Book Review: Witchcraft for Tomorrow

The number of books on witchcraft these days can be staggering. This incredible quantity of choices can leave an individual feeling overwhelmed and uncertain of where to begin. Unfortunately, the relatively new individual is often not even aware of their option to read “Witchcraft for Tomorrow” by Doreen Valiente. This is unfortunate, as this book offers a wonderful basis for understanding witchcraft as an individual continues to study and gain personal experience.

Whereas many authors spend the majority of the time describing how to work with the various techniques within witchcraft, Valiente attempts to describe the nature, purpose, and historical contexts of these techniques. For example, rather than giving extensive instructions on how to cast a circle, this author describes the occult significance that many have attributed to the circle as well as how the circle appears in various pre-Christian religious practices. In this way, she confers an understanding of the nature of the circle and its uses upon the reader. Then, in the “Book of Shadows” section, the reader is instructed how to cast a circle effectively equipped with that understanding.

The author’s discussion of history of ancient pagan religion as it affects modern witchcraft is particularly noteworthy. I commend Valiente for refraining from both insisting that witches have always done things as they are done today and accusing those like Gardner from inventing modern witchcraft from whole cloth. Instead, Valiente carefully suggests historical sources of various elements from which modern witchcraft may have formed. In doing so, she draws from many varied sources, such as Hinduism, Celtic religious practices, and Greek philosophy. Often, she will draw parallels between two sources. In this way, the reader is given a potential idea of how modern witchcraft may have developed and grown as a result of the mingling of religious ideals over time.

Even in her “Book of Shadows” section, Valiente chooses to remain someone open-ended, non-dogmatic, and even vague in her instruction. She gives rather basic and general rites, possibly out of both a love for simplicity and a desire to encourage the reader to personalize the craft workings through the process of developing it into formal practice.

One notable example of her non-dogmatic approach occurs as she discusses the quarters during the process of circle casting. In this discussion, Valiente mentions the elements as they correspond to the cardinal directions. She refers to the correspondences that she specifies as, “In Britain, a time-honored attribution.” By giving a concise indication of the geography of this tradition indicates that she would expect the elemental correspondences to be attributed differently in other geographical locations. In fact, she goes so far as to suggest a system by which the reader can determine appropriate attributions for a given locale.

Valiente’s mostly non-dogmatic approach and desire to provide a basic understanding of the underlying concepts in witchcraft makes for a rather informative book. Anyone who wishes to move beyond the process of learning basic instructions of how to perform various rites should consider adding “Witchcraft for Tomorrow” to one’s library.

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