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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?

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I’m not sure where to start.

Obligatory: Start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…

Okay, with that out of the way…

This past week has been confusing, inspiring, lonely, emotional, raw and joyful. I started it with buying my first Tarot deck and today I cast and sat in my first circle. Ruminations on that to come.

I have been doing a lot of journaling, painting and reading. I read Phyllis Curott’s Book of Shadows and am working through Marian Green’s A Witch Alone, as well as Hafiz’s The Gift. I also picked up Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliot Friedman and so far find it informative and easy to understand.  I listened to numerous podcasts as I painted or as I wandered on my morning walks. I’ve worked with the Tarot deck. Friday I watched two documentaries that caused a kind of psychic schism, one that I’m still mulling over. Yesterday, I went to my home church group and left feeling torn, confused and sad. Today, as I said, I cast my first circle and now I feel…content. Whole. Peaceful.

So it’s been a quite a week.

What have I learned?

I have learned that I have serious reservations about Wicca as a religion, but not really any about witchcraft as a practice. I guess I’ve always had a solitary bent, and some of Wiccan structures/rites, especially traditional ones, are not for me. However, working with energy, revering nature, having a strict code of ethics, gathering knowledge of self, the earth and others, working with my inner self to ultimately help others—those are things that intrigue me. More than intrigue me, they call to me. Having a practice or a craft calls to me. It’s one reason I love yoga so much—it has so much to teach about how spirituality and personal evolution is about practice. It’s not about leaving your problems at a diety’s doorstep. It’s about taking daily action that ultimate adds up to something wonderful.

So Friday, as all of this was a blob in my mind, I watched two documentaries produced by Vanguard: Rape on the Reservation and Missionaries of Hate. The first showed stories of rape, sexual assault and battery against women on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. The second showed the influence of American Evangelicals on the anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda.

The first one disturbed me, deeply, but as the second one started I knew it would be another matter. I have been struggling with the Christian label for a while, and with my association with a certain church. I knew that both were coming to an end, but as I’ve said many times—all of my friends and all of my community are within those two confines. I’ve been delaying really thinking about it and really taking action to free myself, decidedly, from those two things. The Missionaries of Hate documentary changed that when who should pop on the screen but Lou Engle. Lou Engle is an  American evangelical, prominent in the anti-abortion sector, who also runs a revival named ‘The Call’. He’s real into now-is-the-end-times and ‘family values’.

He is also someone who is highly venerated in my church. People adore this guy. And here he was, on the documentary at a rally in Uganda promoting ‘family values’. Of course, he has posted a backpedaling note on his website saying that he had no idea at the time that the anti-homosexuality bill included the death penalty for homosexuals—though he was there months after this became an international scandal, standing with key supporters of the bill and preaching about “trying to restrain an agenda that is trying to hurt families” (scroll to ~41 minutes).

And I just couldn’t take it.

And I know…I know….that’s not what all Christians believe. I know that a large majority of the Christianity community vehemently oppose people like him. And I know that the label is ‘meaningless’.

But is it?

Aren’t names powerful? Isn’t that why we chose to name our children based on the meaning of the name? And when the name begins to be weighed down with so much baggage when do you shed it? I know that some are proud to bear the title Christian, and they are people whom I love, deeply.

For me, though, that title is now a lie. My tacit association with HC is a lie. Do I love people there? Yes. Will this go over like a lead-fucking-balloon? Yes. When am I going to do it? I don’t know, yet. I need to write out specific reasons, with specific arguments. I tend to get flustered in situations like this, especially with lots of questions. I need to prepare, emotionally and spiritually, for the ramifications that this might bring. It sounds so dramatic, I know, but it really is a big, big, enormous change in my life.

So that realization, primarily, has left me feeling sunburned all over. I gave in to hermit like tendencies last week and this week seems to be headed into the same direction. I just want to write, and to journal, and to paint, and to consider. Truthfully, I’d like a SIGN. You know. One of those.

The closest to any SIGN I’ve had though are the quiet times in meditation, the peace I find on my morning walks, the insight I’ve gained since working with the Tarot. The complete calm I felt after I closed the circle today.

I don’t know what any of it is accomplishing, exactly. I’m sure in 15 years or so I’ll be able to tell you.

All I have though, is now, and now I feel…good. Still gun-shy. Still lonely. But comforted in some way, knowing that…there are things I do have. Like my husband. My cat. My books. My garden. The trees. The wind. The solitary blue heron that greets me every morning, observing the creek, way beyond his natural range. The rain that has intermittently spattered down on the hot concrete outside. It might not seem like much, but it’s enough to keep me going.

Edited: corrected the author of Who Wrote the Bible. It’s Richard Friedman, not Charles Friedman.

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