Saturday, 13 April 2019

Doreen Valiente's Witchcraft for Tomorrow

A friend lent me a copy of Witchcraft for Tomorrow by Doreen Valiente, one of the founders of modern Wicca.
I'd been aware of her name and her importance in the history of paganism in this country, but I'd never got round to reading anything she'd written before.
To start with, I was surprised to find she'd written the book in 1978 - I may have been mixing her up with Dion Fortune, but I thought her work was earlier than the 1970s. And in 1978 I was starting to do some research to find my own spiritual path - I would have lapped this book up if I'd found it then. Now I'm looking at it more as a historical text, since the tradition has evolved over the years.

Doreen Valiente knew Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca (who wrote a book called Witchcraft Today in the 1950s) - she calls him "old Gerald" throughout the book, and talks about the Museum of Witchcraft where he was the resident witch when it was on the Isle of Man.
It's quite a comprehensive beginners' guide to Wicca, talking about the eight festivals of the year, how to find a coven, and various rituals and how to perform them. I did like her sense of humour about the new books about witchcraft that were starting to come on the market at that time, supposedly written by people whose family had been witches for generations, and they'd learned the ancient rituals at the knee of their old granny - and Doreen took one look at the words of the ritual, and thought "I wrote that!"

She does throw all sorts of things into the pot when it comes to historical influences on Wicca, though, and some of them have been debunked since she was writing. She thought highly of Margaret Murray, for instance, and repeated the story of the Templars worshipping the demon Baphomet.
She talks about the Age of Aquarius, and Atlantis, and Aleister Crowley and the Order of the Golden Dawn. Then there's "Old George" Pickingill, a Victorian witch and teacher of witches, supposedly founding nine covens across the country. There's also a section about Tantric sex, so they were borrowing practices from all sorts of different traditions. There's even some archaeology.

The descriptions of the rituals are refreshingly down to earth. For instance, for candle-lit rituals she stresses the importance of placing the candles where they won't set fire to billowing robes (if the participants are not working sky-clad), and gives different options for where they should be placed "as long as there is sufficient light". In rituals where wine is drunk, she says it should be whichever wine the participants prefer.
At the end of the book is Doreen's own Book of Shadows, based on older material - she was also the owner of Gerald Gardner's own Book of Shadows.

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