Any book that seeks to be comprehensive on the magical world has lost the battle before even beginning. There is too much information backwards, buried in history, and too much information forwards, keeping pace with the rapid creation and evolution of modern magical thought given steroidal speed via the Internet, to capture the barest slice of the magical and the mystical. Sensibly, this book doesn't even try.
To his credit, Penczak doesn't make wild claims about Mystic Foundations being a "complete" guide. He attempts as best he can in an uphill battle to give his readers a working vocabulary of mystical practice, and provides them the information needed to recognize if not understand a mystical-spiritual conversation. While it certainly won't transform any reader into a magician of Crowley-like adepthood, Mystic Foundations provides enough basic knowledge for the young mystic to know when to nod during conversations at parties.
He covers such basics as meditation and intuition, and keeps to a growing tradition among neopagan writers of removing the scariness from the subject and directing a prospective magical type towards the more practical applications of mystic practices. But also in a growing neopagan tradition, Penczak says much of what is said elsewhere on the subject\; the difference being that all these basic comments are condensed into one book. In a pool of shared information, he offers no innovations on magical practice of his own, and the loose sourcing style that Llewellyn publications requires makes it particularly difficult to parse the cultural and historical origins of these concepts, though most are oft repeated throughout other Llewellyn books by other authors. A particularly troubling spot was Penczak's attempt to make a general listing of mystical traditions. What was clearly intended to be a brief list of spiritual practices morphed into a hodge-podge of practices, religions and superstitions. Penczak's attempts to be broad and eclectic often lead to an overshot; if he'd been willing to define and stick to a paradigm for his book, this particular section would have worked much, much better as a reference source.
As is common among Llewellyn published books, the real gems of the work are offered in the Appendices; rather than the endless tables of correspondence that most books have to list, Penczak publishes a series of prayers and spiritual ruminations from holy books throughout the world. They are collected and printed without comment, suggestion, or judgment. Each is an enjoyable snippet, but the way these are snipped much of the scripture could be and is taken out of context from its holy book. The collection is a lovely idea with lovely intent but problematic execution.
Mystic Foundations is a good beginner's book for the ultimate generalist, or for a person who wishes to become conversant in mystical and magical practices but who does not wish to delve to deep. Because the scare words of "witchcraft" and "occult" are not revealed until later in the book, it gets across the basic of what actually happens in these practices before a reader can jump to conclusions. While by no means a must-read for the practiced occultist, it's a good non-threatening coffee table book, or even as a follow-up to When Someone You Love Is Wiccan (McColman, New Page, 2005).
~ review by Diana Rajchel
Author: Christopher Penczak