Two and two make five…. apparently

19 12 2007

A book has come my way called ‘Wizardry for the Uninitiated’, by Thea Faye. Published by Avalonia, the book jacket discusses ‘…an ancient magickal (sic) tradition… practised in secret by those who dedicate themselves to this arcane occult science’. Intrigued, a friend and I bought copies and determined to read them and take notes, the better to understand the premises of the book. We met late last week to discuss our thoughts.

The book does not purport to be a ‘how-to’ manual as such, more an insight into the wizarding world, which, if read correctly, will lead the reader through clever hints and allusions towards the wizarding path. Faye states that wizards have stayed ‘in the shadows’ (2007:10) however, it does not stop them becoming professional high-achievers, nor does it stop them from contradicting themselves as 35 pages later Faye states that “we do not work in the shadows”. She says, ‘There is no such thing as an unsuccessful wizard’ (2007:11). I find this statement interesting on a number of counts, but I’m not sure what the author intends by it. Is she saying that wizards are successful people? Is she saying that wizards use magic to obtain success? Or is she saying that, to be a wizard at all, you must evince success? I have an uneasy feeling that the latter is nearest to the mark.

Faye’s tone throughout is fairly lofty, and for an introduction to the subject is remarkably offhand on many points which require careful handling. For example, in the chapter ‘Commanding Spirits’, Faye discusses the dangers of invoking spirits, but asserts that ‘…evocation is an advanced path, but only insofar as you need to be confidant (sic) enough in what you’re doing to be able to handle your chosen target effectively’ (2007:81). This is the kind of approximate, casual language that will cause some to think twice, and will also cause others to jump in with both feet – the subject surely deserves sober, measured discussion and an explanation of the dangers and pitfalls involved. If you can ski, it can be very funny watching people who can only flail about on the lower slopes; but we were all learners once. The idea of introducing a topic this complex and providing no framework concerns me.

And then there’s the motive. Wizardry, according to Faye, is about achieving. There’s no god in wizardry, and therefore no higher power to kowtow to; therefore you can make your own morality. In the chapter ‘Pointing and Laughing’ Faye states that wizards behave ‘…openly and with integrity’ (2007:45) and immediately contradicts herself by applauding the practice of pointing, laughing and making fun of others. They may be making fools of themselves, but who is she to judge? Indeed, the book begins with the author quoting herself under a previously used forum name, as if quoting a separate entity she knows (another lame joke on her audience?). From her writing Faye appears to be someone who is happier to laugh at someone other than herself and this initial hint at self-aggrandisement does seem carry through the rest of the book.

Faye does not look kindly on the pagan religions. The use of the phrase ‘Goddess (TM)’ (2007: pp 15, 37, 86 and so on) wore slightly thin. Witches come in for quite a drubbing. Dismissing witchcraft as ‘…low magic’ (2007:70) and ‘…mere psychology, dressed up in a witch’s hat with a wart on the nose’ (2007:45), Faye seems to imply that you subscribe to ‘all that’ because you know no better – but that she does.

It terms of practical action, she gives an example of an instance where a ‘witch’ placed a ‘curse’ on her unpleasant neighbour in return for their behaviour towards her. She tells us that a wizard would dismiss negative comments or victimisation and walk away, as the people who comment are uninformed and therefore beneath notice. It feels very much as though she is seeking to forestall any criticism of her or her work by characterising any and all-comers as ignorant, prejudiced, and not worth listening to.

The tone of the book interests me also. It is brusque, dismissive, harsh, and unrepentantly flippant. The focus of wizardry, for Faye, seems to be firmly on getting to the top before the next man (or woman). If wizardry is indeed about setting your own house in order before you attempt to help others, well, fair enough. But she seems to equate compassion, kindness, understanding with abasement and allowing people to tread you underfoot. ‘..for the onus on wizardry is the evolution of mankind and sometimes that evolution can be tough for only the fittest will survive’ (2007:46). This is poor thinking. The mark of a master is humility, modesty, quiet. If you’re that good, you don’t need to shout about it. Neither is there any necessity actively to attack those with whom you do not agree. Is Faye saying that this trait is requisite in a wizard?

