on 17 June 2009
This book is such a treat! Contrary to the erroneous information on this page, it's already been published in hardcover, and well worth buying in that format since it's a book one will want to refer to forever. The writing is lucid and wonderfully easy to read, yet conveys an astonishing amount of information. Although I am very well-versed in the subject, practically every page contained things I didn't know, and while it is indeed a perfect book for the "intelligent novice" it's far more than that - it's a serious, in-depth survey of a massive topic. Philip Carr-Gomm wears his erudition lightly, but this is no light-weight study; co-author Richard Heygate vividly portrays the insights of the many contemporary magicians he interviewed.
Fact after fascinating fact, idea after intriguing idea, character after eccentric character, all described with intelligent appreciation and the occasional tongue in cheek. A generous sprinkling of delightful anecdotes - my favourite being a gentleman named Cyril Hoskins, who fell out of a tree while trying to photograph an owl and "while suffering concussion had given permission for a Tibetan lama, with the full name of Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, to inhabit his body." Bless! Only in England. Note, please, that it's an OWL - the bird of wisdom!
The book is also very well put together - nice paper, gorgeous cover, decorative section headings, lots of illustrations (Mr. Rampa is shown with an enigmatically smiling Siamese cat). Little "potted biographies" of notable figures are set into the text, so it's perfect to read in little snippets....but beware! I opened it with the idea of leafing through first, reading more thoroughly later...several hours passed.
It would have been a wonderful book even were it merely an historical account, but at each step the book does more - it invites the reader into the reality of magic in several ways. First are the many interviews with real people, who speak of their magical experience and work. These "open up" the book by providing windows into other lives; it is as though a druid and a shaman, an alchemist and a dowser came by for a cup of tea and sat talking at the kitchen table until late. And each of them is someone we'd be happy to have stay overnight, so we could resume our conversation in the morning.
Another way the book reaches out to us is the "interactive" section at the end of each chapter, which presents Things to Do, from ley-hunting to Renaissance astrology, alchemy to ESP. The suggestions include some that are ideal for the whole family, but also others suitable for considerably more advanced students. There is in each section as well a comprehensive resource guide, including both print and online sources and, most excellently, sources in fiction, for those who know that fiction is often truer than fact! The innocents among us are warned, in sections called "Traps for the Sorcerer's Apprentice" of the various delusions that await the unwary.
Books about magic tend to have been written - with a few exceptions - either by people who "believe in it" - tiresome in their credulity - or by academics who by definition don't - equally tiresome in their elaborate, futile attempts to explain the obviously non-material in materialist terminology. It's a real pleasure to encounter these authors' refreshingly balanced approach.
on 12 July 2009
The authors have clearly put a lot of work into this handsomely produced book. For anyone seeking an overview of the magical scene in England past and present it will prove invaluable. Unusually, it doesn't just look at the past. A large part of the book is given over to interviews with present-day magical workers, including links to where they can be contacted. So for anyone seeking a path this would be a good place to start. Also, topics are approached from more than one angle. For example, the 43-page chapter entitled 'The Queen's Astrologer' looking at the Angelic magic of Dr. John Dee, begins with an 11-page summary of Dee's life and work, followed by explanations and interviews with Dee authorities including Robin Cousins, Stephen Skinner, and Rufus Harrington. Finally, it places Dee in historical context with an account of Renaissance astrological magic.
The Book of English Magic is most impressive, though with a volume of this size and covering such a wide range of topics, some errors are sure to creep in. For instance, there are one or two incorrect references in the section devoted to Madeline Montalban and ourselves. Rick Hayward, who helped Madeline run her school of magic from 1967, is quoted as saying "... soon found a job with Prediction magazine as an astrologer". Rick in reality inherited Madeline's position as astrologer on Prediction after she died in 1982. Also, the book states that Madeline's real name was Dolores North. She was born Madeline Royals and became Madeline North when she married in 1939. Presumably 'Dolores North' came from Gerald Gardner, who referred to her as such, and must have been one of the pseudonyms she used at the time they met. She did write under various pen names in the late '40s, including the name 'Dolores del Castro'.
More seriously, there is one story on page 484 that is total fiction. The authors describe rituals carried out in a temple in a house in Whitby and at Boggle Hole in 1970. Those involved apparently were Ray Sherwin, Jo Sheridan, Alfred Douglas and Lionel Snell (Ramsey Dukes). In fact Jo and I had no connection with Whitby in 1970. We bought a house in Whitby in November 1971, but it was in such a poor state of repair that we weren't able to move in until February 1975. We sold the house in 1981. There was never a temple there and we practised no group rituals. Our house was used as a retreat from London where we could get on with our writing. Nothing more. We have never met Ray Sherwin or Lionel Snell. The only person we knew in Whitby with any connection to magic was a chap named Bernie who ran an occult supplies business called Starchild.
