The Book of English Magic turned out to have two very special magic powers:
- It made me realise that I’m nowhere near as open-minded as I think I am, and
- It managed to make one minute of reading fell like ten years of slogging through swampland
Let me explain…
Despite not being at all spiritual or religious myself, I do enjoy reading about the beliefs that some people hold as a way of trying to better understand them. Whilst I’ve often then arrived at some kind of understanding, in the same way that I would understand a story, I still find myself really struggling to understand how someone can actually believe whatever it is I’ve just read to the point of living their lives by it (in the case of real believers, that is. I better understand the people that I come across more regularly, who simply like to use those beliefs as a stick to beat others with whilst ignoring whatever part of those doctrines don’t conveniently fit their own lifestyles).
That said, I also spend most of my reading life inhabiting a world that is full of the magic that I don’t believe in in real life. The Book of English Magic promised to bring this all together, and talk about the history of practising magic in England while also looking at the literature in which it has flourished, topping it all off with some pointers for those looking to begin their own magical practice. I was in this for the first two promises, thinking that I could just ignore the third. That didn’t really work so well for me.
The Book of English Magic is an extremely comprehensive book on the various strands of magic that have been practiced in these isles, whether that be dowsing, the casting of runes, numerology, tarot, crystal balls, transmutation, and so on. In doing so, it also looks at the various orders that have sprung up over the ages, be they pagans, freemasons, chaos magickians (their own spelling, not mine) and so on. Each chapter includes notes on further reading resources, interviews with current practitioners, and notes on how to practice this type of magic yourself.
From a historical perspective, this was fairly interesting…however, the utter sincerity with which everything was presented started to make me feel like I was going to strain something (this was not helped by the practitioner interviews being presented in a very light grey which was absolute murder on the eyes). Before long I found myself struggling not to roll my eyes at the (in my opinion) nonsense being presented as mystical, ancient truths, especially in the cases – which were many – where the meaning for runes, tarot cards, magical rites and such had all turned out to have been made up by a handful of people in the 60s. I soon found myself reading a couple of sentences, scoffing loudly, and then wandering off to do something else instead. Which is why it took me six weeks to finish what should have been a fairly quick read (I should do what most people do and give up when they’re not enjoying a book, but it simply isn’t in me to leave one unfinished – possibly one of my biggest pet peeves about myself as I know I’m only torturing myself in these instances).
If you are (unlike me, apparently) a genuinely open-minded person who is at all interested in different belief systems, or someone who would quite like to dabble in some practical magic, you’ll find a lot more to like in this book than I did. I think I’m better off sticking with Tolkien.