My first statement below might need some qualification. I actually looove spellbooks, grimoires and old-fashioned books of magic. I mean the sort of book that 300 years ago would have allowed you to set yourself up in business as a cunning-person, with enough know-how to impress the locals, and even to get results if you had talent. You probably will see me reviewing modern efforts at grimoires and spellbooks, if they meet my standards. As I say below, there are so many that don't in today's popular publishing
Protection & Reversal Magick: A Witch’s Defense Manual
Jason Miller (Inominandum)
New Page Books, 2006 isbn:1-56414-879-3
You won’t see me reviewing a lot of ‘spellbooks’ here. The Pagan publishing market is choked with shallow material, unchallenging to the spirit, without well-constructed metaphysics and unlikely to result in much. Such items tend to be packed with overly moralistic warnings, and often reduce magical art to ‘self help’, and positive thinking. I don’t generally bother with such things.
Inominandum’s first book is another kettle of brew. While it does give a selection of ready-to-work rituals (that is, spells) they are presented in a matrix of solid theory and practical advice. The author describes himself as a working “cunningman and root doctor”. That grounding in real results is what elevates this book above most writing on the topic.
The book begins with a discussion of when and whether one should consider oneself to be ‘under magical attack’. However it doesn’t start with discussions of ‘black magick’ or of evil magicians. Rather it begins by examining ways that the student might have screwed up and pissed something off. These include offending a spirit, misaligning with a place of power or breaking vows. The discussion of these possibilities requires the student to actually pay attention to their own life and deeds, before any magical action is undertaken. Only then do we come to attacks by other practitioners.
Chapters on personal and home protection give all the basics such as purifications, baths, the making of talismans, and some more advanced methods such as invisibility (more like ‘unlikely-to-be-noticed-ibility’) and interesting stuff on the making of spirit traps. The chapter on reversal and countermagic begins with the good ol’ mirror spell and offers plenty of traditional lore and a few more aggressive measures, with sensible advice about their use. The book doesn’t offer much in the way of a basic ritual matrix – it assumes the student will have one. It presents charms and lore that can be worked into any ritual opening and closing, and each chapter includes one or two full rites, constructed and used by the author.
But before all that is a marvelous chapter called ‘Daily Practices’. In a topic so fraught with udji-boodgi potential, this chapter focuses on spiritual practice; the student is directed to become calm, clean and respectful. Miller gives instructions for three basic daily (or at least regular) practices. The first two are pretty well-known to Neopagans – banishing and meditation. The third practice recommended is the making of offerings, and here we see the author’s understanding of real work with the spirits, so long neglected in modern magic. Those working in a Druidic Pagan model will be pleased with the advice and suggestions given, and the ‘Feast of the Spirits’ rite is entirely in tune with our efforts.
The attitude toward the Gods and Spirits in the book is in tune with a heathen or reconstructionist system. The author spends some time on the psychological model of spirit art – that the ‘spirits’ are ‘aspects of ourselves’ – he’s agin’ it. He presents the spirits as mythically true, and functionally real independent beings.
The Gods are mentioned mainly as allies and sources of power for the magician. The daily practice includes offering to the Gods, and the reader is assumed to know which deities she wishes to work with. Because the book is about defense we have a chapter on exorcism, with very good ideas on the sources of the magician’s authority, and a chapter on spirit guardians and servitors that provides the basics of ‘summoning’ spirits in a respectful Pagan context.
The author combines Hoodoo and rootwork, Grimoire magic, Graeco-Egyptian magic, Golden Dawn and Western Hermetics, and Tibetan Buddhist ritual and custom. In addition the author describes a personal involvement with Hekate, and credits Her with several of the spells he teaches. This is an eclectic mix, but one focused on the relationship of the magician with the beings around him. That makes this a book of practical magic nicely in tune with the kind of Paganism I like doing.