The Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Practical Magic by Susan Greenwood and Raje Airey
The title certainly does sound suspect, at first, especially when compared to many other pagan and Neopagan books that use the word “complete” or “encyclopedia”. Most books would definitely not live up to the title of their names. It gets worse when it contains misinformation about history or historical revision. Often times, this is paired with little or no citations, so the reader has no idea where those ideas came from. (They’re just repeated ideas from author to author, with no thought as to origins or questions.) This is what many have come to expect. Primarily from publishers such as Llewellyn.
Indeed, the book sells itself as a guide to witchcraft and practical magic. But while the cover makes no mention of religion, even within it’s cover, it is certainly geared towards pagans and the more New Age of us. It still seems suspicious since it also seems to be about history. To quote the book itself:
A visual guide to the history and practice of magic through the ages-its origins, ancient traditions, language, learning, ways and rituals, and great practitioners. Illustrated with 960 illustrations, inspirational fine art, images from nature, and step-by-step photographs to help you enhance your magical abilities and natural powers. Contains practical instructions for over 60 spells, charms and invocations, giving advice on dowsing, runes, auras, and scrying.
It is easy to be skeptical about it, but it surprisingly actually lived up to it’s hype. The book does contain many beautiful pictures from across the era. It has very useful charms and procedures for those just divulging into witchcraft and it does accurately represent the history of witchcraft. For the sake of this article, the book will be split into two parts; The first half, covers history and origins. The second half, is the how-to guide.
The Historical section
The beginning part of this section is about the history of magic, including what it is. Amazingly, it covers just about every major area of the world in this part. (Even if it only devoted a page to it.) From Korea, China, Europe, African, and even Aboriginal beliefs in magic, shamanism, and witchcraft. These topics are rarely covered by Neopagans and when they are, it usually has questionable “facts” and is appropriated in such a manner that it is highly questionable. It is refreshing to see some accuracy when informing people of these beliefs.
The historical section of the book covers so many traditions, including modern ones such as Satanism, Wicca, chaos magic, and the Golden Dawn. It glosses over not just Crowley and Gerald Gardner, but also Dion Fortune and Raymond Buckland. The modern part of the historical section even speaks about the New Age, feminist witchcraft, and how magic survived through the ages. (There is also some pages devoted to the topic of the witch hunts without the debunked stuff from Murray touted as fact.) Of course the book could not cover all Neopagan religions and traditions over the past few decades, it does cover many of the major movements and the influential contemporary people who contributed to the modern pagan movements.
Without insulting any faith, the book features magic from monotheistic traditions such as Islam, Christianity, Voodoo, and Judaism, religions that do not often get covered in such books. (And if they are covered, it is not accurate.) Notably, Kabbalah, with mentions of monotheism. There is nothing in the book about how “all witches are pagans” or “witchcraft has nothing to do with God/Satan”, rather the tone of the book is more from a mature, professional, and academic standpoint. On the contrary, to such authors as Silver Ravenwolf. The book takes care never to insult anyone in it’s discussions of these topics nor does it have a judgmental tone.
Likewise, the book features many myths and controversies that have contributed to modern views of magic. Myths of the classical period such as Circe and Madea, which have had a lasting impact on cultural views of magic and witches. Stories of the cunning men and women, who left their mark on Wicca and modern witchcraft. It even covers science and magical thought, for a bit, on a more objectionable tone, without offending anyone.
While it is still slanted more towards Western magic and traditions, such as American and European, it does provide insight to other traditions outside of this. It does not cover Hermeticism enough though, and it’s contribution to modern traditions of magic. (Literally, almost every modern and popular magical tradition has its origins in Hermeticism.) However, it does take extreme care in it’s presentations not to push any one view and to show different sides and beliefs. Given that the book is made for an English speaking audience, it really is good that it presents other things outside of mainstream Wicca and Europe.
The how-to section
The how-to part of the book is very extraordinarily secular. It does not push anyone belief system, but does use the elements and includes gods and angels in it’s lists. Much of it includes meditations, crystals, herbs, planets, etc. Most of this is from classical systems of Greece and Rome, the kind most use in the West today. It does not use or ‘appropriate’ any other cultures’ system. It just mixes classical and modern, how most people use it today.
They use the wheel of year with the season changes and the usage of working with the other worlds, is brought into a more secular area. The wheel of year was originally religious, but here it is presented in a way that does not hook it to any one religion as it is just a celebration of nature. Likewise, there is a lot on dream working and exploring the other worlds, without the religious context being present. This is because anyone can use these techniques, religious or not. There does not have to be a religious element involved.
There is individual sections in the guide to use various forms of divination and the classical elements all have their own pages. Anything from tarot, to numerology, to scrying is featured in this section. Every element has its own little section, complete with lists of it’s relation. (It also covers imbalances of such elements.) They have included the ‘fifth’ element known as spirit, akasha, and aether, too. There is hardly anything not covered in the guide for the beginner.
The guide contains some rituals. These rituals include healings and banishings. Good fortune spells, and a spell for psychic power. There is even the basics for casting a circle and clearing/purifying space. There are plenty of spells for the home, outdoors, and friendship. All of the magic presented is positive, none of it is negative in this section. There are no hex or cursing spells in this book. No summoning of evil spirits. No demons and no destructive/offensive spells. At the same time, the book does not push the harm none thing or any morality, it just says nothing in that regard.
Pros: The book is probably one of the best beginner books out there. It cuts out the fluff that has pervaded the pagan community for far too long. There is hardly a scratch of dis/misinfo in it, though it does contain some mistakes. It gives an accurate historical outline, while the giving beginners who are still trying to do magic and/or still trying to figure out themselves, rituals and spells that are easy to do. This book is highly recommendable for beginners into the occult, paganism, or witchcraft. It is a must have if you are into advanced witchcraft as well, because it can be used an easy reference, with the lists that it has. The pictures are beautiful and it is one of the more well made beginner books. The layout is also easy to navigate and there is even a bibliography paired with the index. This book belongs in any witch’s bookshelf, for these reasons.
Cons: The only reason this has four/four and a half instead of five stars is the few mistakes it does have. The biggest inaccuracy is the switches of earth/water, on the autumn/winter thing. Autumn is supposed to be earth, here it is water, with winter being earth, instead, in the book. That does not make sense, but it is easily correctable. Another thing is the book focuses more on moon phases, and not enough on the sun or daytime magical activities, though it does focus on the day stuff more than other witchcraft on the market currently do.