on 24 October 2009
It was a breath of fresh air to read this book, which presents accurate and historical information in order to separate the `myth' from the `reality' in regard to the origins of Wicca. Perhaps for the first time, these authors look closely at the individual practices which make up Wicca as a whole, and source the exact origins of these practices.
There has been much hostility between different traditions of modern witchcraft in regard to whether Wicca is - or is not - a continuation of older practices. To compound this, many practitioners of Wicca also try to avoid association with the more controversial figures - such as Aleister Crowley: and this book proves - whether you like it or not! - that Aleister had an enormous influence on Wiccan practice, particularly in relation to some of its most highly regarded ritual and poetry.
This book presents very clearly that Wicca - whilst a new concept as a whole - is indeed based on older practices, perhaps including the mystery traditions of Greece and Rome, Ceremonial Magick, the Cunning Craft of Britain and the Grimoire tradition (the latter which provides Wicca with such key practices as the directions, or `quarters', and the magic circle; used in both Traditional Wicca and some forms of modern British Cunning Craft). The authors also give their own opinion based on the evidence at the end of the book as to which they believe was the most prevalent influence; but the reader is reminded to come to their own conclusions.
I would thoroughly recommend this book, `Wicca: Magickal Beginnings' to the serious student who is interested in the historical origins of this tradition, as well as the continuation of magical traditions as a whole - and I would not hesitate in placing this book next to other ground breaking titles such as Professor Ron Hutton's `Triumph of the Moon'. However - that being said, there is something more than just historical evidence coming through this book when one reads between the lines; because, whilst the authors draw on historical information, they also interject this work with statements such as, `the outward radiation of the mysteries', and `the continuation of a growing spiritual and magickal current', when speaking about the more debated texts and/or practices which have influenced the growth of Wicca - such as work by Murray, Frazer, and Leland.
An absolute gem of a read - and a fantastic `myth-buster', too! Any serious student of Wicca (and indeed student of any other magical tradition) should read this book, in order to gain further insight into the `Magickal Beginnings' of this practice - a practice which has, very quickly, become one of the fastest growing belief systems in the world.
on 4 June 2012
This book entails a refreshing and objective overview of the plausible origins and developments of many magickal aspects and their development into modern Wiccan traditions. Chapter by chapter the authors examine individual practices and their developments over time such as the Magick circle, Wiccan Rede and Witches Athame for example.
Having recently read Ronald Hutton's research in The Triumph of the Moon, which seems to demonstrate that despite the history of Cunning Folk, Wise Women and many others, that Wicca as it exists today has little or no direct connection with any magick traditions of earlier times, this book - if we are able to join the dots between movements and grimoires, convincingly portrays an opposite view. Here we see that the Wiccan traditions do indeed follow a historical lineage, even if individual practices have understandably changed over time - by which mean we may see that they are living traditions rather than archived curiosities, that the spirit of magick has maintained a constant and responsive cultural presence, possibly since very ancient times. This book also explores how Gerald Gardener, the apparent father of modern Wicca, may owe more than is usually stated to Aleister Crowley, Charles Leland, the Key of Solomon and Frazier's Golden Bough among others.
The co author's Sorita D'ete and David Rankine provide numerous references in an extensive bibliography for the academically determined to double check their assertions and contexts, some good humored asides of interest and some objective conjecture that invites an opened mind to assess for themselves- based on the evidences gathered - the likely origins of each aspect under consideration.
As a believer in informed understanding I would therefore recommend this book, to be considered in conjunction with other authors research, to any who seek a practical view of the possible lineage of Wicca and Magickal traditions in Britain and the World today.
on 14 May 2008
(A version of this review was originally posted on 'The Avalonia Esoteric Book Review' site)
If we look at the arguments people have over Wicca, the biggest one is generally whether "Gardner made it up" or not. He introduced `The Craft' to the public in 1951, claiming that he'd been initiated into a system which was already in existence, not one that he invented himself. Since then we've found evidence that Gardner certainly changed parts of it later (as did Doreen Valiente and others), but the question over whether he really found an existing tradition remains.
The authors of this book decided not to focus on the big names like Gerald Gardner, but instead trace the origins of Wiccan *practices*. These are, after all, the things that make Wicca what it is - the ceremonies, tools and systems.
And this is where the trouble is going to start, because many people now see Wicca as primarily a pagan Earth-religion. Early `Gardnerian' Wicca (before it was called that) was very different in some ways: more like an initiatory system of ceremonial magic with some witchy themes. People are quite angry on both sides about whether real Wicca today is the initiatory type, or one that should be open to all.
So what does the book say about this? Well, the first conclusion is that - even if Gerald did make it up - the systems Wicca draws together go back a long way. The early chapters are interesting, but the sections on the Athame, Magic Circle and Calling the Quarters are brilliant. There is a lot of information here for Wiccans who want to know more about where their practices come from: specific parts are traced to the Lesser Key of Solomon or John Dee and Enochian Magic, but beliefs such as only walking sunwise around a circle go back strongly to Egyptian times.
The chants and verses are also examined. `The Charge of the Goddess' is analysed in detail, as are some of the more common chants such as the Witches Rune. This is where the arguments will begin again, because the authors point to some sources that many people won't like. They show just how much of the Charge of the Goddess comes straight from Aleister Crowley, who isn't always a popular figure with modern wiccans. Doreen Valiente re-wrote much of the Charge from the original version, claiming she wanted to reduce the amount of Crowley material in it, but then replaced it with more! In fact, Valiente doesn't come out of this very well at all, although the authors politely use phrases such as "she may have been mistaken...".
