Book Review: Christian Day’s The Witches’ Book of the Dead

I don’t generally bother to review books I don’t think I’ll care for, especially with a stack of books I actually want to read waiting on me. Not being Christian Day’s biggest fan, I was reluctant to read The Witches’ Book of the Dead but I was intrigued by some of the reviews as much as I was repelled by others. So I read it, and here’s my opinion of it. Make of it what you will.

The Good

Overall, the book is good. Day has compiled an impressive amount of lore regarding necromancy and spirit communication throughout history. I found the stories and lore fascinating, and much of it was an enlightening, entertaining read. The book is worth a read for that reason alone.

Right off the bat he introduces the concept of blood magic/blood sacrifice, and throughout the book he emphasizes safe, reasonable ways to practice this. The use of human bodily fluids, especially blood, is very old and very effective in magic. This may be the best presentation I have seen of that in a book.

Day’s explanation of the use of human bones in necromancy was quite interesting and I appreciated him giving advice for obtaining the bones ethically. I’d been considering acquiring a skull, and after reading this book I’m more likely to purchase one though one of the sites that legally and ethically deal in such things.

Day does a good job of emphasizing that necromancy, like any magical work, can drain you, and therefore you should be in the best physical shape possible when attempting it. Day also emphasizes that working with the dead is a reciprocal relationship, and that dabbling is dangerous. He warns of attracting malevolent spirits or simply mischevious spiritual “gawkers,” and I’ve personally found the latter far more common than the former. Day cautions us to examine ourselves for reading too much into phenomena and encourages a healthy skepticism.

Day also, eventually, makes it clear that the dead are not to be ordered about and have a will of their own. Like cats, they do not come when called, and aren’t likely to be useful in areas outside their expertise or inclination.

I was also glad to see Day say that cursing or hexing in the name of justice is the provenance of Witches. I’m of the opinion that a Witch who cannot hex cannot heal, although a Witch should seldom find occasion for it.

The Irritating

Although I do think it’s a generally good and useful book, there were bits that irritated me. Maybe I’m nitpicking, maybe my general distaste for Day’s way of expressing himself is coloring my opinion. You’ll have to make up your own mind.

My chief complaint, and maybe this is a bit silly, is that the book contains a bit too much of Christian Day’s strange way of communicating. Hardly surprising, after all this is a book he wrote, but strange leaps of logic and obvious contradictions annoy me.

For the first half of the book Day paints a picture of the Witch as tyrant, ordering about the dead like hapless hounds in dark rituals and having them come obediently when called to lap up the food with which you bait them. Then, after pages talking about commanding the dead, he offers a sort of self-blessing or self-initiation in which the ritualist claims the living and dead hear their commands AND consider the ritualist their equal. Halfway through the book the tone changes into what is essentially respectful ancestor worship and ideas for communicating with the beloved dead. It’s fine and well to speak as if you were unfettered by morality and responsibility, working without rules, but when it’s followed up by chapters on responsibility and reciprocity, it can come off as disingenuous posturing.

Day makes a point of repeatedly describing Witches/necromancers as ragged, grisly and unkempt, yet places a lot of emphasis on appearance and particularly showering, which he apparently thinks is lacking in modern culture. Day is known for believing Pagans are dirty, unwashed and trashy, so it’s hard not read offense into this when simple instruction on ritual purification and cleansing would have done the trick. He also states his opinion that the spirits hate “boring people” and will only be interested in speaking to you if you let your freak flag fly, and then goes on to say he often advises people on how to make their altar to the dead blend in unobtrusively with their home decor. Combined with a “Bling is King”-style section on Witchy accessorizing, I was irritated.

He’s completely dismissive of Wicca and Witchcraft that can brush elbows with other religions, and takes a pretty simplistic and dismissive view of them. He’s edgy, everyone else is sanitized and impotent, and “real Witches” are few and live somewhat isolated on the fringe of society.  I have very little use for such “Hipster Paganism.” While I agree with him that Witches should pay attention to their dead, I’m a bit peeved he was dismissive of people who worship “mythological deities,” as if that was far less important than ancestor worship. He also speaks of non-Witches dismissively as “the mundane.” Mundane as a term for material reality is understandable, but when used to refer to people it smacks of elitism.

While I’m familiar with attempts to cast Jesus as a Witch, dragging the Buddha into that conversation stuck me as odd. I also have an issue with the idea that you can work entirely outside of Christian cosmology and theology and yet use the saints and the archangel Michael as tools. That jars when placed alongside the sections on respect and reciprocity regarding the dead.

He claims the dead feed off our energy (aka the Witches Teat), and then later suggests the idea that the dead leech life from the living is merely anti-necromantic propaganda. There’s also some idea of a Pagan conspiracy against Witchcraft and necromancy that pre-dates Christianity. While there are certainly ancient prohibitions against malevolent magic, I can’t help but feel this is speculation fed by Day’s own disdain for modern Paganism. And I’d be curious what P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has to say regarding the idea theat Hadrian sacrificed Antinous for the purpose of necromancy.

Also, the book is written so that those with very little knowledge in these matters can get a good, practical grounding, yet occasionally concepts are referenced without definition or explanation. Vibratory levels of energy aren’t something you can reference and then walk away from if you’re writing a beginner’s book. Also, from my understanding of the Craft, some of his instructions are ineffective, if not useless, if you’re left-handed. Also, at one point I think he references reincarnation but never follows up on it. His insight on that would have been interesting, including his insight on phenomena such as Jimahl di Fiosa’s claim of contacting Alex Sander’s spirit after he had reincarnated.

I dislike commercials on television, but despise them in books. I could have done with a bit less self-promotion and name-dropping.

Verdict

This is a good book. It’s pretty solid and a good resource if you’re interested in ancestor veneration or communicating with the dead or spirits. Like many Pagan books, it needs to be read with a critical eye. Since it does contain a few obvious typos, I think a good editor could have turned this from a good book into a great book. All-in-all, I liked the book. I’m still not a fan of Christian Day’s, but after reading this book I can see his value and why he has gained a following. He’s got a lot of good insight and a good bit of wisdom to share behind the sometimes obnoxious persona he presents.

If you’re a Christian Day fan you will love this book absolutely. If you’re not but still curious enough to read it, you might find a glimmer of something admirable in him, even if it doesn’t make you a fan.

As usual, if you want to buy the book be sure to support the publisher by buying directly from Weiser Books.

*This book was provided for the purpose of review and that has not influenced my review. If it had sucked, I would have said so.

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About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.


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