The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

Read: 17 August, 2008

Overall, I’d say that this book is fine if taken as fiction and read for pleasure. If you are interested in serious scholarship regarding the history of the occult, this book would really only serve to help you with modern/Wiccan perceptions of witchcraft. While it does touch on a number of older subjects, the articles are clearly written from a Wiccan perspective.

For example, “altar” is almost entirely defined in the context of goddess worship, never mind that plenty of patriarchal religions made use of altars in their devotion to male gods (Christianity being an obvious example). The book takes the theory that goddess worship was the norm before it was suddenly replaced by male-centred religion as a given.

Even the entries that don’t display an obvious Wiccan/feminist perspective show dubious scholarship. For example, the entire entry for Patricia C. Crowther talks about her relationship with woman she had been in a previous life – Polly. Polly teaches her some spells. The book says that “Patricia had no knowledge of such spells, which experts determined were authentic.” Well, that’s just sloppy. Who were these experts? Were they experts of Elizabethan magical theory and could therefore say that the spells Crowther had learned did match up with what we know of what Elizabethan witches may have practised? Or were these experts in magic who could tell that the spells were true spells with real magical power? We are never told the type of expert and in what way the spells were deemed authentic, which would change the interpretation of the article a great deal.

And then there were some entries that I just have no way of explaining. For example, the entry on “Gypsies” explains that “their language, Romany, is related to Sanskrit,” but it never says that the people themselves are not called “Gypsies.” They are Romani. This is never mentioned in the entire entry – a very unusual little bit of bigotry for a book published in 1999.

This book isn’t a waste in the sense that I did get quite a few story ideas from it. But if you are doing research for any purpose other than the writing of fiction, don’t bother looking here. And, honestly, even if you are writing fiction, use it only as inspiration, not as an information source.

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The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ships, Boats, Vessels and Other Water-Borne Craft by Graham Blackburn

Read: 3 August, 2008

This is a huge reference work that covers most time periods and geographical locations. The edition I read used a handwritten style that made it look like someone’s notebook. I found this done in a tasteful and practical way (the writing was perfectly legible) and it added a certain amount of charm to the book.

There were many illustrations, all done in the same style as the handwriting. They were detailed, but still had that hand-drawn look to them. Again, I found it charming as well as useful. They were well labelled so that the areas they were supposed to show were quite clear.

Since the book is about types of ships, entries were quickly bogged down with nautical terms that sometimes made them a little confusing. There was a glossary at the back, but I found the entries to be somewhat short and didn’t always answer my question. Really, this is the major flaw in the book – entries are short and don’t provide a good level of detail. However, as a reference work, it functions well as an overview and jumping off point. Overall, well worth the time for anyone with a passing interest in ships, boats, etc.

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Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend by Miranda Green

Read: 25 November, 2007

I have no idea how accurate the information in this dictionary is because I know just about zilch about Celtic mythology. However, I do like the book based on a purely “how interesting is it?” criterion. While it may be read through from cover to cover (as I did in about two days), I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. Because it’s a dictionary and because each entry is intended to stand along, many of the stories and ideas are repeated several times. It would be much better used as a reference book.

The entries are fairly short, ranging from about a paragraph or two as the norm to about a page as an extreme. Because of their shorter length, they obviously are not terribly detailed. Each entry gives a general overview of its concept and includes other terms and names that may also be looked up. In essence, it’s a great place to get a vague idea to start with, but other books are needed if a more in-depth study is to be conducted.

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