Plant spirits appear in the most ancient practices of Witchcraft. These primal entities possess power and knowledge that aids the Witches’ Craft.Grimoire of the Thorn-Blooded Witch offers the magickal keys to accessing the spirits of the plant kingdom. Decidedly gothic, with many allusions to roses, thorns and shadows, the book’s formal, atmospheric tone is sure to stir magickal memories in the blood of those called to read it.From the ancient practices of old world witchery springs the Rose and Thorn Path, a system Grimassi manifested after he "fell back into the brewing cauldron from which all things emerge." He continues, "When I surfaced my self-identity as a witch of any specific cultural expression of witchcraft had dissolved away’. As a grimoire (a traditional book of spells) this book does not disappoint. It presents a usable system of witchcraft based on instantly recognisable archetypes. I have read a few of Grimassi's books and feel this is his best to date.The "mastering the five arts" subtitle suggests the book is aimed primarily at serious witches with some level of magical experience. As such I would have appreciated a deeper exploration of the origins of Grimassi's chosen symbols and plants, but he writes with such authentic wisdom this hardly seems to matter. Central themes are natural divinity and spiritualism -- the book deals not so much with plants themselves but the spirits inherent in and attached to them. By showing respect for "Shadow" (the collective wisdom of the earth and ancestors) the green mysteries can be entered. Read More
The Well Worn Path, by Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor, illustrated by Mickie Mueller
Kit: Llewellyn Worldwide, 073870671X, 216 pp., 40 cards, 2005
The kit includes forty beautifully illustrated cards, a black organdy bag, a white cardboard box for sturdier storage, and the companion booklet, A Traveller’s Guide to the Well Worn Path.
Grimassi and Taylor write that the title of the deck was chosen to reflect the idea of ‘…a path trodden by the footsteps of those who have walked in these ways since perhaps the beginning of time. Here our ancestors left to us a trail to the ways we now seek to follow as we extend the path to our new vistas’.
I was surprised by some of the cards included in the deck, and their descriptions. For example, the ‘Words of the Magus’ (To Know, To Will, To Dare, and To Keep Silence, or, as it is in these cards ‘To Know, To Dare, To Will, To Keep Silent’ – daring before will is known sounds dangerous to me, but perhaps the authors have something else in mind) I have known previously as the Four Powers of the Sphinx in the western mystery traditions. ‘As Above, So Below’ is also a Hermetic maximum, from the compiled writings of Hermes Trismigustus, but here it is not cited thus. These idiosyncrasies among the first few cards did not bode well for the rest of the deck.
There are some nice touches on the cards themselves, such as the inclusion of certain plants on the books within, and decorations on the locks of the trunk which hold special meaning which are explained in the book. However, I get the feeling that more work was put into creating the cards than writing the book that accompanies it.
Grimassi and Taylor believe ‘The central value of this deck is that it presents a series of teachings that can help you understand why the concepts presented are important. It brings you into an experience of each theme and concept instead of simply providing information or inspiring ideas. Because of this the deck is a valuable tool for solitary practitioners who may not be able to find a physical teacher and initiator’. Unfortunately, there is not a single citation in the entire book, every ‘ancient tradition’ is left vague, exactly which traditional ‘ancestral spirits’ the authors are speaking of is not clear (my personal ancestors, or specific pre-Christian European spiritual ancestors, or the more general ancestors of all humankind?), nor is there any suggested reading for further study. As a teaching tool it leaves much to be desired.
They write, ‘This deck has been designed to serve four different purposes. It is a deck of divination, a system of teaching, a tool for spiritual alignments, and a means of performing solitary rituals’ (pg 9) and as such each card is accompanied by three interpretations Meaning, Teaching and Alignment. Meaning gives the divinatory meaning for the spreads given in the book, Teaching explains the symbolism in clear, simple terms (as the authors state, the cards could also be used as flash cards to teach new students to immediately recognize the obvious meanings of the cards – though I’m unclear as to why that would be beneficial, meditation on the deeper meanings would seem to be more useful in the long run, rather reciting ingrained symbolic descriptions), and Alignment relays a heavily scripted guided meditation that follows through the forty cards.
They state that ‘The Well Worn Path deck is designed to present and reveal the symbolism, meaning, and teachings that are the far-reaching roots of modern Paganism and the Craft. The images in this deck depict the spiritual and religious concepts that were the foundations of European Paganism as once known to our ancestors…Here we have captured the knowledge and wisdom of ancient times for contemporary application’. Exactly what this means is never made clear.
The authors obviously intend something very specific with the cards, and yet write in such a vague manner leaving it open to interpretation and opposition at the worst of times, which seems to negate the point. They state that ‘One of the many unique features of this deck is that you can customize the meaning of these cards to better reflect your own individual symbolism’. However, more focus would have been appreciated, as it is, the text comes off wishy-washy rather than practically applicable.
