I’m not superstitious but it’s still pretty dusky when I go for my constitutional on cloudy days. I was walking along thinking about Cernunnos, the way one does, when a black cat darted out of the underbrush and across my path. My thoughts turned to witches. Then a large toad jumped out in front of me in the half-light. Perhaps it was because I picked up a booklet about witches recently, but this felt very uncanny to me. There’s a place where the woods close in on both sides of the path. The sun wasn’t yet up, and the clouds meant it wouldn’t have much mattered anyway. When the bird calls stopped I began thinking about turning around and going home. Nobody else was out this morning and although I don’t mind starting my day with the weird, I was thinking “not on a Wednesday.”
A thick mist lay over part of the path and I realized just how uncomfortable we tend to be when we can’t see clearly. Despite that, and the black cat and the toad, I’ve never really been afraid of witches. I guess I try to please people too much to think that someone might want to harm me supernaturally (at least among those who know me). I recently found a booklet on witches—one of those strange impulse buys after being mostly house-bound for the better part of a year-and-a-half—that perhaps prompted my thinking this morning. Although it seems to be most interested in earth-centered religions, it has an article about Salem. Despite the more modern embrace of witchcraft in Salem, historically it had to do with human fear and hatred, a combination that is scary indeed when applied by those who are superstitious.
Cernunnos is a Celtic god generally portrayed with deer antlers. Although lack of literature means we know little about him, he’s been adopted as the male counterpart to the female earth-goddess in some traditions. Modern witchcraft is based on an orientation toward nature. It’s kind of a ground-up religion rather than a top-down one. Christians traditionally labelled it “Devil worship,” as they tended to do with anything they objected to. Such demonizing helps no one, of course. And when these ideas grow into superstitions people get hurt. So I’m out here in the half-light because in the mornings days are shortening quickly and I have less and less time before work begin after the sun rises. And I have witchery on my mind.