Traditional Wicca, ‘A Seeker’s Guide’
Llewellyn, 2018, 264 pages, ISBN 9780738753591.
A few days ago I (finally!) had the pleasure of meeting Thorn Mooney at The Atlantis Bookshop in London for the presentation of her new book ‘Traditional Wicca: A Seeker’s Guide’ and ‘consummate’ our online friendship with wine! Like a good Aries I have been impatiently waiting for the book to come out, and my mind was set on reviewing it afterwards. However, as I was grasping it with my hands on my way back to Warsaw, the thought crossed my mind: ‘You are going to write a good review regardless, you have been fanboying her before it was cool!’.
You see, I love providing feedback, but only when it is relevant. And when I do, I tend to be quite critic — seldom do things in life reach ‘perfection’ (whatever you want to understand by that). I finished reading it a few moments ago, after which I remained silent, and religiously placed it on my shelf. And my first impulse, is to start writing this…
Fine, you have read the comments online. You have seen people tweeting about it, but…what is it with this book?
It is current.
It is useful.
It is relevant.
Like Deborah Lipp says in her review, it is the book many of us would have liked to have the idea to write. In fact I was writing a similar series of articles for my Spanish website with similar topics! (I am just so glad it was Thorn, because it makes it so much better!).
It is the book I would have liked to have 15 years ago (although I would have probably gotten frustrated as an underage seeker!).
But, most importantly, it is the book that I would like all the Seekers to read before approaching for training.
What has she done?
Forget about introductions on what Wicca is or is not. Forget about endless pages on etymology and history of Wicca. The endless parade of chapters about Wicca; the Sabbats; the Esbats; The Goddess; The God; The Elements; the Tools…
There are is no specific information of what Wicca is, or how to start practising it. No spells or similar how-to’s. And no meditations or exercises that you will never actually perform.
And yet, it is probably one of the most relevant books for a seeker to read.
Thorn quickly jumps into explaining what Traditional Wicca is, and what are the main characteristics that differentiate it from other forms of modern Wicca or Witchcraft. She then starts tackling relevant issues that have, and still do, make virtual (and non virtual) rivers of ink flow.
‘…What is Traditional Wicca? Fine, but, how is it different? Coven, yeah, a group of witches bu, how is it different in Traditional Wicca? What is all the fuss about lineage? Why no self-initiation? I have heard traditional covens are very stiff and hierarchical, is that true?…’
Certainly, a lot of information has been written about the questions above. These questions have been addressed thousands of times in correspondence, emails, blogs, social networks. But it has never, until now, been woven into a single, cohesive, pattern, and bound into a single book.
If you wanted to research (and you probably still should!) answers to these questions, you would have to look in different groups, and blog posts, and communities. For each item you find you will find a hundred different points of view.
Which, again, you should probably read anyway. But Thorn offers a starting point in this book.
How has she done it?
There is no acrimony or dismissive attitude towards the whole modern spectrum of Wicca. There is no telling of how special a path is versus another. She wields the same honest, casual, and relatable tone that has drawn attention to her blogs and her videos — and the reason why most of us love them!
In this book she openes that door even further, sharing her own experiences and struggles. As you go through the book, the different challenges she has faced in all those different topics are showcased, in such a way that it triggers intense throwbacks and flashes, making you internally scream ‘I fell just like that at one point’.
Some of the sentences are so simply, yet so true and relatable, that they should have been printed in gold ink:
My initiates don’t serve me; I serve them. I may be the high priestess, and I may call most of the shots, but I’m also the one cleaning the toilets.
Empathy has quickly escalated to my top list of skills that I hold dear, and I yearn to see in my everyday world (this is mostly Brené Brown’s fault).
In Thorn’s book, this is an approach that is present throughout the read.
In the first part of the book she has tackled the topics that she has felt are more relevant for the Seeker and likely to come up to their mind. While this might seem like an easy tasks, most of the books I have found take either the point of view of a newcomer (written by a newcomer), or that of an expert (written by an expert). It is easy to forget what was it like when you started once you have walked several miles on one path, and it takes a lot of effort to step back and think ‘How did I feel at that point?’.
But this is specially present in the second part of the books, that contains the only how-to’s in it: How to seek and approach a coven.
Every piece is met with ‘Hey, I have been there, this is what I tried. These are other things I know about now, and that you might want to try as well’.
But the highlight of empathy, and the passage that made me shed an actual teas, was the following:
Acacia kneeled before the altar […] it was a big night for her […] she was acting as high priestess for the evening […]. She commanded the space well and had clearly worked hard to memorize the ritual. […] But all of a sudden, the candlelight flickering across her face, she hesitated. A moment too many passed and her eyes snapped to mine, panicked, silently screaming. I could read her face instantly because I’d been exactly there a hundred times: Oh shit. What comes next?
“Take a breath, the words are in there”, I said in a low tone across the altar.
Another moment passed. She took a deep breath but still nothing came. She looked at me again.
“You’re a Witch. Forget about the script. Consecrate the salt.”
Acacia took another breath — this one stern — and her face shifted. She relaxed visibly. The words that came next weren’t the ones on the page she’d spent so long trying to recall. But they were magical and right nonetheless. She forgot, yes, but she knew the essence of what she was doing, so the power wasn’t lost.
I have been there too. We all have been there. It hits very close to home.
But the highlight here is not just the empathy, but also vulnerability.
It is easy to show examples. It is easy to go to a job interview and say ‘I am way too perfectionist’ when asked about our flaws. It is easy to write as ‘Le High Priestess’ (please also note how she has not capitalised high priestess or high priest throughout the book).
It is not that easy to showcase situations that, while they might open a door to relatability and empathy, it also shows that we err — and we do it miserably sometimes!
There are no ‘Oh, yes, I err too’ followed by a polite silence, in this book.
Points of Improvement?
I was trying to find some point on improvement for the book. I always like to offer something that could have been better. The only one I thought of was that, during the first part of the book, some of the statements are way too general. My (Gardnerian) mind resorted a couple of times with ‘Hey, not really, there is considerable consensus on that’. But I quickly realised that Thorn was, once again, two steps ahead.
It is easy to get to specific into a topic, and I am sure Thorn would have loved to spend several chapters (or books) on a few of them. But that would be a disfavour to the aim of the book.
It would also condition the Seeker towards certain points of view — she rather leaves an open door.
On top of that, there was my own precondition as a Gardnerian in Europe — the variety we have here is much more limited in terms of traditions.
So, unfortunately, no point of improvement to add.
A New Classic
After meeting Thorn in London, and hearing her talk about her book, I am not sure if she realises what she has done. Wittingly or unwittingly she has set herself (and her book) to become a ‘new classic’. To be one of those books that ought to be at the end of every book about Wicca, in those pages with a list of ‘Recommended Reading’ that we all end up adding to our wishlist. A default book for coven leaders to recommend to potential seekers (it is already on my website!).
While different in content and audience, I dare to say (and Thorn would probably hate me for that) that classics like ‘Living Wicca’ or ‘Teen Witch’ have nothing on Thorn’s book.
If you are a seeker, you feel lost, or if you are just curious about what all the fuss is about Traditional Wicca; or even an initiate looking for reading for your newcomers: This book is a must have!