When most people hear the word witches, they think of horror films and Halloween, but to the nearly one million Americans who practice paganism today, it's a nature-worshipping, polytheistic, and very real religion. So Alex Mar discovers when she sets out to film a documentary and finds herself drawn deep into the world of present-day witchcraft. Witches of America follows Mar on her immersive five-year trip into the occult, charting modern paganism from its roots in 1950s England to its current American mecca in the San Francisco Bay Area. Along the way she takes part in dozens of rituals and becomes involved with a wild array of characters: a government employee who founds a California priesthood dedicated to a Celtic goddess of war; American disciples of Aleister Crowley whose elaborate ceremonies turn the Catholic mass on its head; second-wave feminist Wiccans who practice a radical separatist witchcraft; and a growing "mystery cult" whose initiates trace their rites back to a blind shaman in rural Oregon.
©2015 Alex Mar (P)2015 Tantor
"[Mar takes] readers on an expertly crafted spiritual journey." (Publishers Weekly)
The author documents a personal journey to satisfy her yearning for an "authentic" occult experience. Her documentation is at times very entertaining but she is never really able to let go of her rational, analytical mind. If the author were writing a scholarly review then this would not be a problem, it would be entirely appropriate.
However, the author has written a very personal account not a scholarly, anthropological one. She is forever asking, "Is this real?" In the author's mind (as represented in the book) if magic and the occult is "real" then it is worth her pursuing it. Otherwise, she (and those pursuing it) are pathetically mislead. This is not something an anthropologist would concern themselves with. Nor is the author qualified to pursue the question of scientific proof.
No, the author is writing a personal account of someone yearning for a spiritual experience but unable to let go of her skepticism enough to truly let go. Repeatedly the author will come to the brink of a spiritual breakthrough only to step back before any personal transformation is possible. But she never seems to realize this for herself. It is that lack of self awareness that make the book so weak.
Her constantly asking "is this real?" seems so very childish. For people pursuing a spiritual path "real" can have many meanings but it seldom means real in the way a young child might believe that Santa is real. But for this author that is what "real" seems to mean. In other words, she is asking can magic as practiced by witches change the physical world in a way to make all skeptics into believers? To the author this is the ultimate test of whether or not the people practicing witchcraft are legitimate spiritual practitioners or misguided misfits. The problem with this is that for many (arguably most) spiritual practitioners this not an important question at all. Had the author ever realized this the book would have been much better.
The author seems very unaware of her own biases and limitations and how they effect her perceptions of the people she is writing about. If the author has taken an authentically anthropological approach she might have been able to avoid this.
Alternatively, has she been more aware of how her
The best parts of the book are the ones where she explores her own family. Perhaps because this is the most genuine part of the book.
The writing style is good. I have no fault with the writer's technique. But the book lacks depth for the reasons previously stated.
The reader of the book is excellent and really breathes life into the text.
There are some excellent critiques of this book out there right now. Many in the pagan community are offended by how the author exposes very personal details and feel she has behaved in an unethical manner. The author hasn't really addressed these accusations.
Another valid point made by critics is the fact that the author comes from a privileged segment of our culture and critiques her subjects from that position of privilege without ever really acknowledging her privileged position.
I wanted to find out how far Alex would go in the world of witchcraft. Good history of the American practice, in regions as well as covens.
I came onto the app to find out how to return this book but I can't figure out how. I don't enjoy this book, from the description I anticipated a more fact based documentary but it comes off as more of a pre-teen book report. I'm so mad that this book is so bad because all the descriptions make it sound like it's going to be so cool. I would love to have experienced all that Alex has but not from her point of view. I couldn't finish the book, and I really tried. There are parts of the book that were interesting when she would talk about the facts of a certain group but as soon as she started talking about herself again I would tune out. I don't like all her opinions on everything it creates a negative attitude toward most of what she is witnessing and makes everything come off very childish. She turns something interesting into something "not for her" which is so obnoxious since she's writing the book she should probably be more interested in the subject. Now if literally anyone she met along the way had written this book then I would have enjoyed it. Someone who is serious about the topic and who believes in what they're writing about. This book is maybe for someone who is skeptical about witchcraft and wants to be proved right that its weird.. which is obviously not her target audience and not what I was looking for when I purchased it.
No I would not.
The reader is fine.
The main character
I was so disappointed in this book, I had such high expectations and I was really let down.
Perhaps it's that there isn't a lot of substance and not much rooted in genuine history (other than 1960s drug abuse), but the subjects of this study are quite boring, despite the author's desperate attempts to elevate them beyond their mundane counter-culturalism.
I have little desire to explore this topic further. If I wanted to know more about fringe "Wiccan" misfits, I would attend Burning Man.
The performance of the book is clean and engaging; without it, the book would be entirely intolerable.
The little devil on this sub-par author's shoulder can be heard--amid the din of this text--screaming to her to embrace this juvenile rustic communal lifestyle against which the better angels of her (insufficient) skepticism wimper their protests.
Do not read this unless you want to feel an abiding sense of pity that this author has wasted what seems to be an enormous portion of both her (and now my) fleeting time on Earth with these idiotic people that call themselves "witches." If you're looking for a seasonal Halloween read, find one of several books about Celtic mythology or the Salem Witch Trials that explore consequential historical episodes, as opposed to this (lavatory) rag that will give you more insight than you could ever hope for into the modern gothic--still as ridiculous as it was when Austen wrote Northanger Abbey, and even more despicable for its link to adolescent 60s indolence.
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