6/07/2012

Influential Literature on Wicca, part I.

I love to begin my blog posts with wishful thinking. So, this time I wish I was able to come up with 'Literature on Paganism' kind of post. Sadly, I am not that knowledgeble, even in Czech context. And I am too lazy to do a proper research. Therefore all I am going to talk about is the influential literature on Wicca. More specificaly, the literature that has been published in this country. Before I begin, few words about context.

Firstly, the word 'Wicca'. Yup, this one again. I am going to talk about literature about this topic in it's broadest sense. That means all the concepts, practices and beliefs I personally would not include under this term, but many other people would and have done so for decades. To be more specific, I will talk about literature which is not only about Wicca as a tradition, but also about its various ecclectic offsprings or generally other religious paths using this word as a part of their name, sometimes being referred to as 'solitary wicca', 'ecclectic wicca' etc. I will also include literature claiming Wicca is something else than the tradition itself, while dismissing the Wiccan concept of initiation and lineage. The most important reason for this is very simple. Becasue otherwise there won't be much to talk about. 

Secondly, the word 'influential' is important. Because there are some books that do not seem to have an impact. And then there are others, content of which seems to appear again and again in various places. I just keep stumbling upon many concepts, but also certain specifics and even misinformation from those books. The latter happens so often I have a feeling that Gods are making fun of us. It even happens in literature and with information sources which are supposed to be reliable, such as dissertations and encyclopedias. It happens to such extent that I sometimes wonder what the hell is this academic research about if it's unable to come up with accurate and relevant information? I guess the answer is one of the mysteries to unfold. So read on and wonder with me.

So, which are the most influential books related to Wicca  that have been published in The Czech Republic? Probably the first book worth mentioning that has been translated to Czech and published in The Czech Republic is a book called What Witches Do: A Modern Coven Revealed. It was written by Stewart Farrar in 1971. It was translated and published in the Czech Republic in 1996. In our country it looks something like this:


I must admit, I like the cover much more than the original one. Interesting thing about this book is the way how the title was translated. The literal meaning of the Czech version of the title is 'Witchcraft Today'. Sounds fairly familiar, doesn't it? Actually the full title is 'Witchcraft Today: Handbook of a Modern Witch'. I have no precise idea why the name of the book got changed. And it is not the only case. There are other titles that have been renamed in Czech versions, as you will find out later My theory for this particular case is, that more trivial name was chosen, because the topic was new at that time. Exactly like in mid 50s in England, when Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today was published. But I can only guess and speculate.

Anyway. This book is still probably the best and most accurate book on Wicca ever published in this country. Not all Czechs share my opinion, so of course it's a debatable one. One of the things could be the concept of the Oak King and the Holly King, I myslef can't wrap my head around. But I believe the problem is broader. I think most of the readers had a feeling that the book does not provide enough guidance on how to begin, where to look and what to do with all this. I think there is much truth in this opinion. I also believe that the title of the Czech version (especially the 'Handbook of a Modern Witch' bit) is misleading and actually contradicts the content of the book. In comparison with other literature, this particular book is everything but a handbook. It is very descriptive in some parts, but it does not provide any guidance at all. The main message for the seeker is: Do you want to get involved in the Craft? Well, start looking for a proper coven. Why I personaly like this book so much? Because I would tell people exactly the same answer. And that's probably why I am a minority.

No matter how much misinformation and exaggeration this book contains (in my opinion way more than a moderate amount), since 1996 until 2005 there hasn't been published anything about initiatory Wicca, and nothing that would be remotely so good or accurate. At least in my view. Interestingly enough this book did not cause much interest. I suspect it was not matching the expectations in the sense of what have I written in the previous paragraph. This book also did not affect the supposedly reliable sources of those times. Notably the Lexikon of Magic (1993, revised reprint 2009) by Milan Nakonečný that briefly describes Wicca as a hobby of American women in middle-age crisis. Also the Czech Society  for Studies of Sects and New Religious Movements was pretty much unaffected by literature or any other information sources. For a long time they presented Wicca as a branch of Satanism on their website. Even though this society always claimed to have deep knowledge of the issue based on academic research, when it came to Wicca, the literature (including this book) somehow did not make it through. But to be fair, both these informed about other topics very well and in a precise way, at least in my opinion. So apparently, these sources are good as such, it might just be a slow movement of information. To conclude, it was the community (mostly young people) that was affected by the literature first. And not just by this book. In fact, it was mostly by other books. But those came some five years later. 

To pay the right tribute to this book, there are few bits of 'information' in it that seem to live their own lives in the Czech pagan community and even in literature. You can guess three times, which are they. Well, I suppose you might need one attempt only. In any case, there are two thigs from this book that are repeated everywhere. First of all, Wiccan rituals involve sexual intercourse (you might wish to click the link, should you be confused about the meaning). The second repeated 'fact' is that, Alex Sanders was initiated into Wicca by his grandmother, which involved him being stripped naked (by his grandma, also naked) in his age of 7 (sory, no links provided for this one). 

Well, I have been recently asked to provide a feedback for an encyclopedia of religions which is under preparation by one of Czech publishers. These two things (sex & grandma) were written right there as the two basic characteristics of the Alexandrian tradition. Yes, in 2012 this still seems to be the information which Cezch authors dealing with religion consider to be most significant on this topic. I have seen these two 'facts' in numerous websites and forums throughout the years, but having seen this in contemporary serious  semi-academic work is perplexing. It almost seems that for some reason these two things are beloved and cherished by minds of the Czech people interested in religion or Paganism. I can only imagine why that is. You can do too. It's funny.

So as we can see, What Witches Do by Stewart Farrar indeed left its trace in the Czech knowledge-base on the subject. The good news is, that the probably best book ever translated (again, many people would disagree) was influential and that people were (and still are to some extent) interested in it. The bad news is, it was those questionable parts that people mostly took and made from it. The first is blatantly oversimplified and inaccurate in the context of initiatroy Wicca, and in my opinion is potentially dangerous outside of such context (and here I refer to the ecclectic non-initiatory part of the whole movement). And the second one is a plain fiction (at least as far as I can tell). Well, the book have been completely sold out since 2003 and most likely there won't probably be a re-print. Many pagans and witches have it in their bookshelves and in 2005/2006 there have been a pdf scan of it circulating among many people. To my knowledge there aren't any groups that do rituals based on this book. It serves mostly as a source of inspiration and information, but not as a ritual textbook. One exception to this is The Witches's Rune. There is a Czech translation of it. The rhytm seems somewhat severed and meanings are slightly altered. Nevertheless I have heard it being chanted in one ecclectic group at least. And I think it might be used by few others too. I have also seen it in multiple Czech websites in the past, so I guess it got pretty much adopted by the people in both solitary and ecclectic group ritual practise.

To draw a conclusion, I think this particular book did not actually started the popular/ecclectic/solitary wicca movement (however you prefer to call it) in this country, despite being the first one. But I can be mistaken in this. All the groups and people I managed to get in contact with back in 2002/2003 worked with other book however. At least that I can tell for certain. But as such this book had influenced and contributed to the ecclectic scene and is therefore one of those worth mentioning. 

In any case, I have a feeling that this is too much of a wall of text already. So I decided to split this topic in parts. Next time I will talk about much more important and influential books and authors. The two prominent ones are ... actually, I think I am going to tell you next time.




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