Newest Review: ... you could almost lift the objects off the page. From amulets and talismans to tools of divination, the sharp photographs really stand out ... more
A glimpse into a mysterious world
Witch and Wizard - Douglas Hill
Member Name: CarolineR-D
Witch and Wizard - Douglas Hill
Advantages: Interesting, informative, contains stunning pictures
Disadvantages: May be a bit dark for some people's tastes
This Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guide investigates the role of magic throughout history, offering a fascinating glimpse into traditions from around the world, exploring the practice of magic in different cultures from ancient civilizations to modern times. I obtained the book from my local library, thinking that it might be interesting to read with Halloween approaching. It can also be obtained used from Amazon for £0.01 plus post and packaging.
I think the title 'Witch & Wizard' is a bit misleading. The book steers us away from the western stereotypes about witches and wizards that we have acquired through books and films and encourages us to look at the many different types of magic makers. From the 'wise women' of the middle ages, revered for their grasp of folk remedies to African 'witch doctors' in their various guises, Native American medicine men and the shamanic healers of the Amazon forests, the book provides a rich catalogue. There is a good balance between the discussions of magic in the past and its legacy in the present day, with references to the New Age revival as people continue to search for spiritual meaning and alternative forms of healing, influenced by ancient traditions.
Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guides are like museums in book form, full of photographs of objects and artefacts, which are so clear that you could almost lift the objects off the page. From amulets and talismans to tools of divination, the sharp photographs really stand out against the white pages, so that the textures and colours are fully appreciated by the reader. This is particularly beneficial when looking at the many wonderful tribal masks and carvings, as it gives you a real sense of the intricate design and craftsmanship involved. One of the things that I find so interesting about magic is the artwork it inspires. I love the images on tarot cards and I love the carvings and masks that are made for use during elaborate magic rituals in many cultures. One of my favourite pictures in the book shows a traditional Aboriginal bark painting used in rain making ceremonies. A carved, painted wooden image from Malaysia of a winged female spirit, traditionally hung in houses to protect from evil influences, is also very striking.
Because of the way the book is laid out, with each 2-page spread covering a different aspect of magic making and because there are so many illustrations, it isn't a heavy read. It's easy to browse and read a little at a time. On each page there is bound to be at least one picture and one piece of information that grabs your attention. You can pick up some interesting snippets of information as you browse this book. For instance, you will discover where the term Abracadabra originates from and which English queen made a wax effigy of her husband, stuck pins into it and melted it on the palace fire. I also discovered the difference between amulets, charms and talismans and learned how to make a traditional Chinese love potion.
The part of the book I found the most enthralling dealt with the rise of Christianity in Europe and the subsequent persecution of those involved in pagan practices from the 15th to the 18th century. In a grisly, but informative section, we learn about some of the appalling torture devices used on suspected witches, such as the hideous scold's bridle and a spiky contraption known as a witch's collar. I was astonished to learn that in Plymouth a suspected witch would be strapped in a chair and weighed on a scale against two massive volumes of the Plymouth Bible. If she weighed less than the bibles she was presumed to be guilty! This section of the book also looks at the Salem witch trials of 1692.
Although I found this book in the children's section of the library and would usually think of DK Eyewitness Guides as children's books, some parts of this book are quite gruesome and I would certainly not consider it suitable for very young children. There is a section which discusses the use of animals as a form of sacrifice, which I didn't enjoy, including a photo of a stuffed 2-headed lamb which had once belonged to a witch in Somerset and a downright horrible shot of a sheep's heart studded with nails. Because of the clarity of the photographic images, some of the more grisly pictures really have an impact, so this is definitely not for the faint hearted.
Would I recommend this book?
For me it was an interesting book. You don't have to be a believer in magic yourself to be fascinated by its history. I enjoyed learning about the other cultures from around the world and seeing how often magic is bound up with religion, mysticism and art. It was fascinating to me to learn just how unique each culture's traditions were. I also liked the way the book looked at the role of witches, wizards and magic in literature, referring to such works as The Brothers Grimm, Shakespeare's Macbeth and Arthur Miller's The Crucible.
In addition to the superb photographs, the book contains reproductions of plaques, woodcuts, paintings and lithographs. There is even an actual warrant for the arrest of Ann Pudeator, who was convicted as a witch in Salem and hanged. The variety of eye catching illustrations scattered across each page draws the reader in more effectively than if the book contained text alone. For a relatively slim volume, just 60 pages, there is a commendable amount of information.
Admittedly some of the subject matter is a bit dark and will not appeal to everyone, but if you have a curious fascination for magic and ritual, along with a keen interest in mythology, history and different cultures, you will probably enjoy this.
Summary: Great Halloween reading - but not for the very young