Review: Ann Moura, Green Witchcraft I and III

Moura, Ann (Aoumiel).Green Witchcraft: folk magic, fairy lore, & herb craft. Llewellyn, 1996. Paperback, 274 pages.
Moura, Ann (Aoumiel). Green Witchcraft III: the manual. Llewellyn, 2000. Paperback, 238 pages.

This is another double review, which is even more appropriate in this case because the two books are intended to be read together. I am able to review these because they were generously lent to me by a friend (thank you!), which is why I don’t have access to book II of the series. Some of what’s in II is mentioned in the others, and overall that doesn’t look to be an impossible barrier to me reviewing the series. If anyone has II and thinks it should totally change my assessment, please, chime in!

At the time the first book was written, Moura was a high school history teacher, with a master’s in history. This is relevant both because she mentions it about herself and because her views on Witchcraft are heavily influenced by her personal interpretation of history. The first book she wrote, Dancing Shadows: the roots of western religious beliefs, was her historical account of religious development; I have not been able to get it, but her book Origins of Modern Witchcraft: the evolution of a world religion was apparently developed in large part as a revision. I’ll be reviewing Origins of Modern Witchcraft next, so let me leave most of the discussion of her view of history to that post. What needs to be said here is that Moura has an historian’s drive to construct coherent narratives including all the information that she thinks is important. A perfect example of this tendency, I think, can be found in her description of herself as a third-generation witch in a family tradition.

This claim is not a “grandmother myth” as is commonly ridiculed among contemporary Wiccans who in the post-Hutton era have generally made peace with the recent formalization of their practice. Moura describes being taught about “The Power” by her mother and grandmother as she was growing up, and about their fascination with spiritism and their expertise in herbal matters and folk magics. Her mother and grandmother identified themselves as Catholics – as nearly everyone in the Brazil of her childhood did – but that Catholicism seemed to be primarily a veneer over the everyday beliefs and practices that formed the core of their spiritual experience. This is a fascinating description of the kind of folk magic that many Wiccans see as one of their primary linkages in their “spiritual heritage” from pre-Christian religions. But I would not go so far as to characterize it as a “family tradition.”

Moura says, touchingly, that her mother admired her ability to step away from the constraints and expectations of society and to dissociate herself from a Christian veneer (I, p31), but what Moura is presenting here is not a family tradition now opened to outsiders, but her individual fusion of family folk magic, her own historical interpretations of religious practices, and a heavy dose of theory and practices common to contemporary eclectic Wicca. In places, Moura does a sort of compare/contrast between her family’s traditions and generalized eclectic Wicca – such as her rules of “The Power” (I, p11, and at the start of each chapter of III) as compared to the Rede and Law of Return. Unfortunately, in other places, she presents her fusion as a fait accompli, and only an educated reader could tell which pieces came from what sources. At times, this verges on misattribution, as when Moura presents Valiente’s “Witches’ Rune” as simply “traditional.” (III, p196) She clearly feels slighted by the Gardnerian focus on lineage and initiation, especially as denigrating “fam trad” kinds of practice as illegitimate. (I, p75) Moura says up front that she feels free to adopt what works for her and discard what doesn’t, but also claims to be presenting the sources of her information for readers to make an informed judgment. (I, p2, p4) The first claim is true, but the second doesn’t hold up under examination; on the contrary, Moura clearly has an agenda that motivates some of the hidden choices she makes.

In fact, the reader gets the sense that part of Moura’s driving purpose in writing is her anger over her interpretation of history. She is angry that the earth-based religions of indigenous peoples were swept away by power-hungry invaders. She talks about “Aryans,” and this perhaps drives her desire to identify her family as having specifically “Celtic-Iberian” descent. (I, “About the Author,” facing title page, and elsewhere. Everyone loves a Celt, right, and we know they’re not the mean Aryans?) She is angry about how the Church and those in power treated women, especially women who were a little herb-wise or were midwives and presented a challenge to the power structure. This anger has a way of coming out oddly, as in the start of the chapter about herbs. I actually flipped back to the chapter heading after getting one page into it, wondering if I had misread the chapter title – the first page was entirely an angry description verging on a rant about women being disenfranchised. (I, p46) She slides seamlessly into an angry description of fundamentalist Christians trying to suppress Wicca and Paganism today – a topic about which I think and write fervently, as readers know! – and then makes a bewildering transition into the uses of herbs. For someone who wants to share in Moura’s righteous indignation, this probably makes perfect sense, but to me the tone comes off as too harsh, as well as simply sloppy thinking.

