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Title: Review: Wicca Magickal Beginnings by Sorita D’Este and David Rankine
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(Date Posted:01/24/2009 23:41 PM)
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Review: Wicca Magickal Beginnings by Sorita D’Este and David Rankine

September 21, 2008 in Academic, Modern Paganism, Witchcraft & Wicca by

Review: Wicca Magickal Beginnings
By Sorita D’Este and David Rankine
Avalonia Books 2208
ISBN 978-1-905297-15-3

Review by Kim Huggens

Professor Ronald Hutton’s “Triumph of the Moon” caused a stir when it
was released, due to the conclusions drawn by the writer with regards to
the origins of modern Pagan witchcraft. Hutton’s study explored the
historical origins of the tradition of Wicca or the Craft itself, and
gave birth to a new generation of historically aware Pagans who knew
that 9 million witches were not burned during the “Burning Times”, and
that there was no unbroken line of Goddess worship from Neolithic times
to now. However, what Hutton’s work failed to explore was the origins of
the practices used by Wiccans and Neo-Pagans today. This is exactly what
Wicca Magickal Beginnings does.

Long awaited, and sorely needed in both the academic and Pagan
community, Sorita D’Este and David Rankine have succeeded mightily in
their attempt to explore the possible and probable origins for practices
such as the casting of a magical circle, the taking of a Craft name, the
use of a Book of Shadows, naked rituals, and the use of an athame.
Whereas they do not state that this is definitely the direct influence
upon – and unbroken link to – our modern practices, they show with
thorough and convincing proof that the movers and shakers of the early
Neo-Pagan movement may have been inspired by these sources.

>From ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, and Egypt, to medieval magical
grimoires, Gerald Gardner’s fiction, Aleister Crowley and romantic
poetry, Wicca Magickal Beginnings highlights a wide and varied range of
influences upon modern Pagan practice. Now, some authors demonstrate
their lack of in-depth understanding whenever they present such a wide
range of sources, time periods, and cultures, but D’Este and Rankine
have not done so. Instead, their knowledge is almost faultless,
dilligently referenced, and expertly presented. Even a PhD student in
the field they are discussing couldn’t fine fault with the research,
which is up-to-date with the most modern theories and writings
(something extremely refreshing in Pagan books!) One of the best
features of this approach is that it puts this magical tradition into
the historical, social, and anthropological context it deserves, just as
writers have done with other traditions. After all, we wouldn’t dream
about discussing the history of Vodou without recourse to the slave
trade, Dahomey religion, or Catholicism; nor would we talk about the
Golden Dawn’s influences without mentioning medieveal grimoires and
Kabbalah. So why treat Wicca differently?

The book is set out in an easy to access manner, with each chapter
looking at a different aspect of Pagan practice and examining possible
sources for it. This means that anybody could pick this book up and dip
into it wherever they want, regardless of whether they have read a
previous chapter. This bitesize format also allows the reader to absorb
the information easily, which could be a blessing for those unused to an
academic writing style. Even better, however, is one of the very last
sections entitled “Conclusions”, in which the writers set out in easy to
understand sections what they think are the five most likely origins of
the modern Pagan movement, giving the brief arguments for each. This is
brilliant, allowing the reader to remember everything that has been said
in the book, as well as form their own opinions. it was also useful for
me when I started reading the book, as I prefer to know the conclusion
that a writer wants to arrive at whilst I am reading so that I can put
the writing into context.

The index and bibliography demonstrate further the thorough and
intelligent nature of this book, and I highly recommend to anybody with
a further interest in this subject to scour the bibliography for further

Wicca Magickal Beginnings is, in one word, brilliant. In another word it
is ‘orgasmic’ for the academic in me, ‘scintillating’ for the Pagan in
me, and ‘un-put-downable’ (okay, so it’s technically not a word…) for
the avid reader in me. The writing style is open, fresh, and easy to
follow, the book is packed with information, references, quotes, and
sources, enabling anybody to find the sources for themselves afterwards.
I am particularly fond of the textual analysis of the Charge of the
Goddess found in the chapter “Adore the Spirit of Me” and the
“Cernunnos” chapter.

I take my hat off to both Sorita and David for this groundbreaking work,
and highly recommend it to EVERYBODY.
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