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

Nina Lazarus interviews Sorita d’Este.

May 2005, Cafe Rouge, Chiswick

Sorita is a Wiccan High Priestess and Ceremonial Magician who lives and works in West London. I have known her for a few years now – in both a professional and magical context and thought it would be interesting to interview her.

Q: You are a Londoner, but this has not always been so.  Can you tell us a little more about your background?

Sorita:  I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, my family is a complicated mixture of Italian, English and South African – with a mix of other flavours.  I lived in Cape Town until I finished my studies, and then came to London with a friend in 1995, with the intention of staying for a few months.  But I fell in love with London and the cultural diversity it represents, and decided to stay.  Having been here for 10 years now, London is home.  This is where I work, play and conjure.

Q: What is it about London you love most?

Sorita: Difficult question!  The British Museum?  Ronnie Scots?  Atlantis Bookshop?  Tower Records?  Soho? Richmond Park?  Ultimately, I think I just love London – the whole thing.

Q: How did you get involved with Paganism?

Sorita: I am not so keen on labeling myself as Pagan. Recently I am also starting to feel that the word Witch is not quite right for what I do and believe, though I continue using it in some situations.

I became interested in mysticism, religion and magic through experiences I had as a child, ranging from out-of-body experiences to prophetic dreams, ‘seeing’ things other did not and an inherent belief, even as a child, that Nature was alive and sentient. In my late teens I became involved with a group of people who introduced me to the Craft.  I spent a few years learning with them, but it was always in complete secrecy – as I was still living in South Africa, which even now is very conservative in regards to religious choices, so this was very important to all of us.

Living in London allowed me to experience many other possibilities.  In the first few years I lived here, I spent time exploring Buddhism, bumping into Hinduism, Transcendental Meditation (TM) and Astrology – as well as other esoteric traditions.  When I met David Rankine in 2000 we soon realised we had an interesting intellectual connection and that we were passionate about wanting to share our love of magic with others. This resulted in the foundation of what is now the StarStone Network.  We established our own aims and goals, rather than following slavishly in the footsteps of the traditions we came from, as we felt we wanted something relevant to the 21st century.

Q: Can you say more about the Traditions you came from?

Sorita:  David is a bit older than me, and spent many years in Wales where he was involved with a Craft Coven.  They were Alexandrian lineaged, but part of the Progressive Witchcraft movement.  Back then he was married to Karin Rainbird and their Coven drew on a wide variety of flavours, much of which is expressed in their 1997 book Magick Without Peers.  Likewise, David and I follow in the Progressive movement, we are both Alexandrian initiates, but both of us have also had training and extensive experience in other traditions.  Naturally, we draw from our varied experience.  David is passionate about Celtic mythology (esp. Welsh), the Qabalah, the work of the Golden Dawn, Fellowship of Isis and much more.  He is also currently working with Stephen Skinner (the author of Techniques of High Magic, with Francis King) on a series of books in which they are making available, for the first time, works previous unavailable in print.  Their work spans John Dee and Enochian Magic, The Goetia, Key of Solomon and many other works within the Grimoire tradition.  Naturally his work and research in these fields inspires some of the work we are doing too. My passions are Greco-Egyptian magic (the PGM), traditional ‘folk’ magic, Wicca and learning more about different gods and goddesses.  David and I are currently putting our notes on The Morrigan together for publication later this year.

Within our network we are not the only teachers, we actively encourage other members to take the lead and share their skills and knowledge with other members. In some ways we are both traditional, and progressive.

Q:  What do you mean by Alexandrian lineaged?

Sorita: Exactly what it says!  David and I both received initiations into Alexandrian Wicca, and we pass that on to our own Craft initiates, together with appropriate training and materials.  However, we do not slavishly follow the rituals set out by Alex Sanders – most of which are based heavily on that presented by Gerald Gardner to his initiates, and some of which are drawn from other sources, including Franz Bardon.  Instead, we use what we have available to us now – materials, resources and knowledge, to follow in the spirit of the tradition.  The Craft is not limited to the teachings of one person or group.

Q: We all enjoy your WWL Picnics in the Park very much.  What is the inspiration behind this?

Sorita: As you know, I have been running the WWL Moots for a few years now.  We mostly meet in a pub in Bloomsbury throughout the year, but the idea of summer picnics came out of discussions with members who are parents and don’t want to hang out in a pub with their children.  None of the Pagan events in London is really child friendly, so even though I am not a mum and have no intention of going down that route, I thought a picnic would be a great way of allowing children to join us.  Not just that, but London has amazing parks, and I thought it would good to encourage more outside time!

Q: You and David are very active.  Lapis Companions, the Open Circle you facilitate is another wonderful resource.  How did that come about?

Sorita: Lapis Companions again was created from discussions with members of WWL who wanted to participate in ceremonies and learn more.  The pub moots are great for meeting people, but not for learning and experiencing ritual.  David and I decided to create an experimental format, and we are blessed to be supported by so many of our initiates and friends in this endeavor.  With input from regular attendees we select different themes for each month, and explore that in a basic ritual structure.  Recent rituals include: Imbolc ritual to Brighid, celebration of Hekate, the Morrigan, Bast, and a Thelemic themed Beltane which David created with a friend.

Q: What is the best advice you can give someone who is just starting out?

Sorita: Learn as much as you can, about as many different paths as you can.  Then commit to a path you feel most drawn to, with people you feel most comfortable with.  This will take time.  Don’t commit to anything you feel uncomfortable with, no matter how prestigious you believe the group or teachers are.  And – learn to meditate and incorporate some meditation into your daily life!

Sorita d'Este

Sorita d’Este Photo by J.S. (c)2003