Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Book of English Magic

It's been a while since I saw a new book in the field of paganism, magic, witchcraft or the occult that has been unique or exciting. Recent offerings in occult books have mostly been retreading earlier materials, so in recent years I've been more likely to be drawn to some academic titles (like Douglas Cowan's Sacred Terror). But this new book by Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate is one of the most exciting new books I've seen in a while.

The Book of English Magic from Overlook Press is comprehensive, but not scholarly. It's well-written and engaging, well-organized, and not always completely objective. But for any reader interested in the historical basis of magic, witchcraft, paganism and other related topics, this book is as well-rounded and informative a volume as a serious reader could hope for.

The principle behind the book's purpose is simple: England is described as the country that is the home of more magicians, magical artifacts, magical legends and magical traditions than anywhere else in the world. Beginning with an intriguing description of England's magical landscape, from stone circles and monoliths like Stonehenge and Avebury, to the wells, trees and Tor of Arthurian Glastonbury, the book addresses the very foundation of England's magical heritage. Various figures important to England's ancient and contemporary magical status are also described in detail, from John Dee, Nicolas Culpeper, Aleister Crowley, and Annie Besant, to Patricia Crowther, Dion Fortune, and Ross Nichols. The book also includes many fascinating excerpted interviews from writers like David Conway (a somewhat reclusive author whose small number of books have had enduring popularity), Nigel Pennick, Caitlin Matthews and Patrick Harpur.

In addition to helpful historical information, the book occasionally offers practical advice on a wide range of topics, from herbal lore to alchemy to dowsing to ley lines to rune-casting to numerology to tarot. Although not in-depth enough to cover any of these topics sufficiently for the sincere seeker, each chapter also includes useful lists of resources for further inquiry. It's a valuable addition to any occult or magical library, and of equal use to the witch, Wiccan, druid, ceremonial magician, neo-pagan, healer, wizard, earth mysteries enthusiast, or anyone looking to become educated about the rich trove of material that comprises the English magical world. I can't recommend it highly enough.

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