Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft Review

Reviewed by Randall

Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft    
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Title: Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft (Second Edition)
Author: Raymond Buckland
Format: Trade Paperback, 368 pages
Publisher: Llewellyn
Publication date: May 2002
ISBN-10: 0875420508
ISBN-13: 978-0875420509
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When Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft first appeared on bookstore shelves in the middle of the 1980s, it was snapped up by eager newbies and long time Pagans alike. At the time, it quickly became a staple: a book that everyone recommended to those new to Wicca. After 31 printings, Llewellyn replaced this old standby with a slightly revised second edition in 2002. The major change to the second edition is larger type. This may not sound like much, but the larger type and more consistent formatting make the second edition much easier to read.

Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft lost some of its luster in the 1990s, unfortunately in this reviewer's opinion. The more traditional forms of Wicca (which Buckland teaches in this book) went out of style and were replaced by a more sanitized and politically correct form of Wicca. Worse, while Neo-Wiccan authors of the 1990s often sound like they are trying to be a cross between the reader's kindly mother and the reader's best friend and confidant, Raymond Buckland's reserved and slightly superior writing style makes it sound at times like the reader should be ever so grateful to him for writing this book.

If you read the customer reviews at this book's page at Amazon.com, you will see that its more traditional Wiccan teachings are apparently offensive to many readers accustomed to the more sanitized and politically correct Neo-Wiccan teachings which became common in the early 1990s. Many reviewers there take the first edition of this book and its author to task for talking about traditional Wiccan things like skyclad rituals or the binding and symbolic scourging of initiates and for including a page or two on sex magick.

Admittedly, this book is not perfect. It tries to cover far too much and therefore often ends up spending a few pages on material that deserves a book or two of its own -- in a few cases without taking the trouble to refer you to those extra books. The history of Wicca information in the first lesson is woefully out of date. Buckland gives the now pretty much discredited idea that modern Wicca is a direct survival a pre-Christian "Old Religion" instead of being mostly the invention of Gerald Gardner. Unfortunately, this section was not revised noticeably for the second edition. Also, Buckland still suggests using one of the better herbals "such as Culpeper's" Herbal. I don't know what Buckland was thinking on this point. While Culpeper can be an excellent source of info on the magickal uses of herbs, it is hundreds of years out of date on the safe medical uses of herbs.

Nevertheless, Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft is an excellent beginner book for someone interested in traditional Wicca, especially if they are interested in practicing their religion as part of a circle or coven. There is information in here that is often not covered at all in today's more popular Neo-Wiccan beginner books. The wide variety of material covered in fifteen lessons is about what would be covered in a good traditional coven's first degree training program. This book also gives you a complete set of generic, but written along traditional Wiccan lines, coven rituals. While they aren't specifically for Buckland's Seax-Wica tradition, they are obviously designed to fit it with simple changes anyone who has a copy of the Seax-Wica Book of Shadows, The Tree, could make.

This volume has one feature which might make it it worthwhile even for Neo-Wiccans who find traditional Wicca not to their taste. Those interested in making their own Wiccan-style working tools will find well-illustrated, clearly-written instructions in Lesson Three. Buckland is an excellent craft writer. I'd love to see a Pagan crafts book by Mr. Buckland. He writes this material well.

Buckland describes the second edition changes in his introduction. The main change is the layout and arrangement of material -- which has improved the readability of the book greatly in this reviewer's opinion. Other changes include more pictures and illustrations, revised reading lists and revised information on Wiccan traditions. Buckland says he did not make major changes to the content as doing so would have been unfair to those who had purchased the first edition. Unfortunately, a few parts of this book (such as the history in the first lesson) really needed to be updated to include the results of more recent research. To Buckland's credit, however, he did not remove the small sections that so upset some in the Neo-Wiccan "political correctness" crowd.

In summary, if you are looking for a good beginner book on more traditional Wicca and are willing to put up with Buckland's slightly reserved and superior attitude, you'll probably want to snap up the second edition of Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft. If you do not find traditional Wicca (with its emphasis on birth, sex, death, and both the light and dark side of the universe and life) to be your cup of tea, you'll probably want to pass on this volume.

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