Earth Power is one of those classic old Llewellyn books that pack my family shelves. Our copy is from the 1985 third printing, which was before the editors at Llewellyn started spelling “magic” with a “k.” It was also printed some years before author Scott Cunningham’s death in 1993 at the tender age of 36.
As a young Pagan I was advised that one rough way to evaluate a book on these subjects is by checking the length of the bibliography. Earth Power contains a list of 40 different sources, although since the author didn’t use footnotes or another technique to cite them, it’s difficult to know how much of the material within is drawn from each, or results from synthesis or outright invention. With magic, however, the true test is in using the spells and techniques described and tracking results. While I love the idea of magical experimentation, this is just a book review. It could be several years before I draw any conclusions about the efficacy of the spells within, but the reading alone allows for inference.
Unfortunately, the chapter “Magic Spelled Out” begins with this clunker: “Magic is the use of the natural forces of nature to bring about needed changes.” Sigh. I suppose professional editors were considered largely unnecessary even back in the ’80s. That said, it’s probably the most important section of the book, because in it Cunningham laid out what needs to be going on in the practitioner’s head to make any of this stuff work.
Being that spells often manifest results indirectly — making verification more difficult, but not impossible — being clear on technique is all any of us have to hang our hats on. This is one of the reasons I’ve got a certain level of skepticism about magic itself: will even a badly-written spell work if I visualize well enough, or do no spells work because it’s all hooey? The fact that skepticism could well undermine how efficacious is spell will be just makes this stuff all the harder to judge objectively. I have two hemispheres in my brain, and visualize one of them as the skeptic and the other as the caster. Thus far it’s worked well enough for me.
Later sections look at magic in terms of elemental or natural powers, which is a reasonable way to organize the volume. Had Cunningham organized by intention of the spells, surely many of his readers would have flipped from index to page without even considering technique.
There are spells in this book that I may never be able to try, like the one on page 46 to stop a cyclone. I think the author meant tornado, but it might work for both, if the knife is sharp enough. I haven’t been in the path of a hurricane in a long time, either. Unlike when I’ve opened up books like Tyson’s Rune Magic, I get the sense from the writing that Cunningham tried a lot of these; Tyson’s stuff feels to me like it was all just made up to sound cool. I can’t point to exactly what gives me that sense, but I do believe that Cunningham believed all this stuff would work. What I cannot say is how rigorous he was testing some of the more specialized spells; did he ever stand in the path of a cyclone?
Many of these early Llewellyn books left me scratching my head when I first flipped through them, because there was a lack of academic rigor to them. It’s a shame that Cunningham can’t reissue this one with actual footnotes, and perhaps with a bit more focus on tying the magical theory to the specific spells, and explaining why, for example, “image magic often employs apples,” (p 86). At the same time, these authors from before the turn of the century laid the groundwork for more serious investigation into these practices. I may have been somewhat turned off of magic by the lack of depth in books like these, but honest introspection discloses I would have been out of my depth with more advanced works.
The magical “resources” available in 2021 are both far better and far worse than anything Cunningham produced. I imagine he was sincere, and that these spells worked for him. I am not entirely satisfied with how he presented that work, but it’s not like we’ve figured out how to consistently deliver a better product.
Thanks, Mr. Cunningham, for getting a ball rolling that we still can’t entirely move with our minds.
Title: Earth Power
Author: Scott Cunningham