Book Review: Raven Grimassi’s Old World Witchcraft

This book is bold, and not at all what I expected. Although he’s been one of the author’s on my “to-read” list for years, I actually met Raven Grimassi before I read one of his books. At the urging of one of my teachers, I sought out a copy of The Book of Ways I & II, and then wished I’d spoken with him more when I met him at Pagan Spirit Gathering. Having picked up Old World Witchcraft, I wish I’d spent the entire week engaging Raven and Stephanie in conversation. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Grimassi takes a very different approach to viewing Witchcraft history, and while you won’t find any definitive iron-clad history of Witchcraft here, you will find more puzzles, questions and insights than you expect. Grimassi attempts to peel away the misinformation, the propaganda and the politics to see what Witches really were. He speaks of subcultures drowned out by the predominant “mainstream” historians throughout history, of recurring themes, of the illogical morals applied to old myths and of an image of an old and reasonable religious Witchcraft.

I find this book troubling in the best possible sense. After only one read-through I already know this is a book I will revisit several times. There’s simply too much information for me to absorb in one reading and too many ideas that require careful meditation to evaluate for a place within my own practice.

While I had forgotten that Witches in ancient Greece were reputed to draw down the stars and the moon in their rites, the idea of the moon as a repository of souls until rebirth is a new concept for me. While it’s hard for me to really give a decent impression of the book with just one read through, I can say that a great deal of the ideas and wisdom contained in this book feel old and feel true. This book is disturbing in the best possible way, by stirring up my mind and forcing me to question, reorganize and focus my thoughts about Witchcraft.

In the end, Grimassi’s view of the Witch of history is nothing new to most readers: a person deeply in tune with nature who works with the energies of nature and the spirit world. Even so, how he arrives at this image and the colors he uses to paint it are intriguing, enchanting and surprising. I think anyone who identifies as a Witch or Wiccan will find this book engrossing, raising questions and deepening their understanding of the Craft. I anticipate this book will make Pagans must-read lists in short order.

My only actual complaint about this book is that it would have been nice if it contained images of some of the artwork described. There were a few times where Grimassi is describing Italian murals of Witches and early images of Hermes where I felt that I was missing something important by not having the visual image before me.

I know this is a book I will be gifting people with this Yule, and I think it’s an ideal book for a book club to discuss. There’s a lot of information in this book to process, and dialogue with other Witches can only enhance the reading of it. On a scale of 1 to 5 stars, I give this book a 7. It’s refreshing and delightful to find, amidst a sea of sameness, a book on Witchcraft that can surprise me and engross me as much as this one has. The Grimassi’s should be warned: next time I see them at an event I’m quite liable to talk their ears off.

*A copy of this book was provided for review but that in no way influenced my opinion of it. If it sucked, I would say so.

About Star Foster

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

  • http://freemanpresson.wordpress.com/ Freeman

    “the idea of the moon as a repository of souls until rebirth is a new concept for me.” What? I thought everyone knew that the Milky Way is the river of souls!

    Gurdjieff also talked about the Moon in relation to the dead, but his teaching was more grim, along the lines of “develop yourself or you’re just food for the Moon.”

    I haven’t read this one yet, it sounds like I definitely should.

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      I wonder about this, too…I wonder if Grimassi has a source on that.

      Plutarch’s Concerning the Face in the Moon has a wonderful section in it that details how deceased souls go to the moon, but instead of waiting for rebirth, they await the “second death,” which in a Greek context (unlike the Egyptian) is a good and positive thing.  The “second death” is not painful, and not a cause for sorrow, and it simply occurs when a soul then moves on to an even higher, heavenly state that is beyond anyone’s ability to describe.

      • Ciraina

        This is what I was told by my German grandmother as well. She said that this was a common belief among the forest and mountain People of Germany and Northern Italy.

  • http://freemanpresson.wordpress.com/ Freeman

    “the idea of the moon as a repository of souls until rebirth is a new concept for me.” What? I thought everyone knew that the Milky Way is the river of souls!

    Gurdjieff also talked about the Moon in relation to the dead, but his teaching was more grim, along the lines of “develop yourself or you’re just food for the Moon.”

    I haven’t read this one yet, it sounds like I definitely should.

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      I wonder about this, too…I wonder if Grimassi has a source on that.

