Dedicant by Thuri Calafia

Dedicant: A Witch’s Circle of Fire
Thuri Calafia
Llewellyn, 2008
342 pages

Note: This review originally appeared in an issue of newWitch magazine.

With the ratio of students to teachers and groups in the Neopagan community, self-directed systems for the neophyte are in demand. New author Thuri Calafia offers up the first in a planned series of books for this demographic. Similar to Christopher Penczak’s witchcraft series, Calafia’s Circles system is designed to lead the reader from the beginning, all the way through advanced material of her creation.

Much of the material is a rehash of the same standard stuff you’ll find in most Wicca/witchcraft 101 texts—there are the basic ritual tools, correspondences, Wiccan deity archetypes, and so forth. This book is simply Calafia’s interpretation and utilization of these, so it may be a good alternative for those who haven’t yet found an author they agree with.

It’s also unabashedly eclectic, and uses the “almost anything goes” definition of Wicca. If you’re more traditional about things, you’ll probably want to avoid this book. If you’re new to neopaganism, make sure that you read other perspectives along with this one.

I do have to give her credit for encouraging freedom of thought; for example, she leaves it up to the reader as to whether to utilize mild drugs in ritual work (or personal life) rather than preaching absolute abstinence. She also cites her sources with footnotes and includes a full bibliography, something I’ve noticed featured more in Llewellyn’s recent catalog.

For writing essentially a 101 text, Calafia does a great job of laying out the groundwork, and presents it in a unique, workable structure that’s easy to follow and offers a good scaffolding for self-development. Personally, I’d recommend this as a decent starting text with a few reservations, and I’m curious about what her later books will present.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Mystical Dragon Magick by D.J. Conway

Mystical Dragon Magick: Teachings of the Five Rings
D.J. Conway
Llewellyn, 2007
264 pages

Note: This review was originally published in an issue of newWitch magazine.

I’d heard this book was better than Dancing With Dragons; I’m sorry to say the mediocrity continues.

While this volume is supposed to be advanced dragon magic, it follows the poor formula found in entirely too many pagan books of skimming over a number of topics that are only loosely related. There are countless pages of the same stone, herb, and element correspondences that are found in numerous other books, and there’s additional magic 101 material—all with a few words about dragons tossed in for relevance.

Through the training in this book, one supposedly is able to become an enchanter, a warrior, a shaman, and a mystic. Yet these roles are primarily supposed to be achieved through an increasingly dazzling array of shiny ritual tools and trappings, and overly scripted guided meditations that leave little room for personal experience and exploration. If this is supposed to be more than a 101 book, I’m not impressed.

Conway’s research is seriously lacking. She doesn’t employ critical thinking in her material on Atlantis, instead choosing to take as fact anything that supports her views, no matter how sketchy. Her explanations of dragons in various cultures are overly simplistic and show an incomplete picture of extant lore. And while she has a sizable bibliography, some of the books are of questionable quality, and there are no in-text citations for tracing individual pieces of information.

To top it off, Conway is quite dogmatic in her views. While I have no doubt that this is her reality in truth, she present her own subjective experiences of dragons and the otherworld as universal fact. She perpetuates the inaccurate classifications of white, black and gray magicians, and in my review copy she states “No member of the Five Inner Rings [Conway’s dragon magic tradition] is ever called a priest, priestess, guru, master, or any other nonsense name” (22). I wonder how pagan clergy feel having their titles summarily dismissed thusly?

Between the rehashing of material from Dancing With Dragons, and the additional shallow treatment of several magical paradigms—and dragons themselves—I can’t recommend this book to any reader.

One pawprint out of five.

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