Book of Shadows
by Migene Gonzalez-Wippler © 2005
$12.95 (U.S.) $17.50 (Canada)
reviewed by: Mike Gleason
I have read some of Ms. Gonzalez-Wippler’s other books (on the subject of Santeria), so when I saw this one, I wanted to see what she had to say. Plus, I am a traditionalist, in a lot of ways, when it comes to Witchcraft and the idea of her being a “self-initiated” witch makes about as much sense as a “self-ordained” Catholic priest. I really felt a need to see what was in this book. In her introduction she acknowledges some of the “great names” in the Craft, even claiming acquaintance with them. Unfortunately these individuals have crossed the veil and can’t verify her claims.
She states (on page xv) “This book was written from the Gardnerian viewpoint.” This is an interesting statement since Gardnerian tradition does not recognize self-initiation, and the contents of the Book of Shadows are considered (to the best of my knowledge) to be oathbound material, and therefore not to be revealed outside of the Coven.
Having been an Alexandrian initiate since 1974 (and thus being more than a little familiar with Gardnerian/Alexandrian workings), I found Md. Gonzalez-Wippler’s statements in many cases to be misconceptions which would have been dispelled through actual attendance (and regular participation) in Coven activities. She makes very positive, and limiting, statements. Only to follow it with something along the lines of “…of course other groups may do it differently.” If this book is written “…from the Gardnerian viewpoint” let’s confine it to the viewpoint.
Ms. Gonzalez-Wippler speaks of invoking the law of three when one has been ill-used. That would be (in my opinion) like “invoking” the third law of motion. I mean, you can do it, but it is absolutely unnecessary as it is going to function whether you invoke it or not.
I know of very few Gardnerians (or any of the British Traditional Wicca [BTW]) covens who hold their Esbats “…once a week and generally on Saturdays.” Esbats are usually held monthly, and on (or near) the night of the Full Moon. Ms. Gonzalez-Wippler’s sources of information seem to be out of the BTW loop.
She refers to Sabbaths, but most Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans I know have lost that “h” and refer to Sabbats. Sabbath sounds too Judeo-Christian for most practitioners. She claims to have been involved for thirty years (which dates her involvement to about the same time frame as my own), but she makes mis-statements of fact that I had corrected by my teachers within six months of my involvement with BTW.
Some of the statements (“The waning moon is never used for any type of positive magic.” Page 36) sound like commandments, even if they aren’t borne out by main-line teachings. It is difficult to determine whether she is speaking from personal knowledge, inherited wisdom, or the conclusions of a cultural anthropologist. It would be beneficial for readers to know the source of some of these statements.
There are other problems with this work. On page 45 she says “As you can see in the accompanying diagram…” The problem is—there is no diagram (until 13 pages later)! On page 46 she identifies two types of pentagrams “…invocation and vanishing.” Funny, I was taught “invoking and banishing.” I don’t have a clue how to “vanish” an element, and wouldn’t want to try if I did. She also speaks of “vanishing” the circle??!!
Ms. Gonzalez-Wippler may a competent cultural anthropologist. That isn’t a specialty I can judge. I know several of her works on the religion of Santeria (some practitioners like them while others are less complimentary). One thing I can say is that before I was a quart of the way through this book, I was doubting her qualifications for writing it. I know that differing opinions are to be expected based on differences in training and personal experience, but to state something categorically when it is a matter of opinion is not good scholarship, or good writing, in my opinion.
Her identification of the pentagram within the arms of the crescent moon as “Wicca’s Symbol” (page 57) also confuses me a bit. I’ve always associated the pentagram (with or without a circle around it) with Wicca. Adding the crescent moon is nice, but I doubt that the average Wiccan (whatever that is) would identify is as “Wicca’s Symbol.”
There are a lot of typos in this book, but that doesn’t surprise me much anymore. What does surprise me is that they were allowed to sneak into a Book of Shadows. Since the Book of Shadows is intended to serve as the basis for an individual’s working in the religion of Wicca, it would seem to me that more than normal editorial vigilance would be called for.
I could enumerate many more items which I question based on my own BTW training, but I will pass on that. What I will do is to say that I am glad to have this book in my library so that I can use it to correct the many misconceptions which are sure to become entrenched in the popular mind.