The Wiccan Mystic – Ben Gruagach

The Wiccan Mystic: Exploring a Magickal Spiritual Path
Ben Gruagach
WitchGrotto Press, 2007
256 pages

The Wiccan Mystic is author Ben Gruagach’s answer to the complaint “I’m TIRED of Wicca 101 books! Where are the Wicca 201s?” With a few exceptions, he’s created a book that fits the bill.

The basic premise of the book is that Wicca is a mystery tradition, and the practitioner a mystic. He does a wonderful job making the argument that a mystery tradition doesn’t necessarily have to be group-oriented, and that the mystery is between the practitioner and the Divine. Those who are looking for good perspectives on Wicca as a solitary initiatory religion will definitely find useful fodder, and traditionalists may end up disagreeing. Gruagach holds his own, though.

The bulk of the book beyond the initial definitions deals with various topics of interest to the Wiccan who already has the basics down and wants to go further. There’s not a bunch of prefabricated spells and rituals, though; other than some pathworking templates in one of the appendices, it’s thankfully free of pre-crafted material. Instead we’re offered a wide variety of food for thought. Gruagach covers critical thinking skills, thoughts on balancing group and solitary work, philosophy and ethics, and even guidelines for critiquing a book in a balanced manner. All the material is aimed towards getting the reader to think about hir path, why s/he’s there, and what s/he’s going to do with it–without dogmatically flogging the author’s personal agenda (which doesn’t even come into play here).

There’s a bit of what initially looks like 101 material in here, but it’s approached from a 201 perspective. Rather than giving a list of deities, Gruagach offers up ideas on actually connecting to the Divine (rather than a “stereotype”, as he puts it). In other places he could have gone into a little more detail; the two paragraphs dedicated to familiars was pretty scant, and could have used a little more definition of what he was considering a familiar–it sounded a bit like he was considering all pets to be familiars. A little more elaboration on the various points that didn’t get so much attention would have helped to flesh the text out more.

I would also like to have seen more personal anecdotes to back up some of his thoughts. How have these ideas worked for him? What processes helped him learn what he passes on to others? Additionally, I think the appendix with the pathworkings could have been made into a standalone chapter.

There’s a terrific bibliography in the back; Gruagach has most certainly done his homework. It’s not all just neopagan source material, either; I saw Aldous Huxley in there, as well as a translation of the Greek Magical Papyrii. What I would really liked to have seen, though, is in-text or footnote citations of the material that didn’t come right out of his head (for example, his historical research). There are a few endnotes, but they tend to be more commentary on the material than actual citations. A big long bibliography is a lot more useful if there are citations in the main body of the work showing exactly where the author got a particular piece of information. Not only does it show the author’s work, but it also helps others who want to do more research on a given point or check the research against their own.

The only other quibble I have is with the layout. Maybe it’s just me, but the styles of fonts used for the headers seemed a little inconsistent, with a mixture of italics and bolds at various font sizes. The text also wasn’t justified, giving the right margin of the text a ragged look and giving away its self-published origin (though, to be fair, in both content and style it’s one of the best self-published works I’ve ever seen, and better than some of the traditionally published works out there!).

Still, the positives much outweigh the negatives here. Gruagach has created a much-needed text in the corpus of Wiccan knowledge beyond 101. I applaud his efforts, and encourage his writing career wholeheartedly!

Four pawprints out of five.

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1 Comment

  1. July 10, 2007 at 8:42 am

    I may have to look into this one! I’m also of the mind that Wicca is, at heart, a mystery tradition and each Coven is less a congregation and more a mystery school (or at least ought to be). I’ve compared Wicca to Hermetics, insofar as Wicca clearly began as sort of a branch of 19th century Hermetics with some early 20th century folklore scholarship tossed in for spice and has sort of lost those Hermetic roots in most traditions and lineages (of both BTW and “eclectic” Wicca). I’ve even given consideration to doing a bit of writing on how Wicca can be deepened significantly by re-Hermeticizing it (though it could also be just as easily deepend through contact with some other well-fleshed-out traditions).

    Unfortunately, Wicca is somewhat of an abortion right now. It was never allowed to “come to term”; Gardner, Sanders, Valiente and the other founders of the religion gave us little more than a skeleton (which was itself a herculean task, so I mean no disrespect). Most post-foundational Covens, traditions, and teachers that I’ve encountered have done little more than glob on a few clods of clay here and there and called their creation a living thing, when all they really have is a half-animated golem.

    We need more people to approach Wicca as a mystery tradition, and not as yet another belief system (because, really, it never included much in the way of theology until these various traditions started making things up and calling it Wicca). That way, we can be proud of the skeleton we have, acknowledge that it’s just a skeleton, and then say, “Ok from now one we’re going to flesh it out independently and share our findings.” There is no universal Wicca, and to try to claim that Wiccans “believe” in x, y, or z is to really miss the original point. Wicca is a system of Lesser Mysteries which can, if fleshed-out into an individual system and practiced with dilligence (rather than just casting Circles on Esbats and Sabbats, telling the God and Goddess that they rock, then having a few drinks), lead one to the Greater Mysteries which are beyond any human teacher to communicate.

    Just my (*counts*)…about $0.05.

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