The Wicca Handbook – Eileen Holland – BBBR January 2007

The Wicca Handbook
Eileen Holland
Weiser, 2000
309 pages

This, folks, is THE stereotypical fluffy Wiccan book.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with Wicca as a religion (or any other religion, for that matter). However, the way that the author writes about her religion was enough to make me want to throw this one out the window a number of times–just in the first 50 pages!

Here’s a run-down of the various complaints I have:

–Shoddy historical research and other questionable content

She accepts, without question, the stories about Gardner learning from Dorothy Clutterbuck and how Gwen Thompson received the Wiccan Rede from her (conveniently deceased) grandmother, and that there are plenty of family traditions with centuries-old teachings passed down (p 6, 8,11) . Finally, she supports none of these with outside evidence; the only footnotes she uses are for direct quotes, mostly from the Farrars’ works.

Holland is also an advocate of the whole “natural witch” idea that supports the concept that some people are “naturally” better than others at magic (which I find rather elitist)(p. 13). Anyone can work magic; it’s a matter of achieving the proper mindset, not your past lives. And she assumes that all inverted pentacles are Satanic, forgetting that certain British traditions use it as a symbol for the second degree (p. 37).

–Blatant bias against anything outside the pale of her own personal preferences; this isn’t a book presenting Wicca objectively–it’s the Gospel of Wicca according to Holland. She also basically says that all Wiccans focus primarily on the Goddess and that the divine is female (numerous references to the Goddess as primary deity). She also talks about how dangerous it is for anyone to work with elementals (p. 50-51). While she may have issues with them, she should be presenting them as her own experience rather than the ultimate truth (a common theme for a lot of this book).

She has a serious issue with many religions and practices outside of Wicca, including Satanism (which she goes after numerous times), Chaos magicians, and anyone who practices animal sacrifice (which, by the way, includes Afro-Caribbean religions such as Voodoo adn Santeria)(p. 14). Her descriptions show quite blatantly that she doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about in regards to any of them and that she’s filtered them all through her white-light filter without really taking the time to walk in the others’ shoes. In fact, she advises the readers not to evfen *read* about anything outside of her personal biases (p. 26). It’s pretty obvious who Holland’s boogey-men are. She’s also pretty phobic about non-vanilla sexuality, which is revealed in her nervous approach to the cords and scourge (p. 41). And, no surprise at all, she speaks out vehemently about “black magic” (p. 15-16), which brings us to…

–Severe lack of consistency

This is a major inconsistency. After pontificating for pages about the evils of black magic, what does she include? Not one, but two love spells designed to attract a specific person, which any experienced pagan will tell you is a major ethical no-no! (You can find them on p. 107-109)

She also says that the title of witch shouldn’t be used “lightly” (p. 12), and then on the next page she says that if you feel like calling yourself a witch, that means you must be one!

–Other points of interest

She stereotypes gay couples by saying all of them have a “male” partner and a “female” partner (p. 18)–guess she’s never met any lesbian couples that were made of two butches or two femmes.

Don’t get me wrong–there is a lot to like about this book, too. It’s chock full of excellent correspondences of all sorts. She explains the uses of the various altar tools, as well as the correspondences of the four traditional elements, among others. She includes a lot of rudimentary information on the basics of spellwork, though each topic is covered briefly enough that anyone wishing to work with spells as a beginner would do well to supplement this book with others. However, once you have a basic understanding of spells, there are a lot of good basic suggestions in this book.

It does follow the usual format of 101 texts in that it skims over the surface of a bunch of different topics; for example, you wouldn’t want to base an entire practice of totemism solely on her brief chapter on animal correspondences and spells. But it is a useful collection of information for the beginner.

If she’d cut out the first 40 or so pages of the book, it would have been a wonderful collection of introductory information. The problem is she prefaces it with a bunch of blatant biases and inaccuracies and presents it as universally Wiccan. It’s a good book wrapped up in awful dogma. If you can ignore the latter, the former is a good addition to the paganism 101 book shelf. Unfortunately, a lot of newbies may not know the difference and may swallow her biases as holy writ.

