Author: Carl McColman
Trade Paperback, 190 pages
Publisher: New Page Books
Publication date: October 2003
Price & More Info: Click Here
Before You Cast A Spell: Understanding the Power of Magic book takes a different approach to magick by discussing the theoretical and ethical underpinnings of magick. While most people interested in magick would probably prefer to start with a more practical book, I think books like this are a great idea when done well. Unfortunately, this book is not done all that well. While it claims to be about magick in general, the information and ethics presented in it only make sense from a fairly modern, "New Generation" Wiccan point-of-view. The author sees magick as "spiritual power," teaches Wiccan Rede/Threefold Law-based (and read literally) ethics, and otherwise has a point-of-view that will make sense more to Neo-Wiccans than ceremonial mages, atheistic magicians, or magick workers following non-Wicca-like Pagan religions. Even more traditional Wiccans will have problems with it as they do not take the short form of the Wicca Rede as absolute and literal law (just as a "rede" -- "good advice").
The authors gives thirteen laws of magick. Unfortunately, many of them are only laws of magick from a very modern Wiccan point-of-view. Not all people who use magick believe in the Goddess, in karma, that the power of magickal tools is only in your mind, that you have to be able to meditate to do magick, that the best spells are ones you personally create, that there are no exceptions to the Wiccan Rede and the Threefold Law, or that the laws of nature are the laws of the Goddess and cannot be countered by magick. Some types of magicians believe in some of these laws, but the only ones I know of who probably believe in all of them are "New Generation" Wiccans. The author, however, presents his thirteen laws as the absolute laws of magick. From practical experience, I know they are not.
Unfortunately, the entire book is riddled with problems like those above as the author has apparently decided that all magick is subject to a "New Generation" Wiccan world view. For example, the author translates the short form of the Wiccan Rede ("An it harm none, do what ye will") as "Harm none, and act according to your will." This is a very non-traditional, Rede as law "translation." Most traditional Wiccans will tell you that it reads as it is written but the word "An" is an old word for "If" and that it is good advice, not law (If it harms none, do what you will).
I had high hopes for this book when I saw it as I really liked the author's When Someone You Love is Wiccan; unfortunately, these hopes were quickly dashed as I started to read it. This book should be avoided by everyone who isn't a "New Generation" Wiccan. Had this book been titled something like "Before You Cast a Spell: Magickal Ethics for the New Generation Wiccan" and the author had limited himself to discussing magick from the point of view of New Generation Wicca instead of magick in general, I would not have had nearly as many problems with it.
Reviewed by Randall