Dugan, Ellen. Elements of Witchcraft: Natural Magick for Teens. Llewellyn, 2003. Paperback, 255 pages.
This is the best book about Witchcraft for teenagers that I’ve seen. Since that’s a bit of damning with faint praise, let me also say that this is also an introductory book on Wicca and Witchcraft that I would recommend to just about anyone. It’s comprehensive, coherent, and well-written. There is plenty of clear advice on the practice of Wicca and a thorough grounding in the religious foundation. Most of all, this writer knows what she’s talking about, both about Witchcraft and about teenagers, and she conveys her information clearly and with good humor as well as a heavy dose of common sense. In her introduction, she says point-blank, “I worked hard and practiced my butt off…just as you’re going to do.” (6)
Dugan opens with a practical example: a story about a teen Witch doing a spell that helped find a lost pet. This practical focus continues throughout the book, but not in the sense that it’s full of spells and light on theory. The introduction has plenty of theory, including the basics of raising power and focusing it on an intention, but everything there is a frame for what comes later. Dugan quickly covers what magic is, what it isn’t, and what her book is about. She even provides a simple healing ritual, and uses it to debunk overblown ideas of magic that a lot of teens (and adults, to be honest) come in with. “What? You were expecting thunder and lighting as the wind whipped around your celestial robes? I sure hope you aren’t standing under any big trees. … Do you want the truth about magick, or fiction? The truth, then.” (10)
There’s a perennial debate about whether “Wiccan” and “Witch” mean the same thing. One argument goes that Wicca is a religion but Witchcraft is a practice (of magic). Theoretically, someone could be a Witch without believing in the religion of Wicca, and one can be a Wiccan who does no Witchcraft. Personally, I accept the intellectual validity of this argument, but have a hard time imagining such separations in reality. (For example, although I accept it is possible for someone to be a Christian Witch, and won’t argue with someone else’s self-identification as such, I privately suspect that most people who want to be in that category haven’t done the heavy intellectual lifting of investigating how their belief and practice do and don’t go together.) This long aside is a way of saying that Dugan’s book is appropriately titled: it is much more about Witchcraft than about Wicca, but she does identify as Wiccan and explicitly connects the two. She also discusses the basics of Wicca as a religion, but most of the work is devoted to Witchcraft, with the religious component being an implicit backdrop.
Her second chapter is about ethics, and she starts it out with a very frank discussion of dabbling, the usual reasons teens do it, and why it’s a very, very bad idea. This discussion of intent lets her provide a mix of theoretical and experience-based examples and guidelines. Especially for a book so heavy on the details of practice, this is an excellent, excellent way to start out. She can’t stop people from skimming through for the spells, but she’s done her darndest to set up the book to make that not easy and obviously a bad idea. Kudos!
The next four chapters are the four elements, with information on how to do magic based on each of the elements: stones for Earth, music and feathers for Air, candles for Fire, scrying for Water. Dugan starts each chapter with a guided meditation on the element, and also gives correspondences and discusses elementals. Specific spells and her personal examples also round out the chapters. One of my favorite things about these chapters is her practical suggestions for teens to adapt to their situation: what to do if you are not allowed to burn incense or candles and statements like, “A Witch is not judged by how much he or she spends on occult supplies.” (89)
These are followed by a chapter on working with flowers and trees and a chapter on the God, the Goddess, and the magickal year, which summarizes the essentials of Wicca as a religion. Dugan gives a chapter on tools, and then does one of the best concluding sections I’ve ever seen: her final three chapters return to the issues of living as a Wiccan and practicing magic. While she provides more essential information and pulls the entire book together, she clearly places the burden back on the reader, both to pursue the hard work of learning and to face the challenge – if and only if you want to and you think you’re ready – of walking the talk.
In her discussion of circle-casting, Dugan also gives some of the best guidelines I’ve ever seen for when casting a circle is and is not necessary. These are only her practices, and they’re presented after she challenges the reader to think about it for herself, but they’re a good expression of what I’d been working on for a while. She also gives more ethical examples (and counter-examples) and practical advice, including “Acting responsibly is a vital part of wielding power.” (206) Finally, Dugan gives a self-test for the reader to evaluate his understanding and readiness, and only after that, and thorough discussion, provides a self-dedication ritual, followed immediately by resources for more learning.
I seldom recommend a book so whole-heartedly. I don’t know if this will become a classic, and I’m not about to christen it as one yet, but it’s a work I’d share almost without reservation to a seeker trying to get to know more about Witchcraft and Wicca.