I read Book of Shadows by Phyllis Curott a few weeks ago, so my apologies for being a little late with this review.
First off, let me state that I enjoyed the book…mostly. I thought it had great entertainment value. I liked the narrative style and how she imparted a lot of information about Wicca through her experiences. To me, the use of story and prose is the easiest way to learn something from text. I know that others prefer charts, grafts and lists, so it’s just a personal preference. Her story was certainly interesting: how a high-powered attorney becomes a coven-based Wiccan.
I also really enjoyed the guided meditations that are throughout the book. They are woven into the narrative, and I’ve found some of them easy to incorporate in my meditations.
However, there are certain things that date the book and make it a little hard to swallow.
There is an emphasis on the Old Religion mythos, the Burning Times (though she refutes the 9-million figure often bandied about) and the pan-matriarchal Indo-European culture that supposedly existed back in the day. I’ve read some essays and forum postings about the (maybe) value of these discarded theories in the mythos of paganism, especially in Wicca (and especially Dianic Wicca). I also know that in 1998, perhaps, the information discrediting those theories might not have been so popularized within the pagan community.
Because it’s a memoir it’s definitely a product of its time. I do wonder what Curott would have to say about the more recent push back against that set of beliefs. In my opinion it doesn’t make witchcraft of paganism any less valid, but I could see where some would say it would. I liken it to believing that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and the Pentateuch was written by Moses—only to read Who Wrote the Bible and to find out that the most commonly held theory about bible authorization is the Documentary Hypothesis. It can shake things up a bit. Persisting in false history/facts/beliefs is one thing (and plenty of books about Wicca still do), but I can accept it as part of history in a memoir published in 1998.
My final thoughts:
It’s an enjoyable book. If you like to have information passed to you in an entertaining, narrative style like I do then I think it’s worth a look-see. Her story is certainly interesting, and the appendix has some correspondence charts, spells, Wheel of the Year information and a bibliography. I think it’s value is mostly for a new-new beginner into ‘all of this’, like myself.
Discussion topics it brought to mind:
One of my favorite women’s spirituality memoirs is The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Susan Monk Kidd, published in the mid-nineties. It’s the story of Christian inspirational writer, wife of a Southern Baptist preacher, who finds her way into Goddess spirituality and ritual. I was only 8-14-ish during the time when all of these books were coming out and though some of it certainly resonates with me—patriarchal hierarchy in the church, hello—I don’t really understand the…urgency, perhaps, of that time for women, especially when all of these books were coming out that proposed the idea of a pan-European Goddess religion, etc. What was it like? What has it been like to have those theories challenged?