Thursday 31 August 2023

Witchcraft Unchained: History & Traditions of British Craft

I've been reading Witchcraft Unchained: Exploring the History and Traditions of British Craft by Craig Spencer. It both explores the history of British witchcraft in recent times and explains what witches do in a practical way. Craig doesn't limit himself to offering a how-to guide for a single strand within British witchcraft, he covers Wicca, the Cochranian tradition, older forms of the Craft and modern paths instigated by people including Raymond Buckland. He tries to show they are all basically compatible and have remarkable similarities as well as some differences. That's a big objective, and one I applaud. 

When it comes to analysing and explaining the practical, spiritual and magical aspects of British Witchcraft, Craig does a great job. I particularly like the fact that he aims to be inclusive rather than devisive. However, I'm a bit more critical when it comes to considering Witchcraft Unchained as a history book. Here's part of the description from publisher Crossed Crow Books:

"On June 22, 1951 the last of the Witchcraft Acts was repealed in the UK. This single action would lead to the rise of what would become the global witchcraft revival movement. Despite another year marking the passing of this historical event, so much of our history still remains lost, misunderstood, or frankly made inaccessible to the magical community at large. There is a craving for better information about the more recent history of Witchcraft in the hopes that these gaps in knowledge may be filled, and it's the author's intention to make Witchcraft Unchained: Exploring the History and Traditions of British Craft the book that will do just that."

Any new book on the recent history of wtichcraft in Britain is going to be compared with those already out on the subject, especially ones by academic historians such as Ronald Hutton, Malcolm Gaskill, Owen Davies and John Callow. Any writing about the life and legacy of Gerald Gardner will be held up against that of his biographer Philip Heselton, and anything on English folklore will be considered against works of Steve Roud. 

Craig has evidently done a huge amount of research and Witchcraft Unchained is full of citations to respected secondary sources as well as some primary texts. However, I felt some of the information in Craig's book stated as fact could benefit from double-checking or greater clarification and more citations. For example, Craig states: "Gerald Gardner was initiated by Dorothy Clutterbuck" yet both Ronald Hutton and Philip Heselton have offered considerable evidence that was unlikely. He was probably initiated by Edith Woodford-Grimes ("Dafo"), who was secretive about her involvement with witchcraft. Gerald's stating Dorothy's name as his initiator could possibly have been an obfuscation to protect Dafo. 

To summarise, as a practical guide to British craft, Witchcraft Unchained is excellent. As a history book, it would serve as a useful introduction for seekers on the path, but I wouldn't recommend as a reliable source for academic purposes. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed reading Craig's latest book and have learnt a lot from it about paths slightly different from my own.

The paperback and hardback editions of Witchcraft Unchained can be viewed via Amazon or at the publisher. You can find out more here:

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