The Woman Magician by Brandy Williams

The Woman Magician
Brandy Williams
Llewellyn Publications, 2011
365 pages

Reviewed by Nicky

The Woman Magician was born from the author’s experiences with the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), Golden Dawn and Thelema, in which she felt that, as a woman, she was not a magician in her own right, due to the emphasis on the male as the director of energy. Drawing on her feminist beliefs and knowledge of women’s history, experiences and needs, the author sought to create a workable tradition for the woman magician, a Magia Femina.

The first part of the book explores the history of the O.T.O., Golden Dawn and Thelema in relation feminism and the needs of its woman-identified practitioners. Williams recounts her personal experience as a Priestess in each order, particularly her responses to the standard rituals. She then moves on to discuss how women have come to be spectators rather than participants in the Western Magical Traditions, via the exploration of tradition, culture, history, philosophy, theology and magic. Each chapter introduces the reader to a personification of the concept, initially contacted by the author via meditation.

The second part combines her knowledge of Western Magical Traditions with her exploration of the above to create a tradition that is empowering to women, putting them in the role of magician rather than spectator. As the book reaches its conclusion, the author attempts to reconcile her feminist ideals with her relationship with the tradition, as personified by the deity/entity named Lady Tradition.

Initially, the writing struck me as intellectual, thorough and well researched. The author has clearly not simply read a book or two, but critically analysed the contents of many. She draws from a wide variety of sources and is careful to either avoid any dubious sources or to make mention of concerns before explaining why she has included them in her writing.

Additionally, her conclusions are enlightening and had me making note of topics I’d like to explore further down the track. This is not a quick, light read for a rainy day; this is a deep, ponderous work.

The magical system suggested seems workable and sensible for a modern Witch. The rituals are touching and empowering but confronting enough to help the woman grow as a magician and as a person. Having personally participated in a similar ritual based on Inanna’s descent to the Underworld, I can attest to the power of such a rite. I also found the final initiation, the Initiation of the Sun, to be particularly moving. I can imagine the pride a magician might feel at its culmination.

Of course, no book is without its flaws. As I said, it is a meaty book that can’t be read in one sitting. That in itself is not a flaw, however given the weight of the book, I got the impression that there was a lot of assumed knowledge expected of the reader. Although many rituals and aspects of Western Traditional Magic were explored, not all concepts and symbols were not sufficiently explained for one new to the path. Explanations given seemed almost like a reminder overview. This didn’t lessen my appreciation of the author’s work, however it did leave me confused and needing to look things up at times. This is most notable during discussions of the Qabalah. Although vital aspects were explained in detail, some of the concepts introduced to help explain the Qabalah also needed to be explained, as they are not, in my opinion, general knowledge in the same way casting a circle or the Goddess may be in Pagan/magical circles.

I also noticed a couple of points where the author didn’t fully represent a Goddess or myth or got some facts wrong. For example, she lists Áine (sometimes spelled Aine, without the accent on the A) as simply the name Patricia Monaghan gave to the fairy queen and Goddess of spring. However, Áine is an Irish Goddess of midsummer, wealth, love and fertility, who is sometimes counted as a fairy queen and a Goddess of sovereignty. Though the ritual in which Áine appears still manages to be effective, I feel it would have been improved with a fuller, more accurate representation of the deity.

Overall, Williams has written an interesting book and a genuinely inspiring, inclusive magical system that could be enjoyed by women of different levels of experience and background.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Phantom Armies of the Night by Claude Lecouteux

Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead
Claude Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 2011
320 pages

Reviewed by Uloboridae

As the title promises, this text is a detailed introduction to the “Wild Hunt” literary theme found throughout Europe. Dr. Lecouteux frames the entire book around the hypothesis that the Wild Hunt theme is an ancient pagan fertility (“third function”) motif of Indo-European origin that was later modified for Christian uses.

The first two-thirds of the book is spent looking at the various figures within the stories, their origins, and the many ways the stories were used for promoting a Christian worldview, particularly regarding sinful actions. This is mainly organized as a timeline, with the first chapters starting with the stories in early 1000s and gradually becoming more recent in later chapters. This is where he identifies, and then separates, the Christian additions from what he recognizes as the original Pagan framework. This method results in quite a large chunk of the book dedicated to explaining Christian clerical beliefs. The author starts out with the “Good Women” troops and the troops of the dead, and then goes into the troops that participate in a hunt or a procession of some sort. The troops of the dead reappear in later chapters to clarify the differences between these types of processions.

He also identifies the regional variations of the figures and stories, focusing mainly on Germanic regions (primarily today’s UK, Germany, Denmark, Austria, and parts of Scandinavia) and Germanic-influenced regions in Spain, France, Italy, and Central Europe. Attention is given to famous figures such as King Herla, Hellequin, and Perchta along with lesser known ones such as Oskeria, Dame Abundia, and Guro. Little attention is given to non-Germanic cultures, which is disappointing, but understandable, given that his professional background is specifically Medieval Germanic literature.

Eventually the author ends his timeline-based exploration in chapters 11 and 12 with the evolution of the Wild Hunt stories in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. He discusses the romance of Fauvel to lead into the more exploratory aspects of the processions, such as the rowdy troops of the living that imitate the dead and devils. Pausing briefly for a chapter on Scandinavian folklore that resemble more basal Wild Hunt stories, the author then ties up the previous 12 chapters with a review on shared themes and other scholars’ interpretations.
The author then concludes with a dismissal of Odin as a Wild Hunt leader, going into detail as to why he is not a true huntsman figure, and an exploration of living processions that are linked to the lore processions. His final chapter recognizes the fact that no true conclusion can be met about the nature of the Wild Hunt and related stories, a refreshing attitude for books of this subject. The appendixes are translations of old stories and poems that depict or refer to the Wild Hunt and other processions, free of Dr. Lecouteux’s interpretations (those are given in earlier chapters).

Overall, I found this book to be informative from both a historical and a religious viewpoint. There are times where he asserts an idea as if it were fact (particularly with linguistic connections being used to “prove” or “disprove” an aspect or being of the Wild Hunt), which one would not be able to check unless they were familiar with the field. This situation forces a regular reader to either accept his word, or ignore it, which I find a bit distracting. I prefer to have context and information to support either decision, rather than mentally flipping a coin to decide which way to go. Usually I end up just ignoring the unsupported assertions, which thankfully does not interrupt the rest of the book.

This book is written in an academic voice, requiring some sections to be reread to fully comprehend them. Occasionally the book felt dragging due to the repetition of ideas and interpretations. Dr. Lecouteux also has a tendency to pack his books with information, which can be both good and bad. Good because historical Pagan information is limited and many of us need every bit we can find. Bad, because there is often no room left to give context to the random tidbits. Since the book was originally written in French, the references are mostly French and German sources, so trying to trace the information is nearly impossible for other language speakers to do. For someone like me who wants to double-check something for “truthfulness”, this can be irksome.

However, the author is excellent in keeping a neutral, professional tone in his work. He does not promote or degenerate Christianity or Paganism, nor does he reveal which “side” he is on (if any at all). His interest is solely academic, allowing this book to appeal to a variety of readers. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves European and Religious history and lore, as well as those seeking to understand the differences between Christian and Pagan worldviews. It will make an interesting addition to their library. However, due to the lack of context for some ideas, I would not recommend this book to those new to historical paganism. This is a “201” book, something to read after basic knowledge on Pagan worldviews has already been obtained and understood.

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

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