This was an excellent biographical story of the founding of modern Wicca through the eyes of one of its most significant founders – Doreen Valiente. The text varies between scholarly research to journalism to gossip and speculation. Overall it’s a fascinating read.
I liked Valiente. She had a lovable mix of scholarly intelligence and gullibility. I can only assume it was due to a desire to believe the best in people and willingness to take them at their word, which came through in her writing. She obviously also, like many of her contemporaries, sincerely believed in the existence of original hedge witchcraft and continued to seek it out through research and even channeling.
Whether or not you share her faith in such a thing (I do not,) her work is still interesting as she discusses interaction with other Craft leaders and traditions as well as such details as where the use of certain tools came from and how some customs developed.
I was amused to see that the same snobbery and Witch Wars that seem to be a part of the modern community were also present at witchcraft’s beginnings; “traditional” witches questioned the legitimacy of Gardner’s initiation; Gardner’s followers questioned the legitimacy of Alex Sanders’ initiation; both BTW groups questioned the legitimacy of the initiations of any “traditional” group they encountered. And everybody questioned the North American traditions. Doreen herself was of the opinion that making up a ritual from scratch in no way determined its legitimacy as long as it worked. I think that’s an excellent lesson for modern witches. Perhaps our initiations are all only as valid as we believe them to be.
Valiente also strongly approved of feminist witchcraft; but cautioned that men are needed also. Again, these are sentiments that I share.
I have deep respect for Valiente as a Witch, a teacher and a poet, knowing how much of the modern Wiccan liturgy she wrote (which, by the way, she admitted to in her book, when it was to the advantage of most witches of the time to claim ancient descent of their Book of Shadows passed down through generations). Her prose writing, however, suffers from a little rambling and wandering off topic. This is the only reason I did not give the book five stars.
Every witch everywhere should read this book for posterity if nothing else, and it made my list of books that I think every Witch should read.