Harry Potter, well, I suppose he had to pop up somewhere. In the GCSE essay-like thumbnail sketches of famous wizards “wot I know”, Mr Potter rates more column inches than either Agrippa or Faust. Hogwarts provides a curriculum ‘…not far from what a real wizard should be expected to study’. Again, flippancy doesn’t help Faye’s case. Is she playing with the reader? Assuming they’re ignorant? Or is she serious?

Overall, I was not convinced, either by Faye’s overview of the subject or by her handling of it. Her bibliography seems fairly short and is lacking; who are the publishers, what are the publication dates? Each new edition of a book often has a new preface or introduction as well as additions and corrections which could add or detract to her argument as a quoted source. This is basic research.

And which version of the Old Testament is she using? Is it a Greek or a Hebrew translation, and which of the many translations is she using (St. James, Jerusalem, CCT etc.)? This is a relevant yet omitted point, particularly as she devotes some space to discussing Moses as a wizard, without giving any factual basis to her suppositions, and without apparently using any other source except the Bible. It’s surprising that she doesn’t also list the back catalogue of J.K. Rowling, since she gives Harry Potter enough credence to mention him along with Moses, Agrippa and Merlin (again, which myth of Merlin is she drawing on?). Such a lack of source referencing and basic research does make you feel that this thin volume is more a personal sounding board than a serious work on wizardry. As such it should be read with a cautious ear to the author’s own opinions, which colour the text dramatically.

I will be re-reading this text and I will be using the bibliography to research the topic further because it’s one I have a great deal of interest in and I do have an enquiring mind. My reading partner has filed the book under general literature as she doesn’t feel it even half-way meets the standards of her other books on magic and witchcraft! I too am fairly sure that the answers on the topic of wizardry that I seek may not be found in this book, no matter how carefully I read the text. If, like me, you read it and are disappointed, don’t despair; you are not unworthy of the secrets of the wizards, as Faye insinuates you might be. You simply need to look elsewhere.

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8 responses

22 12 2007
Mereth

Oh my, you must be able to hear the guffaws all the way from Somerset!

Your reading partner sounds as if they have the right idea; file it. I have no view on wizardry except to speculate on whether it might be a euphemism for people with small minds and large egos. It’s certainly not High Magic, which feels no need to publicise itself, from the knowledge I have of High Magicians.

The style of writing you describe characterises an author on the defensive, ensuring they have pre-made excuses, yet with enough desire for publicity hat they need to see themselves in print. I cannot say that I am tempted to rush out and buy this book or even bother to borrow it after reading your comments, after all, Lynne Truss and her condescension left me cold enough to stop reading long before the end of Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

I value books for a number of reasons; some make me laugh, some grip me with suspense, some educate me and some are wonderful reference tools. All of these types of books have a place in my study. A book that tells me nothing, sneers at my lack of knowledge of a subject it is not willing to share and that is punctuated with spelling mistakes, dubious grammar and contradiction doesn’t seem like such a desirable thing.

I would like to thank you for saving me the trouble of reading this book. I’m not sure I would have gone for it anyway, but there was always a possibility that I may have been tempted. I will happily read your book reviews in the future!

23 12 2007
wiccanwanderings

Thank you Mereth, I’m glad the review was useful!

I can see what the author intended, but she went wide of the mark – I will attempt to post some favourable reviews, so it doesn’t appear just like I can’t take it but I love to dish it out!!!

3 05 2008
Aleq Grai

This comment is written by Aleq Grai Gardnerian HP. I expect this to be deleted as it contradicts the aforesaid review and I’m used to this sort of thing usually ending up in a hissy fit for the reviewer when someone has the temerity to disagree with them.

Paragraph 1- a good start – honesty – however the comments regards shadows in Thea’s publication are not contradictory – this is an easy concept to misunderstand – a great many crafters regardless of path are extremely successful in life, the magick, the lifestyle, the success all go hand in hand. Yes to be a successful witch, it follows you would b successful in life as well – the two are not mutually exclusive.

