Magic, Witchcraft and the Otherworld: An Anthroplogy
By Dr. Susan Greenwood, Berg, 236pp, ISBN 1 85973 450 2, 2000
This fascinating book is an anthroplogical study of contemporary High Magic, Witchcraft & Feminist Wiccan groups in London. In this study, Dr. Greenwood broke with the usual practice of remaining a detached observer, and actually became involved with the groups she was studying - joining in rituals and conducting her own magical training. This gives her writing a degree of empathy and insight into magical practice which has been notably absent from other studies of modern magic. Her central theme is that modern magic cannot be understood by outsiders unless one understands the primacy of the "Otherworld" in magical reality. She presents an engaging discourse on how individual's experience of the Otherworld is structured over time and practice, and in particular, as the individual takes on board the beliefs of particular magical traditions, be it via books, solo practice or experience in groups:
"In practice, magicians bring their own histories to the magical experience, and this shapes how they seek to use their otherworldly experience through a flexible strategy of consent and resistance - both to the ideology of channeling power from the otherworld and also in relation to other group members.
The book contains much which will be of interest to practising pagans and magicians as it does for students of anthropology. I found her discussion of magical identity, gender & will to be particularly interesting, as she contrasts Crowley's 19th century concept of the will with the neo-Jungian ideas of Dion Fortune, and the post-feminist concepts of identity brought to modern witchcraft by Starhawk, et al. She also makes some interesting comments on magical morality.
Where this book really shines for me is in the author's comments on her experience of magical groups. Dr. Greenwood sheds much light on the thorny issue of power relationships in modern groups, showing how 'hidden hierarchies' can exist in leaderless groups and also examining how leaders and high priestesses can abuse the power and status they are granted by other group participants.
All in all, an engaging and thought-provoking read, and one that I would highly recommend! - Phil Hine