People of The Library: The Rebirth of Witchcraft by Doreen Valiente

First published in 1989, The Rebirth of Witchcraft is an intriguing blend of autobiography, history, lore, and what we might now term unverifiable personal gnosis from ‘the mother of modern paganism’.  Focusing on early to mid-20th century Witchcraft revival including snippets of her own role in it, this book sheds some light on several key moments and personalities as well as providing anyone interested the history of Witchcraft plenty of avenues of further reading and research.  This book also, naturally enough, primarily deals with the topic of Witchcraft from the view of Witchcraft as a Pagan or Neo-Pagan religion.  This may be a turn off for some readers.  Honestly though it is like sitting down to a cup of coffee or tea with a respected elder and having a deep and delightful conversation and free of some of the mythologizing and spicy details that feature in autobiographies from other prominent Witches of the revival.

My well marked copy of the book in question…

In the first two chapters Valiente sets the stage for us by reviewing legal and social changes, esoteric currents, and various publications that helped set the stage for the emergence of Wicca and other forms of Witchcraft and Paganism in the 1950’s and 60’s.  From there she weaves together stories of her interactions with Gerald Gardner and her co-founding and liturgical writing within The Gardnerian Tradition, with encounters and practice with Robert Cochrane, reminisces of her friendship with journalist and occult researcher Leslie Roberts, explores the topic of the life and claims of Alex Sanders, an approving exploration of Feminist streams of Witchcraft, an examination of the Pickingil material, and ends with a look at the then current state of events within Witchcraft and a note of hopefulness for the future.

There are places where one gets the feeling of a rather private persons sharing details that they feel they must share for the record of history and a culture or perhaps more accurately a subculture she helped create.  In other places it feels as if she is dealing with topics, issues, and episodes from her either her past or that were current at the time of writing that she felt needed to be addressed by her to either close the book on them or give them her stamp of approval.  In places it also weaves together it’s narrative with cautionary notes related to dealing with the larger community outside of the Craft as well as the want to be cult leaders and cranks within the Occult scene in any era.

One wonders if the advance of age or perhaps a health scare or personal loss may have prompted her writing of this.  The Occult boom of the 80’s and 90’s, the second or third occult boom of the 20th century with outbreaks every 20 years or so as each new generation of seekers discovers it, was in mid upswing at the time she wrote this and with the proliferation of the Internet and online forums and means of communication one can imagine she might have felt the need to address the theories and suppositions that are rife in any online community.

Overall a delightful blend of autobiography and history and a number of juicy bits prose and Witchlore that one might incorporate into ones path and practice. It is a book I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone studying Witchcraft!

So what do you think?! Opinions? Ideas? Beuller... Bueller?!

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