Witchcraft & Wicca


Book Review of the first book by VIKKI BRAMSHAW, entitled “Craft of the Wise” ~ ‘A practical guide to Paganism and Witchcraft’.

By Agrotera, Mistress of the Wild Animals and Beasts

I wasn’t really in the mood for reading yet another book on Pagan Witchcraft and ‘spirituality’ so when I was given this book for review it remained at the bottom of my pile of ‘to do’ for some time!  It is endorsed by all the big names in Wicca, including the Queen of the Witches Maxine Sanders and teachers Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone.  Of course Janet Farrar was one half of a very dynamic author partnership with her late husband Stewart Farrar too, so she would know what works and what doesn’t.  Janet and Gavin said “There are very few good primers on Wicca out there.  We are pleased to say this one of the best ones we read”.   So a good endorsement and a good start then!

The book itself contains 16 chapters, these include chapters introducing The Craft of the Wise, Ritual and Magic in history, the Revival and the Tools.  Then there are all the usual things one would expect in a book on Wicca, and this is where I wished the author wrote about what she was actually passionate about, which seems to be a more natural and intuitive approach, rather than rehasing the same old, same old Gardnerian and Alexandrian material from the Book of Shadows for use in a different format with different words.  Likewise all the material before we get to Chapter 5 “Giving the Gods a name” might as well have been skipped, its nothing too exciting, a basic overview of magical and wiccan history, important for a newcomer, but not something I would want in a practical book either.  My other critisism is the authors mixed use of terminology, the cover says its the Craft of the Wise, practical paganism and witchcraft and then when you get down to it most of what she writes about is Wicca.  Something which is highlighted by the endorsements given to this book by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone.  “Primers on Wicca”.  This is a primer on ecletic pagan Wicca, for those who want to go it on their own without a teacher or coven.

What is clear is that the author has a better grip on the concepts than what she herself is aware of at times, from which perspective I hope that she finds a good middle ground in her magical writing and steps her research and experimentation up.  I was very impressed by the grip she had on the concepts which are often times totally overlooked or ignored by other authors on the subject.

A better title for the book would have been “Crafting Wicca for Solitaries” or something like that.  Craft of the Wise yes, but I expected less of the Neo-Pagan.  A good introduction all the same and one I will, despite my reservations, recommend if I felt someone wanted something very general to introduce them to the key concepts of Wicca and Pagan Witchcraft.

Craft of the Wise, published by www.o-books.net and RRP of £14.99

Dragonswood Calendar 2009-2010
Gillie Whitewolf, 2009
http://www.Gaias-Garden.co.uk

~ A calendar of pagan days celebrating the wheel of the year from Samhain to Samhain.
~ Featuring folklore and customs from across the Northern Hemisphere along with monthly gardening tips, Nature watching and observations on the night sky.
~ Accompanied by artwork inspired by the changing seasons.

I am always on the lookout for a good Pagan calendar, but so far have found that either the content for each month is too prim and airy-fairy, or the festivals marked on the calendar only focus on Wicca, or that the artwork is unattractive. However, the Dragonswood 2009-2010 Calendar has none of these flaws, and is, in my opinion, the best Pagan calendar I’ve seen.

From the very front cover it is an aesthetic joy, with beautiful and detailed artwork that is also simple and symbolic. Running from November 2009 to October 2010, each month is illustrated by images from the same artist. These images are all set in the same place, with a tree on the right-hand side and a field in the background, but each changes throughout the months. So, in November a hole in the tree shelters a skull, candle, and empty spider’s web, a lantern shines in the darkness of the field, and ravens fly in the dark night. In May that hole is decorated by ribbons, surrounding a set of runes; the tree is decorated with clouties, bees and dragonflies abound, and a Bel fire burns under a blazing sun. And in August the tree’s hole carries a corn dolly and a sickle, the field is yellow and the corn is baled, and red ribbons and corn dollies hang from the tree branches in a pink-purple sunset. Not only do these images make reference to the main Wiccan Sabbats, they also highlight the changes in nature at various times of the year, as well as folkloric customs practised during these months.

Each month is also accompanied by a detailed piece discussing the history of the month, festivals and feast days occurring in it both today and in ancient times, the flowers, fruits, and animals that are around at this time, and what can be seen in the nightsky for star-gazers. In fact, there seems to be something for everybody, and I know that I’ll be inspired to go out and look for the Perseids shower described in August and the Orionoids meteor shower in October! A lovely feature of each month is the very bottom of the page – “The Vegetable Patch”. Only a few lines, but very useful information nonetheless, regarding what vegetables and fruits are in season, what can be planted, and what should be harvested at each month.