      Plutarch’s Concerning the Face in the Moon has a wonderful section in it that details how deceased souls go to the moon, but instead of waiting for rebirth, they await the “second death,” which in a Greek context (unlike the Egyptian) is a good and positive thing.  The “second death” is not painful, and not a cause for sorrow, and it simply occurs when a soul then moves on to an even higher, heavenly state that is beyond anyone’s ability to describe.

      • Ciraina

        This is what I was told by my German grandmother as well. She said that this was a common belief among the forest and mountain People of Germany and Northern Italy.

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    One would never know it from reading the works of Hutton & Co., but Grimassi’s overall view of historical Witchcraft is actually very much in line with what of a number of well-known and highly respected historians have been saying all along. These include Eva Pocs, Christine Larner, Mary Douglas, Alan MacFarlane, P.G. Maxwell-Stewart, Ruth Martin, and Carlo Ginzburg.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    One would never know it from reading the works of Hutton & Co., but Grimassi’s overall view of historical Witchcraft is actually very much in line with what a number of well-known and highly respected historians have been saying all along. These include Eva Pocs, Christine Larner, Mary Douglas, Alan MacFarlane, P.G. Maxwell-Stewart, Ruth Martin, and Carlo Ginzburg.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685041384 Fanny Fae

    Thanks for a great review, Star. I am also currently reading it and I am pleasantly impressed with Raven Grimassi’s scholarship. Too often there is just not enough solid and good information in books on the Craft. This is admittedly the first of his books that I have read. I have a feeling that I will be reading a few more soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685041384 Fanny Fae

    Thanks for a great review, Star. I am also currently reading it and I am pleasantly impressed with Raven Grimassi’s scholarship. Too often there is just not enough solid and good information in books on the Craft. This is admittedly the first of his books that I have read. I have a feeling that I will be reading a few more soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000451145781 MrsBs Confessions

    “I can say that a great deal of the ideas and wisdom contained in this book feel old and feel true. ”

    I totally agree!  This was the first book in quite some time in which I had to go back and reread paragraphs, so that I could really let the information sink in.  It was also my first Raven Grimassi book.  I’ll definitely be reading more!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000451145781 MrsBs Confessions

    “I can say that a great deal of the ideas and wisdom contained in this book feel old and feel true. ”

    I totally agree!  This was the first book in quite some time in which I had to go back and reread paragraphs, so that I could really let the information sink in.  It was also my first Raven Grimassi book.  I’ll definitely be reading more!

  • http://acoefficientofweirdness.blogspot.com/ Kayla

    I may have to pick that one up. I’ve wanted to read a bit more Grimassi, but I’ve been on a historical and anthropological slant lately, and don’t have much space for “inspirational” books. This one sounds like it might be the best of both worlds. 

  • http://acoefficientofweirdness.blogspot.com/ Kayla

    I may have to pick that one up. I’ve wanted to read a bit more Grimassi, but I’ve been on a historical and anthropological slant lately, and don’t have much space for “inspirational” books. This one sounds like it might be the best of both worlds. 

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Anyone who isn’t familiar with Grimassi’s writings on the history of magic and Witchcraft should check out an online collection of his articles here: http://www.ravengrimassi.net/article.htm.

    There is also a great collection of articles (by Grimassi and many others) at the stregheria.com website:  http://www.stregheria.com/articles.htm

    Two articles that are especially good, IMHO, are:
    The Society of Diana
    Italian Folk Magic and Witchcraft

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Anyone who isn’t familiar with Grimassi’s writings on the history of magic and Witchcraft should check out an online collection of his articles here: http://www.ravengrimassi.net/article.htm.

    There is also a great collection of articles (by Grimassi and many others) at the stregheria.com website:  http://www.stregheria.com/articles.htm

    Two articles that are especially good, IMHO, are:
    The Society of Diana
    Italian Folk Magic and Witchcraft

  • Lady Anna Greenflame

    Oh, no. Not another book I “must” read :-0 …. LOL, at this rate, I’ll have to add on to the house. Seriously, I am re-reading some of Grimassi’s older material, where he touches on some of these ideas, and after 11 years I find them worthier than ever. His recent book on the Ancestors is also very good.

  • Lady Anna Greenflame

    Oh, no. Not another book I “must” read :-0 …. LOL, at this rate, I’ll have to add on to the house. Seriously, I am re-reading some of Grimassi’s older material, where he touches on some of these ideas, and after 11 years I find them worthier than ever. His recent book on the Ancestors is also very good.


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