The accompanying book constantly makes reference to ancient ways and ancestral traditions, but there are no specific evidences of that within the deck. The deck presents the same sort of vague neo-pagan mythologies and traditions that we’ve come to expect from Wiccan-based books. This wouldn’t be an issue if the deck was presented as a model for modern Wiccan and neo-pagan traditions; however, with these ‘ancient’ references and a lack of citation as to where these ancient elements are supposed to come into play, it instead leaves me shaking my head.
A tradition doesn’t have to be ancient to be worthwhile. That Wicca is still a newly emerging religion, barely fifty years old, does not make it any more or less legitimate than if it really had been a continuing tradition dating back from Neolithic times. Yes, the roots of pantheism hearken back quite a while, but to associate this, even in a loose way, with what Wiccans or neo-pagans practice today doesn’t make a lot of sense in today’s technologically advanced age. The fact of the matter is the symbolism is not the same, was not universal and it is not interpreted exactly as it was then.
I wish more authors would focus on the beauty of Wicca and neo-paganism within themselves rather than presenting them as a modernized version of ancient practices. We call it the ‘Old Religion’, but unless one is a practicing reconstructionalist, this tends not to be the case… and there is nothing wrong with that! There are many approaches to the divine within and without, but pretending something is what it isn’t helps no-one.
There are a few additional cards I would have liked to have seen. For example, the Wheel of the Year is present, but individual Festivals are not; yet with only forty cards in the deck, there is room to add another eight cards, or even a round ten, if you add Esbats and Diana’s Bow.
Yet other cards seem almost superfluous, such as the Voice of the Wind, or Eightfold Path cards. ‘Voice of the Wind’ is not something I have heard related specifically with Paganism before – it sounds more shamanistic to me than anything else. The only Eightfold Path I have head of previously was the Eightfold Path of Yoga, or the eight kinds of magick in Peter Carroll’s chaos magick. Perhaps these cards are intended to be tradition-specific, but if so, they should be identified as such.
Another criticism I have is that there are no ‘negative’ cards. There is no death, only the Summerland and Reincarnation, and Hecate, a Goddess of Crossroads, is mentioned only in Her lighter aspect and any hints of Her darkness have been dispelled. This leaves the deck feeling unbalanced, and therefore, in my mind, not suitable for divination, as a few test readings further indicated. The Pentagram spread in particular does not feel intuitive, as it does not follow the traditional invoking or banishing forms of any of the readings, it hops around form point to point to centre, not conforming to the fluid pattern of the symbol.
The book concludes with a chapter titled ‘Solitary Rites’ which includes two rituals which make use of the cards in the deck, and advise that other rituals may be created once the basic formula is known. The first, ‘The Rite of the Inward Journey’ is a dedication ritual designed to dedicate oneself to the ‘well worn path’, though there is no specific mention of the Goddess or God in the dedication. The second, ‘Solitary Full Moon Rite’, is a simple ritual involving heavy use of the imagination rather than working with a specific energy or goal. Following that is another guided meditation, with simple instructions on how to create one’s own.
I like the idea behind the cards – a specifically Pagan deck intended to provide guidance and teachings, and the deck itself is rather pretty, but I can’t recommend the kit as it is. The booklet leaves much to be desired in its presentation and practicality; there are too many gaps. I believe it is possible to purchase the deck independently, and new Pagans may be interested in doing so, but I can’t see any value in it for the experienced or as a teaching tool.
A Witch Like Me: The Spiritual Journeys of Today’s Pagan Practitioners, by Sirona Knight
New Page Books, 2002
Right off the top let me say that I hope this book inspires another one or two in the same line, although perhaps not limited to book authors. I love the idea of learning more about some of the background of some of the “big names” in Paganism. Of course, some of the people I would most like to read about are deceased, but perhaps there are close associates who could provide the data for “posthumous interviews.” In another vein, perhaps a book of fictional biographies could be assembled for the likes of Harry Potter, Sabrina, Samantha (“Bewitched”) Stevens, the “Charmed” sisters, etc.
It is difficult to critique a book like this, other than on technical grounds, since it is composed of individual life stories and opinions. I truly believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, no matter if they match up with mine or not. So, I find myself in the position of not being able to disagree with any of the statements contained within this book.
Perhaps the only legitimate criticism I can level at this book, if it is that, is that of the fourteen authors presented here (Dorothy Morrison, Phyllis Currot, Raymond Buckland, Z. Budapest, Marion Weinstein, Patricia Telesco, Raven Grimassi, Lady Sabrina, Skye Alexander, A.J. Drew, Silver Ravenwolf, Timothy Roderick, and Sirona Knight), there are only a few who are “Old Timers” (i.e., their first published work came out 20 or more years ago). Even that, however, merely reflects the author’s choice to deal with those individuals who have stood up for their beliefs, and who are still on the cutting edge of the evolving religion of Wicca.
This is a fun book. No, you won’t learn any deep, dark secrets. There are no skeletons in the closet being revealed. And of course, each author presents themselves in the best possible light,. That is human nature and no one can be faulted for that.
