Author: Raven Grimassi
Trade Paperback, 282 pages
Publication date: October 2002
Price & More Info: Click Here
In his introduction to The Witches' Craft: The Roots of Witchcraft & Magical Transformation, Raven Grimassi lists his two main reasons for writing the book. First, to preserve craft techniques that recent Wiccan authors have ignored. Second, to refute scholarship that claims Wicca is not an ancient religion but was created by Gerald Gardner and others in the 1940s and 1950s. Please note that while I refer to "Wicca" in this review as this book is obviously about that religion, I do not believe the author uses the word at all. He refers to "witchcraft" and the "Old Religion."
The second task is a tall order and Grimmassi devotes the first third of the book to the attempt. Grimassi is not a historian and it shows in this section of the book. Although I've seen reviews of this book praising Grimassi for refuting scholars like Ronald Hutton and for proving that Wicca really is an ancient religion, I don't think the book does any such thing.
Grimassi pulls bits and pieces from many sources from Hesiod to Freemasonary to recent scholarly works. Unfortunately, he tends to view ancient sources through 21st century eyes. He interprets them with a modern Wiccan worldview, which is often nothing like the way the ancients thought. He also cherry-picks information from 2500 years of sources to make his case. He even attacks scholars who have published works that disagree with the ideas of the "Old Religion" and ancient matriarchies merely for not accepting these things as fact -- even comparing them to medieval era inquisitors at one point (p.24).
Yet, in the end, the only thing I could see the author proved in this portion of the book is that many of the pieces that make up Wicca are older, sometimes much older, than than Gerald Gardner. This is a fact that, as far as I know, has never been in scholarly dispute. He falls far short of showing that there was an ancient witchcult (or "Old Religion"), let alone that Wicca is the modern incarnation of such a religion. The truly sad thing about this section of The Witches' Craft is that many people will probably take it as the gospel truth because it sounds somewhat scholarly and because they really would like it to be true. To be blunt, I think this section of the book is a waste of valuable trees.
Once the author leaves the subject of history, however, the book improves somewhat. The second two-thirds of the book is a compilation of practical information about Grimassi's version of Wicca. (However, some more attempts to show Wicca to be ancient do slip in.) While not nearly as much of this material seems new to me as the hype implies, the book does touch upon a number of things that have been downplayed or left out in many recent Wicca 101 books. Unfortunately, for the most part, "touch upon" is all that is done. The new material is mixed in with reams of material I've seen elsewhere (sometimes, I believe, in previous works by this author) and even complex ideas are covered in a few paragraphs or a few pages.
The most interesting part of the book may be the first appendix, "The Doreen Valiente Letters" which includes four letters Valiente wrote to Grimassi. Unfortunately, only one side of the correspondence is presented as Grimassi did not keep copies of the letter he wrote to Valiente. While there aren't any great revelations in these letters, they are still an interesting part of Wiccan history.
While The Witches' Craft does have a few good things going for it (some bits of information that haven't seen print in a good while -- if at all -- and copies of the Valiente letters), I cannot recommend this book. The revisionist history presented in the first third of the book simply ruins it. While it does not make the outrageous claims that Ann Moura's Origins of Modern Witchcraft did, it still makes claims that fly in the face of scholarship -- and falls far short of supporting them. If you are interested in the history of Wicca, Hutton's The Triumph of the Moon and Heselton's Wiccan Roots do a far better job -- although their conclusions may not always be as appealing. For information not often found in recent Wicca 101 books, the Farrar's A Witches' Bible is more detailed.
Reviewed by Randall