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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


The first reference to Lady Sheba I encountered was not extremely positive. It left a rather poor impression on me. Isaac Bonewits mentions her in his book Witchcraft: A Concise Guide:

'Lady Sheba, claiming an Ancient Family Tradition of Witchcraft going back to the mythical Isle of Avalon, attempted to be recognized as the true hereditary Queen of American Witches (because her family had supposedly been the hereditary Queens of all British Witches). Not incidentally, she wanted everyone present to turn over copies of their Books of Shadows to her. As I recall, her intention was to combine them into a single "approved" BOS for all American Witches; much like the event in early Christian history when "authorized" scriptures were approved by a group of bishops and all "unauthorized" copies (with inconvenient stories and doctrines) were carefully destroyed. To her chagrin, Lady Sheba was told firmly by the assembled Wiccans that, "We're a democracy in this country - we don't need a Queen!" (I must confess, I believe I was the first person to actually be rude enough to say that out loud.) (page 71)

My initial impression, derived from Bonewits' account of her appearance at the 1973 Witchmeet, was furthur validated in what I actually read of Lady Sheba's own writing. The entire book is saturated with her presumptuous claims to be a "Witch Queen" with explicit divine endorsement, a large degree of ethical hypocrisy (hypocrisy of the very same variety as in Dunwich's The Wicca Spellbook), and horrendous claims of historical authenticity. Although the title "Witch Queen" may in fact have a Gardnerian and Alexandrian usage and can refer to a High Priestess who has had at least two covens "hive off" from her own (see the Farrars' A Witches' Bible), Lady Sheba clearly seems to have taken the persona a bit too far.

The book opens with a black and white photograph of a necklace which is described as a "Witch Queen Necklace." Lady Sheba cites a convenient legend that "states that its possessor is the Queen, by birth the true and legal heir to the title of 'Queen of Camelot, Camelot Coven - since the days of King Arthur.'" Within the same paragraph that glorifies the supposed Witch Queen Necklace and its current owner, none other than Lady Sheba, there is also an interesting statement which begins: "[f]or a Witch or Warlock to be granted..." This is the very first time that I have seen the term Warlock acknowledged as a viable description of a male Witch in a Neo-Pagan context. The use of this term struck me quite oddly since every other NeoPagan text tends to avoid that word knowing that it actually has a negative connotation and is a Scottish word for an "oath-breaker," someone not to be trusted.

A number of other things struck me as strange. For instance, many invocations include the name of Arida, a Goddess of whom at least I've never heard. The name of this Goddess appears where traditionally the name of the Goddess Aradia would appear (I only found one instance where Aradia is used, and it occurred after Arida had already been invoked). I'm not sure if "Arida" is an extremely persistent typo on the publisher's part (there are many other typos even within the non-ritual text), if Lady Sheba's own BOS is a flawed copy (perhaps even a bootleg copy - I don't know her lineage) of the Gardnerian BOS, if she altered the invocations slightly to preserve an oath, or if it is truly intended to address another Goddess altogether, which I doubt.

Toward the end of the book in a section dedicated to Sabbat rituals, I also discovered something odd: the Autumnal Equinox is described as the "Samhain Sabbat," and the Summer Solstice is called the "Beltane Sabbat." I do not understand the reason for the mix-up. In addition, while I understand that this book was originally published in 1972 and that Llewellyn wishes to preserve the text, I still feel that some of Lady Sheba's claims to ancient knowledge are ridiculous even for the time period in which it was first published. Case in point, she goes a little too far in stating that the Runes (a modified version of the Elder Futhark in this instance) are the ancient alphabet of the Witches: "The runic alphabet is ours; don't let any school teacher ever make you believe otherwise. During the course of your school years you will hear much speculation from scholars and theologians about the Runes. HEED THEM NOT. It always has been and always will be the magical, sacred alphabet of the witches" (page 15). This is a load of crap, if I may be so blunt, and I find it insulting that she would incourage a willful ignorance of history among Witches.

I read through most of this book at the bookstore well before I bought it, and I was aware of some of the negative aspects of it mentioned above. So why in the Goddess' name did I buy it? Well, firstly, the book is actually nicely designed and is aesthetically pleasing (I'm an artsy-fartsy person going into Graphic Design - I cannot help but notice these things!). For it's $19.95 price, you get a lovely hardbound book with a placeholder ribbon. Honestly though, that was not the main reason I bought it. The true reason I decided to purchase it was because it contains a number of documents I wanted to have in print, as opposed to viewing online versions, including the 162 Craft laws and the Eightfold Path. Also, it includes a great deal of beautiful Traditional Wiccan liturgy, undoubtedly mostly written by Doreen Valiente although she is never credited.

I've cross-referenced much of it with other published material included in the works of Gardner, Valiente, and the Farrars, and I have come to the conclusion that it is based very closely on Gardnerian material despite the fact that Lady Sheba claims that it is ancient (on the back of Lady Sheba's Book of Shadows, also published by Llewellyn as a separate softbound book yet included in The Grimoire of Lady Sheba, she states that she is a "Witch by birth, but a Gardnerian Witch by choice"). Within this book you will find the prose version of the "Charge of the Goddess" which is well known and can be found all over the Internet, but it also contains the poetic/verse version, which Valiente herself deemed inferior to the prose version yet is still worth reading. I have read snippets of and comments on the poetic version in other books, but this was the first place I found it in its entirety.

In conclusion, while I definately would not recommend this book to a beginning Seeker as an instructural manual, I would definately recommend it for access to the other documents and liturgy within it. Truthfully, I think it would have been much better if Lady Sheba had presented it without any of her input at all.

Reviewed by Sphinxmuse

Read another review of this book.

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