In Book of Shadows,
Phyllis Curott takes us along on her double
journey -- she's rising in the music business,
doing legal work in New York for huge stars she
doesn't name, while simultaneously going down
into the underworld of dreams and witchcraft and
yellowed books about Egyptian goddesses.
Neither world, she discovers, is what it appears.
But when she starts talking about the scent of
apple blossoms filling the air, or about bonding
with good, strong female mentors with names like
"Nonna," or about facing her inner shadow, your
mind may wander off as you try to figure out
who the unnamed stars are.
Curott and her fellow witches use the word
"sacred" so often that it feels like Chinese water
torture, and they frequently proclaim their
outrage over the persecution witches faced 500
years ago (as if they were the only religious group
whose members got killed and called names).
Curott never comes out and says that men are
evil, and two or three of the peripheral male
characters seem kind enough, but it's implied that
most men throughout history got their power by
stealing it from women. Like on Lifetime, the TV
channel for women, almost all the females in
Book of Shadows have been sexually assaulted
or stalked. They sob a lot and comfort each
other. They join hands in a circle; they learn to
accept their bodies. They each take one bite of an
apple, which represents forbidden knowledge,
and say things like, "I honor the nourishment and
the strength the Goddess has given me -- she
sustains me with the fruits of life." After they've
all bitten into it, they linger in the circle for hours,
and Curott asks Nonna, "May I take the
remnants of the apple?" Nonna "wrapped them
carefully in a napkin and hugged her." Way too
If only the author had a sense of humor, Book
of Shadows wouldn't be so unbearable. (Curott
claims several times that she does have a sense of
humor -- a dead giveaway that one is terribly,
terribly unfunny. You learn that from personal
ads.) It's not that I'm uninterested in magic or the
true nature of chaos. It's that I get uncomfortable
when Curott marks a pink candle with her name,
the astrological symbol for Venus and the word
"love." Her life grows steadily more gentle and
steadily more scented. Her research is scented,
too, even though her publishers have made a big
deal out of the fact that she's a Harvard grad. For
instance, she claims that in the "patriarchal
religions" -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam --
"the father God [is] transcendent and removed,"
while in witchcraft "the mother Goddess [is]
immanent and present in the world." She's largely
right. But there have always been mystical strains
within those Big Three where God was so
"immanent" some people actually died from
being overfilled with glory. I could go on about
this -- and so could Curott, who's now the
president of the world's largest Wiccan
One thing you have to hand to her: This
good-looking, high-powered Manhattan lawyer
re-created her life. When she didn't find a path
that suited her, she paved her own. That it looks
corny to people like me means, in the long run,
absolutely nothing. -- Salon
Over time, "book of shadows" has come to refer to a witch's journal, a diary of spells, chants, and rituals. Here Curott, a high priestess of the New York City-based Circle of Ara & the Minoan fellowship and a practicing lawyer, uses 13 chapters to tell the story of her personal encounter with the ways of the Goddess, with insight into the contemporary practice of witchcraft, or Wicca. The helpful appendix includes a table outlining the goddesses, gods, animals, and zodiacal signs connected with Wicca; spells, charms, and magical potions; special events of the Wicca year, with a resources section; and a list of books that provide further insight into Goddess and Wiccan practice, witchcraft, and white magic. Libraries seeking current material dealing with modern witchcraft will find this a helpful addition. Though no footnotes support any of the characterizations or opinions offered, the personal story will appeal to some readers.--Leroy Hommerding, Citrus Cty. Lib. System, Inverness, FL
A modern-day Persephone myth full of magic and mystery, Book of Shadows transcends the bounds of its genre.
An engaging memoir of magic and self-discovery, by Wicca high priestess and entertainment attorney Curott. Curott has lectured nationally on the renaissance of witchcraft in America, and here she offers a treatment of magic's role in her own spiritual journey and professional life. Curott wisely uses the genre of autobiography to introduce readers to witchcraft gradually, as she herself was introduced to it. She first describes her visions of an Isis-like figure in her final year of law school, and her sudden development of extrasensory talents. A bit later, she met a self-described witch and through this friendship began attending her first "circle" meetings, which sound a lot more like a feminist consciousness-raising group than a coven. Which is precisely Curott's point: the book's chief function is to dispel Christian-based stereotypes about witches, who don't worship Satan (he's not a figure in pre-Christian traditions) or cast spells on people (Curott insists that witches seek to establish harmony in the world, not to be masters of others or of nature). But in her well-intentioned efforts to rehabilitate witchcraft, she occasionally succumbs to perpetuating rather ridiculous inaccuracies about its detractors (as when she repeats the claim that the Catholic Church was responsible for the Black Plague because it had killed off all the cats, thinking they might be witches' familiars). And at times her rhetorical devices are not too subtleshe gives her lecherous boss the pseudonym Hades, symbolically casting herself as the ensnared Persephone, who must utilize female magic to escape from his underworld. However, Curott also presents some fine insights into the rolewitchcraft plays in the complex milieu of American religion, including her observation that Wicca is appealing because it does not demand exclusive devotion (one enchantress calls herself "an Episcopagan"). Though jagged, Curott's book stands as a unique first-person account of more than 20 years as a practitioner of Wicca.
Read an Excerpt
Thousands of years ago, the Sumerians created a legendary collection of invocations to the Goddess, ordaining their magical corpus of poetry and songs a "Book of Shadows." Over time, Book of Shadows has come to refer to a Witch's journal, a record of spiritual wisdom, a diary of spells, songs, chants, rituals, and invocations. This is my Book of Shadows, the story of my first encounter with the ancient ways of the Goddess. It is the true story of a modern woman's spiritual journey into a realm long forgotten by Western culture. It is a chronicle of discovery, challenge, and transformation.
