Reviewed by Mike Gleason
The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca and Neo-Paganism
by Raymond Buckland
Published 2006 by Visible Ink Press
Paperback 610 pages
More Information on this book at Amazon
For some reason, the first few books I have "read" for review this year have all been reference works, only one of which wasn't a dictionary or encyclopedia style. Two of the first three (including this one) were by well-known authors and so I was familiar with their background and writing style.
The entries in this book are easily cross-referenced through the use of bold-face. They are clearly written and concise. The author has taken the time, in the introduction, to let the reader know why the word "witchcraft" is spelled with both an upper case and a lower case "w" depending on its context.
I have owned a number of encyclopedia on the subjects of Witchcraft and Paganism over the years, some written by "insiders" (Pagans and Witches) and some by outsiders (reporters and researchers). Each of them had their own biases, normally unacknowledged. Mr. Buckland (he seldom refers to his doctorate in anthropology any longer) makes his very bias very clear in the introduction, so no one should be caught unaware.
As with his book on divination, there is an extensive resource section at the end, although this one lacks internet references. Also, each article has sources listed for ease of verification and/or further exploration. The vast majority of these references are relatively recent (within the 20th century), although there are a few older works listed.
There are, unfortunately a number of typographical errors in this work (e.g., "tow" for "two" [page 11] and "mon" for "moon" [page 23]). This is not uncommon and so does not detract from the overall value of this work.
There are numerous illustrations, although not so many that they are an attempt to increase the size of the book. They serve, primarily, to illustrate key individuals and concepts discussed in the text. Most of them are drawn from the Fortean Picture Library.
One item which came as a pleasant surprise was the inclusion of a number of movies (good, bad and mediocre and both well-known and obscure) which have portrayed Witchcraft through the years. I haven't encountered many works which do this. Considering how much the entertainment media influences the perceptions of the "average man on the street" this serves a useful purpose.
Like many "traditional" (non-eclectic) Witches, the author sees no distinction between Witchcraft and Wicca. This may offend some readers, especially those who promote the revisionist theory that "Wicca" was created by Gerald Gardner and the use of magic is equivalent to Witchcraft. The author's viewpoint is the way most of us "old timers" were taught it. Agree or disagree with it, the non-distinction is a view shared by many of the first generation or two of "out-of-the-broom closet" Witches.