November 26, 2012
A fascinating look at magic found in unexpected places.
Had I not been asked to review this book, I probably wouldn’t have read it. The cover, with a red voodoo doll stuck with pins is a bit off-putting. But the subhead is intriguing, for it says, “Dark Arts, Sex Spells, Money Magic, and Other Things Your Neighbors Aren’t Telling You.” And after opening the book, I found myself fascinated.
Not In Kansas Anymore: A Curious Tale of How Magic Is Transforming America is not, and does not intend to be, a definitive study of wiccan, witchcraft and other forms of magic, and it’s not research from an ivory tower reporting on the studies of others. Rather, it is a warmly told story of the author’s year-long journey among people who see the world a bit differently than the rest of us do. And it is Wicker’s talent in writing that draws us into knowing these people, liking most of them, and being truly interested in learning why they believe as they do.
Along the way, I learned a great deal. For example, she notes that:
“At the same time that Galileo and Kepler trafficked in horoscopes, alchemy fostered a trial-and-error method of experimentation that, coupled with dogged persistence, would soon evolve into the scientific method and yield much more than gold. Magic was the template of science, writes science author James Gleick, citing Friedrich Nietzsche, who asked, ‘Do you believe then that the sciences would ever have arisen and become great if there had not beforehand been magicians, alchemists, astrologers, and wizards, who thirsted and hungered after abscondite and forbidden powers?’ ”
Wicker notes that while the formation of the Wiccan movement’s beginnings are shrouded in falsehood and misunderstanding . . .
“This is true of other magical beginnings as well. As a result, one of the hardest turns to make in understanding magical people — and in understanding many spiritual truths — is coming to grips with the difference between lies, fantasy, and mythical or greater truths. The same might be said of the major religious traditions, and has been said, much to the fury of the more fundamentalist faithful. It is almost as though humans need some grand vision, some story greater than what ordinary life provides, in order to understand mysteries beyond what we see every day. We seem to need symbols and drama to fire our imaginations. A simple rendition of the facts, as true as they may be, simply won’t do the job.”
Toward the end of the book, after she has described the various experiences she’s seen and heard of in her year of research, she makes a comment I feel is particularly valuable to consider, especially for those who automatically dismiss the experiences of others. She writes:
“Action and results — the two go together. You can call it religion, you can call it spirituality, you can call it magic. Maybe what you call it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you don’t settle for being cut off, that you take the power, that you demand the completeness of human experience. To taste fully of all that we perceive, to expand our hopefulness beyond the heavens is our birthright. We aren’t here only for confusion and disillusionment. We aren’t born merely for death. We are here also for transcendence, to savor the numinous, to wander through the shifting corridors of meaning, and to follow them wherever they take us. If we go too far, we can stop. We can backtrack, we can recant, we can be inconsistent, illogical. What we must not do — no matter what the scientists tell us — is allow ourselves to be cut off from our own experience of life as it presents itself to us. If we do, we will have lost the very ground beneath our feet.”
I recommend this book for anyone who has an inquisitive and open mind. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn. I also recommend you read the reviews on Amazon.com by practicing pagans, for a slightly different perspective. All and all, an enjoyable read for the curious.
If you would like to read more about Not In Kansas, come back Thursday to read an excerpt .
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