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.