The Weiser Field Guide to Witches, by Judika Illes
Weiser Books, 9781578634798, 272 pp., 2010
When a field guide is well done, it gives the reader the means to distinguish between species and can be an incredible aid to study, classification, and practical knowledge. When a field guide is not so well done, it can very quickly become a mess.
I really wanted to like The Weiser Field Guide to Witches. For one thing, I like and admire Judika Illes, whose Element Encyclopedias I consider useful as well as beautiful, well-researched, and wonderfully organized. I was prepared to thoroughly enjoy spending more time with her blend of wit and erudition. The subtitle, “From Hexes to Hermione Granger, from Salem to the Land of Oz”, is marvellously enticing, as well as the idea given in the back cover copy that the field guide could help you, the reader, discern if you are a witch. Continue reading
Barbarian Rites: The Spiritual World of the Vikings and the Germanic Tribes, by Hans-Peter Hasenfratz, translated by Michael Moynihan
Inner Traditions, 978-1-59477-421-8, 173 pp. (incl. Translator’s Foreword, Introduction, Notes, Bibliography, and Index), 1992, 2011
Barbarian Rites is an English translation of Die religiöse Welt der Germanen: Ritual, Magie, Kult, Mythus ,by Hans-Peter Hasenfratz.
It is a book that straddles categories. It fills the awkward space between lay-oriented summaries and academically oriented historical analysis. Insofar as it is one of the few academically inclined pieces that has been translated into English, it is invaluable, but it is likely too academic for individuals not of a scholarly bent, and too brief to satisfy a curious historian. It serves as a litmus test for whether it is worth one’s while to learn German and access the greater pool of scholarship that exists. It’s worth noting at this point that Germanic is a broad umbrella that includes what most of us will know as Norse.
Hasenfratz begins his introduction by questioning the meaning of the word ‘Germanic,’ bringing into question our very ability to define or describe both the Germanic peoples and their religion(s), noting that the availability of sources and accounts varies highly from region to region. Continue reading
The Starry Rubric: Seventeenth-century English Astrology and Magic, by Alexander Cummins
Hadean Press, 9781907881213, 166 pp., 2012
Alexander Cummins is a new name in the field of historical research, but you will hear more of him in the future, I hope. This review is based on an electronic copy of the work, but having seen the quality, appeal and sheer tactile beauty of Hadean’s previous output, buyers of the physical book are in for a treat; the production standards and quality of materials in use are both extremely high. These books are going to be around for centuries, which is pleasing.
Both (some) academics and lay readers might ask “Astrology? A load of old nonsense isn’t it?” Maybe, but it still has a power to influence behaviour and beliefs in the 21st century (for example I bet you can tell me your star sign, without even pausing?) when we are all supposed to be rational scientific thinkers. Imagine the added power, then, of a system that was so all-encompassing, some four centuries ago, before the advent of mass literacy, TV and the internet. Wisely this book does not delve deeply into whether the systems in use ever worked, instead this worthy book concentrates more on the history and social function of how believing that it did work affected how people acted, what they did and believed, and what they thought, and said, and wrote. That is definitely fertile ground for the researcher, and this book plants many seeds in that ground. The harvest is exceptionally interesting, with chapters covering both prophetic and propaganda uses of astrology, and the personal, the societal, the political and the practical implications for those who consulted astrologers in those times (and, indeed by implication, those who do so now). Continue reading
Thoth: The History of the Ancient Egyptian God of Wisdom, by Lesley Jackson
Avalonia Books, 9781905297474, 225 pp., 2012
This is a rather unique book in that it does not attempt to be anything other than an attempt to show how Egyptians through the millennia related to Thoth. It isn’t designed to detail the hymns and rituals associated with Thoth, although they do figure into the account. It isn’t about his priesthood or his temples, although they also enter into the account
There are numerous books which relate how the dynastic families of ancient Egypt related to Thoth, but very few which give any indication how commoners saw their interaction with the God of Wisdom in his various functions of scribe, messenger of the gods, protector, and psychopomp . While the average Egyptian might expect that they would never encounter the majority of their gods, Thoth was their guide in the afterlife, and everyone – no matter how high or low their status – would meet him during their transition between life and afterlife. Continue reading
Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, by Charles Godfrey Leland
The Witches’ Almanac, 9780982432358, 178 pp., 1899, 2010
Charles Godfrey Leland (1824-1903) was an American folklorist who published some twenty books on American and European folklore, Romani traditions, witchcraft, and other subjects. He is chiefly remembered today for his influence on the development of modern Paganism, primarily through the publication of Aradia. Continue reading