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'Out of the Shadows'
What does Witchcraft Out of the Shadows have to offer as a book? In September 2005 Dr Leo Ruickbie was asked for his opinion.
Dr Leo Ruickbie was contacted by Jerry Bird of Merry Meet magazine and interviewed in September, 2005. Below you will find a transcript of his original reply.
[Jerry Bird, 13 September 2005 16:39]
I edit (and mostly write!) a little magazine of Paganism and folklore. I
am currently reading (and enjoying) your book and thought you might like
to be interviewed to help promote it in the mag. I could email you some questions
if you like, either for the autumn edition, which I need to finish in about
a week, or for the next one if time is too short.
[Jerry Bird, 15 September 2005 20:47]
[...] Having read your book and imagined what my
readership will probably want to know I have hastily compiled the following
- How did you feel about writing Witchcraft Out of the Shadows in the wake
of Hutton's Triumph of the Moon?
[Leo Ruickbie, 18 September 2005 13:32]
I didn’t write Witchcraft Out of the Shadows in the wake of any book. I had a story to tell. During my PhD work on Witchcraft I had made discoveries that I wanted to share, felt I absolutely had to share with a wider audience.
- How do you think your book differs principally from his analysis of modern
Well if you insist on talking about Hutton… My book differs from Hutton’s on a number of key issues. He doesn’t examine the ancient, medieval and early modern periods, and so doesn’t contextualise his work against the wider background of Witchcraft meanings and interpretations, whereas this is something I believe is essential and specifically set out to do. Neither does Hutton go beyond a simple historical account to investigate the sociological significances of modern Witchcraft. I wouldn’t hold this against him, since he is, afterall, simply an historian, but unfortunately he does try his hand at what he calls ‘sociology’ and, in my opinion, makes a hash of it with little understanding of statistics and no awareness of social theory. This is really what I would consider the principle contribution of Witchcraft Out of the Shadows: to investigate who today’s witches are, what they do, what the consequences of that are and what the implications for the wider society are. I go beyond the historical account to provide a detailed analysis on the practice of magic (its meanings and effects), on mystical experience, on the personal theology of practitioners and on the social shifts of post-Christianity and re-enchantment.
- Many Wiccans will be shocked to hear Crowley's Book of the Law described
as 'the cornerstone of Modern Witchcraft'. What do you have to say to them?
Will they be shocked? Afterall, Doreen Valiente was quite aware of the use Gardner had made of Crowley’s work, so I think that this aspect has been long known within Wicca.
- How can Crowley's contribution to Gardnerian Wicca have been so great when
he and Gardner met only once or twice?
No living Christian has met Jesus (at least in a non-supernatural or delusional sense) and yet Jesus appears to have made quite an impact on them. I’m not saying Crowley was anything like Jesus, but you don’t need to meet someone for them to have had an impression. In Gardner’s case Crowley not only provided an authentic magical system, but was a towering guru figure. Let’s not forget that Gardner was once tipped to succeed Crowley as the head of the Ordo Templi Orientis, so Gardner’s association with Crowley was not merely a casual one and was only cut short by Crowley’s death.
- You mention very little about Druidry in your book. I read somewhere that
Ross Nichols gave Gardner the idea for the 'Wheel of the Year', and hence
the 8 Sabbats. If that is the case, how could such an important contribution
I do cover Druidry in Witchcraft Out of the Shadows (pp. 36-8, 85, 215). My discussion of the Druid system through the first-hand account of Julius Caesar and examination of mistletoe and its possible functions is more than ‘very little’, but I don’t go into Druidry in depth because this is a book about Witchcraft. And I think you’ve hit on the reason when you say ‘I read somewhere…’ I read that too somewhere, but what I read was hearsay and not compelling evidence.
- What do you think are the three most important published books which influenced
the development of modern Witchcraft pre Gardner?
Undoubtedly Michelet’s La Sorcière, Leland’s Aradia and Murray’s The Witch Cult in Western Europe are of key importance, but so too were the books being produced by initiates of the Golden Dawn like Mathers (Key of Solomon and Goetia) and Crowley. In Witchcraft Out of the Shadows I go into the reasons in some depth as well as highlighting some lesser-known works.
