Wicca Candle Magick

April 13, 2008

Wicca Candle Magick by Gerina Dunwich

Carol Publishing Group, 1997 (Citadel Press, 1989)

 

With little information on candle magic and even less on Wicca, I’m not sure how the title of this book came about. Surely entitling it Correspondences of Stones and Voudou Lwas or Ten Pages of Candle Colours and 150 Pages of Filler would have been at least a tad more accurate. This book is a mishmash of hoodoo, Judeo-Christian ceremonial magic, Voudou, and folk magic. Besides a few pages of ‘candle’ Sabbat rituals, there are about four sentences on Wicca.

 

My major issues with this book:

 

1) Inclusion of Voudou Lwas in a book proclaiming to be Wiccan in essence. How ‘bout that culture-theft? Not only considering that the deities called upon in Voudou are propitiated differently than those in Wicca, they also are accustomed to being ‘horsed’ (i.e. possessing their devotees) in a way that is rarely, if ever, done in Wicca. If a type of Voudou interests you, find a teacher or a half-decent book, get rid of the weird-coloured candles and break out the cigars.

 

2) Inclusion of Hindu deities in a list of ‘Wiccan deities’. White and brown candles for Parvati? How about puja instead? The underlying problem here is considering Hinduism to be the same as Neo-Paganism because they both can be polytheistic. This cultural appropriation frustrates me to no end.

 

3) The lack of explanation of… anything, really. Why give the Three-fold Law a page of its own if you’re only writing two sentences on it? Why include it at all if you’re going to assume that everyone already knows about it? A book for beginners would need more explanations; a book for more experienced practitioners would actually have something useful or thought provoking in it. This book lacks both.

 

4) The author doesn’t note where the information is coming from, but I guess that’s true of any book that gives correspondences. Still, why invoke Odin with red and purple candles? Why not navy blue, a colour that is at least associated with the god? Why not do some research, find offerings that suit the deity, build a relationship and stop treating your religion like a drive-thru?

 

5) I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the section on Healing Herb Candles, either. The author suggests adding Jimsonweed to a candle to heal poison ivy rash. Isn’t Jimsonweed actually Datura, a poisonous hallucinogen? (People usually burn candles in enclosed spaces. A warning about the plant would’ve been nice.) Gathering Jewelweed (a plant actually known to be effective against poison ivy rash and often found growing near it) and making a poultice from it would be more immediately useful.

 

I’m a tad wary of this author now. This book seems like one of those kill-a-tree-make-a-buck schemes. Although I’m happy that I now know what to do with a skull-shaped candle (if only I had one), there’s nothing here you can’t get off the internet for free. Not recommended.

The Dictionary of Sacred and Magical Plants by Christian Rätsch

Translated from the German by John Baker

ABC-CLIO Inc, Prism Press, 1992 (1988 )

 

“In herbs may be found the full power of the world. He who knows their secret abilities is omnipotent.”

— Indian Proverb

 

They wouldn’t let me take this book out of the library, so I had to read it in bits and pieces between classes. Despite my limited time, habit compelled me to read all of the introductions and forewords, a practice which has, for once, served me well. While I expect translating anything from one language to another and keeping its meaning intact is quite difficult, translating a book about psychotropic herbs used in shamanic and magical practices around the world must be even harder.

 

The translator’s introduction to this book is well worth reading, as Mr. (Dr?) Baker discusses the difficulties of rendering into English a complete understanding of the German word Rausch. It is usually translated as ‘intoxication,’ which, in the sense of this book, isn’t quite right. Mainstream North American culture no longer has systems to utilize psychedelic plants safely, nor knows how to interpret knowledge gained from them. We view information gained through non-rational, visionary experiences to be less valid than that obtained through rational, scientific methods, and this bias is reflected in our language. Christian Rätsch introduces us to cultures that have not lost their respect for the visionary experience.

 

The author’s introduction, besides providing a (very) brief discussion of magic and what constitutes a magical plant, also includes categories that can be used to find a plant that is used for a specific purpose. Having Plants of Prophecy, Elixirs of Immortality, Death Charms, Grave Goods, and Aphrodisiacs all sorted out for you is nice if you’re in a hurry. Rätsch also gives his method of placing psychotropic plants in ritual contexts (vision quests, oracles, sacrifices, hunting magic, etc) and sorting which plants were involved in which stages of certain rituals (preparation, implementation, and integration).

 

Each dictionary entry gives the folklore and historical uses of the plant, listed either by genus or individual species if certain pieces of lore are applicable to a specific variety alone. The plant’s uses in folk medicine, spells, and religious ritual (mostly pagan) are also listed. Each entry ends with the pharmacological properties of the plant and a list of sources for further reading.

 

I found the Ayahuasca entry especially interesting. A table, entitled Native Classification of Ayahuasca, listed the many types of Ayahuasca that this tribe (whose name I’ve forgotten) knows how to make. The nifty part is that each type of Ayahuasca brew produces visions of different things; one type might induce visions of hunting, another of famine, another of the land of the dead, and another still of underwater travel.

 

The entry on witches’ ointments (which is one of the reasons I was so happy to find this book, the other being that I’m an ethnobotany geek), although it could have been longer, contained this nice tidbit from Leuner: “The witches’ ointments may be psychopharmacologically interesting because we apparently have here the only toxic technique of ecstasy in the world in which the specific components of the experience are achieved by the way the psychopharmacological agents are added together.” This differs from the various types of Ayahuasca, apparently, because of the physical sensations accompanying the trip. Either that or Leuner is out of date, I’m not sure. Further rambling is beyond the scope of this review.   

 

Rätsch gathers lore from all over the world, both contemporary and historical. He shows us the valuable interactions between plants and people that our society would do well to regain. Also, we should all take St. Anthony as our personal saint. You should read the book to find out why.

The Whisperings of Woden: A Devotional by Galina Krasskova
Self-published (?) in New York, 2004

 “I do not fear You,
not even when you burn beneath my skin,
when we share the cloak of flesh together.”
– Krasskova

 For much of my life I’ve been interested in the gods of the Northern pantheons, but not enough to really be religious. When I did finally delve deeper into the lore of (most of) my ancestors, I found a rich, complex, and fascinating worldview.

Having encountered other writings by Krasskova in Raven Kaldera’s Dark Moon Rising, I was eager to see her perspective on the god to whom she is devoted. Krasskova notes that although some people see Odin and Woden as separate entities, she views them as two names for the same divine being. She begins with a brief introduction to the lore of the god, though it is clear that this book is written for someone who knows what they are getting into. I think few people would perform devotions to a deity that they were not at least acquainted with.

The bulk of this small book consists of the nine devotionals, the rest being a few recipes for oils and incense and a list of herbs associated with Woden. Each devotional begins with a meditative, worshipful poem that beautifully expresses Krasskova’s love for her god. She takes her religion beyond its lore, though heathen sensibility grounds most of the ideas presented. Some of the devotionals (which include making runes, building altars, feasts, meditations, and more) could be adapted for other deities or changed into ‘secular’ meditations, but most are solely for Woden.

Krasskova notes that some of her ideas might be considered a bit ‘out there’ or fluffy by modern heathens, but gives good reasons for everything she includes in each devotional, even if it’s just that it worked well for her. What I liked most about this book is that it shows the author’s personal connection to and experience of divinity. She has offered herself to this god, and treats Woden with respect. It’s refreshing to see that there is nothing here about archetypes, or deities being merely aspects of human consciousness, or whatever other explanations pagans are using these days to assuage their ambivalent feelings about the intersection of belief and modern scientific culture. There’s just devotion. We need more books like it.