We have decided to review the books in the Open Circle Library so borrowers can better decide which books they’d like to read. With this in mind we’ve been rereading books in the library in order to remember what they are like.
Marian offers a slightly different approach to pagan witchcraft than we’ve personally read in books on Wicca, in that it recommends a direct observation approach, such as going outside and looking at the moon every night to determine its phase, and holding Beltaine ‘when the Hawthorne blooms’ rather than by a fixed calendar date. The book is structured in the format of a thirteen month training program, with one chapter per month, each with a selection of exercises and additional suggested reading. Most chapters recommend another one of Marion’s books as one of the options. Dion Fortune books also figure frequently in these lists, giving the reader some idea of Marian’s main influence.
These exercises include starting a magical diary, (which she calls a ‘book of illumination’, reading a basic understanding of comparative religion, learning about the agricultural yearly cycle and your local community and folk customs, learning about ‘the God’ and ‘the Goddess’, creating a large personal representation of the ‘wheel of the year’, walking in nature and finding your own ‘sacred’ spots, meditation, making your own robe and wand, meditative visualisation, travel to the Otherworld and contacting the goddess, the god and elementals whilst there, observing your dreams, growing herbs, divination and dowsing, learning about the uses of herbs and scrying.
In most cases only general advise about how to approach studying these subjects is provided, and the reader will have to follow others books, such those in the suggested reading lists, or perform local research in reference libraries and such, in order to complete the exercises. A reader that follows these exercises studiously will no doubt learn a great deal.
The fifth chapter would be an exception to this general rule, in that provides an easy to follow discussion of using meditative visualisation to ‘journey in the Otherworld’, which should get a committed beginner learning the art without need to reference other books, although she lists a few anyway. The creative magician may adapt the example path working used for this purpose to their own tastes.
One of the issues with this book come from the authors assumptions about her readership. She assumes a reader, probably getting into witchcraft for the first time, living in Britain, probably more specifically England. Most readers can adapt the principles to their own area of course, so this issue shouldn’t be too problematic.
Like most books on paganism from the era it was written, it suffers from a very gender-binary, hetero-normative understanding of God and Goddess, ignoring the long rich historical of deities of mixed and/or fluid gender, and those of bisexual or homosexual natures. Although given her attitude of opposing any suggestion of anything other than a normal Christian-style monogamous marriage, this perhaps isn’t surprising.
My main issue in this book concerns an incoherent rant in one of the final chapters where she inexplicably lumps in the use of sexual magic and entheogens as evils on a par with paedophilia. This despite the fact that in earlier chapters she recommends a witch might learn to brew their own alcohol and learn which herbs can be used to aid trance. Viewing alcohol, long used as the sole religious sacrament in authoritarian forms of Christianity, as somehow valid whilst supporting the oppression of those traditionally used in the rest of the world, seems little more than a support of Eurocentric religious fascism.
To summarise, a beginner might get something out of this if they are able to overlook the puritanical politics presented therein, and if they spend time doing the exercises, whilst an experienced pagan or magician will probably find little of interest other than perhaps a spur to get out into nature more if they don’t already, connect with their local history and folklore and base their seasonal celebrations on direct observation of natures cycles rather than relying on fixed calendar dates.