[Editor’s note: much of this article regarding “The Four Jacks” is written by Bwca, which was inspired in part, by Lady Gwen’s article in Green Egg Vol VIII, #74, Samhain 1975, “Halloween and Old Jack” It reflects a much earlier period in our coven practice as well. Grateful appreciation is expressed for his permission to include his article here.]
Little has been written about the basic theological beliefs of Wiccecraeft, other than “we worship the goddess and sometimes others as well” (which is a slight, but not drastic, understatement of the Covenant of the Goddess’s general statement of belief).
As Traditionalists we worship the Goddess in Her myriad forms, however, we also worship the God in His myriad forms as well. We do not have an omniscient, omnipotent, all-around good guy party animal for our chief deity, however (let there be neither Jehovah, nor Jehovah-in-drag).
Striving for a balance in all things, we tend to think of the Goddess and God as being co-equal, and both having their own spheres of influence. If hard pressed to say which one is more important, though, we will usually agree with many other neo-Pagans that the Goddess is slightly more important than the God, if for no other reason than the Goddess can create life and bring it forth from herself, whereas the God cannot.
In general, we see the Goddess as part of a triplicity, frequently, but not always, as Maiden, Mother and Crone (or Hag). Many of the classical Celtic Goddesses were also triplicities, such as Brigidh, who was (and is) Matron of the Arts of Smithcraft, Brewing and Poetry, yet not having three distinct ages of life. The Celts were very fond of the number three, it was one of their perfect numbers, seven and nine being two others. We will go more into the Celtic systems of numerology later.
The Triple Goddess may have Her origins in the Fates of Greece or the Norns of the Scandinavians. It is a very old motif. Hecate of Thessaly is often referred as tri-partite, or having three faces. Selene, Persephone and Hecate were a Triple Goddess motif of the Greeks. Robert Graves, in his classic work on inspirational poetry and myth The White Goddess goes into much detail (and supposition) regarding the Triple Goddess.
Much less has been said about the God. Part of this is due to the fact that the Celts were not a particularly literate society, that is to say, they did not keep written records the way that the Sumerians, Egyptians, Romans and others did. Their religions were private, between themselves and their Gods, which is much as it should be.
Most of the mythology of the Celts that has survived has come down in the form of Hero tales, Otherworld journeys and folklore, without the theological tales surviving. By the time that this lore was being written down, the primary cultures were in process of conversion to Christianity, and as they could not have tales of the Celtic Gods competing with the tales of the Christian Gods and their exploits, those of the Celts were “reduced” in stature to major heroes, fairies or other beings.
What has survived in the way of theology, however, indicates that the common people worshiped two primary forms of male God: either light/dark (summer and winter) or animal/vegetation.
This is shown in the surviving tales of the Hero (the God) who must defeat the father (or other guardian/captor) of his beloved (the Goddess), and in the tales of the Hero (God) who will kill the father (God) of the Mother (Goddess) and supplant him, much in the same manner as Zeus and Chronos did with their forefathers.
The Wiccan myth of the God (One male deity? Are we duotheistic and not Polytheistic in this religion?) that seems to approach official status in some quarters, portrays a deity who either dies at the hand of his son or brother in a fight over his wife/mother/lover at one of the harvest festivals, generally Lammas. While this has the advantage of making it easy to pigeonhole sacred space and time (if it is Lammas, the god dies; at Beltane the hierogamos, etc.) — what a wonderful and inspiring role-model we provide for our children!
The tales of Jack-in-the-Green, John Barleycorn, Herne the Hunter and even Robin-in-the-Hood support the concept of the duality of the god, but this is not necessarily a duality of good versus evil, nor even Light versus Dark. Life and Death are simply two sides of the same coin, even as male and female are two sides of the coin of life, and life, by nature, is neither intrinsically good nor evil.
The majority of the Light/Dark god cycles are taken up by the never-ending battle of the gods, wherein one must kill or otherwise vanquish his opponent (usually his brother, son, or father) in order to gain his own ascendancy. This is not a positive role-model for growing Wiccan children (nor grown ones for that matter), as it perpetuates the violence that has come to typify patristic Judeo-Christian cultures. (See the myth of Cain and Abel, in the Book of Genesis in either the Christian or Hebrew scriptures.) However, while said culture did not originate the mythic sequence, it has allowed it to gain a superiority over other, less aggressive values.
An alternate way of viewing the “battle” cycle might to regard it not as a battle for ascendancy, but rather as the test of ability to successfully hold the position, and that the defeated “old lord” is not killed, but steps aside to take the place of mentor to the new lord, vis-a-vis Merlin (and other Guardians of the Land) as put forth in recent works by R.J. Stewart and others.
