Monday, August 29, 2011

The Dark Side of Wicca, or, Forcefully Digging Up My Roots

I was going to write about the aerial acrobatics I saw over the weekend. I was going to write about magickal movement. But this subject will have to wait until another day because I've finally hit the point where I'm quite miffed with my local new agers.

If you keep up with my insanity, you know that I recently read the book, Diary of a Witch, by Sybil Leek. I wouldn't have pursued this book were it not for the fact that I have been grossly disappointed in the lack of history provided in most books on Wicca & Witchcraft lately. I've looked through my own collection and tried to sort out the truly informative books from the ones that offer just mild summaries. Unfortunately, none seem to cover the topic. They skip right to the "makin' magick" sections. Even Scott Cunningham takes a great leap over hundreds of years of history to magickal correspondences in his introductory books. Edain McCoy? Nothing. Laurie Cabot!? Zip! Phyllis Curott!? The woman whose book, Book of Shadows, inspired me to learn about Wicca in the first place!? Zilch.

I don't know if this pattern stems from historical ignorance, the need to sell books, or simple apathy. Whatever the reason, I've been on a quest for the last year to find as much material on Wiccan history as I can so I can spout more than just incantations (This way I can know where they come from). In addition to the Sybil Leek book I've read Gerald Gardner's, Witchcraft Today, Margot Adler's, Drawing Down the Moon, and most of Michael Howard's, Modern Wicca. The Golden Bough is also on my shelf, though remains a permanent hurdle next to War and Peace

For a long time the next book on my list has been, Diary of a Drug Fiend, by Aleister Crowley. And here's where the madness begins yet again. It seems that not only are Wiccan authors content to skip our history, but they are also intent on removing Aleister Crowley from the picture. While I've come to learn that he was quite the, well, drug fiend, womanizer, sadomasochist, and black magick artist, it doesn't give me an excuse to ignore his contributions to modern magick and Wicca. He might have been considered the most evil man in the world in the mid 1900's, but he also met with many famous witches - not to mention two of which were Gardner and Leek. And while his definition of magick alone ("the science and art of causing change in conformity of will") has been referenced in numerous books on magick and witchcraft, Crowley himself seems to disappear from texts.

In search of Mr. Crowley, I first tried my local new age store. Nothing. Not even a bibliography on the man. I asked at the front desk and got an offer to order. I went in order of books stores down the street.  Neither of the used bookstores had anything by or about him. And when I stopped at the other new age store and asked the sales attendant  if they carried any books on him she said, "No. We like to keep our material positive here." WHAT!? This is why we Wiccans are portrayed as tripped out hippies lady! Just because something isn't kittens and ponies doesn't mean it's not IMPORTANT! I briefly considered becoming a Satanist until I remembered Anton Levay's, The Satanic Bible (Yes. I read it. If I'm going to be accused of Satanism I should know what I'm not. And I don't think I'm cut out for Satanism. I'm too perky.).

I've resolved myself to finally ordering the AC biography, Do What Thou Wilt, by Lawrence Sutin, off Amazon. It won't be on my shelf for a while, but once I read it I'll let you guys know how it was.

Has anyone else found it unnervingly hard to find good historical data on Wicca? Have you ever hit the wall of "keeping things positive", as I have? I feel like this may be a common thing. Any good suggestions for history books?

By the way, in the list of Wiccan books with diddly squat on history, Silver RavenWolf actually wins for her book, To Ride a Silver Broomstick - just because she actually lists the Wiccan beliefs as set out by the Council of American Witches in 1974, as well as short descriptions on different traditions. It's still not too high a score though, as some of her descriptions err on the side of WAY too basic and even slightly wrong (For example, I'm pretty sure that a solitary witch is not the same as a natural witch.). But I'll stop there. Silver's a whole new topic all on her own. :)


Tea Witch said...

I adore the whole paragraph about the tripped out hippies reference. I laughed so hard I snorted. I agree that we are given a lot of grief for doing the whole "must stay positive" thing. I, personally, like to embrace the darker (read: more realistic) side of what it is us Pagans do.

I am constantly searching for actual historical reference materials. Let me know how the AC book is once you read it.

