Book Review – The Witches Almanac: Sorcerers, Witches and Magic from Ancient Rome to the Digital Age by Charles Christian
The Witches Almanac:
Sorcerers, Witches and Magic
from Ancient Rome to the Digital Age
by Charles Christian
Publisher: Visible Ink Press
Release Date: February 28, 2023
Charles Christian’s The Witches Almanac, unlike other books which answer to the same name, is not a book of the year, seasonal celebrations, or planting cycles: instead, this is a book which catalogs witches and sorcerers, presenting them in a historical context, from the earliest known practitioners of magic in classical antiquity to the modern era.
The book opens with an introduction that lays out the author’s approach to this topic, and it is followed by twenty chapters. In the introduction, it is made clear that The Witches Almanac has a focus on Western culture, beginning in Ancient Greece and Rome, tracing through Europe during the Middle Ages, and branching out into NeoPaganism in America. I appreciate the clarity about this focus, but I admit, I’d love to see a book like this one day that does take a global perspective. Nonetheless, every author has to limit scope at some level, and what Christian chooses to cover, he covers well, adding a lot of nice illustrations and pictures along the way.
In each chapter, Christian explores a different period in history, setting the stage for a collection of profiles of various magicians from that period. This content is generally historical, told in a friendly prose and filled with many humorous anecdotes, which makes it an entertaining read. At the same time, nothing is scrubbed out from this history for being too vile, so the reader should be prepared to face some of the realities and brutalities of the history of witchcraft. While it covers all that, this book does not really include any information about witchcraft itself. There are no spells, rituals, tables, or other explorations of craft — these things are simply outside of the scope of this book.
On a personal note, I deeply appreciate that the book ends with a few short paragraphs about modern-day witch hunts. When people talk about witch hunts in the past tense, it makes me bristle a bit because, as Christian notes, it’s still happening. It’s a really important thing to include in the story, and something that other authors do seem to leave out. There’s also a nice bibliography and index at the end, to aid the reader in finding their way around the book and digging in deeper.
Because of its focus on Western magic and occultism — from which we have a great many written records and artifacts — the book feels like very well-trod territory to me, and the information that is presented can mostly be found very readily from other sources. This book isn’t breaking new ground or shifting the paradigm of how we think of witches. But if you’re new to learning the history of witchcraft and witches, and you want a good place to start that will teach you the basics of Western witchcraft history, The Witches Almanac will serve you very well, introducing you to some of the major themes and players in Western magical tradition and history.
Charles Christian is an English barrister and Reuters correspondent turned writer, editor, award-winning tech journalist and sometime werewolf hunter. Charles was born a chime-child with a caul and grew up in a haunted medieval house by the harbourside in the Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough. According to folklore a caul-shrouded chime-child can’t drown at sea but can see and talk to faerie folk, and also has protection against spells cast by malevolent witches and sorcerers.
His father’s side of the family were related to Fletcher Christian, the leader of the infamous 18th Century mutiny on HMS Bounty, while his mother’s side descended from Anne Hunnam (or Marchant), the ‘Witch of Scarborough’, who was acquitted of casting a fatal spell on a child in 1652. And yes, an English newspaper once really did commission Charles to take part in a werewolf hunt on the night of a full moon. Spoiler alert: he didn’t find one.
About the Author:
Sarah McMenomy is a visionary artist, author, and witch. Pulling inspiration from trance states, dreams, auras, psychedelia, and the natural world, she weaves together themes of nature and the occult in her artwork and writing. She has created art and written for books, magazines, games, and more, as well as producing digital fine art prints and acrylic paintings.
She is the creator of The Entanglement Tarot, a hex-shaped occult Tarot deck designed for spell-craft.
She is co-runner of Pagan Pages, for which she also writes articles and book reviews, and she also publishes art on her Portfolio site and other work on her Tumblr.