By Mike Gleason
Practising the Witch’s Craft: Real Magic Under a Southern Sky, edited by Douglas Ezzy
Allen and Unwin, 1865089125, 256 pp., 2003
I’m not sure what the availability of this book will be for the readers of this review, since most of you are in the U.S., and this book is published in Australia, but even if you have to make an effort to find it, I think you will enjoy it.
Lately I have been “breezing” through books at a high rate of speed, but I slowed down with this book. There were a couple of good reasons to slow down. Primarily, it was because the topics presented in these pages were so far removed from the run-of-the-mill topics that I wanted time to savor them. There was also the fact that the contributors to this book reveal so much of themselves that it seemed disrespectful to rush through it.
I must admit to being a bit disappointed in this book, but it has nothing to do with the ideas expressed or the quality of the works contained within it. It was a matter of personal expectation because of the subtitle of the book: “Real Magic Under a Southern Sky.” I was anticipating more about the differences between the practices of Southern Hemisphere versus Northern Hemisphere.
The only chapter which examines the southern variations in any depth is Chapter 11, which contrasts the Southern Hemisphere Sabbats and their Northern Hemisphere counterparts. The author of that chapter also raises a point which I, personally, had never considered. In a country as large as Australia, there exists a variation in the seasons from North to South. That would, of course, also hold true in a country the size of Canada or the U.S.A. I don’t know many Wiccans who take those regional variations into account.
I frequently have problems with compilation books, since (like this one) they consist of multiple writing styles, and I sometimes find that unsettling. This book has fifteen chapters by as many authors and covers a lot of ground in the topics chosen.
There is a strong thread of feminism in this book, as is appropriate in a book by Witches. Some may find this a bit disquieting. Topics are addressed which some male readers, especially, may find uncomfortable – the birthing process and menstruation especially are areas in which most males are inadequately educated in our society.
Some of the authors write of things many of us think about symbolically, if at all. “Perfect Love,” is just a phrase to many who walk the path of the Craft, but some, including a couple of individuals whose works appear in this book, know what it means in their REAL lives. Some Witches and Wiccans see the Craft as a religion, others see it as a way of life. Both are right, for the individuals who share that particular point of view.
Many Wiccans are so used to the “symbolic Great Rite,” that they forget there are other ways to celebrate the joining of energies in rites of fertility. Again, many Wiccans have gotten used to working robed, so as not offend anyone, that they forget that we are the earthly representatives of the lady and the Lord – everyone from the most anorexic young lady to the most morbidly obese man represents some aspect of divinity, and several of the authors in this book take the time and effort to remind us of that. They ask us to remember that line from “The Charge of the Goddess” by Doreen Valiente: “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.”
One telling point, made by Yarrow in Chapter 12, is that in spire of Witchcraft and Paganism being touted as “nature” or “Earth” religions, most of the followers of these paths are urban dwellers with minimal interaction with the “natural world.” Most of the books written about these religions appear to be based on the premise that urban Pagans are a small part of the total movement, while the truth is quite the opposite.
She also reminds us, bluntly, that “.nature is indeed ‘red in tooth and clam.’” Too many Pagans have a sanitized view of a kindly “Mother Nature,” who protects her children from all harm, and forget about the concept of natural selection (the survival of the fittest [not of the best, or the richest - but of the best adapted]). If the average urban Pagan had to live off the land for a week, you would (in my opinion) have a cold, wet, hungry, paranoid Pagan at the end of the week. Look at us when we go to a Gathering – nylon tents (with rain fly), sleeping bags, pillows, bottled water, several changes of clothes, and the ever-present (or so it seems) cell-phone. Most of us, myself included, would be in deep trouble if we had to forage for food and make due with whatever shelter we could find.
The contributors to this work range from the relatively inexperienced to those who have “lived the life” for decades. One thing they all share is a deep commitment to their beliefs. Another thing, and perhaps the best in my opinion, is a willingness to share that life, and their experiences with others without attempting to convert anyone, and without the least apparent bit of condescension.