Real Magic – Isaac Bonewits

Real Magic
Isaac Bonewits
Weiserbooks, 1989
282 pages

This is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for years. I kept having people tell me what a good book it was (or, occasionally, not so good) and it remained on my very long to-read list until recently. What’s funny to me is the synchronicity involved; I believe that if I’d read it earlier in my magical career, it might not all have sunk in so well. Yes, it’s an introduction to magic, but it’s an interdisciplinary one, and having a practical background in magic actually made some of the concepts even more understandable to me, believe it or not.

What Bonewits did was create a guide to magic for the non-magician as well as the magician, the pagan, and the candlestick-burner. It’s almost entirely theory, but he explains it in terms of science, psychology, religion, as well as magical practice itself, among others. Much of it comes from his gaining a bachelor’s degree in magic (which I think is pretty cool, myself), and the ability to research shows. It’s a solid work, and well worth the read.

Once again I must comment on his tone. In the preface to this edition he apologized for “rampant egotism”. I’m not sure if he toned it down in this edition or not, but I have to say that this is part of what makes reading his work so much fun! Sure, it annoys some people, but I love every minute of it just because it is full of so much nerve and guts and gall and all that. Additionally, the peppering of puns left me laughing (and occasionally groaning).

The book is a bit dated; the emphasis on parapsychology and psy research is nowhere near as prevalent in the magical community as it was in the warly 70’s when the book was first written. And there are a few political and other current event mentions that also place the book in another decade for just a moment–for instance, if you were to toss someone into Lake Erie now, at least they would sink (though they might develop a lovely skin rash, and don’t drink the water!) But these are very small details and they don’t detract from the quality of the book as a whole.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable read. I’d recommend it as a gift to non-magical folk who are interested, or who need an example of a book on magic that A) isn’t all dark and scary and cultish, and B) isn’t all sparkles and pixie dust and unicorn giggles. I’d also recommend it to any magical practitioner who hasn’t read it yet, simply because if you’re like me, you’ll find something that either really speaks to you, or you’ll learn something you didn’t know. And it is a seminal work in the field of modern magic, worth reading simply for the historical value (well, recent history anyway).

Five pawprints out of five.

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