Illes, the author of three previous books on magical spells, has compiled a lively and chatty reference on witches. The work is arranged topically, and there is a helpful index. Individual articles within the topic chapters sometimes have see
references as well. After a long introduction discussing several different and sometimes nearly mutually exclusive definitions of witches, chapters cover plants, animals, food and drink, magical beings, famous people in the magical world, the creative arts, witch persecution, and more. Chapters--or sections within the chapters--include A-Z
entries that range from a few paragraphs to a few pages. An extensive bibliography and a list of Internet resources complete the work.
Illes focuses most strongly on Western European witchcraft practice and history, but she gives considerable attention to Asian, African, Mesoamerican, Caribbean, and South American practice as well. The creative arts chapter is up-to-date enough to discuss the Harry Potter phenomenon as well as many films, television programs, and other arts-related representations. Illes' take on the representation of witches in The Wizard of Oz is in solidarity with witch practice.
The book is long and could have used editing both to trim the text and to correct errors in spelling and grammar. Illes tends to overwrite when she feels passionately, and an editor would have helped with this as well. The horrors of witch persecutions--which continue in many places to this day--do not require overwriting, as William Burns shows very well in Witch Hunts in Europe and America (Greenwood, 2003), which is not in the bibliography.
Academic libraries with extensive witchcraft collections may wish to consider this volume if only for the bibliography. Public libraries seeking a popular reference work on witchcraft could do much worse than this one. At the price, public libraries may wish to purchase some circulating copies as well. Kathleen Stipek
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Previous publications: Earth Mother Magic: Ancient Spells for Modern Belles (Fair Winds Press, 2001) Emergency Magic! 150 Spells for Surviving the Worst-Case Scenario (Fair Winds Press, 2002) Spells: The Anthology (Seventh House Publications, 2002) Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells (Element, 2004)