Book Review: Never On a Broomstick

My interest in locating a copy of Never On a Broomstick started years ago, while learning about the West Memphis 3 case. During the search of Damien Echols’ home, a copy of the book was found in his room and later entered into evidence, along with multiple books on Wicca, Witchcraft and Aleister Crowley. Recently I managed to find a copy via Amazon and I’m rather intrigued that Echols’ copy made it into evidence at all.

Never On a Broomstick isn’t a Wicca 101 or how-to manual on any form of Witchcraft. The book discusses the origins and history of various pre-christian beliefs and takes the reader through how those beliefs influenced cultures and traditions, then describes in detail how Witch hysteria influenced the hunts in Europe and the colonial US. History in general fascinates me, so it was delightful to read about the various charms, practices and beliefs that have influenced the way many of us express our spirituality now. A lot of it I was already familiar with, but there were some bits that were new. The spell that used Red(de) Arsenicum (AKA Red Lead) as part of a treatment to prevent being burned with a hot iron, for instance. The book suggests that this was probably used during the Witch trials to protect a victim from being burned during torture. I suspect an earlier use for it may have been to keep ferriers or smiths from being injured while handling hot metal, but this is really just a guess. There isn’t a great wealth of detail on magickal workings here, but the reader gets a good general idea of the importance of the connections our ancestors had with the natural world and how that connection influenced their spiritual lives.

The influence of pre-christian Pagan practices on early christianity is also covered briefly. Too briefly, in my opinion, but the book mentions how the two systems were connected in the beginning by a shared belief in magick. The only real differences between them were the Deity (or Deities, if any) and the perception. Not all Pagans held a religious tradition. Secular spellwork was common. Deity or none, the church condemned any working done without the involvement of the christian god or the church itself, referring to it’s own magickal practices as ‘miracles’ while non-christian spellwork was deemed heresy. The same view of Pagan religious practices persists in the christian community to this day.

“I remember going online when I was writing Saw II; so I typed in ‘Spanish Inquisition torture devices,’ and the stuff that comes up…you realize you haven’t even touched on what humans have done to each other in real life.”
~Leigh Whannell (Actor/Writer, Saw, Writer/Producer, Saw II)

This is where I got squirmy. The book goes into intense detail regarding the origins of the Witch hysteria in Europe and it’s overlap into colonial America. Names of accusers and victims are given (though not in every case) and torture is graphically described. I can tolerate artificial horrors easily, but the horrors that humans have actually put one another through breaks my heart. Hunts, tortures, burnings, hangings – this went on for centuries. No actual evidence was needed in most cases, just the word of a child or another victim gained through torture was all that was needed to make an arrest. The laws that banned Witchcraft stayed on the books in England until 1951. The hunts weren’t necessarily active, but Pagans faced possible legal repercussions until the mid-twentieth century. That is truly astounding, considering this happened long after the Victorian Spiritualism movement, during which time it was clear that Paganism was undergoing a bit of a revival. Much like the racist law that was discovered a few years ago and finally repealed here in the States, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that there are currently active anti-Witchcraft laws still on the books in some parts of the US. Neither enforced or even enforceable now, but still part of a state’s law charter somewhere. I don’t fear a return to loss of non-christian religious freedoms, but I think it would be interesting to see if any of those old laws are currently in place.

The final chapters of the book cover modern Paganism. Skyclad worship, modern beliefs, and secrecy are all mentioned. The author refers to covens, however, with no mention of solitary practice.

NOaB was written in 1971, before the discovery that Ergot poisoning may have contributed to the Salem Witch hysteria, so some of the information is a bit dated. I’m guessing this is also why there is no mention of solitary work and so much emphasis on secrecy in the book. I don’t know a single Witch who would hold back when asked about the Deity (or Deities) she or he honors, which the author apparently thought was standard practice.

It’s a decent book; fairly well researched and well written. It lacks a bibliography or index, so further information on a point of interest will require research via book or Google searches, but I don’t consider that a negative. It’s not chock-full of misinformation, but it has the feel of being ‘unfinished’ for lack of a better word due to the exclusion of solitary Paganism and emphasis on secret practices. Even so, it’s still an interesting and mostly enjoyable read.


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