Book Review: Cunningham's Book of Shadows: The Path of an American Traditionalist
I just finished Cunningham's Book of Shadows, and I must say I am rather disappointed. The territory covered in this much-anticipated book is nothing new. In fact, the majority of it seems to be either blatant cut & paste copies of his other books, or eerily similar information provided in his other texts. Some of the newer information, however, shows a side of Cunningham that was a little bit more embracive of the darker aspects of the craft, which is oddly a positive aspect.
In this BOS, Cunningham details information on bindings (Herbs, Plants, Flowers that Bind pg. 149) and cursing someone using poppet magic (To Destroy Another’s Power To Do Harm pg. 191) - though he recommends that you use this method, instead, to destroy aspects or weapons of that individual that would do you harm. This is nice to see from one of the most prolific authors of Paganism 101 texts, who has a decidedly ‘love and light’ bent in his teachings. Other taboo subjects that are touched upon are the Use of Baneful Herbs by Witches (pg. 199) and his love spells which can be found in nearly every chapter. While this book might not necessarily be intended for use by your average 101-er, it is most definitely written at least on a 102 level, and I’m glad that Llewellyn published a text that at least mentions that it’s ok to have darker or, rather, more direct methods of accomplishing your intent.
However, that’s about where my fascination with the text ends. Sure it’s pretty in its rare-for-Llewellyn hardbound cover, and a little kitschy in the fact that they included some supposed copies of Cunningham’s original manuscript, but that’s all just fluff to hide the fact that this is like a greatest hits listing of his other books. After the end of every single chapter reads a phrase that is something similar to “Excerpted from Other Book Title by Scott Cunningham.” And the areas of the book, which are supposedly brand new, are really just retreading similar 101/Llewellyn/Cunningham material (The Circle of Stones from Wicca: A Guide…, several chapters on correspondences and formulas which all seem to be torn from the pages of his three encyclopedias, etc.). While not true copies, they are most assuredly kissing cousins.
Where I cannot forgive the book is the inclusion of utterly false information. Yet again, we have a widely read pagan author touting the idea of the Burning Times (pgs. 202-203), a war on actual Witches waged by the Church (pg. 107), and the notion that ancient Wiccans existed (pgs. 204-205 among others). All of the above has been proven false time and time again, yet massive pagan publishing houses still allow, and seem to insist upon including, this notion that 9 million women were burned at the stake for being God&Goddess-worshipping Wiccans that reincarnated from the magical folk of Atlantis. (Which, of course, Cunningham includes on pg. 205 along with his theory that witches are modern descendants of aliens that flew to this planet in silver needles and copulated with its inhabitants, creating the super-intelligent, super-magical society of Atlantis. Yes, that’s really in the book.)
Oh, and he also includes a Curse on pg. 77 which is supposed to be laid upon anyone that would “[release] the secrets of the Craft, such as are contained within this Book…” This seems a bit strange and hypocritical as he just published all of these supposed “secrets” for any Joe Shmo to pick up and peruse. Time and time again he talks about the sensitive nature of the information within the book and how it shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. (I’m glad the publisher has this as an online-purchase-only book, as people could just pick it up in the bookstore and learn all the ancient Wiccan secrets.)
The book is redeemed in the aspect that not everyone that purchases it may also have purchased his other books. I would most definitely recommend buying the book if:
1. You love Cunningham, like I do, and want to own pretty much everything he’s written. (Honestly, I do.)
2. You’ve moved on from 101 texts to at least the 102 level of pagan books.
3. You’re sound enough in your own beliefs that you can read this book and not take every word as gospel.
For a Cunningham lover, it’s a nice addition to your pagan library. However, it is not a must-buy if you already own his other encyclopedias and either of his Wicca textbooks. Also, I understand the publisher’s desire to include Cunningham’s full opinion and belief for his fans, but I am just not sure they should have included information that is known to be completely false and misleading.
Overall, it’s a 3-star, okay text that isn’t really something you need to buy unless you’re a diehard fan. Have you read it yet? If so, what was your opinion? Was I too harsh? Too lenient? Let me know!
Love and Lyte,