This is how myths get started: "Oh yes, Jo Sheridan and Alfred Douglas used to dance around Boggle hole with Lionel Snell and Ray Sherwin, trying to raise magical power". I've heard of Boggle Hole but we never went there. As for dancing round until exhausted - definitely not our style. Who started this tale, I wonder? Possibly someone who knew of magic being practised in Whitby in 1970, saw from the blurb on our books that we had a house in Whitby in the '70s, added two and two together and came up with five.
However, this should not distract from a fine book that will surely find a place on every magician's bookshelf.
on 23 June 2009
The Book of English Magic (review)
As someone who is both a `magician' and a `magicKian' this book is a profound gift - a magical masterpiece no less! There is often no middle ground between the `two magics.' The former is usually an attempt to imitate real magic, practiced (often) by sceptical folk who are well versed in psychology, linguistics subtleties and other means of `pulling the wool over peoples eyes.' The latter often takes no notice of some of the necessary balances and healthy scepticisms of the former. This book does! It is both mystical and psychological, supernatural and rational, heavenly and humble.
The two authors, who clearly (and wonderfully) represent different approaches, manage to serve up a delightfully well written, intellectually stimulating, un-put-down-able adventure into all things magical (from merry old England's perspective). No stone of Albion remains unturned. They lead us (readers) into magical encounters wonderful and weird, and not only academically but practically too - offering wonderful `what to do now' pointers and exercises into gaining our own magical experience.
This book clearly involved a tremendous amount of research which, I must say, is evident on every page, and not only in terms of scanning wizard's grimoires, diaries and biographies but face to face interviews with the modern day witches, shamans and alchemists.
Also for those who love a book to look like a book - well, you're in for a treat. When this arrived in the post I tore off the wrapping paper and, for a while, just sat there in awe. It is a marvelously fine volume which begs to be lovingly lifted off the book shelf - almost in slow motion. One needs to take time with this book, not just skim read. It demands a little preparation before indulging. Find an appropriate period where you won't be disturbed, make a large pot of coffee and draw near a side table, sit back in a comfy chair and prepare to be taken through Narnia's wardrobe into an enchanted world where anything is possible.
We need books like this - oh we so need them in our disenchanted modern world of instant everything - not least to remind us older ones that Narnia does in fact exist!
Go buy one now... you won't be disappointed.
on 11 September 2011
This is the inside history of magic that will make things so much easier for those trying to understand the magical world as it is today. In this field, there have been many books giving accounts of outstanding individuals, of groups and of movements. There has still been a gap; trying to see how it all fitted together was difficult, and seeing how the decades we have lived through fit in, harder still. This is the book that puts it all into perspective.
I would have been so grateful for a book like this when I started on the path, but I do not think it could have been written until now. Even a couple of decades ago the fear generated by "the occult" was vehement and widespread. Still, I am envious of those people who can start off aided by this book. The authors review the roots of magic in a common sense way, and look the various movements up to the time of writing, invaluable at a time when there is a feeling of change in the air. At such times a cool-headed history is invaluable this is written with many years of inside knowledge of modern magic and magical groups. It sets matters in context, puts modern practitioners in their place, and deals with matters that have not been given recognition. There is clearly a love for the magical world in general that means it is not partisan and is always constructive.
Invaluable for beginners and old hands alike. It isn't a "how to" book. No spell recipes (thank goodness). Just a map of where magic has been to clarify where it is going; and just what is needed in the second decade of the new century.
on 25 July 2009
'The book of English Magic explores the curious and little-known fact that, of all the countries in the world, England has the richest history of magical lore and practice.'
The scene is set. Armed with magical maps of England and London, we take our seats on the charabanc for a geographical and historical excursion through the trackways, villages and cities of England, in search of magic in all its forms.
This is a thorough and well-researched journey with knowledgeable and trustworthy guides; the Open University study tour of the occult rather than the Blackpool illuminations trippers' special. Yet it reads so well and easily that absorbing a wealth of information feels like a recreational delight.
This book was crying out to be written; presenting us with the continuity of magical practice on one small island from prehistoric times to the present day.
So the bus starts and the authors, our tour guides, lead us through the magical eras. The tour schedule is packed and there are many fine photographic views through the windows as we travel. We will journey from our Ancient roots - caves and the hidden treasures of the land - to The Wizards' Return - the renaissance of English Magic in the twenty-first century.
By its conclusion, the trip will have taken in the worlds of, respectively, the ancient Druids; the Anglo-Saxon sorcerer; Merlin, King Arthur and the Holy Grail; Witches and Warlocks; Alchemists and Puffers - including such notables as 'The Queen's astrologer, Dr, John Dee, and 'The shag-haired wizard of Pepper Alley'.
