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

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EastAnglian

First Edition Papeback publushed by Three Hands Press 2017

 

Understanding Myth

Just a bit over a week ago the Independent posted an article called “I spent a week becoming a witch and the results were worrying.” Obviously, and with good reason, it created quite a bit of a stir in the pagan communitiy. The article can be found here.

I do not wish to comment on that article directly as there are several other people who have done that already, but I do want to write a little about a subject that touch upon some of the points that some of the criticizers have pointed out.

As I have said in previous posts there is no kind of unison idea of what witchcraft is, which makes it quite complicated to dive into. I even think that some people who claim to be practicing witchcraft actually are doing something else. That alone makes it difficult to get a good overview within a short time period.

On top of that perhaps the most difficult thing about witchcraft or the reconstruction of ancient religious practices is understanding “myth”. To move away from our normally logical and organized modern worldview and into a mythical one is something that takes practice and a lot of effort. The reason for that is that becomes myths are anything but logical and organized. They can be quite irrational to our modern standards, there can be different version of myths and still they might be considered to be true even if they can be conflicting to one another.

To our modern minds things essentially need to be either right or wrong. If anything falls inbetween those two categories we find it disorganized and difficult to grasp. Often myths do exactly that. They claim to be true, but there is little or no evidence to prove their validity. A rational mind would then be inclined to disregard the story simply as false. Granted, according to scientific standards the tale of a myth does not hold up, but a myth is not something that only aims to describe events just as they happened. They are stories, but at the same time they are filled with information about our cultural heritage. In that sense they need to not to be true even if they claim to be. There may be elements in them that are true, but whether or not they were true may not have been that relevant to the ancients. It is us in the modern world who care about making that kind of distinction. In the mythical world they were still being treated as if they were true.

Perhaps the best example is the Trojan War. None knew exactly when this war had been fought, but it was commonly accepted in ancient times that this actually was a real event that happened even though none was sure of when exactly it took place. Today, none of us, would have accepted a tale about a war in the distant past without some kind of evidence of it. To the ancient Greeks though it was very real and the stories of heroic deeds from an ancient mythical era were used to educate and teach the desirable virtues.

My point here is that with myths the boundaries are often blurry. That is why they can be difficult to work with. I highly doubt that most modern day pagans would take the myths literally. I suppose even the same could be same of the Abrahamic myths. Although it is less common to talk about them as myths as in the western world those are the dominant religions. In fact, myth has been suggested to be “the religion of others”.

That kind of mindset which is required to understand and work with myths isn’t something that can be developed quickly. It requires practice, reading the myths and contemplating them. It requires the ability to shift the mind from being logical and rational to something that is more undefinable. Something that is not quite irrational either, but something that follows its own “inner kind of logic”. It is the understanding of the world inbetween the categories – the thinking outside of the box; beyond right or wrong and true or false.

-Thus spake the Night Spirit

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