The First ‘Must-Read’ of the Year

1 06 2008

Seshat’s Voice recommended me a book which has had me yelping with recognition at every page. I devoured its 237 pages in the space of an evening and an afternoon. I’ve read or tried to read a great many books so far this year, in anthropology, history, Wicca studies, esoterica, plant lore and general magic, and nothing has grabbed me off the bat like this. Before I get into what it is, let me tell you what it isn’t.

It isn’t a ‘how-to’. It is not a discussion about abstruse points of lore. It is not a personal encomium for one particular Tradition. It isn’t an historical fabrication based on dubious sources. It isn’t up itself. It isn’t attempting to use 10 words where one would be more than ample. 

What it is is a completely straight-talking overview of Wicca, from a largely American perspective, and it should be required reading for everyone on the Path. There’s no bullshit. In fact, there’s a refreshing air of common sense and logic, and a hard-enough line towards what Wicca is and what it certainly isn’t.

In ‘Out of the Shadows’, Lilith McLelland deals a sound left-and-right to some of the preconceptions, misconceptions and outright fabrications that surround Wicca, without seeking to destabilise the whole edifice at the same time. As she says, she couldn’t destabilise it if she tried; it’s too well-established.

For learners, there are whole chapters about what to look for, how to avoid being exploited, what’s reasonable and what isn’t. Why, for example, you shouldn’t do chores for and polish the shoes of your prospective HPS simply because she tells you suffering is necessary for growth (…how many times have we heard this old chestnut? Several forums have this as a mantra… I’ve always had an uncharitable feeling that this was a cover for a lack of adequate policing, as some of the types that seem to want you to ‘grow’ appear to lack basic manners, politeness and etiquette when dealing with an opposing point of view. Just a curmudgeonly aside from me there…).

McLelland makes the elementary but often-overlooked point that Wicca is a religion. Wicca is based on the worship of multiple deities, and may or may not involve magic – but it cannot exist in magic solely. Good question: how do you know you’re a Wiccan?

Her answer pleased me almost out of all proportion – ‘…you know you’re a Wiccan or Pagan because you believe in the gods and feel a connection with one or all of them’ (2002:39).

How simple, how clear. How well expressed! 

It follows that the central point of Wicca is the personal connection, and bargain struck, between the Deity or Deities worshipped by the postulant and the Deities themselves. Which means the argument about the inherited lineage, or lack of it, or whatever, becomes utterly irrelevant. The religion is alive here, now; in its present form and with the manifest disadvantages and advantages it possesses. We’ve got what we’ve got. We have a nascent faith which contains much harmony, quite a lot of intelligent professors, and the usual posse of malcontents, attention-seekers and power-mongers attendant on any rising trend. We can see them, so we can avoid them.

If straight talking is the theme of this book, then care is the subtext. McLelland obviously cares deeply and passionately about Wicca, and she is honest enough to discuss the errors she has made in her struggle to get the right thing done right during her time as a leader. Instead of beating herself up about it in print, she uses her experiences to enlighten and inform. Her frankly hair-raising discussion of the pitfalls of coven management (2002:82) gives one more than enough pause for thought. The point is, we’re all human and fallible – so get over it! Do better next time!

There’s a large section on persecution-complex, the ‘burning times’ and the misguided types who seek to make currency out of shouting about discrimination while going about looking like a refugee from Fields of the Nephilim. All Wicca learners need to read stuff like this; it will do more to separate the real seekers from those who are looking for the latest bandwagon to attach their personal difficulties to. The essential point here is personal responsibility. Andy discussed this subject here also. I’ve talked about this before; to me it’s of paramount importance. I cannot see how a religious or even moral life can be attempted if one does not take full and immediate responsibility for one’s actions and the results. What are the Rede and the Threefold Law about if not this?

There’s one point with which I couldn’t concur more strongly. I’ve been wanting to say this but didn’t have the balls. Well, I should have:

“I’m going to tell you this right up front; do yourself a favor and read Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon right away…. Hutton has done a superb job of pulling together all the legitimate scholarship concerning Wicca, and has added his own work, and there’s no better overview of the history of the Religion” (2002:79-80)

If this book (and Hutton’s, for that matter) does nothing else, it provides a polemic against which other critiques of Wicca should be measured. It gives ample food for thought. It will polarise opinion, and this is expressly the intention of the author. She wants us fighting politely about these issues, because without discussion there’s no resolution. She wants pseuds, phoneys, freaks and the frankly mentally ill to be recognised for what they are and thereby rendered incapable of preying on new seekers and continuing learners alike.

Of course, it does a great deal more than this. It provides a sourcebook of what not to do, and it gives useful practical advice on dealing with issues such as discrimination, family pressure, children in Wicca, and the means by which we seek to promote our faith. Public relations, if you will. Something she freely acknowledges (well, who could deny it?) that we are lousy at.

Throughout, there is a strong, simple, elemental message – this deal is between you and your Gods. Pick the right ones, or listen when they pick you, and the rest isn’t worth a fig. The single best lesson to be learned here is that you can spend all your cash on accoutrements, kneel at the knee of a teacher, dance like a dervish, wave a banner and yell as loud as you like, but the Gods won’t listen unless you talk to them. McLelland’s message appears to be: effort, dedication, faith, learning, self-improvement. Oh, and cut the bullshit, what do you say?

Highly recommended. 





8 responses

1 06 2008

Cut the bullshit, hooray and hwre in Welsh too! I like this book already, think I’ve met all of those types along the way. Regarding the policing issue, I’ve always felt that there should be an offwatch type organisation which regulates and moniters this type of thing, as there are so many charlatans and egofeeding exploiters out there. Perhaps they could produce a guide to the more ethical entitled, “Which, Witch” 😀

1 06 2008
The Green Witch

Which Witch?! Love it. OffBroom. Haa!!

This book is diamonds. The beauty of it is, if more people embraced this sort of attitude, a zero-tolerance approach to bulldust, then regulation wouldn’t be necessary at all!

Speed the day 🙂

1 06 2008

Glad you liked it. That one is thanks to my Auntie Witch-in-the-Broom-Closet. She always finds the really good ones!

1 06 2008
The Green Witch

Absolute zinger. Thank you so much for the tipoff!

2 06 2008

Although I don’t consider myself Wiccan as such, this does seem like a book I need to get hold of! I have heard Ron Hutton speak a few times, he really is very good, I can’t recommend him enough. I bumped into him once on Glastonbury Tor and I listened to one of his lectures to his Bristol Uni Students. Fascinating stuff.

2 06 2008
The Green Witch

I love the way he writes. Really engaging. There are plenty who don’t approve of his style, and others who think he’s done Wicca a grave disservice by writing ‘Triumph..’ but I can’t agree. He’s enthusiastic, learned, rigorous, and also Pagan. Good combo!

2 06 2008

I think he blows away the chaff and leaves what is real, and in my spiritual journey it’s reality I am after. I want to build on a firm foundation, something that lasts, something that is steadfast and something that is real – so I think we need the Ron Hutton’s of this world!

2 06 2008
The Green Witch

I couldn’t agree more, Andy. As I said somewhere else, there’s a possibility that Wiccans have got a bit used to our point of view being supported without any possibility of criticism. There’s a name for this sort of internal paradigm-building but for the life of me I can’t remember what it is.

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