I already knew some of these origins before reading this book, but the level of detail here really adds something. It makes a difference that the authors are practicing Wiccans with experience in ceremonial traditions, because finding the sources sometimes depends on understanding exactly what each ritual represents. Unfortunately, the answers aren't always going to be what wiccans want to hear. At one point the list reads "Crowley, Lesser Key of Solomon, Crowley, Christianity". For wiccans whose path may be primarily a pagan religion, this isn't going to go down well.
It doesn't have to offend, though. By emphasising the link to ceremonial magick, the authors actually reinforce Wicca's connection to original European witchcraft. Cunning Men are well known to have worked from books on astrology and texts such as these, but included here are also illustrations of *witches* working in a similar way. One illustration from 1715 shows a woman in a double-circle commanding spirits with a wand, following instructions from a book on the ground.
So, the big question: Do the authors claim that Wicca has a beginning that goes back before Gardner? Well, I'm not going to tell you. Finding out is half the fun of this book! They set out a number of possibilities, and discuss the evidence for each before picking one based on their own opinions. Regardless of whether you agree with their conclusions, people are already so divided on this topic that it is likely to be a very controversial book.
Because of that, I expected `Wicca: Magickal Beginnings' to sell very quickly. (I didn't expect it to sell every copy of its first print run in approximately three hours, however!) What was a nice surprise was how useful it will be to wiccans in their daily practice - knowing the roots of the tools and ceremonies really added a lot to my appreciation of many areas, and I loved reading about them. Some of the references are put in just for fun (and clearly labelled as such), but quite often the conclusions are a little different to those the wiccan community usually assumes are the case.
The first printing isn't free from mistakes: an errata sheet is included (humourously claiming that the minor spelling errors are all the fault of Hermes, the mischievous God of communication). The rest of the presentation is good though, and it becomes a real page-turner when you find a part of wiccan practice you feel strongly about.
"Magickal Beginnings" pulls together all the subjects that will interest wiccans, but which are usually too diverse to be found in one place. Readers who want to go further now have a valuable set of links to excellent texts. (The bibliography at the back runs to 16 pages...) By covering the ceremonial topics as well as looking at themes on the pagan side such as Cernunnos, I think "Wicca: Magickal Beginnings" is going to become a vital part of many wiccans' bookshelves.
on 14 January 2013
There are few books like Magickal Beginnings on the market, I would even say that it's unique.
We definitely have Hutton's "Triumph of the Moon" (which is also a must read). However, I think that, even though it is always nice to have a "historic approach", some involvement in the subject the author is talking about gives the book a completely different resonation - maybe a more intimate one?
That doesn't mean, of course, that this book lacks sources, or that the authors didn't dare to expose certain delicate subjects, on the contrary! But, behind that, the reader can perceive the impression that only a first-person-involvement can leave.
Another remarkable point of this work, is that the authors don't sentence a conclusion - they draw different lines, leaving the "answer" (if there's any) to the reader's criteria. However, they don't leave you with a bitter or confused feeling, and wisely end the book with the conclusions that they find more suitable.
Anyone willing to know more about Witchcraft/Wicca, not just the sources of the Wicca itself as a whole, but about each element in particular, carefully segmented, should really read this masterpiece.
Anyone not willing to do so....as well.
on 12 November 2011
There are an ever-increasing number of books on the market purporting to detail the origins of witchcraft, not all of them believeable. This book has been meticulously researched, and is very thought-provoking. It makes no definitive claims about the result, but invites the reader to make up their own mind. Apart from anything else, it is very easy to read and understand, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
on 24 January 2014
Not a "how-to"book for magic workers, but an excellent academic study on the roots of Wicca by two respected practitioners. A perfect addition to the library of serious students of the history and traditions of Wicca; fairly technical but easy to follow if you are interested in this topic. Extensive bibliography and clear conclusions - with which one may agree or beg to differ!
Goes well with Ronald Hutton's book on the same subject "The Triumph of the Moon", which approaches the subject differently, with equally well researched but different conclusions. The only negative about this Kindle edition is, as usual with them, minor typos which could be sorted out with a little effort. We do pay good money for them, after all.
on 24 November 2014
Not bad this one - but only for the thorough research . Sorita seems quite a busy -and popular - girl these days.
I know all about the Crowley-Gardner links because I inherited the lineage from the OTO charter (operating it, per se, until 1985 when Yankee doodle dandies necessitated me incorporating it into a Wiccan Order of which I was Magister).
Much as I like some of the striking pics of Sorita, I am afraid film of her rituals fails to mesmerize me. Like this book, they are, alas, more than a trifle dull and make me long for the Gardnerian / Alexandrian rituals of days of yore (,check out the old footage of Rae Bone's coven).
Dr G 33,97,8-3.
on 6 March 2014
The reviews speak by themselfs, this book is an obligatory read. The level of research makes you to know how deep and rich is this tradition. I was expecting something boring or heavy to read -to be honest- but it really fascinated me. Highly recommended.
on 13 April 2015
An excellent book by Soita D'Este and David Rankine. Informative and knowledgeable. An excellent esoteric overview pitched at general reader. Highly recommended. I have been waiting for a Kindle version of this book for some while.
on 21 January 2015
This book is of outstanding merit and puts the case clearly that Gardner was building on earlier traditional practices. This book should be read by every Wiccan sceptic.