Over the past two decades, as a High Priestess and a teacher of the Old Religion, I have found when I mention the word Witch, it often brings to people's minds images of hurly-burly hags casting spells, licentious young women consorting with the devil, and wizards commanding supernatural demons to appear. On the lighter side, they might think of glamorous Veronica Lake in I Married a Witch, sexy Kim Novak in Bell, Book and Candle, or the adorable TV Witches in Bewitched and Sabrina lending some desperately needed excitement, as well as some unexpected morality, to the American suburbs. Or perhaps they will remember, with a child's delight, The Wizard of Oz and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, who tells young Dorothy the power to find her happiness, and her way home, has been with her all along. This last image comes closest to capturing the real and unknown truth about Witchcraft.
Like most people, there was a time when I thought Witches existed only in the realm of make-believe. Whether they were real, and whether they actually had magical powers, were not questions I even considered as a philosophy student at Brown University, and certainly not later as a young practicing Manhattan attorney. After all, why would a well-educated, professional woman be interested Witches, let alone willingly become one?
Then, twenty years ago, a series of mysterious coincidences led me to a world where I discovered the answers not only to these questions, but to questions buried at the center of my soul--questions, it turns out, millions of people also want answered, for the answers are the hope for humanity's future as we enter a new millennium. How are we to find our lost souls? How can we rediscover the sacred from which we have been separated for thousands of years? How can we live free of fear and filled with divine love and compassion? How can we find and fulfill our magical destinies? How can we restore and protect this Eden, which is our fragile planet?
The answers were not found in the domain of make-believe, but in the place one might least expect to find them--in the hidden world of real Witches. But contrary to the clichÚs in fairy tales and Hollywood films, Witchcraft is not a subculture of satanic rites enacted by wacky spinsters or mad demonologists. It is an ancient, elegant spirituality that revives the magic of being alive--the kind of magic we have always longed for, but sadly assumed only came true in storybooks.
Wicca, as Witchcraft is most often referred to by contemporary practitioners, is the renaissance of a pre-Hebraic, pre-Christian, and pre-Islamic Goddess spirituality. The word Witch actually comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word wicce, meaning "wise one," a seer, a priestess, or shaman who is able to work with unseen, divine forces. Witches were the singers of sacred songs, the midwives and healers, guides and teachers of the Goddess's spiritual wisdom. Like Native Americans, Taoists, Australian Aborigines, the Yoruban tribes in Africa, Eskimos, Hawaiians, Lapps, and other indigenous peoples, the people of old Europe and the Fertile Crescent lived close to the earth and respected their relationship with nature as sacred, for they experienced their world as the embodiment of the divine.
The shamanic practices of the Old Religion enabled women and men to attune their psyches and their daily lives to the cycles of nature and the mystical wisdom found in the earth's profound rhythms. A spirituality of divine empowerment, the holy magic practiced by Witches, shamans, priestesses, and mystics celebrated an enlightened connection to the earth.
Their sacred truths have been passed down by magical orders and within families, who carefully preserved the religion of the great Goddess. Those who practiced the old ways--in southern Italy, in the small towns of the British Isles, and, several centuries later, in rural parts of West Virginia and New England--were forced to do so secretly, having been driven underground nearly five hundred years ago, when accusations of Satanism first arose. From these accusations came the "Witchcraze," the Church's crusade to suppress the Old Religion of the Goddess and establish religious hegemony in Europe. Hundreds of thousands were killed in an unholy campaign, most of whom were women, who suffered great losses in economic and social power. But this was not the only wound to Western culture. The ancient knowledge of the village wise woman, and man, was nearly lost, as the sacred rites that maintained the connection between people, the earth, and the divine were rent asunder.
Hundreds of years after the Witchcraze, the archetype of the horrific hag continues to hold tremendous power as a repository for modern culture's fear of women, sexuality, and individual freedom. The repulsive crone has become our guardian at the gate, challenging our readiness to enter a world of ecstasy and enchantment. Those with courage, curiosity, compassion, and a taste for adventure may confront her, and when they do, behind the mask of the wicked Witch, they will find the beatific face of the Great Goddess.
As a young woman at the start of my career, I began studying with priestesses of the Goddess. They introduced me to the timeless arts of spiritual transformation, imparting tools and techniques that anyone can use to experience the divine within themselves and in the world around them. I entered a realm of magic that was as ancient as the history of humanity, and as modern as the theories of quantum physics. And their ways enabled me to see the world as vibrantly, divinely alive, rich with wisdom and beauty.
Since I first began practicing the secret arts of the sacred earth, Goddess spirituality has emerged from the shadows of misunderstanding as the fastest growing spiritual practice in the United States. I have addressed the public, the media, the legal system, Church congregations, the Parliament of the World's Religions, and United Nations conferences. I have taught the wisdom of the Great Goddess. I have found a beacon of truth, a torch that I offer for your journey into the future, into realms of wonder, magic, and divinity.
We are entering a new era, an age of the Divine Feminine, when the illumined power of women and men will bring new life to a dying world. It is a time of critical change that depends upon our spiritual awakening, a collective epiphany, a summoning of the sacred into our lives. Now is the time for the Goddess's return, for the return of our lost souls. For the return of life to a world laid waste by spiritual and environmental crises. Through the re-empowerment of the feminine principle, our world can become a holy vessel of connectedness, grace, and joy for all. With Her return, we will rediscover the Paradise which dwells within and which encircles us on this sacred, beloved planet.