Genuine Witchcraft is Explained, by John of Monmouth
Capall Bann Publishing, 9781861633347, 486 pp., 2012
If your concept of witchcraft is composed exclusively by the neo-Pagan movement and modern day Wicca, this book is going to be a real eye-opener. For the majority of Wiccans and witches in the US, where I reside and write my reviews, there have been few choices – one either “trained” as an eclectic (usually by means of reading one or more books) or one looked for a “tradition” to follow (many of which touted themselves as having a long, distinguished linage, but failed to provide any substantiation of those claims). Within the past couple of decades the concept of initiation by another has fallen into disrepute and “self-initiation” has become the norm.
This is a massive book, but fully one half of it is composed of data which supplements the first half. The supplemental section includes photos of original documents from the Royal Windsor Coven (no connection to British royalty – just a heads-up to American readers). A large number of the documents which appear in the photos are almost indecipherable, since they were either hand-written, heavily amended, or carbon copies of originals. This is, in my opinion, not a shortcoming. The fact that these documents still exist at all is nearly miraculous, and the fact that they are being preserved and made available is a real benefit for those who wish to explore the development of Witchcraft in the 20th Century. Following these reproductions are transcripts of the documents which make it possible to read and understand the preceding illustrations. Continue reading
Casting Sacred Space: The Core of All Magickal Work, by Ivo Dominguez Jr.
Weiser Books, 9781578634996, 207 pp., 2012
Everyone in the occult community knows the usual complaint: there are too many 101 books, too many books for beginners. What could be more 101 than an entire book on creating sacred space? Despite the deceptively simple title and seemingly simple topic this book is not 101.
The subtitle of the book refers to making sacred space as the core of all magickal work, and it’s true most magickal systems, as most magickal workings involve some sort of delineation of space. But how hard could it be? You make a circle, you toss everything you don’t want out, and you begin — how could an entire book be devoted to that? As anyone who has dealt with multiple traditions knows, not all spaces are made equally, or in the same way. Dominguez does a brilliant job explaining a great variety of methods for the creation of sacred space, and the reasons why some methods are more appropriate in some situations than others. The majority of the methods in this book are unique being “re-created, from my past-life memories, visions, and careful thought based on this life’s learning.” If you’re the type of person to be turned off by the mention of past-lives in regards to something like this all I can say if give the exercises a try first, then decide. Continue reading
A Book of Pagan Prayer, by Ceisiwr Serith
Weiser Books, 1-57863-255-2, 245 pp. (plus Appendices, Bibliography and Notes), 2002
This is a book I never thought I would see. Most of the Pagans I know aren’t big on formalized, scripted prayer. There are going to be those out there who will swear by this book, and those who will swear at the author. Many neo-Pagans feel that prayer should be completely spontaneous and will find the idea of A Book of Pagan Prayer (akin to the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer) to be incomprehensible, if not incompatible with Pagan religion. Continue reading
The Way of the Oracle, by Diana L Paxson
Weiser Books, 9781594774904, 247 pp., 2012
This book is an excellent follow up to Diana Paxson’s previous work, Trance-Portation: Learning to Navigate the Inner World (Weiser Books, 2008).
The Way of the Oracle is divided into two parts. The first explores some of the historical evidence for oracular practice in Celtic, Greek, and especially Norse cultures. The second section has more of a DIY how-to quality. Paxson has made a very complicated subject engaging and accessible without ignoring the historical and practical problems that exist.
I love that the first section is chalk-full of historical quotes and references paired up with personal anecdotes which connect the background material to lived experience. The historical and mythic examples from Norse and Greek culture are excellent, and the author makes a valiant effort to include Celtic material where possible. Unfortunately, despite having strong traditions of prophesy and second-sight, the Celts did not have many oracular sites, like the Greeks, or travelling oracles with elaborate rituals, like the Norse. While it is not suitable to group ritual, a nod to the tradition of kings, heroes, and regular folk meeting receiving prophesy otherworldly beings at certain times and places (such as late on lonely roads or at dawn on the liminal ramparts) would have been nice. Continue reading
Grimoires: A History of Magic Books, by Owen Davies
Oxford University Press, 978-0-19-959004-9, 380 pp., 2009
I need to acknowledge right now that I am not a ceremonial magician, but then again, this book is written for people like me. This is not a compilation of grimoires, nor is it a distillation of those books. It is a broad overview of magick books and books about magick (which are not necessarily the same thing). There is a fairly thorough discussion of the suppression of magick books, which makes it abundantly clear that, although most of us think in terms of the Christian church’s efforts in this respect, Christianity was a “Johnny come lately” to that game. There had been suppressions long before the beginning of the Common Era.
This type of book often falls into one of two categories. It is either heavily influenced by pop culture, or it is full of erudite, academic attitudes which leave you grabbing your dictionary as you read. This book walks the middle ground quite nicely. It answers questions with easily understood words, and saves the inevitable citations for the end of the book.
One thing which modern readers often forget when reading about the grimoires of the past is that simply because two (or more) books had the same name did not mean they had they same content, especially in a time when the books in circulation were manuscripts, as opposed to printed volumes. Religious scholars has this brought home to them with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library where there were numerous books with identical names and widely varying contents. Grimoires were, generally, perceived as having more power if they were handwritten (magicians would make handwritten copies of books which they had in their library to impart more power to them). What this means is that even those grimoires which have survived in printed form may only be one version of numerous ones which circulated during the Renaissance and later periods. Continue reading