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Home > Books & Reviews > Pagan > The Grimoire of Lady Sheba Search

Book Review:
The Grimoire of Lady Sheba

Author: Jessie Wicker Bell
Hardcover, 360 pages
Publisher: Llewellyn
Publication date: June 2001
ISBN: 0875420761
Price & More Info: Click Here


This is the third edition of The Grimoire of Lady Sheba published by Llewellyn. This edition of this long out of print book originally published in 1972 is designed to celebrate Llewellyn's centennial. It's a beautiful hardback book printed on high quality recycled paper.

To truly understand this book and why it was so important, one has to understand what the early 1970s were like in the Wiccan part of the Neo-Pagan world. Wicca was an extremely secretive religion. There weren't a couple of hundred books on published on it. What few books there were talked about Wicca and had interviews with fairly secretive Wiccans. A few described some pieces of Wiccan ritual. There weren't any friendly Wicca 101 books telling one how to actually practice the religion. There weren't any books telling you how to practice the religion at all. The only way to become a Wiccan was to find a Wiccan coven (and there were not very many of them at the time) that had a space for you and was willing to train and intiate you. The problem was that, due to the publicity and the general interest in the occult at the time, there were far more people interested in the Craft than there were coven openings.

In 1971, Jessie Wicker Bell (aka Lady Sheba) chartered The American Order of the Brotherhood of the Wicca in Michigan with the help of Carl Weschcke. As far as I know, this was the first time a Wiccan group sought legal recognition of their existence. Later that year, Bell's Book of Shadows (later included in The Grimoire of Lady Sheba) was published. To say this caused great controversy in the Neo-Pagan world is an understatement. The rituals were said to be those of Gardnerian Wicca with some copying errors and personal changes. Accusations of oathbreaking started flying as fast as comments that the rituals were really nothing like those of Gardnerian Wicca. This tempest raged in the teapot for years. In the end, it did not matter. No matter where Bell got her rituals, by publishing them she had let the cat out of the bag. New Wiccan groups were springing up all over the world basing their rituals on those of Lady Sheba.

In 1972, Lady Sheba published her second -- and best known -- book: The Grimoire of Lady Sheba. It included the Book of Shadows, but also included material on making Wiccan tools, casting magick, incense, oils, dances, and more. This book was reprinted in modified form in paperback by Zebra in the mid-1970s and sold on bookstore racks. Then it went out of print. In many ways, The Grimoire of Lady Sheba is responsible for the growth of Wicca from the secretive religion of the 1950s and 1960s to the open religion of today.

While Lady Sheba is no longer the only book available on coven-oriented Wicca, it is very nice to have this book back in print. The form of Wicca presented in Lady Sheba is probably much closer to Gardner's original vision of the religion than the Wicca presented in most Wicca 101 books today. While today's Wicca 101 books are generally far more reader friendly than Lady Sheba, they pack much less information in.

Now that I have bored you with a lot of history, I suspect you would like to know just what's in this book. The first half of The Grimoire of Lady Sheba covers magick. There are instructions on the power of magick, making tools, the language of witchcraft, a large collection of spells and recipes for incense, oils, and teas, and a section on Wiccan dances. This section is quite eclectic in nature and somewhat disorganized, just as one might expect from a personal collection of information. Some of the material is quite useful while other material (the recipe for flying ointment, for example) is silly, dangerous, or both. Some of the spells and rituals given herein violate the Wiccan Rede, at least for those who take the current popular view that the Rede is moral law instead of moral advice.

The second part of the book is a fairly traditional Wiccan Book of Shadows. For those whose only view of Wicca has been the modern version of Scott Cunningham and later authors, some of this material may come as quite a shock. Lady Sheba's Book of Shadows is much closer to the traditional Gardnerian version of Wicca than it is to the "Neo-Wicca" popularized in the Wicca 101 books of the last decade. In fact, in the few cases I've been able to compare Lady Sheba's rituals with actual Gardnerian rituals, the two have always been nearly identical. Most of the differences are minor and are probably hand copying errors, but some are divergent enough that they may have been deliberate changes on the part of Lady Sheba. Like all Wiccan Books of Shadows from this time period, all the rituals in Lady Sheba's are coven-oriented.

Do you need a a copy of The Grimoire of Lady Sheba? It is an important part of the history of Wicca and one of the best publically available sources of information on what is now known as "British Traditional Wicca." If you want to understand what Wicca was like before the Wicca 101 books of the last ten or twelve years, you will probably find this book useful. If you are a Wiccan who learned your religion from a modern Wicca 101 book and would like to form a coven and practice your religion in a style closer to what it originally was, this book would serve you well. If your paperback copy of this book from the early 1970s is falling apart (as mine was), you will probably appreciate the chance to replace it with a new copy. However, The Grimoire of Lady Sheba is not a modern Wicca 101 book. While many people used it as a Wicca 101 book in the 1970s, it is not one in the modern sense of the term. It just presents raw information. The author does not carefully order, present, and explain the material in a tutorial manner.

Reviewed by Randall

Read another review of this book.

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