This was an impulse buy from the discount bookshop near my office (cheap books on esoteric subjects can be hard to come by). It describes all the weird and wonderful religions of the world, from the well-known to very obscure, including Theosophy, Kabbalah, the Rosicrucians, Satanism, and of course Paganism (although Paganism is hardly a “secret” religion these days). There’s a lot of historical detail, making this book a handy reference for those interested in the subject, although it is written in a somewhat bare-bones tone. On the other hand, I very much appreciate that the author has not been tempted to go down the sensationalist route, giving objective and neutral accounts of each religion, and being keen to stress that “esoteric” does not equal “cult.” His treatment of the various Pagan religions seemed accurate to me (and the author seems to have a particular affection for Paganism), and it’s great to see the history of how the Pagan Federation and other groups formed. I also liked Barrett’s celebration of Paganism as a diverse yet cohesive movement: “It is arguable that one of Neo-Paganism’s greatest strengths is its diversity. Although there is sometimes rivalry and mutual criticism between different traditions and groups of Neo-Pagans…there is probably far more commonality between them, and mutual support in the face of opposition, than there is between the many variations and offshoots of Christianity.” Finally, I approved of his reminder to tolerate and respect those whose beliefs may seem kooky to others: “It is important to accept that members of these [UFO] movements believe in the extraterrestrial origin of the messages given to them, just as Mormons believe in Joseph Smith’s golden plates, and Christians believe that the Creator of the Universe became a man of thirty-three years; they should not be dismissed as ‘UFO nuts.’ They are normal, intelligent people; their belief is genuine , and their religions are worth as much attention as all the others in this book.” Admittedly, much of the information found in this book could probably be found online; but it is good to see it presented in such an unbiased and balanced manner as it is in this book.
Natural Magic, Doreen Valiente
Doreen Valiente is one of the most important figures in Paganism, so I thought it was important to read her works. Despite its title, Natural Magic is not so much about working with nature as it is a little guidebook to various aspects of witchcraft, including herbs, working with the four elements, and sexual magic. Valiente’s writing style is lively and engaging (it reminds me a little of Rae Beth), although I felt that this book was a bit of a slow start – this might simply be because I’ve now read quite a few introductory books on witchcraft and much of the content is similar. It’s worth persevering though as there’s lots of interesting content – for me, the highlights were the sections on talismans, dream magic, weather magic, and cartomancy using ordinary playing cards. It is quite a slim read though, and more experienced witches will probably chew their way through it very quickly. Probably best for beginners.
Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On, ed. Trevor Greenfield
**Book of the Month!**
This book was released in celebration of the 60th anniversary of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, one of the most important Wiccan texts, as a documentation of how far witchcraft has evolved in those 60 years. Admittedly I still haven’t read Witchcraft Today so I was worried that this book might contain a lot of analysis of the original that would go straight over my head, but in fact, aside from the introduction, 60 Years On does not really talk about the original. It is instead a collection of short essays by individuals within witchcraft (some well-known, some unknown), talking about their particular path and what it means to them. Although this book lacks practical information (it isn’t intended to be a reference book for magic or for factual information about different forms of witchcraft), I found it inspiring. I enjoyed all the individual approaches displayed by each author – not only in their practise of witchcraft itself, but also in their writing style. Each account is personal, idiosyncratic, and honest. My favourite essay was probably Rick Derks’ description of Hekatean Witchcraft; not only am I particularly drawn to Hekate, but I found this the best-written out of all the essays, with an excellent bibliography to help out those looking to find out more about Hekate. I also found the section on Dianic Wicca fascinating, specifically because this form of radical feminist Wicca is the least known to me. I’ve never met anyone from this path so it was interesting to be able to find out more about what Dianic Wiccans think about their path. Finally, it was great to see that Kevin Groves, a fellow member of Medway Pagans, had also contributed to this book! It was a great reminder that, although Paganism continues to grow all the time, it’s still quite an intimate and friendly community. Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On succeeds well in celebrating Gardner’s legacy, and gives a fantastic insight into the personal thoughts and feelings of contemporary witches.