Hedgewitchery, or Hedge craft, is a kind of combination of Witchcraft and Shamanism. This Path is based on the Traditional Witchcraft and Cunning Folk traditions of Europe from ancient to modern times. It is something of an “eclectic” tradition, but just how much so depends on each individual practitioner.
The shamanic aspect being the most important, in fact to call oneself a Hedgewitch is to call oneself a shaman, without having to steal a word from another culture. With herbalism, healing, and a deep love for, and understanding of Nature added to the mix.
Hedge craft is loosely based on the old wise women (and men), cunning folk, herbalists, faith healers and actual witches throughout history.
If you think “Hedgewitch” and picture the strange lady who sold herbs and magickal charms, acted as midwife and healer in the ancient times, you are not far off. Nor are you far off if you picture the wise sage who would cast bones to divine the future, or journey in the otherworld to heal members of his or her community.
Throughout history “medicine man” or “wise woman” type traditions have risen and fallen all over the world. These kinds of traditions never truly died out, and in recent years, more and more modern people in the Western world are turning to them and adapting them to modern times. Modern Hedge craft is the study, adaptation and practice of these ancient nature-based, spiritual and healing traditions in our modern lives.
Most Hedgewitches look to their own heritage to find inspiration, lore and knowledge.
While most study the traditions of their own ancestry, some may be drawn to the traditions of other cultures. Or they may seek to learn from other cultures to gain a better understanding of their own heritage, as well as a greater respect for others.
Hedgewitches are not opposed to the study of modern tradition as well, for they strive to bridge the gap between old and new. To blend old traditions with a modern lifestyle in a workable and practical manner is a hallmark of Hedge craft.
The word “Hedgewitch” is, as far as we can tell, a fairly modern term. Though its true origin may never be known, it likely comes from Great Britain and may have started to be used in its English form only within the last 100 to 150 years. It is, as far as we can tell a “modern Anglo-Saxon” word.
“Hedgewitch” most likely comes from the Saxon word haegtessa, which translates to “hedge-rider”. The Old Norse lay Havamal refers to “hedge-riders, witching aloft”.
Although Hedgewitch is a modern word, that does not make it illegitimate, just a modern word, for a word does not have to be old to be legitimate. English is still a young language; it is changing and growing all the time. Our ancestors had their own names, in their own languages, for such traditions. Hedgewitch is for our culture, in our language.
The basic modern definition of Hedgewitch would be comparable to another ancient culture’s definition of wise woman, cunning man, medicine man, shaman, herb or faith healer etc.
There is a fair bit of variation in spelling, such as “hedge wytch”. A few other names often used for this Craft: Hedge-Rider, Night Travellers, Myrk-Riders, Gandreidh (wand-rider), Cunning Folk, and Walkers on the Wind.
For the Hedgewitch, “the Hedge” is a metaphor for the line drawn between this world and the next; between reality and dream, between the Upper, Middle, and Lower Worlds. In short, the Hedge is what many Pagans refer to as the Veil.
It is also simply the boundary between civilization and the wild.
This concept of a boundary hedge in a spiritual and magickal sense is from the European (especially British) tradition of hedge laying. Going back even to the Iron Age, the European landscape has been crisscrossed by hedgerows. Hedgerows are carefully grown and landscaped intricate layers of plant-life. These often-large rows of shrub, bush and tree were boundaries for farmsteads, pastures, villages, ditches and such. Often, at the very edge of a human settlement there was a sturdy hedgerow keeping the wilderness and wildlife out of field, pasture and garden.
Crossing a hedge often meant crossing a boundary of some sort, such as walking into the wild, going from wheat field to cow pasture, or entering another person’s property. A hedgerow is not just a boundary but is also a protective home and shelter to all kinds of wildlife, such as rabbits and birds, as well as providing shade and acting as a windbreak. Hedgerows were also very important in keeping the herds in and the predators out, as well as marking the territorial boundaries of human settlements. Often berry and fruit bearing trees and shrubs are grown in hedgerows, making them a source of edible and healing plants for both animal and human alike.
The more one learns of the tradition of laying hedgerows and the tradition of Hedge craft, the more the use of “hedge” for this Craft becomes clearly appropriate.
Throughout history and in many cultures the “Hedgewitch” (wise woman, cunning man, shaman etc.) lived at the edge of the community, often amongst the outlying hedgerows. They scratched out a living through herbalism, understanding nature, prophecy and divination as well as magick and healing. They served the community in many ways including but not only; midwifery, healing, protection spells, house blessings, crop and livestock blessings, through the selling of magickal charms and even curses.
A “Hedgewitch” might sell one member of her community a small curse or ill-wish one day, and then charge its victim a fee to break the curse the next. Therefore, people who followed such traditions were respected, and likely a little feared, because of these abilities, and because they had such a close relationship with nature and the spiritual world.
In modern times, a Hedgewitch is usually (but not always) found outside the city, perhaps on an acreage or farm, often practicing by herself or within the family. They work much as the Cunning Folk of old, helping neighbours, friends and family with ailments, shamanic healing and even blessing the odd field. Hedgewitches will work a lot in cultivated fields, gardens and farmsteads, but often prefers time spent in the woods and other wild areas.
A Cottage/Hearth witch, Green witch or Kitchen witch works mostly in her garden and in her home. Hedgewitch will practice largely in the home as well, but will likely spend more of her time gathering her herbs and practicing her craft in rural or wild places than many other Witches. A Cottage/Hearth witch, Green witch or Kitchen witch may use some trance or shamanic techniques in her practise, but has probably not have received the call from her spirits to Shamanize. A Hedgewitch has “fire in the head” also commonly known in this Path as the Cunning Fire.
