From Witch to Wicca by Leslie Ellen Jones takes a look at the folklore surrounding witches, from Medea to Charmed. It is a rather nice complement to Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon as it is not exactly a history of witchcraft, but rather a history of what people think witchcraft was and is. Ms. Jones is not herself Pagan, yet she has produced a clear, coherent and sympathetic work.
Ms. Jones begins From Witch to Wicca by looking at witches and sorceress in ancient literature. The witches she discusses are Medea, Horace’s Canidia, and Lucan’s Erichtho. She points out that these three witches have some aspects in common, mainly the inverting of society’s norms. Medea does this by killing her children. Canidia and Erichtho make use of dead bodies, try to appear younger, and lust after young men. Ms. Jones also makes a short mention of Apuleius’s Golden Ass being influential to modern Wicca.
Next, Ms. Jones writes about the (de)evolution of daimons as helpers into the daemons who commit evil. She writes of the growth of Christianity in the urban areas of the late antique Mediterranean world. She also writes of how the early Christian church took over certain pagan religious sites and practices in an effort to convert the pagan population. And, once it became more entrenched, the priesthood began to limit religious practices like charms and simple rites, regarding these old practices with superstition and labelling them as witchcraft.
There is a chapter on the witch hunts, but thankfully Ms. Jones does not fall into the “Burning Times” trap, but rather sticks with the more conservative number of 30,000 people killed. She also clearly states that it is now commonly believed that the people who were killed were not witches at all, but rather poor, old people.
From Witch to Wicca moves through a few more historical periods, up to and including current popular culture. Ms. Jones makes an examination of a few horror movies, like Burn, Witch, Burn and the classic The Wicker Man. She also looks at how witches have been presented in TV shows like The X-Files, Charmed, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The conclusion of From Witch to Wicca nicely ties up the threads of the book, and summarizes all the material neatly. It is here that Ms. Jones finally introduces the topic of Harry Potter, and the new, more tolerant attitude toward magic and witchcraft.
Regardless of the title, the Wiccan religion is touched on only briefly, with a short discussion of its origins and beliefs. Ms. Jones also mentions that the work of Margaret Murray has been discredited, saying Wicca is a “new synthesis of authentic ancient beliefs and ritual with contemporary beliefs and concerns inspired by Murray”1.
I also feel the need to comment on the cover art. It is a lovely piece by Daniel Govar, but it just doesn’t suit the tone of this book. It would have been much better to have a more serious piece of art on the cover, as Mr. Govar’s piece is better suited to a Wicca 101-type of book.
Ms. Jones writes with an easy style, making the occasional aside which gives the book a friendly quality. The facts and myths are correct (to the best of my knowledge). If it wasn’t for the over abundance of referenced Internet sites, this could have been a scholarly work. But I did enjoy this book, and, as I said earlier, it is a nice complement to Triumph of the Moon.
Rating: 4 – A book well worth having, especially if it encourages one to read further about past perceptions of witches.
1. Leslie Ellen Jones, From Witch to Wicca, pgs. 10-11