The month itself is presented as a grid, beginning with Sunday, and a small box for each day. The main Sabbats are highlighted in pale yellow, and festivals from several different religions and traditions are written on the relevant days. I loved this multicultural feature, because it made me very aware of the holiness of each and every day, and gave me food for thought as I went through my daily activities. It would also be useful for parents who (like me, if I had children!) would like to raise their children with an awareness of other cultures’ traditions, and perhaps plan some activities relating to those holy days.

The first page of the calendar is devoted to given a short history of the calendar throughout the ages – very interesting reading! And the last page is given to poetry on the theme of Samhain. The back page informs us that the calendar has been printed on paper which has received certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, and the other eco-friendly steps that have been taken to ensure this calendar is 100% ethically sound! Fantastic!

I really am enamoured with the love and thought that has been put into the making of this calendar, and I know that when next October is over, I’ll be cutting out the beautiful images and using them on my altar as the following year goes by, and purchasing next year’s Dragonswood Calendar.

Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick Volume 2: Grimoire
by Frater Barrabbas
reviewed by Nina Lazarus for the Esoteric Book Review

The back cover of this book informs us that Frater Barabbas has almost four decades of practical experience of the occult arts.  I therefore assume that he is in his fifties, as anyone claiming to practice magick seriously before the age of twelve or thirteen in my experience is usually a deluded fantasist.  Let us continue with the outer cover. The subtitle of the book is somewhat misleading, as the use of the term grimoire here is indicative of the current trend to use the word to somehow validate books as being more genuine or of greater provenance, when they are in fact completely unrelated to the Medieval and Renaissance grimoires, which form a distinct tradition of their own.

So to the material contained within.  The book should perhaps have been called “Reinventing Wicca by making it more ceremonial with bits of Qabalah, psychology and the Grail thrown in for good measure.”  It is not terribly exciting, original or innovative, and in some places the material has clearly not been thought through, or is simply completely off the mark.

Considering the nine ritual components of the book, what is good or bad?  Well the first section on the consecration of the magick temple has a slightly revised version of Wiccan circle casting – salt and water, engraving of circle and summoning the four wards.  The latter includes the words “to manifest and appear” for the summoned watchtower guardians, which seems incredibly optimistic.  Then four emissaries of the deity are invoked, which seems somewhat superfluous, not to mention a little crowded!  Why do people always assume that spiritual beings want to come and watch their rituals anyway when they offer no incentive for them to do so, but I digress.  The proliferation of So Mote It Be’s in the opening and closing make the Wiccan origins of this material clear.

Then we come to the consecration of the magick grove.  This was of similar ilk, however summoning the spirits of the elements into the cakes, oil, milk and honey and wine, and then burying them in the earth and putting a stone over them is not in my opinion a very smart move.  Other elemental spirits will know you are the one who trapped their compatriots and have no desire to help you with anything – why should they?

The Pyramid of Power contains the first occurrence of the “Mantle of Glory”, which is a straightforward derivation of the Qabalistic Cross, minus the visualisations which actually empower it.  And the author also tells you to assume the Osiris position, not making it clear whether he means the Wiccan crossed arms or the actual position of Osiris on statues, which is holding the arms vertically upward and parallel to each other in front of the chest with hands in front of breasts.

The use of the forty qualified powers is not a bad idea, though calling it the Concourse of Forces (another Golden Dawn borrowing) is not very original.  Basically this is the use of the Tree of Life through the Four Worlds to sub-divide types of rite and assign them to the 40 minor Arcana of the Tarot, being Ace to 10 of the four Suits.  Unfortunately the author’s knowledge of Qabalah seems somewhat rudimentary, and when I reached his attributions of the angels this was made very clear.  He has mixed the traditional grimoire orders of angels with the Qabalistic ones, resulting in some bizarre attributions and the introduction of new orders of angels not seen in either – the Benefactors and Intelligences!  The latter term is sometimes used interchangeably with Angels, as seen in the Planetary Intelligences, but that would not fit here.  Neither would the Aralim (should be Binah) with the Ten of Swords, Dominions should be Jupiter and Four, not the Three of Swords, and the list goes on.

The Rose Vortex Ritual brings in the Maiden Mother Crone with the Amazon/lover to make up four, for a bit of pagan chanting and fantasy role play (or internal psychological magick if you want to be generous), which will apparently enable you to “create a wave-form causality effect that is stealthy, ultimately potent and irreversible.”  You too can change the world with a bit of bad chanting (allegedly).  The Grail Spirit ritual continues more of the same flavour, and by this point you may wish to give up.  However, amongst all the patchwork of mismatched bits, suddenly there is a gem, when the author gives a very good discussion of assumption of godhead.  If the rest of the book were up to this standard it would indeed be a treat.  Sadly however it lapses back to the flavour already indicated.