One and a half pawprints out of five.

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8 Comments

  1. Bandora said,

    January 10, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    Read this book many moons ago and since then I’ve kept it on my bookshelf as an example of “take what you read with a grain of salt” whenever teaching Wicca.

  2. lupabitch said,

    January 10, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    *grin* Thank you for letting me know I’m not the only one 😉

  3. Acacia Lazuli said,

    January 11, 2007 at 2:23 am

    I used to have it after it was recommended to me. I never could get past the first chapter.

    I do have a couple questions just for clarification:

    Why do you mention “white light” as a filter as though lightworkers are all fluffyheads? Am I just assuming that was your intent? I have my own issues with certain groups of them, but I’ve met some good ones too. *shrugs* just curious.

    Also, I had thought that the cords and scourge were not supposed to be sexual in ritual, so I’m curious why her handling (so to speak) of those topics would indicate her attitudes about kink? Not that I think you’re wrong on that, I’m just wondering if there’s more specific info on her interpreting those in a sexual way?

    Anyway, sounds like I was right to take that one to Half-Price Books. 🙂

    What would you like to see in a basic pagan intro book?

  4. lupabitch said,

    January 11, 2007 at 7:22 am

    It didn’t really matter what sort of filter she was using–she used her own biases to judge the ways of others. If I were talking about, say, a devil-worshipper who condemned everything that wasn’t uber-evil and all that fun stuff, I would have characterized it similarly (though I don’t think “black light filter” would have come across the same way 😉 )

    In regards to the cords, a quote regarding tying someone with them: “This is supposed to be a solemn, symbolic, religious act, and no doubt has ancient origins. It seems darkly sexual to me, however, and I see much potential for abuse in it. I think it’s safest to follow the same rules for sex and Wicca: never, ever allow anyone to tie you up”.

    As far as good intro books, for Wicca I usually recommend Jennifer Hunter’s “21st Century Wicca” in tandem with Cunningham’s “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner”. For a basic theoretical overview of a number of pagan religions, I like Graham Harvey’s “Contemporary Paganism”. And for an introduction to magical practice, Nicholas Graham’s “The Four Powers”.

  5. Brock said,

    January 11, 2007 at 10:07 am

    Some people DO have more talent for magic than do others. It’s just like any other talent. I can’t play golf like Tiger Woods, I can’t play guitar like Eric Clapton, I can’t sing like Placidio Domingo. Each of them has talents for what they do to a greater degree than I do. Magic works the same way: some people start out better at it than others.

    The problem is that when one claims hextra-speshul madshiqual TALENT, it’s hard for third parties to check the claim. It’s therefore a convenient claim when one is trying to impress people.

    Unfortunately for the poseurs, magic is a field where training and experience go a long way towards making up the differences in talent.

  6. lupabitch said,

    January 11, 2007 at 10:17 am

    Brock–Okay, yeah, I’ll definitely give you that. You’ve made a good point. And, admittedly, some types of magic come easier to some people than others; invocation is quite easy for me, but I still have issues with quiet meditation ten years into the game.

  7. July 10, 2007 at 7:54 am

    I agree that people have talent for certain kinds of magic, but NOT for “magic” as a discipline because it requires so many individual skills. Also, I’d take one experienced magician who has trained in a disciplined and intensive manner for years over 10 people with tons of ‘talent’ but too lazy to train.

    In Peace Profound

  8. November 27, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Interesting review. I am a fan of Holland’s books that are references for correspondences and wondered if I would like her Wicca Handbook. I am pretty sure, based on this review, that I won’t bother. There are so many beginners guides that one more won’t make much difference. There are too few pagan books that move it up a step or two. Apparently, everyone is a beginner!


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