- Gerald Gardner. Genius or Charlatan?
Neither. He had flashes of brilliance and a tendency to make things up when the facts didn’t fit, but he was not entirely a genius or a charlatan.
- (re the above) Does it matter?
Yes. The usual answer these days is ‘no’, but it is absolutely crucial to understand the character and aims of Gardner, not to judge him, but to better understand what he created.
- How great was Doreen Valiente's contribution to the craft?
Valiente probably saved Wicca. She reduced the reliance on Crowley which, given Crowley’s then rather black reputation, was certainly a wise move politically. But more importantly she broke Gardner’s hold over Wicca by directly challenging his authority in the case of the ‘Laws of the Craft’. If Gardner had retained tight control of the coven it is likely that Wicca would have died with him.
- Why do you think Wiccans and other Pagans seem generally immune to the revelations
in recent years that theirs is a largely reinvented tradition?
I wouldn’t say ‘immune’. There is still a lot of debate on the issue, we’re doing it now, for example. I have also seen a lot of new people come into the movement who take the Gardnerian line at face value and do not question it whilst others have embraced Gardner’s act of invention as a creative gesture, so some have just ignored the evidence (or are unaware of it) at the same time as others have recognised it as a positive act.
- (re the above) Do you see a difference in those attitudes between here and
the United States?
In the US attitudes tend to find more extreme representation. Both the blinkered brigade and those who champion invention seem to find a louder voice in the States than in the UK.
- Your statistical evidence seems to show that Witchcraft is a largely pursuit
of the middle-aged, educated middle classes. Do you see that changing in
As I said in Witchcraft Out of the Shadows I think the media emphasis on the female ‘teen witch’ will change the demographics of Witchcraft. It is this more than feminist attempts (largely made in the 70s and 80s) to proclaim Witchcraft as ‘wimmins’ religion’ that will see Witchcraft becoming more attractive to a female audience, albeit one almost entirely composed of young girls. The consequence is that Witchcraft may become less attractive to older and male audiences, not because of the number of girls taking part, but because of the way in which Witchcraft is being represented by the media. As pop culture moves to colonise aspects of religion it considers ‘trendy’ Witchcraft will undoubtedly suffer.
- What is the single biggest contribution to the world that Witchcraft has
Gender equality in religion, to a degree, as well as the reintroduction of overtly magical techniques into religion, but without a doubt Witchcraft’s biggest contribution has been to trailblaze the return of Pagan spirituality.
- How optimistic are you that Witchcraft will bring about the re-enchantment
of the world?
Witchcraft may not bring about re-enchantment, but it is associated with it. Research can only show an association, not a causal link. In the end it is people themselves, not a religion, that brings about re-enchantment. This is something I am currently working on, although the results may not appear as a straightforward academic work. The question of re-enchantment is at the core of my work and expresses itself through many different avenues.
- Could you tell readers something about The Witchcraft Information Centre
When I first discovered the internet I saw a way to take my work to a larger audience, to break out of the confines of academia and reach people across the world. I envisioned the project as a research consultancy and education provider specialising in the areas of my expertise, and in 2000, after teaching myself HTML, I launched the website. In 2001 I launched my course on Witchcraft that became the basis for Witchcraft Out of the Shadows. The website has changed a lot in the years it has been running and will continue to change. The core focus will still be education and research, but I see the website as also providing more support for the many book projects I am working on now and have planned for the future. I still have so much more information to make available and still so much more to say.
The Witchcraft Information Centre and Archive (WICA) has also seen the development of other online projects. With Witch Wear (www.witchwear.com) I have given full reign to my artistic side and gone wild with original art and designs. And for Witchcraft Out of the Shadows I developed a companion site (www.witchcraftoutoftheshadows.com) giving more information about the book and my aims in writing it, as well as free downloads and a competition. I’ve also just relaunched WICA this year as www.witchology.com and want to encourage more user input, so I really want people reading this to get in touch with me via the website and get involved.
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