I was slightly puzzled by the bibliography, where “The Qabalah of Aleister Crowley”, “Liber 777” and “777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley” were listed as three separate books, when they are basically all the same thing (ok Liber 777 doesn’t contain Sepher Sephiroth but that is a minor quibble).  However perhaps this is thrown in to see if you are still paying attention.

If the author wrote a book around assumption of godhead to the standard of that section I would buy it, however unfortunately the rest of the book is sadly lacking and likely to confuse rather than illuminate.

stellarmagicsm

Avalonia is proud to announce that STELLAR MAGIC by Payam Nabarz is now
available for pre-order from www.avaloniabooks.co.uk. This long-waited and very
practical Liber Astrum is being released on the Full Moon – 7 / 7 /2009.

More info & Order Information

————————–

STELLAR MAGIC

By Payam Nabarz

Avalonia 2009, RRP £12.99

PB, 208 pages, ISBN 978-1905297252

The stars have influenced mankind with their magic from time
immemorial, as evidenced by Archeoastronomy; instructing astrologers
and priests, guiding sailors and inspiring poets. For millennia,
cultures all around the world have told their myths and legends
through the canvas of the night sky. Yet despite the immense
significance of the constellations and stars in the ancient world,
stellar magic has been largely ignored in recent centuries.

In this inspirational and practical Liber Astrum, the author draws
together material from ancient, classical and medieval sources;
spanning East and West, fusing modern poetry with ancient magic,
mysticism with myth and ritual with recital to lift our gazes back to
the heavens.

The author’s breadth of scholarship is seen in the spectrum of
material he weaves together, from sources as diverse as the Hymns of
Orpheus and Plato’s Timaeus to the Zoroastrian Yasht hymns and Persian
Pahlavi Texts, the Sufi works of the Ibn Arabi and Rumi; from the
Chaldean Oracles and the Greek Magical Papyri to the Books of Ezekiel
and Enoch, from the Picatrix and the Sefer Yetzirah to the works of
John Dee, Rudolf Steiner, Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley. The
poetic inspiration of the stars is also expressed through material and
ideas by such luminaries as John Milton, Gerald Manly Hopkins, Sylvia
Plath, Robert Graves and W.B. Yeats.

Through the enchanting words and ceremonies provided to lead the way,
timeless journeys to the stars are woven around the participants.
Included amongst the rites are ceremonies with the constellations of
Perseus & Andromeda, Cygnus, Orion, the Pleiades, the Great Bear,
Draco, the twelve signs of the Zodiac, the star Sirius, the Moon, the
seven classical Planets, and the Stellar World Cave: the Mithraeum.

This is a highly accessible, succinct and practical book on a complex
subject, which will benefit anyone interested in the magic of the
stars, from the casual observer of the night skies to the dedicated
magician or mystic.

————————–

http://www.avaloniabooks.co.uk/catalogue/titles/stellar_magic2.htm

Dedicant: A Witch’s Circle of Fire
Thuri Calafia
published by Llewellyn
PB, 342pp, US$19.95
reviewed by John Canard

This book joins the ever-growing collection of books for newcomers, the first in a series to work through the four stages of initiation up to third degree (the fourth book). I started working through the book with an open mind, not wishing to be prejudiced as there are some very good introductory books on the market, and I wanted to determine if this was one of them. It quickly became clear that this is a book of what I would call neo-Wicca, i.e. the religious version of Wicca that has moved away from its ceremonial magickal roots and embraced the accreted material of Robert Graves and others. This was demonstrated by the reference in the first chapter to the Greek goddess Hecate as being the archetype of the crone. Moving straight into the beginning of the second chapter, we find that wicca comes from the root “to bend or shape”, another inaccuracy found in books by people who haven’t done their research. And Gerald Gardner did not bring the word Wicca to light as the author claimed, it was widely used for many centuries prior to Gardner. I had hoped that anyone setting themselves up as a teacher would have got past this sort of rehashed mistake by now, but it seems there is still a lot of education needed in the pagan world.
The author also makes one of the most outrageous and offensive heterophobic remarks I have seen in a book for a while, though it may appeal to some politically correct types. The author claims that many or indeed most homosexuals and bisexuals are naturally more balanced in terms of male/female energy because being with people of the same gender can bring out a strong sense of the opposite within. She notes here that she is a lesbian/bisexual – which is nonsense, if you are bisexual and have a relationship with a person of the same sex, it doesn’t suddenly make you homosexual, it just means you are bisexual!
Moving on to the section ongetting started we are told “In the Burning Times, it was customary to keep the grimoire in your own hand of write”. Please! The Burning Times is a bit of nonsense propaganda which has been disproved numerous times by proper research, and the people usually espoused as being the poor persecuted witches were usually illiterate! This is followed by the chakras, an Eastern accretion that has now seemingly become standard Wicca. Likewise the appendix which reproduces the Rede of the Wicca with the statement that there are many forms of the Wiccan Rede is perpetuating more nonsense – there is one Wiccan Rede, and only one – An it harm none, do as ye will.
As a general introductory book, this book does cover all the basics, and would be suitable for somebody new to paganism who wants to follow the religious polyglot that Wicca seems to have become for many. It is a shame that there are some glaring errors based on the reproduction of old mistakes amongst the text, requiring a discrimination that newcomers will not commonly have. Hopefully such errors will not occur in the subsequent books in the series.

