Witch Weiser Field Guide To Witches
Illes, Judika (2010).”The Weiser Field Guide to Witches. “Weiser, San Francisco.
In the past year or so, Weiser Publishing has begun releasing a series of what it terms “field guides" to various topics: the paranormal, cryptozoology, etc. The idea seems to be that creating small, portable compendiums of knowledge which go beyond a dictionary format but which do not quite reach encyclopedic levels of information might provide on-the-go information to those interested in the selection of topics available." The Weiser Field Guide to Witches" tackles cackling hags, beautiful enchantresses, and the range of magical folk falling between those two extremes (or falling around them, beside them, across the street from them…). The publisher chose a living encyclopedia of witchcraft, Judika Illes, to provide content for their work, and anyone familiar with Illes’ other texts ("The Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells", "Pure Magic, Magic When You Need It, "and more than half-a-dozen others) knows that she brings a tremendous amount of research to the table.
Weiser’s guide in some ways works as a condensed or “light" version of an earlier work by Illes, "The Element Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft" (now sadly out of print). The joy of this little tome is its lighthearted-yet-sincere love of all things witchy. The chapters are broken into topics like “Types of Witches, A Cavalcade of Witches, Entertaining Witches," and "Hunting Witches." There are entries on Hermione Granger, Naamah, Ursula (from “The Little Mermaid”), Nicnevin, Glinda the Good Witch, Moses, Merlin, Countess Bathory, and even Roald Dahl’s Grand High Witch (from his children’s book “The Witches”). She looks not only at typically witchy animals like black cats and owls, but also hyenas and magpies. She is as comfortable summarizing the life of occultist Austin Oman Spare as she is exploring the magical mutants in the X-Men universe. Much of this material can be found in her larger corpus of writing, but as a sort of crib sheet to witches in folklore, mythology, and pop culture, this book serves its purpose.
The downfall of this book is, of course, its brevity. It leaves little room for suggestions on field trials or activities, which could have been a fun practical element of the book. The text also must pass cursorily over many subjects, giving most topics about a page to spill their secrets before bouncing to the next heading. Illes thrives when she has thousands of pages to fill, and the Weiser guide feels a bit caged because of the format and length. Yet I would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in witchcraft as an element of folklore or pop culture, because it provides just the right jumping off point for deeper exploration in literally hundreds of directions. The book does not so much replace the need for many books as open the door to whole libraries of information as yet unexplored. Its length and format hamper it at times, but it does what any good book probably should: it leaves you wanting more.
[Full Disclosure Note: I received this book for free as a prize in a contest. I have not been paid or otherwise coerced by the publisher to write this review. No good or bad review was expected by the publisher, and an honest review has been given by the reviewer.]
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