Title: Craft of the Wise: A Practical Guide to Paganism and Witchcraft
Author(s): Vicki Bramshaw
Published 2009 by O Books
ISBN: 1846942322
ISBN-13: 978-1846942327
Paperback, 403 pages
List: $29.95
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Reviewer: Mike Gleason

I start a new year of reviews with one of the more serious and intimidating books I have read in quite a while. It is serious in that it avoids more of the fluffy, over-debated topics and it is intimidating not least because of its sheer size. It is the work of an eclectic Wiccan, albeit one with an Alexandrian and Gardnerian background. Although I share some of that background, I do not necessarily agree with all of her statements and conclusions but that is, in my opinion, the mark of a well-written book - it challenges the reader.

I dislike sloppy eclecticism. Please note that I qualified that statement by inclusion of the word "sloppy." Drawing from many sources is not, inherently, bad. Combining disparate elements without an understanding of the cultural background of each IS bad. Invoking Oshun (a Yoruban orisha of love) in the same ceremony with Freya (a Norse goddess with some similar attributes) would most likely result in some disagreements - food offerings, manner of address, appropriate styles of dress, and numerous other conflicts come to mind. Yet I have attended rituals where similar potentials existed. Some of them were saved by sheer incompetence (the officiants didn't actually make contact with the deities invoked), some by sheer dumb luck (the deities were in a forgiving mood), and a few through thorough advance planning (having worked with each deity separately, and having created an "understanding" with each).

Ms. Bramshaw makes a number of statements regarding the beliefs of pre- and early-historic peoples which are, it must be honestly said, mere conjecture since archeology can provide physical evidence, while thoughts and beliefs reside in the human mind and leave no physical proof of their existence. So long as that is kept in mind and a mental "It is believed that..." is prefaced to some of those statements there are no problems.

When she moves on to discussing some of the personalities involved in the popularization of Witchcraft she (unfortunately) falls prey to some of the self-aggrandizements put forth by the individuals themselves. Still, the stories have been told, and these are among the more popular versions in circulation. Her book is not devoted to the personalities, so this is not a major stumbling block.

The book is intended to be a comprehensive training manual and it is therefore quite heavily loaded with basic symbology, concepts and other basic background details. It is a "Wicca 101" book first and foremost. There are minor problems with the book from a technical standpoint - there are a number of instances of dropped words in sentences (but that is a personal quibble of mine, and therefore one I am more prone to notice than others might be). There aren't a lot of illustrations in the text, but even there, there are occasional glitches (the pentagrams on page 97 have an error).

The Craft espoused in this book is, in many ways, a good example of eclecticism. By that I mean that similar concepts and images are compared without necessarily being equated. Inspiration is drawn from various cultures, and used to spark personal discovery. The reader is frequently reminded that our perceptions are, most likely, very different from those of our ancestors.

Many modern people would find the Sheela Na Gig images (a female with legs widespread, genitalia exposed) found in many European churches pornographic, yet to our ancestors these images may have symbolized the concept of fertility, or the sacred position of the mother in relationship to the family. We are not concerned with having large families, since the infant mortality rate is low in modern times, but even as recently as 150 years ago such was not the case, and so large families were a necessity to ensure the survival of the family line.

Throughout the book, Ms. Bramshaw stresses the positive aspects of magickal workings, while at least acknowledging the prior existence (if not current use) of negative activities. It is nice to see an acknowledgement of the fact that all has not been "sweetness and light" from the very beginning.

While I can't say that I agree with everything in this book I can say honestly that it represents an extremely common sense approach to the training of new witches. There is no melodrama here. There are simple, level-headed suggestions and inspirations for further researches.

The bibliography is, perhaps, the weakest point in the work since it merely lists author, title, and publisher with no indication of place or date of publication (which would be helpful). The glossary is also a little thin, but with the abundance of reference works available both on-line and on bookshelves, this isn't an insurmountable problem.

At $29.95 here in the U.S. it is still a fairly affordable, readily useable, resource for those who don't have access (for whatever reason) to a personal teacher. It also can serve to help in the creation of eclectic groups by providing some basic structure for training classes - although you will still have to work out coven structure on your own.

Whether newly interested in the Craft, or a long time, jaded old fart like me, you will find something of value between the covers of this book. In fact, I would dare say you will find much of value.


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