What is Hedge Wizard or Witch?
The term “Hedge Wizard” comes from the English words hedge and wizard. In proper usage the word “hedge” is an adjective which means of, related to, or designed for a hedge; born, living or made near hedges. It is also used as a derogatory form of adjective meaning “inferior”. Many attribute the word “hedge” in hedge witchcraft to be the noun form, meaning a barrier or a limit, primarily for protection, but this would not be the proper usage as the “hedge” in hedge witch, hedge wizard, or hedge witchcraft is obviously an adjective used to describe the type of witch, wizard, or witchcraft.
More likely than not, the word “hedge,” as it was and still is commonly used in signifying a hedge wizard or witch, was intended as a connotation of inferiority, meaning the hedge wizard or witch was looked down upon by more ceremonial magicians who viewed the informal practice of magic by hedge witches as vulgar. This would be expected—even in ancient pagan societies—as society typically applauds formal religious practices while shunning informal or individualistic spiritual pursuits. The reason for this is mainly due to the very structure and intent of society, in which spiritual traditions have always been used primarily as a means for the dissemination of moral instruction to the masses who either were incapable of understanding the philosophical reasoning behind moral laws (thought-out by the elites of a society), or who were unable to access such materials.
Still, it is likely that the term also came into use because of the natural location where most hedge wizards and witches undoubtedly resided – the edge of town. Before the rise of the industrial revolution, and even still today in some corners of the planet, hedge wizards and witches would often be found living near the edge of town where the plants and minerals they required in their craft were readily available. Just as fishermen lived near the water or coal miners lived near mines, the hedge wizard or witch was sure to be living near the resources necessary to his/her trade.
Hedge wizards and witches were essentially what is known as “cunning folk;” that is, they were practitioners of some ceremonial magic, but mostly focused upon what was clearly self-evident to others as practical witchcraft, such as herbal medicine, midwifery, counseling, practical chemistry, weather forecasting, veterinarian skills, and various forms of low magic. They did not practice in covens, but did often have an apprentice or two (often their child or a relative) whom they passed their knowledge onto.
It is likely true that hedge wizards and witches were somewhat skilled at what are deemed to be “shamanic practices,” but spirit journeys were likely only performed during special occasions or when direct intercession between the people and the spirits (typically ancestors) was deemed to be necessary. Otherwise, hedge wizards and witches were very much down-to-earth and well-thought of by local villagers and townspeople, which was likely the reason that many of them escaped serious persecution during the Witch Hunts. Had they spent the majority of their time in the Otherworld one can be certain they would not have been very well respected by the other members of the community who depended upon them for healing and consultation.
Because of the practical nature of hedge wizards and witches, during the Witch Hunts many (but not all) escaped persecution due to the clear distinction made by the people between witches, whom they deemed harmful, and hedge wizards and witches, or cunning folk, whom they deemed useful. The practical nature of hedge wizards and witches can largely be attributed to the fact that their craft was much more of a way to make a living than a spiritual practice. It is true that they were very spiritual, yet their practical skills were often called upon and were the primary source of income for most hedge wizards and witches, since their services were often rewarded with gifts or used as a form of barter.
Typically, as with any definition in the pagan spiritual community, if you asked any hedge wizard or witch what exactly a practitioner of hedge witchcraft is, they would all give you different answers; this is to be expected, as most pagans are subjectivists. To me, a hedge wizard is someone who is deeply spiritual, but who focuses the main portion of their attention upon learning practical magic and practical skills which are useful to the individual and the community. Since many of these skills are not deemed necessary, or even deemed inferior or dangerous, in today's society, I would further state that the main driving force behind a hedge wizard is independence. I would go one step further and even state that the main driving force of a hedge wizard or witch has always been independence from “the system” as a monstrous machine of mass control and manipulation which has no care for the general welfare of the people, particularly the little people, right down to the individual. Specifically, hedge wizards and witches have always rebelled against organized religion, state sanctioned and licensed health care, state sanctioned education, and anything which tried to force them or their fellow humans to conform to some sort of standard. Hedge wizards and witches have not necessarily been against “the system”, but they most certainly have always been raging against it through sheer mental cunning with the strength and potential of the human spirit as they tried to live as free as possible and “just do their thing”.
To me, hedge wizards and witches are free spirits. You really won't run across many spirits as free as that of the hedge wizard or witch. You won't find them in covens (unless they start them) because that is not a free enough spiritual system for them. You might find them as licensed herbalists, but the chances are they'd be practicing botanical medicine even if they had never gone to school. They probably aren't too interested in politics, but if they are, they are likely extremely passionate about them. They are very likely extremely interested in outdoor activities, inquisitive about nature, and focused on self-reliance. I believe that when you are looking at a hedge wizard or witch you are looking at a very self-directed individual.
I have my own personal spiritual and magical system which you can read about, over the course of time, on this blog, but it is by no means representative of all hedge wizards or witches. If you are interested in learning more about hedge wizardry you are encouraged to check out all of the sources out there and see what sits right with you.
In the meantime, if you feel that you are interested in hedge wizardry I would suggest that you start by reading over this blog, if you are new to witchcraft study up on basic witchcraft (Witchcraft 101 – just a few books on Wicca will do you just fine, it need not be specific to any tradition), and then sit down and make a very simple list for yourself. You will want to make two lists: 1) Practical knowledge and skill topics, and 2) Spiritual knowledge and skill topics. Make these topic areas your study goals, and you will be well on your way to becoming a hedge wizard or witch. Below is an example of how you should compile your personal list. Try to remain practical and a sort of a jack-of-all-trades, but stay within your realm of interest as much as possible. Remember, your primary goal should be to learn useful information for your life as a hedge wizard or witch, as well as knowledge which would help free you from dependence on others, keep you out of trouble or reduce the chances of finding yourself in it, and maybe save you some money:
Practical Study Goals
(areas of useful study)
Key Question: “Can I use this in my day-to-day life?”
Wilderness Skills & Wild Crafting
Sexology (Human Sexuality & Sexual Psychology)
Civil & Criminal Law
Practical Meteorology & Weather Folklore
First Aid & First Respondent Medicine
Gardening & Plant Cultivation
Local Flora and Fauna
Local Rocks and Minerals
Practical Economics & Finance
Semiotics & Linguistics
Routine Auto & Bicycle Maintenance/Mechanics
Spiritual Pursuits and Goals
(areas of spiritual & philosophical study)
Witchcraft and History of
Psychic Phenomenon & Development
As you can see, you do not want to make an enormous list, as several topics can take a lifetime to learn in themselves. You generally want to know enough practical knowledge about everything to do a little better than just enough to get by, and then focus more intently on other areas such as botanical medicine or whatever your area of specialty is.
Other areas of study that may interest hedge wizards and witches include anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy (general), environmental sciences, biology, midwifery, and generally anything which makes you a little brighter, a little quicker, and a little more self-reliant. But remember, it's not just gnosis which makes the hedge wizard or witch capable, but also skill, experience, and a genuine care and interest in your fellow human beings as well as nature itself.
Peace and blessings. Alraune.