BOOK REVIEW: WITCHCRAFT TODAY – 60 YEARS ON

by contemplativeinquiry

jhp530b85f08e66fThis is a timely addition to Pagan literature, highly recommended to anyone interested in the modern heritage of witchcraft, paganism and new (or new old) spiritual movements more generally. This book celebrates the 60 years since the publication of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today in 1954, affirming the confidence, dynamism and increasing openness of this growing tradition from a diverse range of insider perspectives.

The book is divided into two parts. The first, ‘Forms, Themes and Values’, begins with an account by Philip Heselton of how Gardner came to write Witchcraft Today. It goes on to look at ten specific forms of modern witchcraft that diverge from Gardner’s own, starting with Alex Sanders and going on to look at more radical departures like  Seax Wica and the feminist Dianic tradition. Some of the other paths described are less formal and ceremonial than the original models. Some are group based and others solitary.

Some can be distinguished from witchcraft altogether (the Egyptian Magical Tradition and Hekatean practice based on the approach of the Chaldean Oracles, to name two). The same issue arises at the end of the book, where a contributor talks about a journey through an Ovate Grade training in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD).  In each case, it matters to the practitioner that they are practising these traditions as a form of witchcraft.  Their inclusion in the book affirms the value of self-identification in spirituality and adds to an overall feel of inclusiveness. Any question would be about the potential weakening of the term witchcraft itself, in a context of such porous boundaries.

Part 1 also includes a chapter on the male experience of witchcraft and ends with one on ‘Witchcraft Tomorrow’ by David Salisbury, which demonstrates optimism about future possibilities and explores the issues of community building and leadership. Common themes in Part 1 include tensions between ‘preservation’ and ‘invention’ in lineage development, and ways of reconciling them. Common values include an avoidance of evangelism and a commitment to the ultimate autonomy of the practitioner.

Part 2, ‘Journey on a Crooked Path’, presents ten personal journeys.  It is particularly good at describing the ways in which people sense unmet spiritual needs in early life and make the connections (through reading, significant life events or personal encounters) that lead them on to their chosen paths. Throughout the book, there’s the sense of person and path choosing each other. They know when it’s right – and often have to go to some trouble to find their home.  The finding is reflected in the enthusiasm and commitment of the many people who have contributed to this valuable book.

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