Book Review: East Anglian Witches and Wizards by Michael Howard

East Anglian Witches and Wizards is the fourth book published by Three Hands Press in the Witchcraft of the British Isles series by Michael Howard. In addition there are also books out on Welsh Witchcraft, West Country Witchcraft and Scottish Witchcraft. There is also an upcoming book on Irish Witchcraft that should be available in April 2020. I have yet to read any of these other titles, but after reading East Anglian Witches and Wizards they are all on my reading list. Unfortunately Michael Howard passed away in 2015, so some of the books in this series have been published posthumously.

First and foremost this is a great book to get if you are interested in getting a good overview of the history of witchcraft and folklore of East Anglia and the British Isles in general. It is well structured and covers topics such as: the witch trials, the witchfinder general, toad/horse/hare magic, familiars and of course the Black Shuck of East Anglia.

The book is mostly built up around the accounts of people who,at some point, were accused of witchcraft. I like the fact that there are many references throughout the book and that there is a good bibliography at the end for anyone who would be interested in digging deeper into the material. The author demonstrates great knowledge and sometimes he draws parallels to the witch trials in Europe to show the main differences between them and those that happened in East Anglia. Although the witch trials of East Anglia also meant the death of several victims, I was surprised to learn that it had been even more brutal on the continent.

This book is mainly about historical witchcraft and you will therefore not find anything about the history of Wicca in here. The history of Wicca has been thoroughly treated elsewhere. It does also not cover much about the rise of modern traditional witchcraft, but there are a few stories from “modern times” in here. The main part of the book is made up of stories from before the 1900’s.

I found the book to be quite an easy read considering all the information found in here. At times, I needed to take some breaks though, as there were a lot of people involved and a lot of stories.

As it is the history and folklore of East Anglia that is the focus of the book, it will not teach you any methods or give you any spells. There are a few stories of spells and rituals in here, but they are not really detailed enough for anyone who would wish to perform them. There are several grimoires available for anyone who would be interested in that style of witchcraft which is being described here. Perhaps I will review some of them later.

In my opinion it is essential for anyone interested in traditional witchcraft to familiarize themselves with the history and lore of witchcraft. East Anglian Witches and Wizards would make a great contribution to any list of recommended witchcraft books.. Of course the list would need to be supplemented with philosophy and gramaryes too.

I have no problems with highly recommending this book for a good overview of the history and folklore of East Anglia. It saves a lot of time that someone has put together all this information from various sources. I have not yet read the other books in the series, but when I have, I should have a very good overview of the history of British witchcraft in general.

The Night Spirit

.

EastAnglian

First Edition Papeback publushed by Three Hands Press 2017

 

A few words about Polytheism

People who argue about the polytheistic gods, who they were, if they have evolved or whether they are just archetypes do not really understand the mythological worldview. The ancient world was not clearcut. Anyone who thinks otherwise is living in a romanticized fantasy world. There certainly was no concept of cultural appropriation or idea that the gods belonged to specific cultures. The idea that a god belongs to a specific culture is ridiculous to begin with. In the polytheistic tradition the natural thing would be to look for similarities between the gods and if they found some that were fairly similar then perhaps they would be merged. For example when Gaius Julius Caesar wrote down his accounts from the battles against the Celts he compared the Roman gods to theirs. He could easily have said that they worshipped false gods and that the Romans did not. That is not to be understood as that he accepted the Celts – they were still seen as a barbaric people by the Romans. The same thing happened when they encountered the Greeks.

Deities would have their local variations and perhaps their own rites related to a particular region even within their own culture group. I read in a book review that it was a ridiculous idea to celebrate the Celtic holiday Imbolc when worshipping Hekate (not saying you should, I do not), because she was a Greek goddess. Well, she was not Greek, and her origins were likely Near Eastern, but the Greek adopted her into their pantheon. When you look at the historical sources of Hekate (and particularly her) then the idea of any kind of “pure” goddess goes right out of the window. The sources do not agree with each other and over time she would evolve into a more sinister looking character. The fact is that none of that is present in either Hesiod’s Theogony or the Homeric Hymn to Demeter from the archaic period.

That means that worship has not been static and not only has her character evolved between cultures, but also within the same culture. There is no reason to think that this not also apply to other deities. And why wouldn’t it? Look at modern practice of witchcraft for instance and you probably find as many types of different practices as there are covens. Even in mainstream religion such as Christianity there are many different approaches to their religion.

I therefore find that idea that there is a thing such as a pure idea of a god or goddess that belongs to a specific culture to be quite ignorant. Why could the gods not have revealed themselves to different cultures with different names? Why are there so many similarities between different mythologies in different cultures? Then again, if you are looking for any kind of logical consistency within the realm of mythology you are on the wrong track, because you will not be able to find it – even within the same culture.

In Håvamål from the Norse culture there is also evidence for that culture sharing is a good idea: “Only he who has travelled far and wide and over mountains knows.”  In other words you do not learn anything if you just sit at home. If you travel, you are bound to meet new people and cultures to learn from.

The Night Spirit

clouds-cold-dark-540518