Pure Magic was originally published as Earth Mother Magic in 2001. As far as I can tell, very little was changed although more material was added (sort of like a director’s cut with an extra 15 minutes of footage). The biggest change seems to be a global cut-and-replace of "earth magic" or "natural magic" with the "pure magic." Overall, the writing style is engaging, and Illes clearly knows what she is writing about. Her perspective transcends ‘denominations’ like Wiccan or CM and lets the reader enjoy and learn without getting bogged down by technical details (the “we never cast our circle like that” sort of stuff).
Unfortunately, one of the bugaboos for a neoPagan author gets hit by this perspective: ethics. Illes probably chose to over generalize rather than risk offending any one school and her editor didn’t provide a better alternative. So when Illes mentions a "few basic tenets shared by all schools" and then quotes one version of the Wiccan rede ("Do what you will, but harm none.") she errs. At best, it was a typo and should have read "most schools," at worst, she deliberately ignored that not all schools have the same ethic. This section could have benefited by a more accurate picture of the ethics found in a variety of schools of magic. Alternatively Illes could have said she is only presenting Wiccan ethics and that other perspectives exist.
That aside, the deities discussed were a little disappointing. Poor research hurt her here, and she clearly is giving her personal versions of the myth and legends. Of course, this is a perfectly valid technique within the magickal community, but it diminishes her credibility. Her modernized version of the story of Isis and Osiris (Asar and Aset actually) was memorable, it was also misleading and might even be disrespectful. As well, Illes is overly-focused on female deities associated with magic, essentially ignoring or minimizing male deities. Odin and Thoth, for example, were only mentioned in passing in relation to Freya and Isis -- and even then the depiction wasn't accurate. It would have been much better to present them as they appear in the actual mythology and folklore and leave it at that rather than distort or water down their significance and power.
Pure Magic is a very good book for people wanting to pursue magic without religious overtones. (That is, learning to work magic, and connect with those energies without having to belong to a neoPagan group or self-define as a denomination, like Wicca or Thelema.) Scholarship issues aside, this is actually one of the best available (and I've read a lot of them). Recommended.
~review by: Lisa Mc Sherry
Author: Judika Illes
Red Wheel/ Weiser, 2007
pp. 282, $16.95