It is a book worth reading, because it shows that Wiccans are very human, and that some of us are willing to stand up and take our lumps for our beliefs. Wiccan authors are becoming more visible, and their books more viable. If you want to know more about the works of these authors, they are listed in the appendix. That appendix could form the basis for a decent “wish list” to improve your library.
Spirit of the Witch: Religion & Spirituality in Contemporary Witchcraft, by Raven Grimassi
Llewellyn Publications, 0738703389, 264 pp. (incl. bibliography), 2003
While there is no question that the author is knowledgeable about his own particular branch of Wicca (Stregheria), this very knowledge presents a problem. Because of his knowledge and background, and because (I suspect) of the length of time he has spent teaching, he slips into the habit of making pronouncements (i.e., “The pentacle platter is made of stone or clay.” While this may be true in his branch of Wicca, it doesn’t hold true for all branches.
Granted, in the next paragraph he does acknowledge that some Witches do use metal (of which he appears tolerant) or even wood (of which he appears less tolerant).
I truly like and appreciate Raven’s style of writing. It is, in most cases, clear and unambiguous. It is too bad that Wicca is not so clean cut and obvious. He acknowledges that trying to organize Witches is like trying to herd cats. Witches are entirely too independent and contrary to be easily pigeon-holed.
The author does his best to present a variety of points-of-view, in contrast to many other authors today, in spite of his own bias in favour of his own particular branch of Wicca. Unfortunately, there are pluses and minuses to this approach, and he will draw criticism from both sides of the debate. Those who follow Strega will complain that he compromises their beliefs, and those who follow other traditions will complain that he doesn’t fully understand their tradition.
This book accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is to provide an overview of the spirituality which is inherent in the religion of Wicca. It is not the be-all and end-all on the topic. It is a starting point.
The rituals he provides will certainly give you a starting point. They are not complex, nor are they drawn from any particular tradition. They are simple and moving and, most importantly, effective in beginning a lifetime’s experience in relating to the Wheel of the Year.
This is one of the first books I have seen which is devoted to the spirituality of Wicca and not just the forms. If this is what you want to know about, this book is an excellent starting point. I would hope to see more books on the same topic, by many other authors. The more points of view the populace can be exposed to, the more comfortable people will be in finding their own spirituality.
Spirit of the Witch: Religion & Spirituality in Contemporary Witchcraft, by Raven Grimassi
Llewellyn Publications, 0738703389, 264 pp. (incl. bibliography), 2003
“Being a Witch is, at the very core, a way of seeing the world and a way of believing and living in accord with that view.”
The majority of books on Wicca and witchcraft tends to focus more on the magickal aspect rather than the spiritual, so, to fill this gap in neo-pagan literature, Raven Grimassi wrote The Spirit of the Witch.
Grimassi notes early on that he is presenting things from his view and does not expect everyone to agree, “knowing there was no way not to find disfavour with one group or another, I decided to simply bring to bear on this project my thirty years of involvement in the Witchcraft community, and all that I’ve personally discerned from those years.”, also reminding his readers that he is noted authority, gently letting is readers know that his opinions are informed and he intends no bullshit.
Accurately describing common beliefs of what witchcraft is saying it is popularly imaged “to be the practice of magic and spell casting”, but notes that “magic is only a small part of Witchcraft, and might be referred to as a side matter, for Witchcraft is a philosophy first, a religion second, and a magical system third.”, though he also says that “the three aspects are, however, inseparable.”
Grimassi retells many of the myths and legends through the festivals in the Wheel of the Year, as well as many fascinating myths describing connections between the Moon and the witch. Various myths of the Goddess and God, the myths of the Child of Promise, the Oak and Holly king, the Greenman, the Elements, fairy and evlen races. He discusses karma, and reincarnation; code of ethics and the Wiccan Rede; the altar and ritual tools; and the three Mysteries of birth, life and death are touched upon. Also quite a few amusing anecdotes from the lectures and classes he has taught.
He covers many areas to study and focus on, ideas for how to start your path: spirit quest, selecting an pantheon and connecting with deity images, a Dedication ritual is layed out, though Grimassi sensibly advises the reader to finish this book, and as many others as one can lay hands on prior to Dedication. It’s a large commitment to make, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Also contains a brief note on how to seek out other practitioners, and makes a needless distinctions between white, black and grey witchcraft.
However, statements such as “it is an old occult tradition…” are often made without much follow-up, which are a personal annoyance of mine. Some background would be nice. With so many neo-pagan books making similar and contradictory claims, it would be nice to show an historical citation or two. Though the bibliography is well formed, it would be nice to see descriptive footnotes as well.
Relying mainly on personal experience, anecdotes and folklore, Grimassi details the spirituality of the witch, getting to the core of the religion itself, rather than simply focusing on magick. Grimassi has written a insightful and more importantly, useful text in response to the lack of books solely dedicated to Wiccan/Witch spirituality, and it fills this gap in pagan literature nicely.