by Raymond Buckland
Llewellyn Publications, (Second Edition) 2002, $17.95 US
Review by Daven
My first introduction to Witchcraft was through Raymond’s Big Blue Book AKA BBB. I started on the path of Wicca due to this publication. I must have read it about 100 times cover to cover trying to understand all the nuances contained in these pages.
Over time, I have defended this book since many see absolutely no use for having this work due to various reasons. They will cite stories that Raymond didn’t do any research for OTHER works of his, that he invented Peti-Wica and Seax-Wica, that most of the facts cited in this book are made up too. They will cite that he wrote it as a joke or that it’s so brief as to be useless to most people.
I have seen heated discussions, verging on flame wars, regarding the merits of this book. I personally have owned three copies of this work over time, two of which were given away to special students of my wife and myself. Aside from Cunningham’s works, I think that this book is one of THE most cited references out there.
Here’s the rub: this book is designed have only simple information in it. This is the beginning point of study, not the be all and end all of research. You cannot go out and buy this book, thinking that it will substitute for all other books on Wicca and Witchcraft. It can never take the place of reading and studying other material. There are sections of this book that have entire shelves of material dedicated to the same subject in libraries and bookstores. Instead of covering them in depth Mister Buckland covers the topic lightly in the BBB. Many think that because of this, he is trying to be the only reference others need.
Having read this book multiple times, I honestly don’t know where some members of Wicca get that idea. Raymond does a wonderful job in referencing every chapter with supplemental reading, and the recommended reading list matches quite a number of private libraries out there. He states quite clearly that *IF* one were to read his book and ALL the cited references, a practitioner would have the equivalent of a Third Degree initiation in a traditional coven. Not that they would be as good as a High Priestess, only that one would have the knowledge of a High Priestess (or the knowledge that a High Priestess SHOULD have).
This republication of his classic work is just as good as the original. It should be, frankly, because while there are many more pictures and the illustrations are cleaner, and the book has been redesigned somewhat, the material is exactly the same, almost to the spelling errors.
I got a real sense of déjà vu while I was reading this in preparation for writing this review because I found the material to be identical to my initial studies. I had hoped that with the reissue of this work, that many of the errors that had been perpetuated in the original text (like the history of witchcraft) would be corrected. This was his perfect chance to strike down the nay-sayers and show that his work is still relevant to another generation of incipient Wiccans.
Instead, it’s the same thing as from before. Which was something of a disappointment.
The interior layout is MUCH better, a vast improvement over the older edition. The questions that are at the end of each lesson are right there, so instead of having to thumb through the entire book to get to the essay questions, you simply keep reading. As a result, there is no the temptation to skip the questions and go to the next chapter. In addition, the sidebars, irritating in the original layout have been moved to more convenient places, and the top of the page is used for illustrations.
There are more pictures than were in the original work, which helps show the reader what he is talking about. Many of the pictures are the same, but that’s bringing a breath of old times to those who are familiar with the original work. The chapter references are right there at the end of the chapter, rather than in an appendix all on it’s own again, also making that material more immediate to the reader. There is an index this time, so the reader does NOT have to read the entire book again to extract a single piece of information.
Despite everything, I like this book. It is better looking than the older editions and the raised printing on the cover is nice. I give this 4 stars out of 5. However, there is a caveat to that rating. People who don’t have it in their library would be advised to purchase it. Those who already have a copy of this book can skip buying a copy. I could find no new content. I’m sure that some time in the future, someone is going to do a line-by-line comparison, but I don’t have my older version anymore. In spite of the caveat I feel this is a worthy replacement.
A final word, like the original, the reader will have to do a LOT of work on his or her own.