365 Goddess: a daily guide to the magic and inspiration of the Goddess
by Patricia Telesco
HarperSanFrancisco, 1998
ISBN 0-060-251568-3

I picked this book up in Glastonbury because it looked like an easily accessible and handy method of being introduced to new female deities from around the world. I wasn’t expecting anything life-changing or academically sound, but even without those expectations I was appalled and slightly disgusted that 365 Goddess had managed to find its way into publication. But before I begin my shredding of this work, let me introduce it.

365 Goddess, by Patricia Telesco, who has authored 24 other books on herbalism, magic, and Wicca, is a daily guide that introduces a Goddess from world mythology alongside daily practices, affirmations, and short rituals that are designed to bring that Goddess’s blessings into the readers life. Each day is given one page, and is also assigned to a festival from around the world, such as Imbolc, Independence Day, Peppercorn Ceremony, and Daedala.

Some of the daily activities are rather nice, and I could see myself introducing them in a group setting as icebreakers, simple ways of working with the group, or with a little change they could be used as larger ritual activities. However, these activities are largely nothing to do with the actual practices and worship given to the Goddess concerned. For instance, January 20th (festival: “Aquarius begins”) is given to Oya, the Nigerian spirit of death, cemeteries, hurricanes, tornados, and the Niger River. Interestingly enough, Telesco has chosen to completely ignore Oya’s main (and most important and culturally significant) associations and instead has depicted her as a “mother goddess and spirit of the river Niger”. The daily activity for her is to “enjoy a glass of water when you get up.” No. Oya tears down houses, ushers the dead spirit to the afterlife, raises storms and hurricanes, and destroys what needs to be destroyed. Her lessons are harsh and difficult – a glass of water will not please her. Similarly, Telesco seems to have assumed that, because Christian saints often have holy wells to their names, the female saints in her book were all once Goddesses who ruled over fresh or spring water.

Throughout this book, Telesco has made the mistake of turning some quite dark and terrifying Goddesses into beautiful, loving mother Goddesses. In fact, it’s hard to turn the page without finding the words “loving” and “mother”, “bosom”, “fertile”, and “birth”. Reading 365 Goddess you’d think that the Goddesses’ only qualities were in their reproductive organs – a conclusion that would undoubtedly turn off a wide variety of people who would otherwise benefit from finding out about the various Goddesses in the book. Indeed, it seems that as long as you’re a woman with the ability to bear children, this book is for you.

Worse still, however, are the glaring factual errors and inaccuracies that occur frequently throughout the book, errors that could not have got there if the writer had bothered to research beyond perhaps one page or one article on the Goddess in question. Erzulie, for instance, (April 24th, “Peppercorn Ceremony”, Bermuda) is said to “extend her springlike energy whenever we need it, especially when our pockets and hearts are empty.” No. Anybody who actually serves Erzulie (Freda, Dantor, Ze Wouj…? Telesco is obviously not aware that there are many spirits named Erzulie, and they are definitely not the same!) knows that she does not just give without getting something in return. Her sacred colour is not blue either, as this book declares.

Even better is her entry for May 19th, which is associated with the Welsh festival of “Hay on Wye”. *Headdesk* And the Goddess Damara: “Throughout England, Damara is celebrated as intimately connected with May…” According to Telesco, “English children believe that Bringing in the May also conveys Damara’s blessings.” Yes, because all of us English-born and bred people went gathering flowers in May, making garlands from them, skipping merrily hand in hand to the castles which we all own. Well, I’ve never even heard of Damara, and I’ve certainly never brought in the May as a child.

