Posted by: Nyxks | January 23, 2007

Hereditary Witchcraft

Hereditary Witchcraft
by Raven Grimassi © 1999
Llewellyn Worldwide
216 pages + Appendices, Glossary, Bibliography, Reading List & Index
ISBN 1-56718-256-9
$14.95 (U.S.)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

Before I begin this review I must admit to a preexisting bias against Strega. It was based, not on the religion itself but, on the behavior of those few Streghe I had actually met and interacted with. Their attitudes had turned me off. So, I was predisposed to dislike this book.

As I began reading this book, I encountered ideas and concepts which I had encountered many times before, from a variety of sources – many of which had rubbed me the wrong way when I first encountered them. The fact that these concepts affected me differently this time around can be partly explained by my growing understanding over the years. But, and this is an important “but,” even more so by the way Raven explains the concepts. It makes a great deal of difference in how the reader perceives what is written. Mr. Grimassi takes the time to show the reasoning behind the statements he makes. “Old Timers” out there may remember Dr. Leo Louis Martello. He made many of the same statements, but followed them with something along the lines of “But my oaths prevent me from saying any more. You just have to take my word for it.”

The first half of the book is devoted to the background and mythos of Italian Witchcraft. The myths contained herein are NOT consistent, which is all the more convincing in my opinion. Myths grow and evolve. They also change with the person relating the stories. This is only natural.

There are plenty of citations from pre-20th Century sources, including Charles Leland’s Aradia. It serves to underscore the fact that there were pre-Gardner sources for much of what has evolved into modern-day Wicca. Many folks have cited these similarities as proof that Strega borrowed from Wicca, overlooking the fact that Aradia appeared in print more than half a century before Gardner’s work.

The second half of the book begins with solitary rituals, which is a good way to start, in my opinion. In describing the altar set-up, Raven avoids a very common situation. Rather than saying, for example, “Place the goddess candle on the left side,” he says “Set a green candle (representing the goddess) at the northwest corner of the altar.” Since he already said you will be facing north when you look over the altar, there is no question where the candle is to be placed. On the other hand, “.on the left” doesn’t if it is on the left as the altar faces the center of the circle, or on your left as you face the altar. Mr. Grimassi’s way is much clearer.

Precise instructions are given for setting up the altar, casting and uncasting the circle, and conducting the rituals. To many practitioners of modern Wicca (which is quite eclectic and encourages “free form” rituals) these instructions will seem too restrictive and authoritarian. Many people have forgotten, or never learned, that the purpose behind repeating certain acts, gestures, and wordings is to tap into the reservoir of energy attached to them. There is no need to be constantly reinventing the wheel.

The ninth chapter contains “Runic Rites and Symbols,” but if you are looking for the “standard” runes, you won’t find them here. The runes in this section comprise several different origins and uses.

Those who have earlier works by this author may be surprised to learn that these earlier works contained deliberate misstatements (or “blinds” as they are sometimes known). This is a technique which has been used in the past. It serves the purpose of separating the posers from the true initiates. This time around, there are no deliberate attempts to mislead the reader. There are some things which are not stated, but Raven lets you know. Up front, that he is omitting information.

While this is not a “Book of Shadows,” it is an excellent presentation of the beliefs of those who practice Strega. I am sure that there are those practitioners who could find fault with this book, but, as an outsider looking in, I found it to be an interesting, apparently balanced, introduction to the subject.

The appendices to this work contain an assortment of background information – basic backgrounds on Charles Godfrey Leland and some of the better-known proponents of non-Italian European Witchcraft, an assortment of historical references to Aradia, the origins of many of the concepts of modern Wicca, as well as the original Italian texts of several spells. Although most of this information is available elsewhere, the appendices provide a convenient place to find it all.

The (extremely abbreviated) Glossary is a nice touch, but I felt it could have benefited from being more in-depth. Twenty-one words on two pages doesn’t do justice to the title “Glossary” – perhaps “word list” would have been more appropriate.

On a scale of one-to-ten, I would have to put this book at about eight. There were several editing gaffes – none of which are of major importance. Overall, it was a pleasure to read.

I can easily sympathize with the author’s desire to make sure that the old knowledge continues to be passed along. I, too, have seen the steady loss of older material over the past few decades. This book is a worthwhile attempt to halt the erosion and shore up the foundation of one branch of Witchcraft, and I strongly applaud Raven for making the information available to the public.

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