So, my local library is unfortunately more limited than I would like when it comes to books on paganism, Wicca, or witchcraft. There are a few encyclopedias I’ve paged through, and a couple more academic pieces that are pretty interesting, but fewer books by actual practitioners. I can go farther afield to the Vancouver Public Library system and find a few more things, but that involves holds and a trip to their nearest branch. I decided I’d start with what my system has and go from there, and one of the books they do have is Raymond Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, the second edition.
The “Big Blue Book of Wicca” is an interesting read, to say the least. It’s full of satisfying words like “cthonic” and “cheiromancy.” I feel a bit like I’m back in university as I read it, but I’m finding I’m more critical of the ideas I encounter than I was then. My first upper-level philosophy class left me completely lost for over half the semester before my mind started to catch up; I could only absorb the ideas and had a hard time engaging with them at first. Here at least I have enough understanding of the subject that I’m better able to think about the topics in the book and form my own opinions.
I do start with some biases; there’s my past religious background paired with my natural tendency to question things that I honed during university and grad school. I’m trying to remain open to new ideas and aware that I have strongly formed opinions that may or may not be accurate. (The first step in science, at least according to Charles S. Peirce, is admitting the possibility that you may be wrong). Seeing where those come out is an education in itself. For example, Lesson Nine focuses on methods of divination and I’m skeptical of those. I am more open to practices such as tarot and scrying, but am far more dubious about cheiromancy and astrology. I have a hard time taking astrology in particular seriously. I’m not sure if that’s my skepticism and love of science talking or if that’s a leftover from the religion of my birth (I’m not running screaming the other way, worried about demons, though, so that’s progress).
The first chapter, which dealt with the history of witchcraft, relies on a lot of speculation about prehistory. We simply do not have enough data about early humans and their religious practices, so most of what we do have is extrapolation and educated guesswork. The myths the Wiccan community has constructed about prehistory are interesting, and say a lot about their hopes for the present and the future: that what they believe is valid and important and worthy of being acknowledged and not something to be ashamed of. This is valuable, though I don’t know if any suppositions about religious practice that try to explain what people believed ten thousand years ago can be anything other than that.
The second chapter examines the beliefs of Wicca, the theology, if you will. I’m still mulling that over. I personally am leaning towards a larger pantheon than just the Lord and Lady, though there does seem to be room for that in Wicca as well, with the gods and goddesses being manifestations of the Lord and Lady (at least as I understand it right now). And the Lord and Lady themselves are aspects of what Buckland refers to as the “Ultimate Deity” – that creating force that is so far beyond us that connecting with them as they are isn’t really possible for us. I’m not so sure about focusing on the gender binary the way Buckland seems to, though. I may be cisgender, but it’s not like everyone is. And yes, I know that many permutations of Wicca aren’t so gender essentialist as this book seems to be; my response to the book so far is that this particular version of Wicca is not for me.
The other part of the second chapter that I had mixed feelings about was the section on reincarnation. This, I think, is entirely down to my background. I think it’s a cool idea, beautiful even, but I’m not wholly convinced. To be fair, I don’t have to be. (And what a relief that is!).
Next time I’ll go over some of the aspects of the book that I really liked. I’m not quite finished yet, but it’s been educational so far and I am anticipating learning more.