Lee Morgan has delivered a corker of a first book; easily read, engaging, intriguing, poetic and deep. I have no hesitation in recommending it highly. Lee is clear in her intention:
It is my aim to make the practical implications of this [new] witchcraft scholarship available through the lens of my own occult experience, namely in Traditional Witchcraft.
Since of course there is precious little evidence that any traditional religious Witchcraft existed in pre-modern Europe, this is an interesting intention. Witchcraft has been, and remains for the majority a word for malefic magic and practice. Folk did not self-identify as ‘witches’, much less as Pagan-religious Witches, until the early 20th century. Lee is able to accommodate this academic consensus within a practical book on traditional Witch methods and world-views by her own subtle and deep poetic vision, obviously borne out of years of profound and even troublesome experience.
To access what some people call the ‘tradition’ of witchcraft we need to first understand that witchcraft as we know it is a myth. But this is no to say it doesn’t exist. The ‘nameless deed’ that lies behind that myth is part of the eternal nature of mankind.
This identification with the myth of Witchcraft is what enables this book to do its work. The reader becomes aware very early on that Lee is poet as well as a Witch, and her poetic vision shines throughout her words and practices. Ronald Hutton draws similar attention to Starhawk’s poetic nature – “The tendency of The Spiral Dance was not to explain or to instruct so much as to intoxicate”. So too with A Deed Without a Name; it is a wonderful journey into and through a consciously embraced myth. Yet, like The Spiral Dance, there is also practical instruction in the book, and more invitations to the reader to produce their own works. Indeed, Lee Morgan may well do for Traditonal Witchcraft what Starhawk did for feminist Wicca.
Lee consciously uses the term Witchcraft as a means of opening up the ‘possibility of a brotherhood of the Other’ – the fey folk, those shunned because of innate connections with the Otherworld or the dead, those destined to be marked by the Gods or dragged into the Underworld for service. In this she gives a valuable service to these folk who often find no place in non-traditional or New Age spirituality, or even magical groups that should know better.
One of the criticisms I have seen levelled at the book is that it is too sparse in detail and specifics on its many topics. Personally, I think this scarcity is a strength and it is obvious that Lee knows, on many levels, what she is writing about. The introductory nature of the chapters allows the reader to be motivated and inspired, but does not provide enough information for the rash idiot percentage to wander off fully armed, or so they think, and get themselves and others in deep trouble. True, most clinical psychologists would hate this book to be read by their schizophrenic patients, but most occultists will laud its careful revealing and the constant reminders of the need for protection and mental integration.
Lee ranges widely with an eye for synthesis, drawing on British, Italian, Grecian, Irish, Norse, western occult and even Hoodo for her work. She makes links between trial records of the Early Modern Witch-hunt across continents and incorporates current academic thinking into her myth and practice. There are chapters and sections on cosmology, links with ‘shamanism’, Witch pacts, ontology, Imps, entering the Otherworlds, the Dead, Faery folk, ritual space, exorcism and a lovely Bestiary too.
There is much in the book that obviously stems from Lee’s own experiences and tradition, lore, story and cosmology. As said, Lee knows her stuff. Take this example from the chapter ‘Riding Plants’, concerned with the use of herbs and plant drugs, where Lee is at pains to spell out the importance of the Witches’ correct relationship with the spirit of the plant:
But due partially to the modern drug culture, very few people are able to look at entheogens (I use this term rather than hallucinogens because it suggests their sacred function) in anything other than a materialist and consumerist manner. They look at the plants (marijuana or ‘magic mushrooms’) like a product that they can get some fun sensation out of. Instead, if one wishes to cultivate ‘plant familiars’ and learn to ‘ride plants’ it would be better to master the art of ‘riding’ those that don’t have such potent inner fire, the non entheogens. The spirits of these plants are not so powerful and less likely to end up riding you!
Her discussions on the dead, the fetch-mate, the triad of the Witch, the place and the Otherworld and other areas are all real, solid and full of traditional lore. Personally, I do not think this was ever, until very recently called ‘witchcraft’, but it is the same ‘deed without a name’ regardless.
Like the mythic hedge-crosser, the journeyman between our world and the Otherworld, so well discussed by Lee, this book attempts to span two worlds – the mythic and the scholarly. Because of my limited knowledge I am not sure how well it does this. Lee brings in academic references at some points, but forgoes them when they are needed elsewhere. I would love to have seen references used more freely. But, then again, it is not an academic work…
Another personal bug-bear is the subtle decrying of Christianity, for example as ‘flesh-hating’. Lee is wise enough to know one cannot talk about Christianity in any homogenous way at all, and that some Christianities may be like this, but not all, and that the ultimate mystery and truth of Christianity is centred on the holiness of the flesh, as it there where we partake of the mystery of Christ. I’ve talked about this before.
Similarly, I think on one or two occasions Lee does not do the western occult traditions justice. In good wise-woman, or depending on your view, Witch, fashion she is not above using elements of western occultism in her correspondences and Necromantic rite whilst declaring them earlier as have a less complex, and by implication a reductive, view of the inner world and beings thereof. Lee’s criticisms of occultists lumping various interior beings and parts of the self as ‘aspects of the higher self’ may be true of western magicians of her acquaintance, but certainly not of mine, or any of the modern authorities on the subject.
Still these are minor, personal concerns which few else would share. So I have no hesitation in giving this lovely book – which reproduced very well on the iPad Kindle app – a hearty vote of approval. It is highly recommended for any and all interested in Witchcraft in any form.
A Deed Without a Name: Unearthing the Legacy of Traditional Witchcraft by Lee Morgan.