As someone who is pagan, it is difficult to know how to assess this book fairly, which may be why pagans are not reviewing it positively, or shying away from reviewing it at all. The author does an excellent job of showing us how the tolerant outsider views magical belief; they are close-minded when it comes to accepting it as a possible paradigm for reality, but open-minded enough to actually experience its effects from time to time, and report on it honestly.
Wicker, a former religion reporter for the Dallas Morning News, does some wonderful profiles of people she spent some time with - Dr. Kioni, the Florida rootworker, Catherine Yronwode and her husband Siva, the "blood-pact" Satanist, and the Goth pagan vampire set. She also did some thorough research on some of the quirkier historical roots of magical belief, and reached out to a broad sample of believers within the magical community. She even does a good job of careful criticism in an area where we need a few more checks on our behavior - witness her compassionate elucidation of the "fantasy biography" phenomena, something that pagans are often a little too prone to committing.
The trouble is that she often fails to report what we believe, confusing it with what she thinks is more important - what is appropriate to believe about us. Other American religious minorities wouldn't tolerate this sort of sloppy bias; why should it be any different for us?
Despite her efforts to be objective, too many ideas are left out, concepts that would have given people who don't believe in magic a better chance of understanding who we are. She describes Siva as a "blood-pact" Satanist. What is a "blood-pact" Satanist, and how does this differ from a more ordinary, garden-variety Satanist? She doesn't elaborate - was the sensationalist label only supposed to reinforce how different his life path is from her own? From her descriptions of his activities and attitudes toward life, it is clear that he is emulating Lucifer, the light-bringer, who brings the forgotten truth to light in subversive ways. This is how many of us actually view Satanists - why couldn't she report this?
It is easy to sympathize with her when she writes that the magical walk that she took with guidance from chaos magician and Open Sourcer Joseph Maxx "discombobulated me in a way that none of the other magic had". Many believers of magic initially go through a period of time of being very afraid of how magic will change their minds. Sanity is a construct, and if you violate too much of the construct, you are judged insane by those operating under the predominant framework of what constitutes sane reality. Rather than realizing the universality of this conflict, and interviewing magical believers in how they manage to integrate their belief with rational interaction in the everyday world, or what types of activities they themselves may choose to avoid because of the same fear, she treats this fear as if it is the sole province of the rational disbeliever. Wrong again.
She writes of Wiccans as being adamant about doing only good magic, while failing to recognize or report that the term Wicca itself has become an umbrella for many believers of other pagan traditions who affiliate under the label of "Wiccan", largely because it has become a media label that outsiders recognize and identify with. Ten or fifteen years ago, many of these people took cover under the umbrella of Universal Unitarianism, a faith which includes believers who are not magical and do not share the polytheistic world-view of neo-pagans. Today, they "take cover" under Wicca, which makes Wiccan practice more diverse, and more likely to engage with darker paths than non-believers may realize, even if those same people are proud of the Wiccan emphasis on a bright, "white light" path.
A little more explanation of some of the major traditions within magical belief would have given the non-pagan, non-magical reader a better understanding of who we are. Some of us are not pagan; there are Christians who quietly believe in and work magic.
Vampires often identify as being Goth pagan, a minor but significant tradition within our conglomerate of believers. She mentions the chaos magicians, the fey-and-dragon believers, and devotes a significant portion of the book to the mesopagan traditions of voodoo and hoodoo, without giving an unfamiliar reader a framework to "hang their hat on". Neither the Asatru nor the Druids make it into this book at all, even though their scholarly approach to reconstructing ancient belief systems has had a strong impact on contemporary pagan thought. The outside reader doesn't learn much about our internal structure after finishing this book, and isn't that the purpose of writing a book on a largely unknown group of spiritual believers?
Instead, what we get is a simplistic paraphrasing of Pascal's famous pensee, "My magical experiences were too little to convince me and at the same time too much to dismiss." One suspects that she simply doesn't want to identify with us too closely because of her devotion to conformist, upper-middle class social values and sensibilities. In the end, it becomes more important to ultimately repudiate our beliefs by reassuring her readers and herself of the supremacy of rational thought.
But the magical community as a whole had the right to expect more of religious investigative journalism. When I went to look up a source for Eric Vogelin's work on Hegel, or check the publication date for Francis King's Ritual Magic in England, neither of these sources was included in the bibliography after being mentioned in the text. Even the bibliography could have been checked more carefully for sloppy errors prior to publication.