Cavendish takes on the legends of magic and the occult in this fun little book. The stories she shares cull facts, or the most factual possible information about numerous individuals in the magical history. Rather than actually de-mystifying these characters, the author compares and contrasts the rumors and legends with what actually happened, and the person behind the stories. There are illustrations and photographs that supplement the written material.

The book begins with Merlin, perhaps the greatest legendary wizard in history. Numerous threads and stories are joined here, including a few different origin stories. The spotlight shifts rather abruptly to individuals caught up in the witch-hunting “burning times.” Reasons for the ferocity of European witch hunts are explained. Fascinating facts are offered here but it isn’t cheerful stuff. These chapters are a good starting-point resource for those who might be delving into the subject. Additional individuals include Aleister Crowley, Doreen Valiente, and Roseleen Norton, an Australian witch who produced controversial pagan-themed art. The book ends with brief summaries of the eight sabbats.

Cavendish makes an effort to provide balanced reporting on her subjects. This helps when controversial characters like Crowley and Norton are the focus. The thousand years or so of occult celebrities gives a bird’s-eye view of the history of magic and occultism in the Western world. This is an overview, not a collection of in-depth biographies. This book has value for people getting started in the Craft.

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Author: Lucy Cavendish
2016/2017, Rockpool Books
178 pg, $18.00 hb

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