This is a hefty book, 600+ pages in final form and could have been a valuable resource. Sadly, and I mean that literally, it fails on many levels.

None of the information is new, which is a big negative for a book that purports to be about “other forms of Witchcraft” from Wicca. But it doesn’t seem particularly different from what I and many others I have known over dozens of years do as witches.

The bulk of the book is made up of correspondence information: 40 pages on Gem and Metal Magic; nearly 100 pages on Herbs and their Magical Uses; 36 pages on Essential Oils; about 120 pages on Charms, and 40 pages on Familiars or Spirit Animals. By contrast, only about 60 pages is spent on Esbats and Sabbats.

Probably the worst aspect of this book is how much it needs an editor. Short sentences are good for drawing attention to an important point. But the constant use of them makes the reader’s eyes bleed. The inappropriate stringing together of phases to make an overly-long sentence is nearly as bad. Poor spelling is probably the clearest sign of a lack of, or poor, editor and Forbidden Rites suffers from this as well. For example:

“Magic DOES happen in circle. Time warps, a short time in circle can be two hours in reality, it touches the land of Fay and so as in old stories of the fairy folk, time has no meaning (p. 161).”

Elsewhere ‘their’ is swapped with ‘there’, we are told to redraw the door three times “diesiel“ and Diving is enjoyed by witches (presumably the author mean Divining).

I found her ‘answer’ to a question about what it means that Witchcraft is a mystery tradition basically wrong . . . if I even understood her answer. To paraphrase . . . no, I’ll let her own words (spelling and punctuation and all) answer:

“When Witchcraft was a dangerous calling (remember it was illegal until the 1951). It used to mean that mysteries were kept from you until after initiation, for your safety and your coven. Now after a relaxation in laws and to the general population most secrets are available in books these days. So is it still a Mystery Religion? In Witchcraft all rituals are done within a cast circle, and in our tradition. the High Priestess (HPs) allows the Goddess to speak through her. This we call the “Calling down of the Moon”, in which the Goddess or God in the “Calling Down of the Sun” gives advice and prophesies events to come.

The Goddess and God in each ceremony and in your visualizations, hold all answers to the secrets, but they are different for all. You must find your own answers to the eternal questions and they are happy to teach you.

The Mystery is in the knowing how to look (p. 12).”

There are good points, namely the profuse number of illustrations, both hand-drawn and photos. The author is clearly a teacher and what she is trying to impart is useful. Forbidden Rites succeeds best as what it is: a documentation of a personal path of witchcraft for the small group of people who work in that tradition. It is based on a teaching course the author has run since 1998, and that is just fine.

I wish Forbidden Rites had been as good as I wanted it to be.

~review by Lisa Mc Sherry

Author: Jeanette Ellis

O-Books, 2009

pp. 684, $39.95