The Meaning of Witchcraft by Gerald B. Gardner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Apparently a groundbreaking work, published in the 1950’s and pioneering a pro-Wicca agenda, this book does a lot to advance knowledge of the history of witchcraft, based on the evidence available. The author is a member of a British coven that is said to have ties to generations of practitioners, but linking modern witchcraft to the traditions of the ancients is a more complicated story. The author does a good job, in a wide ranging style, and even though it seemed like he wandered a lot, I didn’t mind in the least. Lots of great information and a fun read.
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For thousands of years most human beings shared such an enchanted worldview. For the past four hundred years it has been steadily abandoned, turned into the occult, which means the hidden—or as one writer says, the rejected—knowledge. But as modern America fills up with astrologers, psychics, magicians, wizards, witches, hoodoo workers, and their many customers, the hidden is coming into light. Ancient occult ideas are radically changing how Americans think about themselves, and most of us don’t even know it’s happening.
This move toward occult thinking is more amorphous than the faiths that reporters are able to write easily about. It has no doctrine, little organization, few moral codes. It gets no official sanction and is sometimes bizarre beyond comprehension. It marshals no martyrs, wages no wars (at least not the kind most of us know about), and yet it has elements that are more ancient even than the big religions, older than history itself. It offers breathtaking possibilities and soul-shaking dangers.
In twenty years of reporting the actions of human beings, probing their reasons for acting oddly, and watching the effects of their behavior, I’ve become convinced that when a good number of people start to do something that makes no sense to the society at large, when they cling to it for a long time and increasing numbers of people take it up, they’re on to something. Usually it’s something that’s percolating through the unconscious. The rest of us feel it too, but we suppress it. It’s often the outcasts, the iconoclasts, the hyper-religious, the young people, sometimes middle-aged women, those who have the least to lose because they don’t have much in the first place, who feel the new currents and ride them farthest. Most of us don’t listen to these people because they act strange and look goofy. They often say offensive, dopey things in cliched ways. I am as put off by such behavior as most comfortably situated, middle-class people are. I believe, nevertheless, that the magical people have something to tell us and I want to hear it.