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The Book of English Magic |
Author: Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate [a Witchvox Sponsor]
Publisher: John Murray
Category: Magic Level: All
“This will remain the standard work for years to come.” - Suzi Feay, The Sunday Telegraph
Magic runs through the veins of English history and culture; it has been part of our daily lives from the earliest Arthurian legends to the novels of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, and from the Druids to Queen Elizabeth I’s astrologer Dr Dee. The image of the magician is exciting and tantalising, and familiar to us all. Think of Merlin or Gandalf and we think of excitement, mystery and adventure. But what do we feel or even know about real magicians – those figures who throughout history have practiced the kind of magic that for centuries was a forbidden art? Torn between a fascination with magic and an almost instinctive fear of it, most people have no idea of the central role magic has played in England’s past – and still plays today. England has acted as home to generations of eccentrics and scholars who have researched and explored every conceivable kind of occult art. Some of these have also played significant roles in the development of the arts and sciences. Extraordinary as it may seem, there are now more practising wizards in England than at any other time in her history. Some will see this as an example of the triumph of irrationalism, others as evidence of a rebirth in an understanding of the world that is only now being touched upon by the most advanced physicists and cosmologists. Whatever your beliefs about magic, The Book of English Magic will introduce you to some of the most interesting contemporary practitioners of magic, and to many of the most important figures in the magical world of previous centuries. Every chapter also contains suggestions of things to do and magical places to visit, as well as further reading lists of books and fascinating websites. Among the suggested magical sites to visit are the obvious old favourites – Stonehenge, Temple Church in London, Mother Shipton’s cave in Yorkshire – as well as some more surprising ones, such as The King’s Arms tavern in London; Brickett Wood in Hertfordshire; the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle and the Arthur Findlay College in Stansted. Through experiments to try and places to visit, as well as an historical exploration of magic and interviews with leading magicians, The Book of English Magic will introduce you to the extraordinary world that lies just beneath the surface of our everyday lives.
“A richly illustrated and erudite treasure-house of a book.” - The Good Book Guide
“I wish all books on occult history were as clearly written, as entertaining and as full of fascinating facts.” - The Bad Witch’s Blog
Imagine you have unlimited funds and a few years to spare, and that you decide to explore the history and practice of magic. Where should you go to pursue your researches? Should you trawl the libraries of Paris or the Vatican, or the museums and back-streets of Cairo? No. Your best move would be to locate yourself in England, preferably London. Why? Because, of all the countries in the world, England has become the repository of the greatest variety of magical traditions. Here Druids and witches, Anglo-Saxon sorcerers, Freemasons, Victorian ritual magicians and modern Chaos magicians have all pursued their activities in a landscape layered with history and with sacred sites: stone circles and holy wells, ancient dolmens and Templar churches. The streets of London are steeped in associations with the world of magic, and today there are more practising wizards at work in the capital than at any other time in her history.
In writing The Book of English Magic, fellow author Richard Heygate and I set out to convey the uniqueness and richness of this heritage by writing a survey of magical practice in England from the prehistoric era to the modern day. Luckily our publisher, John Murray, fictionally cited as having issued a similar work in Susanna Clarke’s novel Jonathan Strange & Dr Norrell, gave us room to do this: 562 pages. But we wanted to do more than simply tell the story of the different kind of magics that had been born or imported into this country. We wanted to show how every kind of wizardry that we wrote about, however old, is still being practised today, and so we set out to interview over fifty modern-day magicians. We talked to alchemists who gaze into bubbling retorts, to a psychologist who follows the way of Anglo-Saxon sorcery, to cunning folk, druids and witches, members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, to Freemasons, shamans and chaos magicians.
We then popped these interviews into the cauldron, added a series of biographies of leading magicians through the ages, insights into magical fiction, including details of the Rosicrucian sources used by J.K.Rowling and Philip Pullman, and stirred gently until the next ingredient was ready: a series of experiments that would make the subject matter come alive. However much you might read of history, or of the experiences of other people, it is only when you roll up your sleeves and try out a few things that you can begin to understand a subject, and so we devised a number of exercises for our readers, while introducing the necessary cautions in sections entitled ‘Traps for the Sorcerer’s Apprentice’. Our mapmaker then produced maps of magical England and London, we added appendices that detailed the biographies and autobiographies of English magicians, suggested the itinerary for a magical walk through London, and included a vital section: ‘The Importance of the Armchair in the Training of a Magician’.
The manuscript was almost ready, but so that the book would act both as an introduction to the subject for the uninitiated, and as a work that would satisfy someone already steeped in occult lore, we made sure that everywhere pieces of information were embedded that would bring a sparkle to the eye of even the most jaded practitioner. As one example, we’ve managed to track down the likely origins of the candle magic so frequently cited as part of traditional magical practice, and those in the know should find plenty of interesting leads in the notes section given for each chapter.
Ever-present, throughout the book, is the image and the archetype of the mage whose hold over our imaginations is so strong because she or he is a figure in touch with both this world and the Otherworld. Unlike the mystic or saint who is often more otherworldly, the magician acts in the material and the spiritual worlds to effect changes in both consciousness and matter. In doing this, they can be found working in the domains of religion, politics, science, medicine and the arts. The greatest of our magicians have operated in more than one of these fields: the 13th century alchemist Roger Bacon was interested in mathematics and medicine, as well as in mystic communion; in the 16th century Dr John Dee wanted to speak with angels, and acted as counsellor to Queen Elizabeth; in the 17th century Elias Ashmole was a scientist and antiquarian as well as an astrologer and Freemason. Today we still find magic at work in all these fields: politicians (or more usually their wives) consult astrologers, alternative healers make use of magical principles, and many scientists and artists are aware of the power of consciousness to induce inspiration and effect change.
Of what value is a study of the history and practice of magic? Of what possible use can magic be in this modern age? A poet or artist might say it is supremely necessary to give inspiration to the soul, a psychologist or philosopher might say that magic can provide meaning in a world that can try us all at times. Like Hermes, who is both messenger of the gods and patron of thieves, magic can be used to dazzle and seduce, to curse and summon demons, or it can be used to heal, to inspire, to acquire knowledge and to effect personal transformation.
For some, magic offers a means for changing consciousness, for others it promises a way of accessing the spirit-world, to others still it offers ways of manipulating the circumstances of their lives or of opening themselves to a sense of awe and wonder. Whatever it is that draws you to magic, today we have more resources at our disposal than at any other time in history. All we need is a reliable guide to a subject that is sometimes bewildering in the profusion of information about it that now exists in the world of books and cyberspace. Hopefully The Book of English Magic can act as such a guide.
THE BOOK OF ENGLISH MAGIC by Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate, published by John Murray, Ł25.00 Illustrated Hardback (562 pages) . You can read more about the book at www.bookofenglishmagic.com.
Where To Buy: The book has been published in England in hardcover. You can buy copies through Amazon, Amazon re-sellers or - if you want an author-signed copy - from the online store of The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids at:
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