Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Devil in the Craft: Who is the Man in Black?

Many traditional and folkloric witches believe in the concept of spirit initiation - that is, an utter decimation of the self for the sake of transformation and initiation through the power of a non-corporeal entity.  Many witches and spiritualists willingly go through this type of metamorphosis, putting everything at risk.  This is the price paid for rebirth, truth, and power.  Conducting this initiation are a variety of entities ranging from deities and ancestors to faeries and, as we'll be discussing today, the Witch Father.  He goes by many names: The Man in Black, the Devil, the Old One, Old Nick and more.  The Devil is seen as the very rend of the veil between the spirit world and the living and the source of witchcraft power.  But just who is this father of witches?  Where does he come from?  And what can a witch gain (and lose) by working with him?

The Devil in the European Witch Trials

The Witch Father is said to predate modern times, relating back to ancient horned gods of fertility and death.  The reality is that this entity was likely sensationalized during the European witch trials of the 15th - 18th Centuries as a damnation of pagan religions and traditional beliefs in conversion attempts. The Christian church diabolized folkloric practices, turning horned gods such as Pan or Cernunnos into the devil himself.  Those who followed pagan religions might celebrate their gods in ways that the church might deem as "satanic," including the consumption of alcohol and mind-altering drugs or animal sacrifice and offerings.  These were soon transformed into the witch's sabbath, in which the practitioner utilized topical hallucinogens to join other witches and participate in orgies, cult sacrifice, sacred dancing, nudity and more.  Because of mass hysteria, those accused of witchcraft were often tortured until confessions matched what the people thought witchcraft should be.

In particular, however, is the confession of Isobel Gowdie.  Her testimony, achieved without the use of torture, comes at the end of the witch hunt era and is the richest in detail.  Perhaps it's her voluntary confession, her total obscurity before her marriage and lack of records after the trials, or the impressive, eloquent detail of her testimonies that created such an immense interest in her to this day.  Her six-week detainment and four confessions in written record are some of the most impressive and studied pieces of the witch trials.  Within her very first confession, she brings up her arrangement with the Devil, later detailing the pact made and sexual relations thereof.  Was Isobel Gowdie intentionally tormenting a local minister with an extreme fear of witchcraft named Harry Forbes?  Was she suffering from psychosis, potentially brought on by ergotism?  Or was she truly a witchcraft practitioner during the time of the trials?  We may never know.  What we do know is that her confessions, real or otherwise, are the root of Scottish Traditional Witchcraft and have continued on today as the basis for the Devil in the Craft known as the Witch Father.

Old Nick in Other Lore

The Devil also appears at the head of the Wild Hunt, a folkloric motif involving a ghostly ride of horses and spirits throughout 19th and 20th Century European stories.  The Wild Hunt can sometimes, depending on the region and timing of the tale, allude to the witch's sabbath - a wild dance of witches, the Man in Black at the helm.  Jacob Grimm was one of the first to document this tale in his 1835 book Deutsche Mythologie, a study of Germanic folklore.  He believed that the tales of the Wild Hunt were, much like the horned pagan gods of old, demonized to become ghostly devils led by Satan himself and were originally processions of gods and spirits of immense power.

The Man in Black is also often equated to the King of the Faery people, Oberon, and paired in folklore with the Queen of Elphame.  We cannot ignore that the origins of the Witch Father come from the British Isles and that Isobel Gowdie, a Scotland native herself, referenced the Queen of Elphame in her testimonies.  Like other folklore and pagan beliefs, the fae were also damned by the Church, with little distinction made between faeries and demons.

Over time, the Man in Black has been associated with Herne, Harlequin or Hellequin, Cain, Azazel, Bucca and more.  The reality is that these entities are not one-in-the-same but rather each their own individual experiences.  German folklore has its own beliefs, Scottish its own, Italian still its own and so forth.  Still yet, each region of these individual countries also has its own tales and entities.  The distinct identity of the Man in Black, if any, is personalized by your own flavor of traditional witchcraft and your location's regional folklore.

The Old One versus the Christian Satan: Is the Witch Father Lucifer?

Before we dive into whether the Witch Father could be linked to Lucifer, let's examine the common fear behind the demonization of witchcraft practices.  Most neopagans disavow the Christian devil as inspiration for the modern Horned God and thus can sometimes shun Trad Craft witches working with the Witch Father.  Why such an extreme reaction?  We can trace this back to the Christian church and their damnation of the pagan religion but most neopagan practitioners following European traditions in the Americas are unlikely to have a personal connection with its oppressive history.  Many neopagan practitioners come to such beliefs when their experience with Christianity, or other such Abrahamic religion, is unsatisfactory.  Additionally, such a reclamation could be empowering to the follower.

Unfortunately, it's more likely that, in our need for acceptance by the general public, we fear the judgment that follows.  Neopagans may sometimes distance themselves from the Christian devil in an attempt to find more tolerance.  The problem with this is that it makes acceptance difficult for practitioners following such a path.  Not only do you distance yourself to sate the fears of others but you also distance yourself from fellow practitioners looking for that same acceptance despite the fear.

