The Witch’s Book of Shadows by Jason Mankey

The Witch’s Book of Shadows
Jason Mankey
Llewellyn, 2017

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Review by Lisa McSherry.

For so many witches, the Book of Shadows is a tool fraught with nervousness. My first BOS — a hardbound journal with a black cover — was deeply pretentious, written in Theban with an inkpen and using carefully chosen inks, a setup that lasted about a month before inertia took over and I stopped using it for several years. My near-daily journal of the time instead contains all of my memories and witch plans, along with typical musings about school and my relationships. For many reasons I love my first BOS but it wasn’t until the pretentiousness was eliminated that it became an actual tool. I suspect my situation is one many newcomers face, a suspicion borne out by my many students over the years who worry a great deal more about how their BOS looks, and less about what goes inside. A few authors have taken on the “How To Do a Book of Shadows” topic over the years, but not until Jason Mankey produced The Witch’s Book of Shadows do I think that it has been well done.

One of the best aspects of this book is that Mankey does a great job describing how a witch will have many Books over time, that they aren’t permanent but meant primarily to capture data that isn’t easily tracked. Practically speaking, his rituals for releasing old Books were good, as is the whole notion that you can start a Book and then transfer that data into a new Book as need arises or as new technologies become available. This is a great approach. Maybe Mankey’s words will help put a stake in the trap of perfectionism and get on with the real Work. He certainly takes the time to describe the pros and cons of many types of Book: journal, binder, cut-and-paste, and handwritten; all of which allows the reader to consider what will work best for them.
Mankey also does a good job discussing the many different options one can take when constructing their own Book and while construction and usage of the BoS take up a large part of this book, Mankey also delves into a brief history and talks about what the future may hold for them in this electronic age as well. I found the “Alphabets, Fonts, Inks, and Symbols” chapter helpful, as well as the “Cleansing, Consecrating, and Other Rituals” chapter. The chapter discussing the history of the Book (“Out of the Shadows”) was interesting and as a witch who works a great deal in a virtual environment, “New Frontiers and the BoS” was a oft-overlooked addition.

I do have a few small criticiscms: the focus is strongly Wiccan, although includes a surprising amount of Christian imagery and language. I call this out especially since it is part of a series (#5, in fact) of books for Witches in general. Many witches, including myself, are not Wiccan, so placing an emphasis on that path feels more than a little off-putting.

Of all the Witch’s tools, the Book of Shadows is the most personal. Mankey has done a great job making it accessible as well.

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The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic by Owen Davies

The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic
Edited by Owen Davies
Oxford University Press, 2017

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Review by Jason Mankey.

This is a challenging — and mostly academic — look at magical traditions over the last 3,000 years. I’m a huge fan of Davies’ contributions to magical history, especially Grimoires: A History of Magical Books and Popular Magic: Cunning Folk in English History, and this volume is a solid supplement to that work. But because it’s a collection featuring several different scholars, the tone throughout is uneven, and some essays feel far more relevant and enlightening than others.

While reading Witchcraft and Magic, I couldn’t stop wondering who the intended audience for this book is. It’s far too academic for casual readers, and probably not in-depth enough for academics. Topics I was intimately familiar with (such as the emergence of the Modern Craft) felt like they were given short shrift, while things I was less interested in seemed to take up more space. Often times I felt as I were reading a text-book designed for college students enrolled in Religious Studies 101.

Readers looking for a history of Modern Witchcraft along the lines of Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon will be mightily disappointed. Modern spiritual Witchcraft covers just eight or so pages, with no mention of Victor and Cora Anderson nor of the rise of “Traditional Witchcraft” over the last ten or so years.

I also found a chapter on “Witchcraft and Magic in Anthropology” somewhat uncomfortable. Perhaps it was fashionable to call the magic of the Azande people of Sudan “witchcraft” in the 1920’s, but I think we can do better today. I’m sure they have their own name for it, and translating native interpretations of magic to simply “witchcraft” feels limiting and reads as a desire to place everything in a Euro-centric box). We can and should do better.

Despite these criticisms, there are things about this book that I genuinely enjoyed. It’s an absolutely beautiful book: the images alone make this book worth flipping through, with many far outside the realm of “the usual” pictures one sees in books and articles about magical traditions.

The book is at its best when discussing the modern period, and the majority of the text covers the last 600 years or so. I once read that it takes about thirty years for new academic information to reach the masses, and anyone looking for up to date academic interpretations of Europe and North America’s Witch Trials will find them here. Davies’ own chapter on “The World of Popular Magic” is a welcome antidote to much of the unscholarly information currently floating around about cunning-craft and other forms of folk magic.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an academic approach to society’s views on magic and witchcraft over the last several hundred years.

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