I am doing a no-no. I'm reviewing this book before I've finished it. I'm less than 70 pages away from the end, but I just can't continue without getting my gripes out. It's hindering my reading.
First, I should say that if you know me you know that I am very open to the ideas and beliefs of any religion, at least any that I have encountered so far, with the exception of full out devil-worship (I haven't come across that religion specifically, or anyone who has claimed it, but have come across some who have practiced it without knowing it). Anyway, I very much apply the "live and let live" concept in this respect.
However, I am bothered by what seems to be the fact that the only thing that all religions have in common is that, if you listen to many of the practitioners, each one seems to hold the other in disdain.
Phyllis Curott is no different. Though she tries to seem to do it in a kinder, gentler no-I-really-do-accept-everyone way, you can read between the lines that she is putting down traditional, patriarchal religions (Christianity, primarily) in favor of her Wiccan path.
I am sure that each person prefers their own religion, that's why they picked it after all, but why can't our beliefs be stated without the snootiness of negating other beliefs? Why can't we make positive statements about our own beliefs without making overtly negative statements about others'? I very much believe in comparison and contrast, but it can be done in an objective way that doesn't hold your nose against everyone who doesn't agree with you.
As for myself, I am an active agnostic. What that means to me is that I definitely believe there is a God, and I have my own personal ways of dealing with that, only I don't believe that any of us, any one religion, is really right, perhaps because of the fact that they are all so segregated. Maybe all of us are all right, in which case we all have a lot to learn from each other. Each religion, and practitioner, needs to take a more humble attitude, in my opinion. Look at all of the Gods and Goddesses we have (we have created?), from the beginning of time on. The plurality of our Gods - even, for some religions, the personalities of our Gods - reflect the plurality and diversity of ourselves as humans.
In any case, from the very beginning of this book, I was disappointed with Curott's self-righteous attitude as "Wiccan High Priestess," as she names herself, not only in respect to her own religion, but even in her own practice of her religion as opposed to other practitioners of her same religion. It put a chip on my shoulder, which made the book difficult to read.
Now on to some more specifics of the book.
From the title on, this book purports to be a more spiritual guide rather than a recipe book of spells. Curott herself makes this point plain throughout. However, if you just flip through it, you can see very readily that she does indeed include various "exercises" and "practices," complete with instructions and suggested scripts, labeled for "basic" to "advanced." Again with the hierarchy. Again with the idea that one person could possibly know God more than another person, could be more advanced, and that any of us has the right to instruct anyone else in this regard. Instead of the more humble act of sharing beliefs and thoughts and rituals, we are confined and narrowed down to this religious hierarchy. Plus, Curott just does the complete opposite of what she said she wanted to do by providing recipes and scripts and labeling them "exercises" and "practices."
Maybe I'm just a buck-the-religious-system kind of person, but I do not like recipes, or spells, or what have you. Plus, what if I don't have 4 white candles and 2 green? What if I don't feel like going diosel or windershins, or window chickens, or whatever the hell? What if I want to do what I feel led to do, for me? I'm okay with the concept of ritual, I believe the need for ritual is universal, and is a beautiful and creative expression of our back and forth communication with God, and I don't need anyone to tell me how to do that. I'm open to suggestion, to study of the ancient beliefs, religions and rituals - I think we have a lot to learn from our religious history and would very much be open to applying that to my own (for example, I do like the charts that Curott provides which list oracles, tools, correspondences (pg. 78) and other information rather than instruction)), but I don't like the idea that if I turn the wrong way I'm opening myself up to the Wrath of the Ages. I simply don't believe that's true. I believe that, ultimately, and primarily, God, or Spirit, or Divine is of Grace, and that we will receive grace and blessings even if we don't lay down on a mat and face East. Now, if that's how you feel closer to God, fine, but, for me, it might just hurt my knees. I don't care how "advanced" you consider yourself to be, or how "basic" you consider me to be, I have the right to form my own rituals and human ways of connecting to God, and they will "work" just as well as yours. I don't think the human need for power and our weak little struggles for self-esteem wrapped up in the better-than-you, I'm-a-Shaman-Highest-Priestess-to-the-Millionth-Degree syndrome should enter into our relationship with the Higher Power(s). In fact, I think that that is the last place it should enter in. You may know more incantations and have more candles, but my beliefs are led by the heart, and are just as good as yours. I don't like Pentagrams. Big whoop.
Another thing about recipes/incantations/chants/spells: I don't like the word "spell" because, again, it opens us up to the idea that any person can be more powerful than another person. I much prefer the word "ritual," because it connotes something that any of us can do, on a level plain, which is really the way I think things work. None of us has any more power than the other, but we are all powerful in our own respect at equal levels, when we connect with, listen, and try to act accordingly to what our God/s/esses tell us.
Spells connote something we do to affect something outside of ourselves, ritual connotes something we do to affect something inside ourselves, which is what I believe has to take place for anything outside of ourselves to happen. When we connect with the spiritual and are therefore affected ourselves, that is when we have true power to change or affect anything else. I don't believe that spells have any affect on anyone or anything other than yourself, allowing you not to "make" magic, but to go out into the world and be the magic.
In addition to the charts, here is another part I like, my favorite paragraph in the book, interestingly enough in italics, so it must be important to Curott too:
"My own perspective is that spells and rituals are a gorgeous form of spiritual expression and, when done from the right heart space, they are charged with divinity and creativity. A spell or ritual is a process of discovering and expressing the deepest truths about the world, and yourself, through the highest human faculties - our aesthetic and devine sensibilities. It is the art of transforming ourselves and the world into something sacred."
If a "high priestess" in your "coven" who has her periods in sync with the full moon casts a spell for "Prosperity" and she strikes the lottery the next day, and you do the same and the guy who clears the tables at your restaurant steals your tips, that doesn't mean that you're a less-advanced or less "powerful" witch (I don't like the term "witch" either, for the same power connotation as "spell"). It simply means that you work with a son-of-a-bitch. Go do a ritual and meditate on how God/s/esses want you to deal with it.
Finally, I just have to say that I do not like the concept of "working" within any religious context Wiccan/witch/Pagan or otherwise. Christianity purports that man is not saved "by works alone," in fact is not saved at all but by Christ. Supposedly we need not to anything other than accept Christ, and then we will be given Grace (after which you are expected to work to produce "Fruits of the Spirit" in order to prove to ourselves and others that Christ-is-in-our-lives, and in order to receive more grace in our daily lives rather than just after-life insurance, but they don't get into that until the second Sunday school class). But, as Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori (thank you, Raekan!) points out, taking the words right out of my brain, accepting Christ is a work. So, ultimately, Christians have a script to repeat, an incantation, too (Believe me, in my past lives as a Lutheran, a Baptist, etc., I've seen it in black and white form many times. You probably have too. Also, Catholics use incense and have those little stand-up-and-down-in-unison things and repeat-after-me-from-this-book-of-scripts thing, and the monks chant and plus some other stuff they integrated into their celebrations that they stole from...hey Wiccans - any of this sounding a little bit like anything else???). In any case, I do not believe that we need to work in any respect to receive anything from God/s/esses. I think blessings are freely given, and that we receive both good and bad to grow us as humans into people that are closer to God/s/esses, our only truly righteous Guide, and that any ritual we perform, spell we cast, chant we say or prayer should all just be each of our own ways to connect to that God/s/esses and know that blessings are true, that both blessings and trials are coming (they always are), and that we are/will be okay.