We also have to look towards New Ageism as a potential cause for this separation, a movement which grew congruent with modern witchcraft as a milieu in the 1960s.  New Age movements often employ a "love and light" viewpoint that distances followers from paths deemed too "negative" or "hurtful," despite whether that's actually the case.  This can be seen in the disavowing of theistic Satanism within the greater metaphysical community and, once again, only hurts the practitioners looking for their place within it.

Once we strip away these preconceived judgments, often based in our Christian upbringing, need for acceptance within the general public and within other similarly-minded communities, we can truly analyze the role of Lucifer in the Witch Father's history.

Similar traits exist in both the Old One and the Christian Satan, from physical traits including cloven hooves and ram horns to an emphasis on knowledge, pleasure, personal power, freedom and more.  More so, Lucifer has been linked to the faeries, in which we've already linked the Witch Father as well.  The Morning Star, the Lightbringer, an entity of beauty who lurks among the realm of man; many arguments have been made that Lucifer himself is indeed a fae - that all fallen angels are faeries.  Lucifer has also been one of many faces at the helm of the Wild Hunt.  Some evidence places the Man in Black and Lucifer at the same location in lore.

That being said, for many followers, the Witch's Devil and Satan are separate entities with no ties whatsoever.  We must keep in mind that cultural deity correspondences do not exist - entities cannot simply be exchanged for one another like herbs on a chart.  The same lore that might place Lucifer and the Man in Black in the same places also points to other entities, including Oberon, Bucca, Harlequin and more, entities that cannot be simply swapped for one another.  That fact alone resolves the Lucifer/Witch Father debate for those that see the two as completely different entities.

As I've mentioned prior, the identity of the Man in Black is likely tied to your local tales.  So is the Witch Father in fact Lucifer?  That decision is in your region and your beliefs.

Some Concepts to Avoid 

The Christianization of the Man in Black
While the Man in Black may not be separated from the concept of the Christian devil, that is not the sum of his total.  It’s possible that the church, like the fae, demonized the Old One and gave him back to witches in the form of the Christian Satan.  The church also demonized faeries.  Does that make faeries a Christian entity?  Does that make them demons?  Does it even matter?  Some entities simply are.  The binary categories we as humans attempt to give them - good and evil, demons and angels - are likely more blurred than we mere mortals can understand.  If you plan to work with the Man in Black as Lucifer and call upon him as such, seeing him as an antithesis to "good" will not get you far.

Duotheism and Eurocentrism in Traditional Witchcraft
While some regions may encourage the Man in Black to be paired with another feminine entity such as Hecate, the Bone-White Queen or the Queen of Elphame, not all encourage this.  In fact, not all traditional and folkloric paths follow the Man in Black at all, let alone a matching set.  Traditional witchcraft comes in many forms from many cultures, ethnicities, and combinations of lore.  You are not required to follow a Eurocentric view of Trad Craft that includes the Witch Father and you are in no way required to pair him with a Witch Mother of sorts that mimics modern Wicca and other duotheistic pagan religions.  That is not the point, the essence, of traditional witchcraft.

Deification of the Witch Father
While the Man in Black does indeed enjoy adequate gifts and worship, he is not to be confused with deity.  Again, our meager understanding of spirit classification reaches a blurred gray area when it comes to the Witch Father.  He is sometimes called the Witch's God but is he a god?  Or is he a powerful psychopomp entity?  While it depends on the lore of the region, the Man in Black is often seen as an entity before entities, a link back to the wild, the freer of the bound.  Deification can be an affront to the Witch Father's many gifts.  This is not to say that he's more powerful than a god; he simply isn't one.

So Who is the Witch Father and How Does One Work with Him?

When looking at the lore coming from the Witch Trails and European folktales, commonalities in his appearance exist.  The Man in Black is aptly named as he's often dressed in old-fashioned dark or black clothing.  He may or may not have cloven hooves or black boots at his feet and is sometimes clean shaven, sometimes not.  He is, however, tall and thin, with dark eyes and dark hair.

A key trait of his appearance, and also his abilities, is his Cunning Fire.  He may have a pair of horns atop his head of which a lit flame dances between or, instead, he may don a wide-brimmed hat and have, at his side, a forked staff with a lantern attached for the flame.  This flame is the source of magic and he may, upon satisfactorily pacted or appreciated, gift a witch their Witch Fire from it.  There is a certain magic, a certain knowledge in the Craft that, to the traditional believer, is inaccessible without meeting the Witch Father and obtaining your Witch Fire.

The Witch Fire is not all he offers, however.  He is the first initiator and thus the guide to the old ways of the Craft.  He is neither here nor there, rather standing at the very rend of the veil and offering the wisdom that comes with that to the select and interested few.  This wisdom allows the practitioner a way to manipulate fate in accordance with one’s will and gain control over one's life. The Witch Father is true freedom for the traditional witch, true wisdom and true power.

