In any metaphysical store worth its spice cabinet, you will find any number of primers for witchcraft ostensibly guiding new practitioners through their early stages. Depending on your personal preferences, most of these books may come across to you as fluffy, shaving the rough edges off some pretty tricky subjects in order to make them more palatable. In fact, many of them water the subject down so far in service to a book that can be sold at the counter of a Hallmark store that they are essentially useless to someone who might otherwise become a healthy practicing witch. Contemporary Witchcraft, the latest book from Frances Billinghurst, is not such a book. With a solid foundation on the history of Wicca and witchcraft practices, Billinghurst provides a thorough and well thought out manual for the new witch.
You know you aren't reading about bubblegum witchcraft when you get nine pages at the beginning about witches and the treatment thereof dating back to the 900s. Not exhaustive by any means, the history nevertheless contains enough that the reader will know what the heck a person is talking about should the subject ever come up. Billinghurst has a neutral eye in writing about Gerald Gardner despite being an initiate of what they describe as "a traditional style of contemporary witchcraft." In fact, Part I of Contemporary Witchcraft is devoted to the background of the subject at hand; nine essays in all, covering general subjects like "Understanding and Working with Deity" and "The Wiccan Rede and the Rede of the Wiccae". (If that title confuses you, remember (or learn for the first time) that the poem which contains what many know as the Wiccan Rede was published in "The Green Egg" under the title "Rede of the Wiccae".)
Beyond those nine essays our author moves into Part II, which is a practical guide to the fundamentals of being a practicing witch. I will admit to a certain bias here, in that Billingsworth's subjects’ line up almost perfectly with the curriculum in which I was taught, so it makes perfect sense to me. Your mileage may vary. In any case, these are hardly controversial subjects like journaling, meditation, casting circles and so forth. In most of these sections, the author not only takes the reader through the importance of the topic ast hand but also provides practical exercises to further develop the reader's understanding. Particularly for a solitary practitioner, this is very good material to have in hand.
I can quibble with parts of the book here and there. Then again, that sentence could probably appear in every review of a metaphysical book, ever, and in any case no two practices are identical once you zoom in close enough. Contemporary Witchcraft is certainly worth an examination. I suspect that the best use case for this book is for a seasoned witch to provide it to a newcomer seeking guidance, as the very fact that it is not a very fluffy book may make it less shiny when that bookshelf in the metaphysical store is being perused. If you aren't looking to actively teach someone, you'll be happy to have this book at hand.
~review by Patricia Mullen
Author: Frances Billinghurst
Moon Books, 2021
pp. 252, $20.95