One of my other pass-times, in between researching odd avenues of history and the supernatural, is doing book reviews for my friend Ingrid and her Indie Author website. She recently asked me to review a book on the history of Traditional Witchcraft and Paganism that is due to be published soon. Below is the review that I posted for her.
The Author: Melusine Draco
One of the things that sets her apart in the world of pagan writings is her use of classical sources, academic texts and archaeological findings. You can find out more about Melusine and her other books at her blog Melusine Draco at Temple of Khem.
We here at http://www.ingridhall.com have been privileged to be offered the opportunity to review Melusine Draco’s latest book prior to publication. Traditional Witchcraft and the Pagan Revival is part of the ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ series written by the author and published by Moon Books. It will be published on 30 August 2013.
Traditional Witchcraft and the Pagan Revival by Melusine Draco
Draco uses archaeological sources and historical research to argue that magic and religion were at first intertwined, and later became separated particularly with the advent of Christianity. She argues that remnants of older pagan traditions remained, particularly in more remote areas of Britain, and these remnants and their guardians influenced the development of Traditional British Witchcraft. She also addresses some of the pit-falls of modern interpretations of paganism and their claims to ancient antecedents. She also highlights some of the prejudice that can still be faced by those following alternative spiritual paths.
I found this book to be very engaging, enlightening and at times challenging – it covers a great deal of ground in under 200 pages. While there are undoubtably more complex and detailed archaeological and historical studies available and Draco’s interpretation of the evidence whilst drawing on some very distinguished sources, is very much her own, this book provides a good over view of archaeological and historic periods from earliest times to the present day. Her survey outlines the main theories in relation to magical and religious developments within the British Isles and her insight how these traditions and survivals may have influenced Traditional British Witchcraft and Neo-pagan traditions such as Wicca.
Her chapters are broken up into the archaeological or historical overview, a ‘story so far’ section interpreting the evidence, and a summary drawing it all together. In a book covering such a vast period of time, this seems a very practical approach. She also provides a detailed chapter by chapter bibliography to aid further research.
I was impressed with the depth of research carried out by Draco, she quotes eminent archaeologists and historians to support her theories, and presents this information in a very readable and informative manner. Any book on the history of witchcraft would be hard pressed not to refer to the legendary Margaret Murray, whose 1921 book on witch-cults in Europe had a huge influence on the development of the neo-pagan movement and modern Wicca. Draco uses Murray judiciously, Murray’s theories are now hotly disputed and Draco, although claiming some remnant pagan elements from antiquity may have survived in Britain, does not go as far as to claim an unbroken ancient lineage.
I was particularly taken by Draco’s idea of a Jungian Collective Unconsciousness, where over time universal magical knowledge was laid down and stored, ready for those with the ability to tap into in to it in future ages. A sort of metaphysical unbroken lineage rather than an actual genealogical line!
Draco also makes an interesting point that many of the academic writers researching the history of witchcraft do not actually believe in witches per se, so approach the subject with an unintentional bias; she also has no truck with a lot of current pagan writings in which she blames for the propagation of lazy and inaccurate historical ‘facts’ – or to use her own phrase: ‘fakelore and fantasy’.
I was interested to see how she would approach the ‘Burning Times’, Draco clearly highlighted the difference in treatment of witches in England as opposed to those on the continent who were subject to the inquisition during this period. She also avoided citing the oft quoted figure of 5 million killed during these times, a highly contentious figure which is strongly refuted by academics in the field. (However, the dispute about the numbers killed should in anyway denigrate or dismiss the terrifying truth that hundreds of thousands of people, mainly women, were killed because they were perceived to be witches. And lets not forget that TODAY in many countries around the world people are still being persecuted and killed as witches).
Draco is a teacher, an instructor, and this comes across strongly in her writing style. She has some very passionate views on the ‘correct’ approach to studying witchcraft and paganism – and strongly believes in the importance of tapping into the genius loci of an area as a way of connecting to the Old Ways. She is very skeptical of the modern pick and mix approach promoted by many spiritual paths, preferring (as Dion Fortune did) that a person becomes an expert (in more than on path, if desired) before one creates a more individualist path. Draco does not encourage ‘dabblers’. Some may find her muscular approach to her subject and her clear preference for Traditional Witchcraft a little off-putting – some of her views in relation to Wicca and neo paganism can appear high-handed and dismissive (she readily admits that British Traditional Witchcraft can be a bit ‘red in tooth and claw’ and is much more tribal and can seem a lot less open armed than other branches of paganism).
This book is clearly pitched at pagan readers rather than history fans, however I think that those generally interested in history would enjoy reading it, as it provides a very good survey of the last few thousand years from quite an alternative perspective: the magical/religious developments of the British Isles in relation to modern paganism. In my view, it can only be a benefit to paganism in general if those practicing alternative paths such as Witchcraft, Wicca or Paganism find out more about the actual history of the subject rather than relying only on those books that provide a very appealing but not necessarily realistic view of pagan history. As a result some currently accepted historical ‘facts’ might be consigned to ‘folklore’ but that’s not to say they lose their significance – it just tempers it.
Although some of the interpretations of the archaeological and historical record are open to challenge, for a book of under 200 pages that successful navigates many thousands of years of history and dealing with quite a controversial subject this is only to be expected! This is a book that makes the reader ask questions, think about the evidence, and hopefully explore further. I found it a thoroughly fascinating read.
Traditional Witchcraft and the Pagan Revival by Melusine Draco will be available on Amazon from 30 August 2013: