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From Witch to Wicca

Leslie Ellen Jones

Cold Spring Press, NY

US Paperback

ISBN: 1-59360-008-9

Pages: 216; Price: $14.00

Date Reviewed: 30th January 2004

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2004



Non-Fiction, Horror

'From Witch to Wicca', an academic and interesting book, suffers, initially, from a sadly misleading cover. From the outside it looks like a teenage guide to spells to make your boyfriend love you. Don't let this stop you, though, since it has examines the development of the "aged crone" type of witch to the "white" magic akin to spirituality of today.

This is not so much a look at the practice of witchcraft as the symbolic importance of the witch in society and literature. The introduction considers the witch historically as an outsider, along with Jews and pagans, who posed a threat to the state and church. The Holocaust was another witch-hunt, Jones states, trying to remove a potential threat to political security. The concept of the witch is also gender-stereotyped, however. The traditional image of a witch as an elderly woman in a black hat, flying a broomstick and eating babies - not to mention hexing the neighbors' cows - relates to the idea that women were a source of danger, especially single women who lived alone. The sexual power of the young witch, and the idea that respectable men might find her attractive, is only proof of her devilish powers.

How did this stereotype become the Wicca of today? Jones asks. She examines the representation and permutations of witchcraft throughout the ages, taking in a number of literary and historical examples. These include Medea, heroine of a Greek tragedy who uses magic to revenge herself on her unfaithful husband, and who is a prime example of why men are afraid of witches. Also covered is Morgan le Fay, half sister of King Arthur, and representative of all that was evil in pre-medieval Britain, especially when contrasted with Merlin, the good and benevolent magician.

She makes it clear that Wicca, or the public practice of Wiccan rites and beliefs, is a modern practice, but that it has its roots in something much older, and that it is not so much magic as a religion in itself. I have to admit that I know little about the Wicca and am still undecided as to whether it is a religious phase, like the Muggletonians (don't jest; they were a serious religious group during the English Civil War, and I believe there is still one alive today), or something which will last and grow, like the Quakers, initially seen as a sect which would die out. What I do know is that this book gives a history to the public perception of witches, and also shows that this perception had little basis in reality and less basis for misconceptions about the Wicca, which owe more to mystics and Shamans that to witches.