Author: Gary Cantrell
Trade Paperback, 360 pages
Publication date: May 2001
Price & More Info: Click Here
Gary Cantrell, a priest of the "Eclectic-Celtic Pagan of Wicca," has added his contribution to the glut of "Wicca 101" (or "Wicca for Beginners") books with Wiccan Beliefs & Practices. Most Wicca 101 books are fairly average with little beyond the author's personal style to distinguish them. A very few are excellent and a larger few are quite bad. Unfortunately, despite a couple of interesting chapters, Wiccan Beliefs & Practices falls into the "quite bad" category.
Wiccan Beliefs & Practices starts off with a chapter on definitions and background. This is followed by a chapter on ethics, a chapter on tools and clothing, a chapter of short Sabbat and esbat rituals, a chapter of other rituals, a pair of chapters of spells and divination, an interesting chapter on Wiccans with disabilities, a chapter on the place of humor in Wicca, and finally a chapter on deciding whether or not to come "out of the broom closet." The main text is followed by a series of appendixes: a listing of ritual texts, a listing of Celtic deities, a list of Pagan shops and resources, and a bibliography. With the exception of the chapter on Wiccans with disabilities, this is fairly standard fare for a Wicca 101 book.
The author spends a great detail of time and space in this book telling the reader that the material in the book is just his personal opinion based on his experience. In fact, he says this so often that it becomes slightly annoying. However, I'm glad the author says this because much of the information in this book, especially the historical information, is just plain wrong. For example, Wicca was not "already thousands of years old" before Gerald Gardner wrote about it and Dianic Wicca was not "developed by Margaret Murray in 1921."
This book contradicts itself in many places. For example, the author spends a good part of the first chapter telling his readers that there is no one true way to practice Wicca. Then he goes on to say, just a few pages later, that if you are not practicing a Celtic based system that you're not practicing Wicca. A few pages later, he lists Strega and Teutonic Wicca as Wiccan traditions even through they aren't Wicca (as they aren't Celtic-based) according to what he said a few pages earlier. At another point, the author states if one changes the basics of Wiccan worship or "subverts the old methods," one is no longer practicing Wicca. Yet in the information on tools in the third chapter, the author admits that he has never seen much use for some of the basic, traditional tools of Wicca, such as the chalice and the wand, even though their use is called for traditionally in various spells and rituals. Contradictions like these (and like the factual errors, there are more than the few examples I'm giving) confuse me. I hate to think of what they would do to the neophytes for whom this book is written.
In his chapter on ethics, Cantrell states that the Wiccan Rede is an "inviolate rule of witchcraft as Wiccans understand it." I get so tired of seeing this misinformation in Wicca 101 books. The word "rede" means "advice." The Wiccan Rede is moral advice, not moral law. While calling the Rede an "inviolate rule" instead of "advice" probably annoys me more than anything else in the book, this misconception is in many recent Wicca 101 books and is often stated in stronger terms than the Cantrell did.
The Sabbat rituals in Wiccan Beliefs & Practices are straightforward and simple, but by striving for simplicity they seem almost interchangeable. There's little to distinguish any Sabbat from another in this book's rituals. Another example of the book's confusing prose is the section on handfasting rituals. Cantrell quite properly suggests checking whether a handfasting is a legally valid wedding in your state before performing one. However, instead of suggesting checking with your state government or a lawyer, he suggests you should check with the "Council of the Goddess" -- an organization I've never heard of and which he doesn't list in his resources appendix. Perhaps he meant the "Covenant of the Goddess" -- which he does list in the resources appendix and which he incorrectly thinks probably represents most of the formal Covens in the US. However, he says in that appendix he's found that organization hard to contact, which makes one doubt that the author would recommend contacting it on an issue like this.
The chapter on magick is full of the commentary on the origins, history, and usefulness of magickal techniques, but contains relatively little information on actually performing magick. The chapter on divination is a quick overview of the author's three favorite divination methods: the pendulum, the scrying mirror, and the runes. The book gives only enough information for the reader to actually try the first two.
The chapter on Wiccans with disabilities is the one good feature of this book. It discusses ways Wiccan rituals and practices can be adapted for those with disabilities. While this short chapter only briefly discusses hearing loss, back problems, immobility, and the lack of privacy those dependent on others often suffer from, I was happy to see it as it is something that is seldom discussed in the Wiccan community. The chapter on humor is also enjoyable. It is sort of a "blooper reel" of things that have gone wrong in ritual. Many new to the Wiccan path seem to fear what might happen if they mess up a ritual. This chapter teaches by example that the Wiccan deities don't bite when Murphy's Law strikes during a ritual. If only the rest of the book were as good as these two chapters.
Wiccan Beliefs & Practices is the worst Wicca 101 book I've read in quite a while. It has so much misinformation and so many contradictions that it would confuse or mislead most beginners interested in Wicca. I suggest all beginners pass this book by and select one of the many other Wicca books aimed at beginners. This volume's two good chapters simply cannot redeem the rest of the book, especially when those chapters are on secondary issues and are not primary "Wiccan instructional material" that most people would buy the book for.
Reviewed by Randall