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Cunningham, Folk Magic and the Rede

Michael E. Berubé writes:

I was under the impression that Folk Magick would generally be "Magick of Folk" and not be able to be codified into a 'this is applicable to all folk magick."

Exactly. That's why I think Cunningham's treatment of it was misleading.

The thing that appealled to me most about Cunningham's books is that he decidedly takes the 'this is what works for many but not everyone' approach to The Craft(s).

Not always -- sometimes he's appallingly self-righteous and dogmatic, as well as inaccurate. In one of his herbalism books he claims that synthetic perfume oils can't be used in incense because "they smell like burning plastic" (in fact, almost all incense is made with synthetic oils), and that your magic won't work as well if you use them at all, for anything (the natural oils he insists are necessary can run up to $700 an ounce or so!).

Elsewhere, he claims that Wiccans have no concept of priesthood (true of California eclectics, but certainly not of everyone), that people who disagree with his particular interpretation of magic ethics "soon disappear and are never heard from again" and a whole lot of other similar stuff I can't think of at the moment. Generally, he presents California new age eclectic Wicca as being the only kind there is.

I don't remember seeing him claim that 'all folk magic practioners follow his... version of the Wiccan Rede...'

Excerpts from Chapter 4 of The Truth About Witchcraft Today:

  • "Folk magic practitioners don't use magic for this purpose. [curses or otherwise causing harm]" (p. 38)

  • "Perhaps in the 50,000 years or more that folk magic has been practiced there were a few who attempted to perform such deeds... However, those few practitioners of harmful magic are violating the basic principle of folk magic: Harm None." (pp. 38-39)

  • "Folk magicians harm none. They don't work magic to change other people's lives, even in seemingly positive ways, without first receiving permission to do so." (p. 42)

He goes on in this vein for some time, also claiming that all folk magicians "respect life", "respect the Earth", believe in karma, and believe that "magic is love". In other words, he generalizes the ethical perspective of his particular brand of Wicca (the aforementioned California new age flavour) to all, or at least most, magical pracitioners for the last 50,000 years (to use his figure).

Needless, to say, this is utter hogwash. Whether we like it or not, manipulative, coercive, and downright destructive magic has been practiced for eons, in every part of the world. The type of magical ethics he writes about are of very recent origin, specific to the neopagan movement, and not even followed by all of that.

(It is a good suggestion tho')

If he'd phrased it as a suggestion, I wouldn't have such a problem with it. But he doesn't seem to have been capable of distinguishing between the prescriptive and the descriptive. There is a big difference between saying that you think folk magicians should operate by a particular code of ethics and saying that they do.

Specifically which books on the IMBAS list would you recommend for reading about Folk Magick as it could be practised today and in accordance with an ethical code such as the Rede?

You probably won't find any books on the IMBAS list that deal with the Rede, because that is Wiccan rather than Celtic. But there are some that deal with what we know of folk magic as it was practiced by the Celts. Try the Carmina Gadelica, or any of the books in the folklore section of the IMBAS reading list.

BTW what is the general opinion of Ray "Uncle Bucky" Buckland's book by Llewelyn: Scottish Witchcraft: The history & magick of the Picts?

Historically worthless, but you can always mine it for ideas and bits of ritual that you like. Just don't accept any historical claims he may make.

How about Laurie Cabot's 'The Power of the Witch'? Again, she is sometimes WAY too flamboyant but I like some of her points and her attempts at linking Magick and Quantum Theoretics.

So do I. Like an unfortunately large number of pagan writers, she's shaky on history, but her ideas on magic and science are really interesting. Even if she does look like Divine doing Morticia Addams.

Déithe duit,

Liath Cadhóit
(a.k.a Lynna Landstreet)


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