Ancient Origins & Teachings
By Raven Grimassi
Published by Llewellyn, 2008
Review by Herb Woman for the Esoteric Book Review.
This book claims to contain “initiate-level” teachings of Wicca and also claims to provide in depth insights into its pre-Christian historical and theological roots from Old Europe through to Modern America. So how does it measure up?
I recently finished the excellent Wicca Magickal Beginnings by David Rankine and Sorita d’Este and I approached this book with the view that it might provide similar types of insights into the practices. I have been a practising solitary practioner for many years and have a fair advantage in that I have been able to study with some of the best teachers in the UK over the last twenty or so years.
My first concerns for the historical value of the material started with the line “The vast majority of Wiccan Traditions have their foundation in the religion of the Celts”. It made me squirm as in actual fact there is very little of anything that can be considered “Celtic” in traditional Wicca. This was the first paragraph, but the author does go on to tell us that there is little of what the Celts believed or did that can be proven historically and that this may have lead to a lack of credibility amongst academia for the practices of Wicca. This is certainly true. But how does the rest of the book measure up to the promises?
The bulk of the material in the book is drawn from the published material from the Gardnerian Book of Shadows, including plenty of material which is usually considered oathbound. Including the texts from the Great Rite and The Descend of the Goddess. This is nothing new, as it has been published by various authors before which is acknowledged in part by the author. I would have expected to have more of a historical insight to the actual texts, as I felt that the book somehow promised this. However, although the book lacks a proper historical look at the texts, it does provide some insights to the authors understanding of the texts and their context in his practices. This is very useful and something which is rarely done in books which reproduce these texts wholesale for the sake of it – it is here that this book comes into its own. Though his explanations are in places very different from that which I was taught in the Wiccan Traditions I have worked in, I found them insightful and useful as it is sometimes in the differences between traditions and ideas that we learn the most. Sometimes it feels as if the author is deliberately not revealing absolutely everything, or maybe that he is trying to simplify his explanations in order to appeal to a wider audience. An example of this can be found when he discusses the “erected the holy twin pillars” are obviously the black and white pillars of the Tree of Life, Boaz and Jachim.
Though this is a book about “Wiccan Mysteries” the author repeatedly quotes from non-Wiccan authors throughout the book. For me this shows that he is obviously well read and educated in more than just Wicca, and that he obviously takes his inspiration as much from the Western Esoteric Traditions in general as from that of Wicca. This is refeshing to see, as too often magickal traditions can become stale through the lack of acknowledgement for the interwoven nature of magick as a whole.
I am not sure of the historical basis for the idea of the Watchers (Grigori) in the Wiccan Tradition, but I am familiar with the fact that Grimassi incorporates it into his Italian Witchcraft practices which is explained in his earlier book ITALIAN WITCHCRAFT. Again this is not generally something which is found in all traditions of Wicca, though he does go on to explain that sometimes they are called “The Old Ones” a concept I am more familiar with in Wicca, though not as “Watchers” rather as ancestral spirits. So this is interesting ideed.
The book goes on to explore a number of other modern Pagan ideas, practices and beliefs. On the whole, this book provides valuable insights into the authors’ practices, as well as plenty ideas which could be adapted and incorporated into personal practice. All and all, an interesting book for those looking for something different. Recommended.