Dr Leo Ruickbie is to be congratulated on undertaking such an extensive work and on the skill with which he condenses millennia and simplifies complex historical processes into an understandable and readable book. This book is an intelligent and highly accomplished addition to the subject written by one of the leading experts in the field – from his excellent website I have learned that Ruickbie has been awarded a doctorate from King’s College for the work on which this book is, in part, based.
Witchcraft and Heresy
On pages 66-70 Ruickbie explores the development of ‘heretical witchcraft’. He begins by quoting from the Malleus Maleficarum, the Inquisition’s handbook of witch persecution: ‘Those who try to induce others to perform such evil wonders are called witches […] such persons are plainly heretics.’ His argument is that heresy and witchcraft became linked in the Inquisitor’s mind and therefore played a fundamental role in the development of the persecution of witchcraft. He does not, as one reviewer suggests, say that the two are the same, in particular, he does not say that Catharism and witchcraft are the same, but that they were described in similar ways by the authorities that persecuted them. This is a big difference and shows Ruickbie’s keen insight into the development of the persecution of witchcraft. There is no sheer conjecture here as Ruickbie carefully documents the material linking the two views and cites other authorities on the history of witchcraft to support his well-presented argument.
Witchcraft and Freemasonry
Gerald Gardner’s connection with Freemasonry is, as Ruickbie demonstrates, beyond question. It is important to point out that Gardner was involved in Freemasonry more than 30 years ago and with a number of orthodox and unorthodox branches of it. Ruickbie defers to the authority of the occult historian Andre Nataf who clearly describes the three degrees of the Blue Lodges to which Gardner belonged as Apprentice, Journeyman and Master. That ‘Journeyman’ can also be referred to as ‘Fellow Craft’ is a small point. Again Ruickbie does not claim that the Royal Arch degree is the highest attainable in the Blue Lodges on p. 118 – he has just stated that Master is the highest on p. 116. There is nothing inaccurate here. The governing body of Freemasonry in England, Wales and the Channel Islands – the United Grand Lodge of England – officially recognises the Royal Arch as a degree above the basic three-fold system. What Ruickbie convincingly shows here is how Gardner’s involvement with Freemasonry structured his later organisation of Wicca and potential readers should not be put off by one reviewer’s storm in a teacup.
I found the third part of the book exploring witchcraft today to be utterly unlike anything I have come across before. There is so much new information here, carefully analysed and discussed, that it is worth paying twice as much for these chapters alone. But taken as a whole, this book provides the most insightful history of witchcraft that I have read to date.
It would be presumptuous to criticise such academically rigorous work and indeed I - as an historian specialized in the middle ages - can find no fault with it. The breadth of knowledge displayed in Witchcraft Out of the Shadows and the elegance of style with which it is written make this a welcome change from the usual plethora of books on witchcraft. This is a book worth buying, worth reading and re-reading. Like me you will refer to it often and look forward to reading more from this refreshing new writer.