My first impressions of this book were good: inviting image on the cover, clear print, and most noticably pleasantly soft to the touch. That may seem an odd place to start but it was what first grabbed me. Not only do the pages not try to slice your fingers but it gently lies open at the page you ask it too which results in a more relaxed reading experience all round. No bracing against pages trying to close and loose your place.
The book itself is written in a very individual voice. It is, as the title suggests, a treatise on and an introduction to
practicing traditional witchcraft with the limitations of our towns and cities. It achieves this competently and characterfully
and much of it is very clearly drawn on the authors personal experience. It is not a training course and it is not an encyclopedia. Neither is it a clear and simple guide book or an instructional to lead you through every step.
Certainly there is information in here on festivals and of correspondences; a list of many types of divination and their names; and a run down of the major arcana of tarot; but it does not attempt to cover any of them in great depth. Throughout the information sections are mostly just sharing as much as is needed to keep everyone up to speed on the discussion and teachings as they continue.
It is broken into chapters by different areas, but they still have the feel of flowing one to another as a continuing conversation. The mention of a subject in one chapter doesn’t limit it to that spot, things naturally overflow a little and reflect back to earlier points as one does in conversation. This makes it readable as an extended essay and it takes you with it through the trains of thought, something carefully categorised reference texts can tend to lack. It is by no means a sterilised catalogue of witchcraft.
The first chapter encourages connection with the elements – where so ever we find them. Similarly the second and third look at countryside and creatures, with the admirable encouragement to work with what you know; to increase what you know and the great wisdom inherent in focussing on those whom might actually share your environment rather than just creatures of your hopes, dreams and fantasies.
The author then moves to areas many may think of as more typical of witchcraft and it’s urban challenges – the psychic environment and pollution faced by those towns and cities. Next to observance of festivals, including practical considerations designed to avoid arkward explanations to officials and concerned neighbours, cautionary tales to make you think twice. Here again there is some useful basic information, more importantly we hear an interesting voice challenging us to think for ourselves and craft something appropriate from our Craft, especially when faced with challenges such as rooms in modern hutches being smaller than a typical traditional circle is considered to be.
We are then onto chapters of seeing and being: that is scrying or divination and green sacred spaces which are addressed again with seed information, clearly designed not to bottle feed the audience pap but to encourage the interested reader to search for more information elsewhere. Throughout the book suggestions of starting points for those very elsewheres are offered in the form of occasional ideas for further reading and the back of the book has a reasonable list which will also help.
The next chapter has a mixed character, and is hard to summarise. Amongst other areas it looks at religion and talks about personal characteristics as well as ethics and our relationship with sacred spaces. Interestingly it suggests how different religions overlay their own glaze on sacred places and how to see through that. Finally the book is rounded off with a responsible pointer to some of the changes to be expected from such development and how they are exacerbated in the urban environment.
I personally differ from the author in that i feel that even if we cannot make ourselves anywhere near perfect and although knowing ourself properly is nigh on impossible, it is still a worthwhile pursuit. By attempting and achieving a part, if never the whole, then we stimulate our own growth and can at least address any major imbalances, or at least recognise them. Certainly the mirror is watery and easily disturbed and distorted, but we will still learn more by looking into it than we do by ignoring it. In proportion and balance that self knowledge is an important grounding which equips us to grow forward on healthy stable foundations. Skipping a stage because it is hard to do is seldom the best option in any path of learning, and since spiritual and magical development will often exagerate characteristics, personal damage and idiosyncracies I would have thought encouraging learning, about oneself (as well as ones environment) as a foundation gives the student the best chance of a healthy survival in society in general. However, each to their own, self knowledge is not criticised, simply excused from the syllabus as an intentional subject and left to be an inevitable unplanned learning.
On the whole the very individual voice is rather refreshing and personalises the whole piece in a very honest way, even in areas of differences.
In a world where many books are layed out in idiot proof bullet lists with clear sharp tables or logical sub-headings declaring the absolute laws of a subject, it does seem more appropriate that this very personal subject should be addressed in this distinctly personal way.
For me the only real weak points in the whole book were a couple of small and specific points when it occasionally got a little too personal and anecdotal and assumed that the authors attitude would be shared by the reader. But then it is a personal account and at no point does it pretend to be anything but and realistically over 20 years experience of traditional witchcraft (especially if much of it is in the sometimes oppressive environment of the city centre) might understandably leave you with some strong views on some areas.
There is a slight risk that the rural or even suburban witch reading this might sometimes feel that she has somehow caused offense with her ready access to grass. She is (not always correctly) assumed to have automatic access to everything the urban witch misses, and no challenges of her own, but the author mostly manages to stay focussed on resolving the frustrations of the urban witch rather than perpetuating the myth that everything is perfect once you get to the countryside, and thus hopefully avoids feeding further dissatisfaction in the urban witch.
I found the implicit complaint about the nanny-state came across with an edge of a rant rather than the humour I think it was probably intended to have, which was a shame. It stood out enough as a sore spot that I wanted to address it:
I would like to kindly offer, if it is of any comfort to the author, or any other readers, that they might consider joining those of us who see Trick or Treating differently. We see it not as an offensive, greedy, materialistic American import, but as the echo of guising, a tradition which was recorded in Scotland in the 1800s, before any transatlantic export started. Certainly the kids don’t perform poems or songs for their rewards much nowadays, and on rare occasions the trick holds actual threat, but they do dress up in (dis)guise in the hope of rewards of sweet food or money which is leaves them at the core the same practice. So it really is just guising or galoshans after all, maybe a little updated and adapted to it’s modern mostly urban environment, but at it’s roots the same thing. In fact it has undergone very much the kind of adaptation which traditional witches are healthily encouraged to do in order to continue to practice in the urban environment in this very book. Guising has just acclimatised, then adapted and on top of that improvised with what is available in adopting Trick or Treat as the currently acceptable calling phrase in the same way that the ancient venerated pagan yew may sit happily in the christian churchyard. It’s still the same thing underneath.
All in all Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living made a generally enjoyable read, with the odd challenge to ideas here and there. It was usefully stimulating to turn to and interestingly individual in it’s voice. As a review of it’s earlier incarnation of “Mean Streets Witchcraft” suggested, it is certainly possible if not likely that experienced urban witches might have come to many of these ideas themselves, however, the same could be said for many books and their ideas without it diminishing the value of the book at all. It doesn’t claim to have groundbreaking or totally new ideas, just useful and practical, pragmatic ones. This it does.
Reading Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living has left me interested in picking up copies of the Melusine Draco’s other books. Which to me is the real tell-tale as to whether it was worth picking a book up in the first place. I very much hope they are all also printed on this very pleasant soft paper.