Although many of the traditions that a Hedgewitch draws from have changed, after all lore is lost and knowledge changes over the centuries, you will find most Hedgewitches prefer to practice as close to traditionally as possible but still in a manner practical for these modern times. Hedgewitches are very adaptable. You may find a Hedgewitch casting an old-fashioned prosperity or fertility spell on a modern tractor as a favour to a neighbour, for example.
Hedgewitches use herbs and herbal concoctions known as flying ointments, as well as shamanic techniques such as drumming and meditation, to induce altered states of consciousness. They work with familiar spirits, their ancestral dead, plant and animal Totems and the like, to assist in their Otherworld work.
Hedgewitches often refer to shamanic journeys as “Walking the Hedge”, “Riding the Hedge”, “Oot and Aboot” or “Crossing/Jumping the Hedge”. They also have a tendency to spend much of their lives with one foot on either side of the Hedge, which makes them eccentric to say the least.
A Hedgewitch walks freely into caol ait (Gaelic), the “thin places” between one world and another. More experienced Hedgewitches learn not only to find such places, but how to use them effectively and how to open them even when the Hedge, or Veil, is at its thickest between the high days.
Spirituality in Hedgewitches varies and depends on the individual; usually they look to their own heritage and ancestry. The only tradition Hedgewitches typically follow is a reverence for Nature, though some may come from a more formal Pagan path originally.
Some Hedgewitches will also practice a form of Traditional Witchcraft, such as those based on the work of Robert Cochrane, while more and more Wiccans are also taking up the work of a Hedgewitch. Hedgewitches commonly do practice some form of Paganism, but many make no claim to any practice but that of Hedge craft or Hedge riding.
The main distinction between Hedgewitchery and other forms of Witchcraft is that Hedgewitches often have less interest in the religious/ceremonial aspects of coven or group Witchcraft, having an individual and often unique way of relating to life, spirituality, magick and Creation.
A Hedgewitch is less likely to perform scripted magickal workings, preferring the freedom and joyfulness of spontaneous workings that come from the heart. For the Hedgewitch there is no separation between normal life and their magickal one, for their normal life is magickal.
They avoid complicated, ceremonial, scripted and formulated ritual, practicing an earthy and simple form of ritual and magick. Some Hedgewitches do not cast Circles in a Wiccan sense, and may either have other methods to mark sacred space, or not bother at all. Hedgewitches believe that all space is sacred.
Hedgewitches do whatever comes natural to them; they follow their instincts, and their heart.
They do not typically follow one particular moral code, but rather their own personal ethics and often some version of the credo to “do only what is needed” and/or “Know Thyself”.
Hedgewitches walk the Crooked Path, the Path that winds and twists its way between the right-hand and left-hand Paths. Hedgewitches walk all borders, and prefer the grey areas, having little interest in all black, or all white, magick or spiritual workings.
Most use few synthetic objects in their spells and rituals. Their tools are typically very practical, such as a walking stick, often they will use a stang, or even pruning shears, and their tools are hand made by them as much as possible. Most Hedgewitches use only what is needed, meaning they do not clutter an altar (if they should use an altar at all) with items that will not be actively used during a working or rite.
Hedgewitches usually study herbalism, wildcrafting and wortcunning with gusto, as well as seeking knowledge and understanding of the ways of Nature. Such as the cycle of the seasons and the wildlife and plant-life in their area.
Hedgewitches may know how to grow herbs in a garden, but are more likely to study where and how they grow in the wild and how to gather them. They usually have a great deal of lore on trees and plant life, animals and the wilderness in general.
Healing, divination, the use of trance inducing herbs and all manner of fertility and shamanic rites are also a part of this Path.
Hedgewitches tailor their Path to suit themselves, some may focus on herbalism, others study midwifery, some may practice something like reiki, they may focus on animal husbandry, and others may be well versed in healing with crystals. Many Hedgewitches may choose to be a jack of all trades, but a master of none.
While Hedgewitchery is typically a solitary path, this is not always so. Even the most hermit-like Hedgewitch can still be found at the odd local Pagan event. While others may even belong to a Coven, Kindred or Grove.
Hedgewitches are unlikely to become involved with Witch Wars within the community, and depending on the individual’s personality are more likely to prefer maintaining friendly relations with the majority of the Pagan community. Some may have friends or domestic partners who follow another Pagan or Heathen path, and they will often happily join in any ritual or activity if invited.
Also, some of their practices, especially the shamanic ones, require a trusted friend or group to watch over their body while their soul is elsewhere.
While most Hedgewitches may just be plain old rebels and rabble-rousers, this is after all, an Outsider Path.
The daily spiritual practice of a Hedgewitch will be adapted to her individual abilities, interests and life style. One Hedgewitch may start mornings offering up prayers of thanksgiving to the different goddesses as they collect eggs from the chicken coop. Another Hedgewitch may spend her mornings in quiet meditation on her patio; sipping tea and watching the deer graze in her lawn. A third Hedgewitch may say a quick prayer at the household shrine before racing off to work. The forth Hedgewitch spends the day fasting and preparing for a rite and a trip across the hedge that night.
Some people may prefer rural and/or wild settings and be a little wild themselves. They may be looking for a tradition that is adaptable and practical, one that combines “old school” Witchcraft and a modern life, a tradition that adds a focus on European-based Shamanism and the practical application of folklore to the mix.
They may be looking for a tradition that leans heavily on natural magic, understanding the Land and the practice of healing lore. They may want a tradition that focuses on personal experience, experimentation and doing-it-yourself. They may wish to blaze their own Path, like the Cunning Folk of old. They may have that Cunning Fire burning in their head, heart and soul.
They may just be ‘Hedgewitches’.