Anonymous said...

Another book to find is the Green Egg Omelet. It is a collection of all the best of the Green Egg Magazine. Lots of memories from my youth. Oberon Zell's is another favourite, as well the podshow Hex Education is more of the old than the new. All the best in your quest.
Hugs and sparkles

The Blue Faerie said...

@TW: Glad I could make your nose giggle. I'll let you know what I find on AC if I ever find it. For being the most evil man in the world, he's really hard to find! Almost as hard as Jesus, but not quite.
@WG: Thanks for the suggestions. What is Oberon Zell? Is it a book?

Joxy said...

I've got the Crowley book, I quite enjoyed it.

When you say history, do you mean history of Wicca as in Gearald Gardener pulling together various references to make, as it were, "Wicca"? In which case reading Gardener, Valienteen etc is the way to go; or history of magic? In which case it rather depends on what type of magic you're interesteed in; Eygptian, greek, jewish, heathen, shamanism etc.

And if you're interested in "pagan history" than Ronald Hutton is very good, he's one of the few respected historians who has written books on pagan history - specifically relating to british paganism/witchcraft; and his books are not an easy read as obviously his writing style is quite scholarly; fascinating stuff though.

I'm not sure how applicable it is to a wiccan, being that I'm not wiccan - but I find studying local lore, fairy tales/myths etc are a wonderful glimpses into a possible magical heritage that predates Wicca and medieval magic/witchcraft. Old herbal books, like Culpeppers are very interesting too.


Tempest said...

Have you read Doreen Valiente? I highly recommend her if you haven't. She was there when Wicca was forming (and I mean Wicca, not Witchcraft), and had a very practical, no-nonsense approach to everything - in fact, a lot of the more beautiful parts & historical bits in Gardner's "Book of Shadows" came from her. "Natural Witchcraft", "Witchcraft for Tomorrow" and "An ABC of Witchcraft" are must-have titles. (Especially the first two, the latter is an encyclopedia of sorts). I don't recommend the one where Ethan Jones is a co-author.

The Blue Faerie said...

@Joxy - When I say "history of Wicca" I mean everything before and after Gerald Gardner that has to do with the religion coming to be what it is today. That means looking at Gerald Gardner's life and everyone who influenced him, and who influenced those before him. A good, concise history of magick and religion. You know, to narrow it down. :) Ronald Hutton has also been on my radar so I'll have to check him out soon. Thanks for the recommendations!
@Tempest - I used to own her "ABC of Witchcraft" book and wasn't too impressed with it (I got it as a gift and didn't need another encyclopedia at the time.). But I'll have to check out her other two.

I really like all the suggestions, guys! Keep 'em coming!

RetroKali said...

Geez. I'm STILL trying to make my way through The Golden Bough. Its like pulling teeth. Glad Im not the only one. :)

Tempest said...

Yeah, "ABC" is only really useful if you've read her other work, or are very familiar with what she's covering in there. Makes for good cross-reference with the Farrar's books ("Witches' God", "Witches' Goddess", "A Witches' Bible" - which cover the birth of Alexandrian Wicca --- NOT to be confused with "The Witches' Bible by the other F's) - also just eyeballed my bookcase now that I'm home, another key one by Doreen that is really key on history: "The Rebirth of Witchcraft" and the correct title of the other is "Natural Magic", not Witchcraft.

Daffy said...

I'm fascinated.... try not to roll your eyes at me :o)

Amy said...

I just borrowed Hutton's "Triumph of the Moon" and am starting to dig in, it might be what you're looking for.

I read this blog and am often intrigued by what she's reading:

It's been over a decade since I read my copy, so I can't vouch for the content other than it did not horrify me when I read it, but maybe check out Hans Holzer's "The New Pagans".

Amberhawk said...

I'd agree on the Ronald Hutton book. Also look for Philip Heselton who did a few studies on Gerald Gardner and put them in print. One is titled Wiccan Roots and the other is titled Gerald Gardner And the Cauldron of Inspiraition. Another good author would be Chas S Clifton who did put out a series of Witchcraft Today books.

CopperChild said...

I quite enjoyed this site. Perhaps the book section will be useful to you?