Evokation – fortune favours the brave, and reaps the stupid – QED. It is standard practice even for higher ranking Wiccans. I suggest you apply the same caution to the likes of healing – which tends to get over looked in the scheme of things.

Pointing and laughing – a cultural thing – you don’t get it – not your fault – Satire is a fundamental part of British culture yet I am surprised you missed this one.

The Goddess(tm) – yep as a Wiccan myself I couldn’t agree more with Ms Faye – what a scruffy unwashed lot witches tend to be – I have a very low opinion of their almost christian victimology. The laziness underlined in the generic “goddess” ™ proves the point, a homogenised vacuum packed and sterile – safe for the masses – goddess is no different to the Jesus thoughtform – just a different manufactured label – anyone who had done actual work with the feminine principal would know better.

“The mark of a master is humility, modesty, quiet. If you’re that good, you don’t need to shout about it. ” – yet you missed the “working in the shadows point – hmmmm now who’s being contradictory.

Regards the mythology around wizards you have uncovered the point being made for yourself.

3 05 2008
The Green Witch

Thank you for your reply, Aleq, and I wondered how long it would take you to make an appearance!

Far from seeking to prevent you having your say, I’m only too happy to post your words; you raise some points which I’m happy to answer.

I’m being honest throughout the review – my opinion, my blog! – very much as Thea is in her work. The fact that I don’t like her work doesn’t, of course, mean that no-one else will. Simply that I don’t. So seeking to arrive here and correct my every statement does seem a little futile, no?

There are only so many points you can counter by saying that I have misunderstood the work. The point of work like this is to enlighten – I’m moderately intelligent but remain unenlightened by this book.

As a witch, I am not minded to accept your assessment of witches in general. Every faith stream has its hangers-on, pretenders and shallow followers but that’s a reflection of human nature. Some people get it, some don’t. I don’t laugh at people for searching, or for dabbling – some commitment’s better than none. If I was going to be scornful at every little faux pas that was committed in the name of witchcraft I’d never get anything done.

Your point about Christianity raises an old chestnut – what’s wrong with the good parts of that particular faith? Humility, modesty, kindness, respect, tolerance. Keep the rest if you like, deride it; but looking at the major world faiths, you of all people should know that there’s a lot to be learned – if you are of a spiritual bent.

There’s still a fundamental dichotomy about being quiet, calm, modest in one’s work, and working ‘in the shadows’. Either one is hiding, or one is not seeking the limelight. Which is it?

And Aleq, I am English. So the ‘satirical’ aspects of the work hit their intended mark, they just didn’t convince me. Being amused by people and schadenfreude are two different things, governed by intent. I’m not keen on derision and ridicule as a tool for cultural evolution, for the obvious reason that I do not believe it to be our part to judge others, (to whom we may be manifestly inferior) as spiritually valid.

Let the God – and Goddess – decide!

4 05 2008
Alec Grai

Merry Meet, Aleq; I have answered your points in the body of the text, in italics.

Well said. A well balanced review based on your experiance – sounds about right. Dunno if I would put the likes of Humility, modesty, kindness, respect, tolerance et al purely under the likes of christianity – lets face it, the law alone governs that one – if heresy was today punishable by death – it still would be.

I see your point about Christianity today; not many faiths remain undebased, but in its pure spiritual form it took some beating. I used it here as an example of a major world faith which most people have an overview of – never fear, I don’t ascribe those attributes solely to Christianity!

As for the generic G&G(tm) – haven’t dealt with this mechanism, nor worked with anyone that has for decades.

This interests me – like the concept had gone out of fashion or been superseded in some scholarly way. Goddess and God worship, to my mind, leaves you free to emphasise the aspects and attributes of the Deities that concern you at the time. I see no connection necessarily between genericism and weakness of connection. However, it’s a spiritual choice and as such one must agree to differ.

