Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft, by D. Zimmerman and K. A. Gleason


The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft, by Denise Zimmerman and Katherine A. Gleason
Alpha Books, 0028639456, 339 pages + appendices and index, 2000

Before I could even begin to read this book, I ran into difficulties. Inside the front cover, before the title page, is “The Complete Idiot’s Reference Card.” This is a wonderful idea BUT there is one major problem. On the back of the card are illustrations of the elemental correspondence of the points of the pentagram (no problem), and the invoking and banishing diagrams for each element (problem). Working around the pentagram we start with Spirit on top; then Air – upper right; Earth – lower right; Fire – lower left; and Water – upper left. Invoking pentagrams are drawn in the direction of the element (i.e., for Air, starting at upper left and going towards upper right to begin) yet they illustrate Invoking Earth as starting at the top and going towards the lower LEFT (which is the point assigned to Fire), when it should go to the lower RIGHT. Air and Water are fine, but Earth and Fire have been reversed. The same holds true for the banishing pentagrams.

Overall, I found myself in agreement with the information and attitudes presented. There were some things, however, that I had never heard of. On page 132, for instance, is the statement that “…the Watchtowers need corners to sit on.” Excuse me? My Watchtowers STAND outside my Circle. I have never heard of the Watchtowers sitting, although lately I have heard newbies talking about “calling the corners” (thanks to the movie The Craft). On page 138 is a statement about gossiping being “…a sure way to get thrown out of the circle and excommunicated.” I’m sorry, but I have never heard of a Witch being excommunicated from the Craft (banished, yes – excommunicated, no). Excommunication implies a removal from the benefit of divine communication. Since each Witch is their own Priest/ess there is no way to deny them that communication.

This is the second Idiot’s Guide I have read and I must admit that I did not like it as much as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism. For one thing, it was a collaborative effort which didn’t work as well as Paganism For another thing, Ms. Zimmerman sometimes seems to forget that not everyone will be doing things her way. Although she frequently reminds the reader that Solitaries can do, basically, anything they want, she also makes frequent pronouncements which, without any qualifying statements, appear to be “the one, right way” to do something.

The authors recommend walking the path of the pentagram. They say to pick an element to learn about, moving on to another when you feel you truly understand the first. They suggest that you finish this journey with Spirit. If you “follow” the path of the pentagram you must, logically, start with either Earth or Fire, as any other starting point will not culminate in Spirit. The way I was taught to do this was Earth, then Water, then Air, then Fire, and finally Spirit. If you simply follow the edge of a circle enclosing a pentagram, you would need to go Air, then earth, the Fire, then Water, and finally Spirit. However, since Earth is foundation and stability, I feel that is the logical place to start.

With a few reservations, which I have listed above, I would say that this book is definitely one of the top ten essential books for someone looking to learn the basics of Wicca and/or Witchcraft. It isn’t perfect, by any means, but no one book would be.

I am not sure that I agree with the attitude displayed that the Guardians of the watchtowers should only be summoned (or asked to attend, in the parlance of the authors) for special occasions. Being an Alexandrian Witch, I do not hesitate to “summon, stir and call forth” the Guardians at every formal Circle I do.

They perpetuate the idea that fairies are much smaller than humans, and that is only true for a portion of the Fairie realm. They come in all sizes and shapes, just like “real” people.

Many magickal people I know would disagree with the authors’ assertion that magick is the final step in attempting to accomplish a goal (I happen to agree with the authors on this one). Many of my friends use magick first. The authors contend that one should exhaust all mundane means first, before attempting to influence the universal forces through the use of magick.

In Chapter 20: Magick’s Astrological Correspondences, in the “Planetary Rulership of the Hours” section, I found one rather common mistake perpetuated. The day (and night) is divided into 12 segments as it should be, but no mention is made of the fact that these segments are not (most likely) composed of 60 minutes. They are, instead 1/12th of the time between sunrise and sunset. This can make for a considerable difference in how long the third hour is, for example, in the daytime versus the nighttime.

In the “Webweaving” box on page 283 is another reference that is fine, as far as it goes, but which falls a little short. It says “Many magickal craft recipes call for ingredients of equal parts. You’ll find this is true for powders, essential oil, and incense. So, if you see a list of herbs with no measurements given, you can assume that you will use equal measures of each one.” which is fine, except that many older recipes assume that each person using it will blend to personal preference, and that should have been mentioned.

On page 291 the authors say “You can…speak to deity with awe and respect.” For some reason that sentence rankles me, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the “awe.” I don’t have a problem with “respect,” but “awe” seems (to me) too reminiscent of mainline “God fearing” religions. But, I will be the first to admit, that it could just be a personal reaction on my part.

The authors are of the opinion that doing magick for payment is a bad idea, and I agree with them with only one notable exception. Many would consider divination to be a magickal act and therefore falling under this prohibition. I disagree, although I have little confidence in the abilities of the vast majority of “phone psychics” or people who make their livings doing “psychic fairs.” I have, on occasion, seen truly gifted readers tells a client, “Sorry. I can’t do your reading today because…(I’m not feeling well; I’m upset about something in my personal life; something just doesn’t feel right). It would be a waste of your time and money. Let’s reschedule for a later date.”

Throughout the book the authors stress the need for keeping records of your magickal workings. No matter how often this is repeated, it isn’t often enough, if only for purposes of organization. Record keeping can also serve as a means of grounding after a magickal working.

While I am sure that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of good “beginner” books currently in print, this is one of the ones that I recommend to anyone who asks. Unlike many “beginner” books, this one assumes nothing. The author’s don’t expect you to know anything about the subject before you pick it up. It is written in a pleasant, non-threatening tone, the information is (for the most part) acceptable to anyone in the Wicca/Witchcraft community, and it makes no attempt to convince the reader to change their own belief system.

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About Mike Gleason

Mike Gleason (1951-2012) dedicated his time to sharing his knowledge and opinions with others, and spent years reviewing books for the Pagan, Wiccan, Witch and magickal communities.

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