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Home > Books & Reviews > Pagan > Circle of Isis Search

Book Review:
Circle of Isis: Ancient Egyptian Magic for Modern Witches

Author: Ellen Cannon Reed
Trade Paperback, 312 pages
Publisher: New Page Books
Publication date: 2002
ISBN: 1564145689
Price & More Info: Click Here

Despite the implications of the book's subtitle, Reed's overall emphasis is not on ancient Egyptian-based spellwork, but on dedication to the Gods of Egypt's pantheon in Circle of Isis: Ancient Egyptian Magic for Modern Witches. Then again, Reed is known to me as an author for whom magic and religion are deeply tied (just read her book The Heart of Wicca). She makes that view quite clear within the first chapter: "The magic you will find here is more than ways to cast spells. It is the magic of growing closer to the Gods, the magic of learning the Mysteries of the Universe".

While Reed shows definite consideration to revering Egyptian Deities in ways conducive to how the ancient Egyptians viewed Them, she freely acknowledges that she and her coven have no intentions of reconstructing ancient Egyptian religion; ancient knowledge is set in the context of modern Wiccan practice, and she makes no apologies for that.

Most of this book is dedicated to introducing various ancient Egyptian Deities to the reader. These introductions are fairly comprehensive in regards to more well-known Deities, e.g. Osiris, Isis, Horus the Younger, Ra, Anubis, Amen, etc. and they include both historical information on how They were perceived and worshipped in ancient times as well as how these Gods have personally interacted with Their modern followers.

What originally caused me to purchase this book was the segment on Nephthys/Nebt-Het. Although Her name is well-known, most books say little of Her other than listing Her relationships to other Gods. I was particularly impressed with the quality and quantity of Reed's writings about Her. The thing that especially caught my attention was a song/poem for Her, which, in my opinion, beautifully captured Her essence. Many of the other Gods she introduces also have song/poems to illuminate Their natures. Also included are the names (in English tranliterations a nd in hieroglyphs) of and very brief statements about lesser known Deities.

In order to make sure that such knowledge of the Gods does not remain vicarious, Reed makes sure to have a chapter which gives information and techniques on establishing a connection with a specific Deity. This section covers such tried and true methods as meditation, rituals, songs, as well as recipies for both food and incenses, all of which come in handy when invoking a God's presence.

Reed also discusses the rudiments of ancient Egyptian language and includes a chart of alphabetics (i.e. phonetic hieroglyphs that represent one sound, also called monoliterals) as well as a list of common determinatives (signs that are tacked onto Egyptian words to indicate a word's meaning). Other topics the book covers includes common Egyptian symbols and their potential for use in magic; a few Egyptian-inspired divinatory methods; a list of Egyptian names one may choose to adopt upon dedication to Egyptian Gods; a calendar based on the Egyptian's own; and instructions for making a wand, sistrum, nemes headcloth, scarab, and kilt.

I did not discover a great deal of flaws with this book either in regards to its faithfullness in depicting Egyptian religion and culture fairly accurately, or with its presentation of Neo-Pagan religion. The things I did notice were relatively minor. For instance, she seems to rely on the work of E.A. Wallis Budge, a rather prolific writer and museum curator, especially in the section on hieroglyphs. The only problem with this is that Budge's work is no longer entirely accurate and up-to-date and so the information she based on his work is also rather outdated.

Early in the book she made a point about not claiming to be reconstructing ancient Egyptian religion and that the Gods were viewed through an admittedly modern lens, but I think in some cases adapting ancient Egyptian knowledge too much can be detremental. One particular case of this is Reed's addition of a fouth season (which she labels "Spring" and is symbolized by a contrived heiroglyph of what appears to be a bloated butterfly) to Egypt's traditional year consisting of only three seasons. I think she does this in order to make the seasonal theme work on a square divination cloth, but she could have addressed that issue differently by using hieroglyphs that refer to months and days of the Egyptian calendar that correspond to the duration of our seasons. In spite of these issues, I would still recommend this book as a good beginning resource for Pagans seeking to incorperate ancient Egyptian culture and religion into their practice.

Reviewed by Sphinxmuse

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