Lastly equating a magickal path with a religious one, and using terms such as “faith” in this genre do not apply. Religion is not a single serving after all. where the gods expect you to rise to the occasion, and present themselves accordingly as you progress, then religion looses all sense of faith, and belief. Your evidence becomes experiantial and the great big unknown christian god becomes just another tool to employ.

This is the crux of the matter. If I am correct, wizardry recognises no god. To me, witchcraft is intimately connected with spirituality and rightly so; it’s my religion. I do very little magic, but I put a great deal of effort into my moral and spiritual life. To me, therefore, faith certainly does apply. Witchcraft is neither magic nor faith simply because it is both.

Your assessment of the erosion of faith through experience is wrong. Experience of any deity can never be conclusive; faith and belief will not be eroded by experiencing the feeling that your deities are with you; rather, they will be strengthened.

As for judgement – this is why we are tested by our peers, this is why we have exams in common and mundane life, this is why we rank, and the recognised experiance that goes with long life.

Tests are constant throughout everyone’s life. If you follow a structured path, as you do, testing forms a mandatory part of that process. I am obviously not a member of a structured coven system; this is by choice. That the choice exists at all may itself form part of a test. I intend no judgement of you or your path when I say that I choose not to follow the path you have chosen; it simply isn’t for me.

This is not to say that I therefore get to neatly sidestep the peer review, the study, the effort or the achievement that progression and learning grant you. I just have to work things out for myself. To my mind, this conveys great spiritual benefits, as well as offering great pitfalls and challenges to be overcome.

There is, of course, a large divide between initiatory lineage-driven Wicca and the low-church version I practise but witchcraft is stronger for it. If witches in general can avoid the obvious bear-trap of starting to dispute about whose way is the most valid, then we’ll have learned something else from the Christians.

So yeah – I – in my field have every right to judge – but with it goes the expected courage to accept judgement from our peers also.

It’s not about point scoring – but individual responsibility and development – that is something that no-one outside your head can appreciate – ergo – to be silent.

Accepting criticism and trying to see where the truth in it lies is a learned skill and one we all need for perspective, if nothing else. However, criticism has to be made in a judiciously chosen moment; if fellow-feelings are important to the interlocutor, it falls on him or her to temper their opinions to allow the truth of them to penetrate while causing minimum offence.

I am enjoying talking to you, Aleq. Thank you for posting once more!

4 05 2008
The Shepton Witch

What on earth are you going on about Aleq Grai? A coherent argument is a beautiful thing to see but if you really are a HP, I’d have expected something more coherent and reasoned from you. Clearly, you never made the Oxbridge debating teams, but that’s no excuse for making woolly and capricious responses; you can do better (one hopes).

Sadly TGW, none of this has tempted me to read the book. No, I’m now quite certain that I shall not read it.

3 03 2009
Thea Faye

As the author, I’d first like to say thank you for taking the time out to write a review of my book. I’m always interested in hearing what people have to say about it, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative (indeed, there’s an argument to state that the negative reviews are more helpful because they can show you what might need to be improved upon next time).

You mentioned above that you would post positive reviews if you could find them. Since you haven’t, I thought I’d just point you (and your readers) in the general direction of amazon.co.uk, which has a couple of nice responses, as well as the archives of White Dragon – it was reviewed for the Beltane issue 2008 and that made for pleasant reading (for me, anyway!). I can’t seem to find the review that was on the publisher’s site, but there was one, it liked the book, but then again, I suppose you could argue that one the publishers put out is bound to be supportive.

Finally, one minor comment about your review – “magick” isn’t a typo. It’s intentional and personal preference. But you did get me with “confidant” – thank you for pointing that one out!

4 03 2009
The Green Witch

Blessings, Thea, and I’m glad you found and read the review, and that it was helpful. Many thanks for the pointer on positive reviews! The comment on the spelling of the word ‘magic’ was, as you said, intentional and personal – I’ve read the various debates surrounding the use of the ‘magick’ spelling and they don’t convince me but I go with you on the advocacy of preference!

Bright day, TGW

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