What can you do in accordance with the Witch Father?


This is not a path to be tread on with little thought, though.  The Man in Black simply won't allow that.  In order to experience spirit initiation through the Witch's Devil, one must be willing to sacrifice everything.  Initiation is a symbolic death and rebirth.  However, this is not a death that happens overnight.  It is slow, torturous and painful.  In order to die, you have to feel a great pain, a great loss, to have your very soul ripped away from you.  In my workings, I had to lose my chosen family and coven in exchange for my path.  It's a lonely road but it's required of me to undertake this working.  Whatever it is that matters most to you, if you decide to take this path - prepare to lose it.  It is your offering to the Old One in exchange for admittance to the wisdom he offers.  Once reborn, the witch, now adorned with the Witch Fire, will inhabit both the world of the living and that of the dead.

To begin, a witch interested in working with this entity must renounce all binds and ties other entities may have to you.  Most commonly for many modern witches, this requires a renouncing of your baptism or any association with Christianity as that, in the eyes of the Witch Father, claims you for the Christian God.  It's important to note that other entities may not require this renouncement of you.  None of the other entities I have worked with thus far have required such but the Witch Father wouldn't even touch me until I had done just that.  You can renounce your baptism in a number of ways, from reciting the Lord's prayer backward three times to, as Isobel Gowdie did, crouching between your hands and stating that "everything in between these hands belongs to the Devil."  I chose to mix the two, reciting the Lord's prayer backward while walking backward, then crouching and stating that everything in between my two hands belongs to myself and no other entity - not now, not ever.  This was much enjoyed by the Man in Black and he quickly appeared with a chuckle.

If you plan to move on to offerings immediately, locate an abandoned crossroads or clearance within the woods.  The Witch Father is particularly fond of alcohol, money, antlers, horns or bones, black feathers, poisonous plants and more.  I find that a good black coffee, a glass of absinthe or the skin of a snake works well, but this may also be my personal offerings to him and not ones that will work with you.  There's a great deal of UPG, that is Unverified Personal Gnosis, when it comes to working with the Witch Father.

From there, the Man in Black himself will instruct you further.  You may need to create certain tools, hallowed grounds and rituals in his name before he will bestow you with your Witch Fire.  And, even after such, the fire will need tending.  This is not a one-time event but rather an ongoing relationship with the entity, a way of relinquishing yourself wholly to the dark path of the Old One.


In Isobel Gowdie's testimony, the Man in Black gave her a new name and the Devil's Mark by biting her on her shoulder.  He then gifted her immense power and familiars.  Likewise, 1928 Cambridgeshire witch Old Mother Redcap found her Witch Fire when a mysterious black man knocked on her door, had to sign a black book and then gave her five familiars from a wooden box.  What the Witch Father will give you, what gifts you may receive, what knowledge you acquire, is all individualized.  How he appears to you and the name he takes is yours alone to find.  What is known, however, is that the Man in Black, while just one entity of such, is a doorway to the crooked path, the rend of the veil and wisdom beyond wisdom.  You do not have to work with the Witch Father to be a witch, but you must work with the Witch Father to follow his path.  Come to the Man in Black and you shall not want for you shall have everything you need.

References and Further Reading
The Spirit Initiation - The Corvid Key
Liber Nox: A Traditional Witch’s Gramarye  - Michael Howard
The Devil’s Dozen: Thirteen Craft Rites of the Old One – Gemma Gary
The Visions of Isobel Gowdie - Gemma Gary
The History of the Devil - R. Lowe Thompson
The Man in Black – Sarah Anne Lawless
The Man in Black - Of Wood and Bone
The Man in Black - Chaosfaun
The Witch's Devil is a Fairy Lord - Visardistofelphame
"Lucifer did not fall from Heaven. He leaped." - a Quote by SamhainSorcery


  1. Very informative article Marietta, it really cleared some things up for me! Thanks for sharing. I’m looking forward to reading more about your journey with this. Blessings

  2. This was such an interesting read. Will we be getting posts describing your rituals and workings with the Man in Black in the future? I get that they will probably be much more personal now, but I can't help my curiosity :)

    1. Here and there, I'll be sharing what I can. It's a much more secretive and personalized journey, so I won't be able to be as open as I once was, but I'm certain there will be rituals and stories I'll be able to blog about as time goes by!

  3. I just want to say I loved this read but also that The devil and bucca, the man in black, the greenman etc are one in the same, the man in black is a human manifestation of the devil, hes not seperate, I recommend you read nigel pearsons " masks of missrule" about the many masks and faces of the old one.

    1. The problem with this concept is that we tend to ignore the cultural identity of each of these entities when we combine them with the Man in Black. Each one has a separate origin story, a separate manifestation, a separate state of being. When we combine them with the Man in Black, we erase these, and thus erase the individual legacy of that entity in their intended culture.

      While the Man in Black may appear as one of these entities, he is not exchangeable with them. As I said in the article, entities cannot simply be exchanged for one another like herbs on a chart.