by Gary Cantrell
Llewellyn Publications, 2001
Review by Erin
Upon first glance, I thought it would be one of the standard “Wicca 101” books that have been recently plaguing the NeoPagan literary scene, but upon starting to peruse it, I quickly revised my opinion. My wife was the first to start reading this book, and she told me that I would like it. I have to say that, as always, her judgment is right on.
This book starts out by logically laying out the steps that one needs to start a serious study of Wicca, beginning with definitions of many common terms that are in use, but few bother with defining. Then it moves on to ethics as the next chapter, a refreshing change from those books who go into the spirituality of the religion and don’t think about the ethical problems until much later in the book. From there, it progresses much like other 101 books, but it does so with simple, clear explanations and concise descriptions. There is little intentional confusion of some of the aspects of Wicca, unlike some references I have seen.
The author draws extensively from his personal experience and from the experiences of those around him to illustrate points that need to be made. Some examples can only be shown in the proper context with these examples, and it makes for an entertaining read as well.
The author also knows his limitations and does not try to make this book the “be-all, end-all” of Wiccan study. He knows what he does not know and says so. He also points out directly that this book should only be used as a starting point for study, rather than as the only reference needed, which comes as a refreshing change.
Another change that I find particularly good is the “Chapter Summaries” that are given at the end of each chapter. If one, after having read the book, needs to find some specific information and can’t find the proper reference in either the Table of Contents or the Index, the Chapter Summary of each chapter are invaluable as a tool to give a good overview of the contents, without having to go back and re-read each chapter.
Mr. Cantrell also makes it plain that Wicca is not the only pagan path out there, which should be a relief to the practitioners of those other paths who keep getting confused with Wicca. He even gives several good descriptions of other traditions of Wicca in his first chapter. The footnotes are at the end of the chapter he is writing, making it easy to look up references while reading.
Of a real surprise in this book, and contrasting to many 101 books available at this point in time, he covers many topics that are avoided in other 101 books. He has an entire chapter dealing with the “physically challenged” Wiccan, and some creative solutions that the individual and the coven needs to think of. He covers in another chapter the legal aspects of being Wiccan, as well as some of the more famous legal cases affecting Wicca in recent times. He also devotes an entire chapter to the question of whether or not a Wiccan should come out of the broom closet and gives some suggestions on how to do so, as well as some of the negative aspects to that action.
One part I was particularly pleased to see was his section dealing with humor and how humor is an important part of worship. He shares several anecdotes that I found enjoyable and reminiscent of times that I have been in the Circle. I especially enjoyed “The Symbol of the West is NOT for consumption”. I also appreciate his acknowledgement that there are other runes out there other than the Elder Futhark. This is the only Wicca 101 book that I know that lists 4 different types of Futhark runes, as well as Ogham as a written form of communication.
He does give some rituals and breaks the standard rites down so that one can see the components easily. I had some slight problem with the comments he inserted in sections of the ritual, but that is a minor consideration and is also personal privilege.
He goes to great lengths to make this book as non Tradition bound as possible. A practitioner of any tradition could pick this up and recognize sections of rites in this, and the ethics and some of the documentation are the same from tradition to tradition. This is a Wiccan book, rather than being specific to any one path of Wicca.
The history that is cited is accurate as far as we are able to determine, and does not perpetuate myths that have been refuted in recent times. In this I believe this book is superior to Buckland’s Big Blue Book. The rituals are mostly standard, the celebrations and opening and closing the Circle, along with Cakes and Ale.
The goal of this book is not to make one a Priest/ess with this one book, and he lays it out plainly that one must do more research and reading before one starts doing rituals on their own. He advocates the reader defining clearly what they believe and what they want to get out of Wicca, and he also acknowledges that self-dedication is a reality and here to stay. After all, who is going to deny an initiation performed by the Goddess?
I could go on and on singing the praises of this book, however I’ll let you find all the hidden gems in this book. I believe that this book is a must-have for every coven, Wiccan, witch and anyone who is interested in Wicca. It should stand right next to Buckland’s and Cunningham’s works, and I know mine will.
Reading these books and knowing the contents of Buckland and Cunningham’s works, it’s interesting to see the evolution of our religion.
All in all, I give this book 5 start out of 5. I have never given this high a rating to any other work. I think this book is what every Wicca 101 book tries to be, and so few are. I highly advise everyone to go out and get a copy of this book and keep it for reference if nothing else. I plan on putting it on my list of recommended reading list immediately.