Review of Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods: History, Insights & Magickal Practice by Jason Mankey and Astrea Taylor
Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods: History, Insights & Magickal Practice is a book on working with the Greek deities written by witches, for witches. Author Jason Mankey is “a third-degree Gardnerian High Priest who runs a traditional coven and an eclectic Wiccan coven with his wife, Ari.” Coauthor Astrea Taylor is “an intuitive Witch and eclectic Pagan who leads moon circle rituals and assists a few other non-traditional groups.” They also provide personal experiences from their friends who have worked extensively with Greek deities, so as to “provide a variety of perspectives.”
Given the huge diversity within contemporary Witchcraft and Wicca, having contributions from numerous practitioners maximizes the reach of this book.
It’s only in the last few decades that a number of scholars have finally acknowledged that the ancient Greeks actually did practice magick, as did every other nationality. Many Hellenic Reconstructionists still refuse to dabble in magick, and this is their right. But to insist that nobody else should be practicing magick, as it violates their understanding of what the ancients did, is just controlling. The authors address this issue:
“However, some people (including some Hellenic Reconstructionists) believe there’s no place for magick or Witchcraft with the Greek gods. They say it’s excessively prideful to take matters into one’s own hands, and magick is an act of defiance against the gods.”
Writing about ancient Greek culture the authors touch on just how widespread the practice of magick was:
“Their community rituals were full of revelry, dancing, music, and feasts. The mysteries gave people spiritual depth. Personal magick was common to most people. Art and design developed into meaningful works that fostered a greater love of the gods.”
The authors acknowledge the great debt owed to ancient Greeks by contemporary practitioners of magick:
“These days, a multitude of our current magickal practices come from ancient Greek magick, or they’re very similar to it. This includes the use of spells, rituals, cleansing, incense, music, an altered state of mind, magick circles, and incantations. There are records of the ancient Greeks working with celestial energies, herbs and correspondences, cardinal directions, elements, wands, and chalices. They venerated their ancestors and their mighty dead, and some worked with spirits of the deceased in their magick, as well as daimons, intermediaries between people and the gods. They practiced divination so well that a prophecy often informed entire armies about the best courses of action. The Greeks practiced magick for love, health, blessings, protection, and healing. However, just as common were curses, bindings, and what we would call hexes. Ancient Greek practitioners made potions, amulets, weavings, and human figurines. With so many similarities to today’s magickal practices, it’s possible the Greek gods may already be present, whether we call upon them or not.”
The authors go to a great deal of trouble to show how prevalent magick and Witchcraft were in ancient Greece and that they remain viable methods of experiencing the deities. It is precisely here where this book shines. There are many people interesting in the Greek deities who don’t resonate with a reconstructionist path. This book targets those with an interest in the Greek deities who either already are practicing Witchcraft, or intend to take it up.
The authors answer the question of why a modern Witch would want to work with the ancient Greek deities:
“Perhaps the greatest reason is that they’re still here. They show up when we call upon them in rituals and spells. They want to interact with us, lend their power, and live on through our modern practices. With all the support and power they have to offer, the better question might be: why wouldn’t someone want to work with them?”
The authors point out that in the last few centuries, the Greek deities have been pigeonholed and constrained for popular consumption:
“When most of us think about the Greek gods, we think of mythology, especially the stories of the gods and their earthly offspring, as told in anthologies such as Bulfinch’s Mythology. Thomas Bulfinch (1796–1867) and the storytellers who came after him make the attributes of the Greek gods appear clear and unambiguous. Aphrodite was just the goddess of love and beauty, for instance, with no mention of her waving a spear on the back of Ares’s chariot or appearing with battle armor on the ring of Julius Caesar. In reality, the Greek gods were complicated, and their attributes often varied from place to place.”
The authors introduce their readers to the idea of epithets which were used to target aspects of deities:
“The idea that Zeus’s power made him unknowable was not one held by the Greeks. Certain epithets for Zeus describe a god who is downright friendly. (All the gods have numerous epithets, which emphasize a particular function or specific location of the deity.) Zeus Philios guarantees the bonds of friendship and, in the case of the Greeks, the bonds that often united quarreling city-states in times of crisis. As Zeus Xenios, the king of Olympus is the god of charity, and to honor Zeus is to help feed and clothe a stranger. Zeus also watches over those who arrive at a place in need of assistance as Zeus Hikesios.”
The ancient Greeks, however, in the example above would have treated Zeus Philios, Zeus Xenios, and Zeus Hikesios as separate gods. The inclusion of a small number of epithets for various deities affords readers the opportunity to experience some of the complexities of Greek religion, rather than sweeping them under the carpet as previous generations have done.
Each chapter follows a formula approach. A deity is studied chosen from the Olympians, some non-Olympians and a few non-Greek ones. Each chapter features “the general myth and history of each deity, and some entries have a modern reflection [personal experience] and/or a ritual as well.“
The end result is that readers experience a solid introduction to the Greek deities from a standpoint of practical contemporary Witchcraft or Wicca.
The authors see mythology not as providing a complete allegory of the deities, but rather as a starting point, as the deities are constantly evolving, exercising their influences on an ever-changing world:
“Mythology books make it appear that the story of the gods has ended, but nothing could be further from the truth. The gods have always changed and adapted, and they will continue to do so. As long as they inspire art, poetry, and devotion, their stories will be ongoing. The gods are not beings preserved in amber—they are continually evolving forces, and they are capable of change. It’s important to understand the past, but it’s equally important to embrace the present moment and the future.”
Towards the end of the book, there is an exhortation to work with the Greek deities:
“If you feel the call of the gods, we hope this book will assist you on your journey, but perhaps even more importantly, we hope it leads to doing magick or devotion with them. While many of the gods profiled in this book live on mighty Olympus, the gods also live on our altars and in our ritual spaces. Invoke them when you celebrate a sabbat. Call upon them when you craft a spell. And perhaps most importantly, talk to them when the circumstances call for such things.”
Just as the ancient Greeks didn’t have one way of venerating their deities, we shouldn’t either. Witches and Wiccans who feel called by the Greek deities but want remain on familiar magickal ground will really enjoy this book.