While it might not be unrealistic to state that books on the occult have never been so readily available to those who might wish to read them; the academic study of magic remains, to some degree, marginalised by the Academy. Therefore, ten years after the historian and scholar, Ronald Hutton, began the process of questioning why this should be so, under the editorship of Dave Evans and Dave Green, a host of contributors clearly demonstrate that the academic study of Paganism, Witchcraft, Ritual Magic, and other facets of the esoteric, is alive, well, and eager to take its rightful place within the departments of History, Sociology, Religious Studies, Philosophy and Anthropology.
The triumph of this particular book is it's ability to be a valuable addition to the bookshelves of those who have become recently interested in the esoteric, as well as reminding those whose knowledge is fuller that the term Paganism has become too loosely used. Amy Hale's excellent contribution reminds us, there are differences between what she refers to as "occult groups" that can clearly define them as being other to what has become popularly defined as 21st Century Paganism. Moreover, Hale engages with concerns first raised by Hutton about the position of the academic researcher whose engagement with esoteric research might raise questions about his or her rationality - especially is the line between researcher and practitioner becomes blurred in the minds of academic colleagues. Statements such as these clearly engage with the necessity of more, not less scholars, engaging with research in these areas, so that issues such as "validity" are powerfully challenged in much the same way as those early and pioneering quantitative researchers stood firm against the view that the only valid world view was a positivist one.
The social status of the various branches of esoteric traditions was originally raised by Hutton (1999) and Hale and others take up this theme, suggesting that "religions are generally considered to be more socially acceptable than secret societies." However, while Hale claims that "Pagans are now more public, and they want their beliefs and practices to be respected." Sadly, prejudice and fear still blight the study of Western Esotericism and influence too the attitudes that society has towards those who practice it in all its various forms. Henrik Bogdan's essay reflects on the role that irrational fear plays within society and how it continues to influence public opinion towards those occult societies and Orders who may be considered by some to be "secret" "hidden" or part of a counter-culture. While Bogdan engages with what he refers to as the "practical orientation" of such groups, it must also be noted that engagement in scholarly activity is also not uncommon within magical fraternities. For example, the Ordo Templi Orientis is an initiatory body that has members who engage with the academic study of magic.
Dave Green's reference to his own use of a magical sigil during the early days of his academic career shows that far from being scary and other, a magical working can be performed while going about the business of daily life and is often carried out to support an individual in making the best contribution that they can to an often complex and materialistic world.
For those who want a readable academic slant on magic and the occult, this collection of essays is ideal. It will doubtless find its way on to the recommended reading lists of universities around the world. Green's account of his synchronistic meeting with Hutton illustrates how the subtle forces of magical energy reach out to those who choose to open themselves up to them, and how the academic study of magic can support society in coming to a better understanding the role that esotericism has in the 21st century.
This is an interesting collection of essays written by a variety of academics on various aspects of the esoteric... however that's where the main problem lies - these are all on the esoteric in general! Professor Ronald Hutton's The Triumph of the Moon (the book that this work was assembled to celebrate) was specifically on "Modern Pagan Witchcraft" as Hutton described it, or as it is often called, "Wicca". In fact very little in this tome is devoted specifically to Wicca, instead talking about a mix of ceremonial magic, folklore, witchcraft and the state of esoteric academia today. Nonetheless for those interested in the topic of esotericism, this is an interesting little read.