Make no mistake, this book is in no way a “how-to” for Wicca, Witchcraft, or Paganism. It is just what the title indicates, a field guide. If you picked up a field guide to birds, you would expect to find short entries, each a very brief overview. And that is what you get here, short, encyclopedic entries on a wide variety of “witch-y” subjects.
I like the organization of the book in general. After a brief introduction, Illes jumps to the most logical subject for Chapter One - Types of Witches. Like most references, she presents everything in alphabetical order. Included are entries on Alexandrian, Atheist, Cabot, Dianic, Hedge Witchery, “Jewitchery,” non-Wiccan Witches, and much more. Don’t look for any in-depth explanations, however. The entry on Cabot Witches, for example, is shorter than this paragraph.
As for the quality of the entries, overall they are reasonable, if very general, entries. (Think Wikipedia.) If you travel, or have travelled, any of the paths listed, by all means you will be able to find holes in the definitions. For those unfamiliar with earth-centered practitioners, however, they will gain some general understanding of the varied paths.
These critiques could apply to the remaining chapters - reasonable, short overviews for each topic. If you have an expertise in any of these subjects, you may well have a different idea for the best information to be included. Still, what Illes includes is reasonable and understandable.
The remaining chapters are titled: A Cavalcade of Witches (famous and infamous Witches from history); Tools of the Trade (from the Book of Shadows to poppets and witch boards); Arts and Crafts (astrology, spell-casting, and more); Divine Witches (though “Goddesses” might be a better title); “Entertaining Witches” (witches from literature and films); Animal Witches and Witches’ Animals; Hunting Witches; Travel Tips for Witches; and Are You A Witch?
Most of these titles are self-explanatory, so we’ll touch on just four specific chapters. First is Arts and Crafts. Astrology, Healing, Metalworking, Necromancy, each described in a few paragraphs. In a way, I wish she had skipped this chapter entirely. Such short entries don’t always do justice to the subject, and that is certainly the case for some of these entries.
The chapter on Hunting Witches, on the other hand, was quite effective, focusing on the persecution of individual witches (such as Joan of Arc and Anne Boleyn), rather than rehashing the witch trials of the Inquisition. In addition, the entries in this chapter are a bit longer than those in the rest of the book. I find this approach refreshing, and quite effective as putting a more personal face on the persecution of witches. A personal view, rather than abstract statistics, can serve to bring better understanding of historical as well as present-day challenges facing witches.
The chapter of Travel Tips for Witches? Completely unnecessary. Six pages dedicated to 5 witchcraft museums and destinations, with four of those pages dedicated to Salem, MA. Did they need the extra pages to meet some sort of printing requirement? Just tear those pages out.
And the final chapter - Are You A Witch? - is a real mixed bag of information. It touches on the historical indicators that branded people as witches, such as birthmarks, wearing one’s hair loose, and birth order (the 7th son of a 7th son,) and so on. Sounds appropriate, right? Then I turn the page and see this statement: “Here are some further clues to determine whether you are a witch.” Bullet points to evaluate yourself, along the lines of “You thirst for knowledge,” “You have a fascination with old lore,” “You possess an independent streak” follow. Really? You’ve written over 200 pages of relatively straightforward information, and you end it with the equivalent of a Cosmopolitan quiz? If you answer “yes” to any one of these, you just might be a witch and not even know it? I find that insulting, and frankly a little offensive.
So my ultimate recommendation? This is not a bad book overall, if you bear in mind it is not intended to be an in-depth tome. Just be sure to tear out the last dozen pages or so, especially if you plan on lending it to a friend who is not “witch-y” themselves.
~review by KatSai
Author: Judika Illes
Weiser Books, 2010
pp. 270, $14.95