Emerging from the Elizabethan era we are inducted into the mysteries of Freemasonry and the Power of Number; the Secret Chiefs, Hidden Masters and the Adepts of the Rosy Cross of the Rosicrucians, Theosophists and Ceremonial Magical orders, to be brought firmly into the modern era, 'Opening Pandora's box' with The Great Beast and the Priestess of the Sea.
But now comes the clever twist.
Periodically, after introducing the magical periods and areas, with illustrative potted biographies of significant figures, the authors relinquish the microphone, passing it to a 'guest compere', a contemporary scholar and/or practitioner of the type of magic being discussed. Through personal anecdote and academic findings, a practical, modern perspective is given to such arcane areas of magical practice as shamanism, wicca, druidry, alchemy, and so on, with 'guest presenters' ranging from the relatively unknown to those famous in their field. It is the experience that counts, allowing us direct connection with contemporary practical magical working. And the results range impressively from successfully selling premises by Druidic invocation to having 'the metal of your consciousness' totally transformed by Enochian magic.
And at the end of each stage along the journey, the charabanc stops, allowing time for our own explorations.
These are suggestions for practice of each type of magic, so the opportunity is there to, for example, (from chapter one) join lost knowledge groups; go ley hunting; learn dowsing; seek crop circles and explore holy wells; with resource lists of reference books, maps and websites as backup. And when we have finished our explorations, there is a list of relevant occult fiction of the period to help us to engage imaginatively with the subject matter.
Then, back on to the coach and off to the next period.
Arranging such diverse sections of material and information must have been challenging, but the format they've adopted definitely works. The separate sections are clearly defined with visual strategies including varying borders, margins and font modification.
To paraphrase Steven Skinner, commenting on Dr Dee, none of the wonderful, eccentric charlatans/showmen/magical adepts portrayed in these pages should be taken out of a wide historical context; each is not 'a blip in magical history, but a continuity.' From Stonehenge to the backstreets of magical Covent Garden, through countless generations of seekers, magic has surfaced to enrich the knowledge of successive generations.
Take your place in this history: buy this book and step on the bus!
on 7 May 2012
This book has reawakened my long-standing interest in the subject and brought it up to date, as all of the books I've read were written before the Eighties. It's a comprehensive overview and therefore necessarily a bit shallow, but there are plenty of recommendations for further reading.
I must make a few minor negative comments, though.
- Some of the web links no longer work (but I suppose this is to be expected in a book that's a few years old).
- I don't like the typography of the pages by "guest" contributors; these are in faint grey print and uncomfortable to read.
- The authors have some strange ideas about Freemasonry, which is not at all magical, at least for members of the degrees recognised by the United Grand Lodge of England. And where on Earth did the authors get the idea that Freemasons carry a magic wand in their cases? As Masonry is based on the stonemason's trade, all symbolical tools used are connected with that. The only "wands" in a lodge are the wands of office carried by certain officers, and those are about six feet long and nothing like a magician's wand.
on 2 May 2016
I found this book to be amazing so much information in it I highly recommend this to other buyers that are interested in magic and everything that date way back to England times , the only thing that I found was some of the print on a few pages was faded but other then that is a really good book
on 8 July 2009
Most probably, no modern books have delved into the magic practice and history of England as deeply as this invaluable tome. Not only does it present as many historical facts as Cunning-Folk does, but also include sought-after interviews from the living embodiment of adept magicians in the country. Another distingushing feature which was so often missed out in many books is that the authors describe common self-delusions which initiates and even adepts tend to develop and they suggest counter-measures against them. The book also includes the Magical Map of England and London which would be very helpful for seekers in finding places of inspiration and training. What is disappointing is that I had already moved out of the country when this was published!
on 29 September 2015
There's so much in this book, that they had to print them on thinner pages. I thought that perhaps my copies text was faded, but it's intentional. It's not always easy to read. It's less of an information book, and comes across more like a guide..
on 16 February 2010
This book is a complete treasure trove and I absolutely love it. Every page yields some fascinating information or sparks off interesting trains of thought. It's a work of immense scholarship without being stodgy or indigestible, and it's so easy to read that I immediately became entranced and immersed in another world - one that we can slip in and out of at will.
This book discusses everything connected with English magic, from some of the larger-than-life characters who have populated it in the past (such as John Dee, Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner) to first-person accounts of people who are practising magic now. There are articles on runes, the tarot, astrology, angels, ley lines, cunning folk, Wicca, Druids, alchemy, dowsing ... you name it. In addition, there are suggestions for exercises, things to do and further reading. I could spend several happy years following up all the books, ideas, people and resources listed in The Book of English Magic.
I read it through from cover to cover, but you could just as easily dip in and out of it as the fancy takes you.