As I read further into the book (yes, I actually finished it: but then, it was so hilarious in places that I was actually looking forward to turning the pages to find out what other stupid mistakes had been made) I got the distinct feeling that Telesco had simply flicked through a few book indexes to get names of Goddesses and read a Wikipedia entry or a couple of pages (max, maybe as little as a few sentences) about the Goddess concerned. This would certainly explain her acknowledgements page, which thanks the service department of Amazon Books and the marketing department of ABC-Clio for obtaining reference material for the book. Surely, if you have spent a long time and effort writing a book about the Divine Feminine you’d be thanking a loved one, family member, or a particular Goddess? This just suggests that 365 Goddess was a simple marketing ploy either by the author or the publisher, which makes the entire work seem bitter and very unspiritual. Further, this research method obviously didn’t work, as during her extensive research Telesco failed to realize that the two separate Goddesses named Nepthys and Nephthys (note the tiny name spelling change, caused simply by the fact that ancient Egyptian does not transliterate entirely into English so has words sometimes spelled differently in their transalation) are in fact one Goddess. If this weren’t a book review, I’d swear a lot now.

The introduction of the book is brief and leaves a lot to be desired, purporting the inaccurate and frankly un-useful idea of “The Goddess” being worshipped as a single entity all over the world, in a form of Maiden-Mother-Crone. I could spend page after page criticizing this out-dated, academically disproven, and harmful view, but this is not the place.

Overall, I could have possibly tried a few of the exercises in the book, but the obvious lack of care taken in its creation doesn’t make me comfortable in doing so. Further, the shocking number and nature of inaccuracies found throughout 365 Goddess makes this book completely untrustworthy even as a source to find new Goddesses to do further research on. Beyond their names it is clear that Telesco’s information is largely wrong, and at times even their names are questionable.

Sadly, this book represents the absolute worst in New Age and Pagan publishing, and it angers me that people can make money from such work whilst excellent authors with factually correct information and original ideas remain unpublished.

Wiccan Mysteries: Ancient Origins & Teachings

Raven Grimassi

published by Llewellyn

PB, 294pp, $16.95

reviewed by John Canard

When I started to read this book I resolved to keep an open mind, even though the author quoted some expert sources like Robert Graves and Marija Gimbutas, the former being a notorious revisionist, and the latter also known for her agendas and tendency to rewrite the evidence to suit her theories.  He then begins by explaining that Wicca was essentially a mystery tradition derived from the Celtic religions, though often this passed down as oral (and thus conveniently unprovable) teachings.

Sadly in his eagerness to prove his point Grimassi makes statements which are quite frankly wrong and can be easily disproved with a minimum of research.  E.g.  he informs us that the ancients called the elementals by the names now commonly used, i.e. gnomes of earth, sylphs of air, salamanders of fire and undines of water.  In fact most modern concepts of elementals, including the ones he expresses, are derived from the classic work by Paracelsus, The Book of Nymphs, Sylphs, Pygmies and Salamanders and Kindred Beings, published in 1616.  The words Undine and Sylph were certainly not used in the ‘ancient world’, where there was no concept of the elementals beyond the elemental daimons suggested by Proclus.

The book does have some interesting ideas, and Grimassi clearly wants to expound on the theology and philosophy of Wicca as a mystery tradition, which is to be applauded.  However his tendency to rely on unreliable sources, and then start bringing in ideas like chakras and ley lines as being relevant due to their presence in mystery traditions, means this becomes a case of sorting out the wheat from the chaff, of which sadly there is quite a bit.

The chapter on the Magickal Arts has some interesting snippets, discussing ideas like odic force and informing, though his attribution of reduction sigils to the twentieth century magickal artist Austin Spare is a few centuries out, as they can be found in Agrippa’s sixteenth century Three Books of Occult Philosophy.  It is a shame that this tenth edition, published in 2008, did not take advantage of work that has been published since the book was first released in 1997, such as Triumph of the Moon by Hutton, Wicca Magickal Beginnings by d’Este and Rankine and Hidden Children of the Goddes by Clifton.  The research contained in such volumes does invalidate much of the material in this book, which is a shame because I wanted to like it, and could see that there are some good ideas in amongst the misinformation presented within.  The reason to read this book would be to test your ideas and knowledge, and provide a sounding board as to where you are at, with a few ideas that might be helpful thrown in, but for the beginner the level of faulty information means it should be avoided.

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