Author: Phyllis Curott
Trade Paperback, 352 pages
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publication date: September 2002
Price & More Info: Click Here
Witch Crafting: A Spiritual Guide to Making Magic is written well and is a lovely read in terms of writing and some of the content. Curott manages to get across a concept of Wicca that is based on connecting with the Divine rather than doing spellwork; a goal that I think many books miss entirely. Despite that her first chapter is called "Real Magic", which may mislead the beginner into believing that's what Wicca is about, the rest of the book manages to highlight the Divine in a way that is both beautiful and meaningful for the reader. She discusses divination early on in the book as a method of connecting with the Divine, which is unique -- most books put divination further on if it's included at all. She discusses nature, sacred space, correspondences and tools, energy, sabbats, working as a solitary and coven member, and spellcasting. She stresses the importance of living Wicca and the Divine, rather than imagining or reading about them. She has a large section of resources for further reading. Witch Crafting is focused at newer Pagans and those who have been around awhile -- providing a basis for Wicca with some fresh insights. I'm actually rereading the book already because parts of it are so enjoyable.
All that said, it is a shame that I find such huge problems with the book, and although I'm rereading it I do find parts that are irritating (if I don't skip them altogether).
First, she uses the terms Wicca and witchcraft interchangeably, which as many of us know is misleading. While she does explain in the introduction that they aren't necessarily synonymous, she doesn't give an excellent explanation (Wicca is "both a specific tradition of witchcraft and a popular synonym for it", she says), and never explains why she chooses to use the word witchcraft. This has lead to much confusion in the Pagan community, and if an author chooses to use the words a certain way, I feel they should at least be able to provide some reasoning for doing so.
Second, Curott on many occasions discusses the problems of Christianity. She blames it not just for the faults of society, but also for the annihilation of the earth, as well as pointing out what a lonely religion it is, and so on. Frankly, this bothers me on two levels -- first and foremost, I don't buy a Wiccan book to read about Christianity, and as far as I'm concerned discussion of said religion in such a negative light has no place in a book about Wicca. Secondly, Curott comes off as ranting and raving in this book, and rather than discussing Christianity in a well educated way seems to bash it. What place does this kind of attitude have in a book that is aimed partially at beginners?
Third, while I appreciate that Curott is expressing a form of Wicca wherein magic is inextricably linked to the Divine, I do feel she makes some comments that take this too far. She points out that magic done without the Divine inevitably fails and leads to egotism and selfishness. While that belief is quite valid, I do know Pagans who work magic quite successfully outside paradigms and myth of deity -- I feel it's unnecessary to insult people who do it differently. This will also confuse newer folks who aren't aware that magic and religion aren't necessarily one.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, one way Curott seeks to "revolutionize" Wicca is by tossing all the rules out. She does this summarily in one chapter of discussion on the threefold law. She explains that people use the threefold law as a scare tactic, and that such laws are based entirely on fear of power (here taking an opportunity to discuss the "woman's holocaust" -- you know, the burning times, "when hundreds of thousands of shamans were tortured and killed"). She points out the term black magic is racist and a term that "Witches condemn", and other than the threefold law, only spends one or two paragraphs on the Rede (and poor paragraphs at that). She concludes that Wiccans don't need rules because anyone who truly knows the Divine would never think of causing harm. Not only is this view naive, in my opinion, it also downright ignores the concepts of the Magician's Manifesto, and 13 principles of witchcraft, as well as nearly ignoring the Rede. We're led back to people who believe the Rede means one must never, ever harm anyone, as "anyone in touch with the Goddess wouldn't think of it".
Here Curott focuses on one rule, as she interprets it -- a rule of magnified karma, while we know that many Pagans interpret it as return on the spiritual, emotional, and physical, based on fear and punishment. She seems to be so intent on challenging Wicca as it exists now as to ignore the Rede, and in doing so replaces the opportunity for a deep discussion on ethics and theology with an anarchist judgment of all Wiccan ethics and laws based on her idea of the threefold law. This chapter, "Witchcraft Without Rules", was definitely the one that disappointed and angered me most in her book.
In summary, while I feel Witch Crafting: A Spiritual Guide to Making Magic is a beautiful read most of the time, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to beginners. The problems mentioned above unfortunately cast a very dark shadow on an otherwise beautiful book. While I feel the bulk of this book is excellent to work a path that fosters a connection with the Divine on a daily and personal basis, and while I feel the writing and personal anecdotes are lovely, I would be concerned with newer Pagans getting incorrect impressions on Christianity, the rules of Wicca, etc. As someone who has been studying Wicca a bit longer, I do feel this book is worth what I paid for it, but I wouldn't feel comfortable recommending it to a beginner without discussing the caveats above in depth.
Reviewed by Rain