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Crafting The Art Of Magic:
A Critical Review
By D. Hudson Frew (Morgann)
Copyright 1991 by D. Hudson Frew.
Used by permission of the author.
Part 1: Introduction
Aidan Kelly's new book, Crafting the Art of Magic (Llewellyn,
1991) is the self-proclaimed first volume of A History of Modern
Witchcraft. Book I deals with the period from 1939 to 1964 and examines
Gerald B. Gardner's contribution to modern Craft. Kelly attempts to
answer the perennial question "Did Gardner make it all up?"
At this task he fails miserably.
is not to say that there aren't some good points to the book that might
make it worth buying. First and foremost, the book contains an amazing
collection of texts that no Gardnerian Witch will want to be without
(although there are some serious problems with the texts that I will
address later). Also, the first chapter is an eloquent defense of the
Craft in the face of the attacks to come:
In emphasizing that the Craft is a new religion,
and not the survival of an old religion, I am not "debunking"
it. Rather I am insisting on its ontological equality with every other
religion... people start new religions all the time, all over the
world, whenever they are not forcibly prevented from doing so by an
established state church... in a free society, people vote with their
feet: if their religious needs are not being met by the established
churches, then they will set out to create their own religion. (pages
Kelly goes on to elucidate six unmet needs to which the Craft is a
"creative response": a sacramental experiencing of sex, practical
paths for spiritual development accessible to the laity, organizational
flexibility, reduced or absent dogmatism, a future-oriented focus, and
creativity. This is a very interesting and valuable section, but I am
a little surprised that Kelly did not include a need for ecological
awareness and empowerment of women in this list.
Chapter One, Kelly opens with the statement that it really doesn't matter
whether or not Gardner made it all up because the Craft is a viable
religion in its own right. Kelly returns to this argument in the last
chapter (Chapter Eight), saying that "The fact that the Craft movement
has grown so rapidly in a few decades is proof enough, indeed, the only
relevant proof, that Gardner was doing something right." Kelly
even goes so far as to proselytize in his last sentence:
Let me merely extend an invitation: if you, dear
reader, can no longer stomach being in communion with Cardinal Ratzinger
-- or whoever the Chief Son-of-a-Bitch of your particular persuasion
may be -- then come circle with the Witches. We offer you liberty,
fraternity, and equality. (page 184)
Anti-Roman Catholic sentiments aside, I would enthusiastically endorse
almost all of the first half of the first chapter and the last half
of the last chapter of this book. Everything in between, except for
Gardner's own texts, is virtually worthless. Kelly's thesis is that
Gardner was a member of a circle of friends who, in 1939, decided to
invent modern Witchcraft. He further argues that, after leaving this
group to work on his own, Gardner rewrote the earlier group's material
specifically for the purpose of maximizing the amount of ritual scourging,
a scourging to which Gardner was sexually addicted. However, Kelly's
arguments are so riddled with contradictions, errors of logic, and speculative
leaps that they cannot be seen as anything approaching scholarly investigation.
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