Books on Non-Wicca-Specific Magical Practices

I normally keep the topics of Wicca and magic separate.  However, the fact is many Wiccans are also interested in magic, some books do discuss both, and there certainly are things you can study in one that helps with understanding in the other.  The very fact I tried reading these books says something about them, and I found them all quite worthy of recommendation.  Reviews follow the Amazon links.

Elen Hawke and Martin White, eds., Spellcaster: Seven Ways to Effective Magic

In stark comparison to the average book on magic, Spellcaster contains no spells, no lists of correspondences, no recipes for incense. Nor does it attempt to provide one clean, easily described system of magic, and it’s so much better for it.

Instead, Spellcaster describes several different approaches to magical practice and theory. There is some instructional approach to it, but much of the information comes from the authors’ own experiences. This may not be so helpful for the true beginner in magic, but it is a welcome approach for readers who have moved beyond the basics. The authors understand that the complexities of magic cannot be taught in the same way that we teach math, with clear cut steps to follow and results to be expected.

The numerous contributing authors give vastly different and often contradictory approaches to magic, and no attempt it made to reconcile those differences. While magic frequently involves a sizable amount of creativity, it also involves paradigms, and just because both paradigms can be functional does not mean that all of their elements can be interchangeable.

Frater U.: D.:, High Magic

This is perhaps the hardest book I’ve ever attempted to review, and the task is complicated by the fact that I write these reviews from a distinctly Wiccan point of view for a primarily Wiccan audience, while this book is completely unrelated to Wicca. Please keep this in mind.

Frater U.D. is clearly well educated in magical theory, particularly ceremonial magic. The benefit is a book so dense that you simply cannot read it quickly. Topics are divided into small chapters, most involving exercises that may take weeks or months to perfect. For those looking to go beyond the 101-style books, this is certainly a valuable resource.

However, the author states repeatedly that this book is, in fact, for beginners, yet he is so well-versed in his topic that he sometimes seems to forget at what level beginners really are. The book generally nevertheless works, although the reader may find it frustrating when the author diverges onto tangential topics of which the reader knows nothing.

Wiccan readers will also have to be willing to tolerate ethics very different from their own in reading this book, as well as the author’s general disdain for religion in general. He attempts to soften his blow by describing how useful religions are and how humanity seems inevitably drawn to them, but he nevertheless makes it clear that they are ultimately extraneous, and that what we call gods are merely forces we have decided to name. That is his right, and I do not criticize this book or its author on this account – I’m merely warning the majority of my own readers.

My one serious concern with this book is the author’s explanation that when we imagine various visualizations long enough, our subconscious will eventually be able to perceive these things in actuality. This may be true, but it also starkly resembles brainwashing, and I find it concerning that someone would teach this as a basic magical principle without any warning of possible ramifications.

Finally, I had some minor problems with the diagrams provided. The visualized pentagrams for the various Rituals of the Pentagram not only do not always correspond with what I’ve previously learned (which may be the effect of my differing background or even previously bad information) but also do not always seem to reflect the author’s own descriptions of the logic behind their construction.

Overall, however, I was tremendously pleased with this book. It is well researched, thorough, in-depth, and generally well explained. It contains plenty of exercises, but it also provides sound explanation and theory behind them so that readers may eventually branch out into their own distinct forms of practice instead of remaining slaves to book rituals.

 Patrick Dunn, Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age

This book runs very hot and cold. On the plus side, it provides an approach to magic I have not yet seen published elsewhere. Dun writes from the position of an information paradigm, in which all things, even real and tangible things, can be reduced to symbols. There is copious amounts of information on the creation of personal symbols as well as how to select effective symbols in magical workings.

While Dunn does stress that symbols cannot be selected utterly at random, he does tend toward the “do whatever you want” school of magic. While there is certainly wisdom in the “if it works, use it” mentality, it is not helpful in a book. By constantly falling back on this insistence, Dunn in some ways makes his own book redundant: if any method is effective, why should I bother learning his? I understand that people do need an actual system, even if it is a system of their own creation (as opposed to random pieces smashed together on a whim), but that distinction sometimes gets lost here.

Nevertheless, there are some real gems of information here. Dunn challenges readers to look at both physical reality and magic in radically new ways. He also devotes some serious time to magical ethics – not so much what you should or should not do as why you should be wary or not wary of various practices. Indeed, he provides some of the best coverage of the topic that I’ve seen in print.

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