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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.
 This 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 2-3)

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.
 In 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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