or focus on is up to them. They must know their own strengths and weaknesses, and the boundary of their ability - and how/when to push that boundary.

So, while there are several core practices that hedgewitches have in common (again, many would argue that the otherworld journeying and spirit-work aspects are the most essential - you can not have hedgecraft without them), it is also a highly personalized path. The big picture may share all the same main elements, but the details are painted in by each individual witch as they walk their path, each creating their own unique picture.


  1. I am just now learning about Hedge Craft and would love to know more about it! I find the term used too loosely when I try to find those on similar path. Where did you learn about it?

    1. I had that issue myself, at first - the first book I picked up on hedgecraft ended up being about solitary Wicca. I ended up finding most of my information online, unfortunately mainly on forums and sites that no longer seem to exist. Sometimes it's easier to look for information on the separate parts of hedgecraft, like looking at sources for traditional witchcraft, then sources for shamanic work, sources for herbalism, and so on. Often you can find a lot of good information in communities that are more focused on traditional witchcraft, as well.

  2. I found this article very interesting. I am wanting to start my journey into being a hedge witch/hedge rider and my interest lay in spirit work as I have always been drawn to that. The problem is I don't know where to begin!
    How did you start out? Any tips?

  3. Excellent post! I get so frustrated when people call me Wiccan. I can never get then to understand the difference. Thanks for this.

  4. I identify as a grey hedge witch. Although I have yet to read a book on hedgecraft, this article describes my practice perfectly. I channel the spirits of dead witches to help me with necromancy. Spirits are def the focus I my practice..

    So... begin by joining a spiritualist church. They are essentially 'white light necromancers', although they won't call themselves that. But seriously that is the best way to get into the world of spirit and ancestor working. Next, study necromancy. The Witches Book of the Dead by Christian Day is an EXCELLENT book I recommend. Then, study traditional witchcraft. I'm currently learning hoodoo for this. I've found gemstones to be much better than herbs personally, however it is up to the witch. Some herbs, namely mugwort, frankincense, bay leaf and sandalwood chips. Next read up on psychic warfare, such as Psychic Self Defense by Dion Fortune or The Witches Shield. After this, it is essentially up to you! By this point you are well on the hedge witches path.