Before You Cast a Spell: Understanding the Power of Magic, by Carl McColman
New Page Books, 1564147169, 143 pp. (+ appendices & index), 2004

I’ve read some of Carl’s books before and enjoyed what I read. He tends to say exactly what he means. And he lets you know early on where his books are going. On page 9 of this book the first paragraph tells it all: “This book does not contain any spells, or any specific instructions on how to cast spells, raise and direct energy, or perform any other kind of magical procedure.”

Carl’s intent is to focus on the spiritual principles of magic. Unlike many books today, this one aims to make the reader do some mind stretching exercises. If you are looking for fluffy reading, this is not it, even though it is less than 150 pages.

There is a tendency for some folks to dismiss this author’s works as being too basic. Perhaps that is because there is a tendency to want instant gratification and instant success in our society. Mr. McColman certainly stresses the basics, as a foundation upon which to build. If you do things without understanding what lies beneath the surface, you won’t be able to understand why and how it worked (or didn’t work).

The author believes, as do I, that magic should be the last weapon in your arsenal. First you should try every mundane approach you can. Too many Pagans do a ritual to achieve their ends and forget to put any effort into the non-magical approaches.

Carl knows that there are those who will disagree with his statements and positions, and accepts that. Then he offers a challenge, not to the objections, but to the objectors. He asks them to explain why they object to his position or statement. He wants them to think it through. Just saying “I object” is not enough. He expects the objector to explain the difference of opinion. Scary, isn’t it? Makes you think, doesn’t it? Good!

He stresses the need for each person to take responsibility. It is an all too human trait to claim the credit and disavow the screw-ups. That, however, should not be an option for an ethical person. Note, that was “an ethical person”, not “an ethical Pagan/Witch”. If you live an ethical life, both in your mundane and your magical life you may encourage others to do so as well. That, my friend, is one of the highest forms of magic (in my opinion).

His opinions and attitudes will not sit well with many in the Pagan/Magical community (he does not oppose payment for teaching, for example). If you are willing to explore alternate ways of looking at things; if you are willing to start at the beginning; if you are willing to work at learning the basics before you begin casting spells, this is the book to start with.