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Friday, 9 July 2010

An Important Book That Is Sure To Stir Controversy

An Important Book That Is Sure To Stir Controversy Cover 404: Advanced Goddess Thealogy, June 7, 2007

Most popular versions of Wicca, to the extent that they attempt serious thealogical explorations at all, tend to envision the wiccan Goddess as some brand of "Jehovah in a dress," a female deity, for sure, but still "deity" as that term has been defined for the last several thousand years by Middle Eastern religions like Christianity, Judaism or Islam, a supernatural "other" who created the universe and who from then on stands "outside" Creation somewhere, looking down on humans from "above." Just like the Christian G-O-D, only a girl. I'm sure many will take insult at this uncharitable characterization, but I shared it, too, without even realizing it, before I read "Wicca 404," so I'm not pointing fingers. It's very hard to recognize how subtly trapped we might be within a Christianized worldview until we have had opportunity to see our understanding (or lack thereof) contrasted against a view as utterly foreign to the "big wo/man in the sky" conception of deity as is Esra Free's wholly pantheistic "Great Cosmic Goddess." This is deity as natural phenomenon, not just some lovey-dovey "Goddess of Nature" out there somewhere, but the whole physical universe, the entire natural world, as the living, breathing body of a being as physically real as you or me, whose spirit we intuit as Divine Intelligence (Goddess), and within whose physical, emotional and spiritual life processes we humans play an integral, organic, even cellular, role. Starting from the simple contention that wicca is a natural, as opposed to a supernatural, religion, Free builds a convincing step by step case for a view of the Goddess that I think our pre-Christian European ancestors would have wholeheartedly endorsed. Along the way, she explains how and why magick works, why we human beings exist, and just exactly what we ought to be doing with our lives. This is mind-expandingly good stuff with the potential to reshape Wicca as we have come to know it here in 21st Century America. Take heed!

That praise delivered, the reader should also be warned that Esra Free is V-E-R-Y opinionated (negatively) toward Christianity (and to a lesser extent, Islam and Judaism), and expresses something of a grudge, as well, against Traditional Coven Wicca. In the second half of the book, a chatty and revealingly personal interview with the author from the pages of The Wiccan/Pagan Times, she repeatedly opens her response to various questions involving covencraft with versions of the phrase, "I'll probably make somebody mad saying this, but..." - and then she goes right ahead and says things she might have been wiser to hold her tongue about, unless she is intentionally trying to start a "witch war" with Traditionals. Which may well be exactly what she hopes to accomplish, as she is clearly a staunch champion of Solitaries everywhere, and of their stature within the Wiccan community. She even coins the (to my mind, quite brilliant) phrase "coven of solitaries" to describe groups all over the world (including her own "Cosmic Goddess Coven") who use the word "coven" to describe their assemblages, but who freely admit to having no connection to anything even vaguely resembling any supposed "Paleolithic Lineage" going back to pre-Christian times. They ("we," as this describes me and mine to a tee) are, instead, learning the Craft from books, from each other and from hard-won personal mystical experience, and for Free, that's what Wicca is all about. She paints a highly democratic/romantic image of brave bands of solitaires coming together to push back the farthest frontiers of magick and human culture that seems as consciously calculated to alienate Traditional wiccans as it is designed to inspire Solitary practitioners. I will be very curious to observe how the Traditional community responds to this book, especially should the "coven of solitaries" concept catch fire...

My only other "negative" comment about the book is that it has something of a "copped together" feel to it, as if the "Wicca 404" in our hands represents a sampling of a larger, perhaps unfinished, work (that may still be forthcoming?). Free mentions in the interview section that much of the material included in the book originated in lessons developed for initiates into the "Cosmic Goddess Coven," so maybe that explains it. The first five chapters work fluidly together as a seamless and convincing exploration of Free's pantheistic understanding of the true nature of the Great Goddess of Wicca. Her chapters on the Wiccan God and on "Doing" (with acknowledged reference to the early 20th Century metaphysical "Work" of Russian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff) seem a bit abbreviated and "forced" after that long, smooth flow. Her chapter on "Eclecticism," while thoughtful and thought-provoking, once again bolsters Solitaries at the unsparing expense of Traditionals. As a Solitary myself, working with a group of magickal friends who meet Free's definition of a "coven of solitaries," I must admit that I personally enjoyed her perspective a great deal - but I can see where it's going to raise hackles amongst a certain crowd. 'Nuff said...

Wicca 404 is a bit uneven in places, but overall, the author's take on the Goddess, and our role as human beings in her life, is nothing short of breathtaking in its scope. The interview is highly entertaining, and the first five chapters are outright revolutionary in their pantheistic re-visioning of the core theological underpinnings of the Wiccan religion. I predict that this book will stir up a number of stormy but ultimately healthy and long-overdue controversies in the Wiccan/Pagan community. It's worth the price just to know what everybody's going to be talking about...

And speaking of "price," here is my final assessment of Esra Free's "Wicca 404": I initially read this book as a .PDF download sent to me as a free review copy by the author, who found my blog on the Internet and hoped I might help publicize her book by publishing a review. Well, here's the review, and what's more, I am right this moment heading off to drop the very reasonable $8.95 necessary to add a print copy of "Wicca 404" to my magickal reference bookshelf. I recommend you do the same!

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