However, there are other ways to relate to male deities other than as slayer/slain of/by kinsmen. Within the Pagan cultures of the British Isles and Europe, there were many classes of deities. There were cosmogenic spirits—Creator Gods and Goddesses who organized primal chaos into sacred space, and divinely ordered time, and the patterns of life for the tribe. There were also the tribal deities. These were usually the children or grandchildren of the first generation of deities.
These would include the ancestors who discovered and named the land, shaped the individual features of local geography, and the cultural heroes who brought fire, civilization, and occasionally fought wars with other deities.
Then, there were the local spirits, the genius loci of the land, waters, and air. Most of the revivalist Earth Religionist movement has ignored this third group of spirits, preferring to focus on the cosmogenic deities or cultural heroes. Historically, these spirits, often portrayed as “minor” or thought of as unimportant because their story or song cycles were few, or, their scope was limited. However, these deities were the ones responsible for the seasonal rains, the safety of the crops, and continuing supplies of good waters and the fertility of the land. It is one deity of this last group that I wish to discuss. The male and female local spirits go by many titles and names, often surprising modern Earth Religionists with their variety and diversity. One of the many transforming and transformed Gods of the British Isles is known, collectively, as the four Jacks of England. Jack is an old God name, found throughout Europe with many variant spellings. Jack can offer us the power to adapt to changing conditions, teach us patience, and build a harmony with the local environment.
The first manifestation of Jack under discussion is Jack Frost, the guardian of the winter. Jack Frost is believed to have come from Germanic folklore, and was very popular with the Anglo-Saxon and Norse during winter. The crystal patterns of frost found early in the morning on the windows were said to be from Jack Frost. He is described as being the persona of cold winter and is elfish. He is also a variant of Father Winter. In a Finnish epic he comes from his father, Blast.
Last harvests have been stored in the granaries, and the fields that were once ripe with cereal are burnt white and sterile. The sharp northern wind cuts like a dagger of ice, and snow covers the land. It is the time of the hunter. Alone in his cloak of white, Jack walks the land of his people, gathering game and protecting the tribe from raids. He is courage in aloneness, and the certainty of purpose even in the worst of conditions. To meet and invoke this Jack is to discover the cleansing elemental strength of sleet, cold stone and grey skies that can only be found in the teeth of a wolf winter.
But, the Sun Goddess returns to bless the world, and the skies clear enough to see the Irish and Scottish Mo Ruih, the Moon God. Frozen waters flow once more, and the winds and rains become gentle with the warmth that heralds the coming of new life. Jack, who has until now partaken of only snow and ice, absorbs the sunlight of the Mother and remembers the strength of the soil. Remembering, Jack melts into the earth where He lifts his limbs in adoration to the skies, and grows green and vibrant in the glory of new life and vigor. He is changed and renewed. Jack in the Green is the vitality of new life, and dances in a thousand Morris festivals and pageants as honored messenger of this new life and sustenance. He guards many old churches and forests with his image. He is the three elements of earth, water and air, reaching for the hand of the Goddess. Invoking him is to blend with the Green. The world is a sunburst of colours—greens of a thousand shades, grasses, flowers, and the world rejoices with the sounds of bird and animal.
Jack is the eternal coming of the plant and animal spirits into the world. Invoking and experiencing this Jack is to have what the Zen Buddhists call “beginner’s mind”, seeing the world in the process of first creation.
The green turns to gold in the greater light of the Mother, and life seems to slow for a time in the glowing summer and gentle fall. The trees are heavy with fruit, and it is time to harvest the crops. Life for the people seems the easiest, but is the most dangerous time. The harvest is critical, and the fields must be guarded to ensure enough food for the winter tide. Jack himself has gone gold, and now dances disguised as a fool in every farmers field, protecting the crops of his people from the ravages of insects, birds, and others. “Old Jack” knows of all that has grown and been harvested before. The wisdom of every harvest since the first is his to guard and reveal. To invoke him is to invoke the memory of the ways of the ancestors.
Final harvest is in, and the cattle and sheep have been brought into the barns for winter. The fields are burned to black and white fertilizing ash, and Jack is transformed into the sacred fire of the Gods for this task. It is the time between times, and the ways between the worlds is now opened. Burning inside the carved mask of a turnip, he watches from the houses, walkways and roads. “Jack ‘O the Lantern’s” terrible, flickering shadow turns away the Unseelie Court, the malevolent spirits who would hurt the family and carry off the ancestral spirits . His other task is to welcome in these ancestors who will recognize his totemic shapes as those of their kin for this time of communion. His is also the knowledge of death, of those who will not survive the coming winter’s fury. He guides and protects them on their journey to the Sacred Isles, and he that will welcome them back. Invoke him softly, for he has the wisdom of the ending of life, and the paths betwixt and between.
Jack is neither slayer nor slain, but he is transformer and transformed.