In fact, all of this anger might help make sense of Moura’s most baffling quasi-historical allusion – the very title of her style of practice. She emphasizes repeatedly that she is doing “Green” Witchcraft, not just because she wants to associate herself with ideas about fairies and nature but because she says that there are three “levels” of …. something. I can’t find exactly what these levels are levels of, but she’s very clear that “green” is the “base.” She goes on to identify the ” ‘higher’ ” (her quotes) levels as “Red,” associated with “the Warrior,” and “Blue and White,” associated with “Lawgiver” and “Ruler,” respectively. (I, p5ff) She specifically indicates that the upper layers were added onto to existing practices when “Aryan” societies created their power structures. This may make more sense after I finish her history book, but I’m wondering if she created this idea as her adaptation of Georges Dumezil‘s trifunctional hypothesis. (This hypothesis has received greater attention in the Pagan community thanks in part to Bonewits’ adoption of it as a way for ADF to echo the organizational princples of Indo-European society…but that’s another discussion.) It seems that Moura has adapted the trifunctional hypothesis, and then for various reasons including her sense of identification with the oppressed throughout history, has consciously tried to make her approach a celebration of the “green,” that is, the peasant farmer type of imagined religion.

I am especially flummoxed by this approach when Moura first seems to invert the traditional hierarchy – that is, to value women’s and the indigenous/poor/peasant class’s approaches to religion over the high muckety-muck power-holding rulers and priests’ approach – and then feels free to incorporate anything she pleases from sources including Gardnerian Wicca (itself extremely high-muckety-muck), as above, or as in her strange runes-and-pentagram sigil on p136 of book I. She says that “Green customs” do “not involve set litany, stylized prayers or rituals,” and then goes on to spend over half her book providing extremely detailed ritual scripts. (I, p7) Someone who wants to sympathize with Moura’s down-with-the-powerful ire would probably find these works a freeing affirmation of individual power and confirming one’s right to be a kitchen Witch (or whatever else one pleases), but as an attempt at a coherent system, the inconsistencies bother me greatly.

Book I is definitely a book of basics. The materials presented on fairies, herbs, and correspondences are simple resources as are found in any other introductory work. The ritual scripts are more than half of the pages, and the choices made in presenting these are quite baffling, especially because the scripts are extremely repetitive. The same opening, the same Cakes and Wine, the same closing, word-for-word, are reprinted multiple times, more than nine times for some of the material! If someone wants a book to be able to work out of as a word-for-word script, without flipping from “general opening” to “Yule ritual” and back to “general closing,” I guess this would be a good choice, but the way the scripts are written with so much descriptive material in between words, it doesn’t seem like the books would be useful for that. Frankly, this is part of a pattern of bad editing, with wild swings in topics and plenty of repetitive material that makes these books much lower quality than they could be. In part, I think that reflects on Llewellyn as a publisher as much as Moura as an author.

Book III is subtitled “The Manual,” but that led me to think it might be a more formalized Book of Shadows kind of presentation. Not at all! It is set up as a series of eight “classes,” for which the reader needs book I, “the textbook,” to refer to. Again, I have to question both Moura and Llewellyn on this practice – I’m not sure Moura had enough material for a new book, and if she did, this organization isn’t the best way to present it. It comes across, quite frankly, as a low-effort way of getting another book onto shelves which will also encourage purchases of the first one. The text frequently reads as if it was transcribed from lectures, and since Moura says explicitly that this is a “handbook…based upon the classes I teach periodically at a local shop,” I am tempted to think that’s exactly what happened. (III, p xi) She also says that the eight classes are structured to correspond with the eight Sabbats, but the haphazard organization of material doesn’t seem to reflect a coherent vision like that, and no explanation of the correspondences is made. (III, p xii) This material would have been better off presented as ten or twelve classes with specific topics for each, rather than splitting divination across two classes (one specifically on Ogham), and compressing the entire range of topics about relating to aspects of the God and Goddess and about structuring one’s own ritual calendar into a single class. The sloppy editing shows up here, too, as nothing about “Elixir preparations” is ever mentioned in Class 6. Book III also opens with a discussion of wands on the flyleaf, with no further reference anywhere else in the book. Was this stuck in just as it was going to press? What happened here?

One final topical matter: Moura includes material on both the Elder Futhark (although she calls them simply runes, and doesn’t describe why she’s willing to use these quintessentially “Aryan” symbols) and the Irish Ogham alphabets. Runes come up in both I and III, although in I, p102, her table of explanations is of the most rudimentary kind, without the names of runes or any pointers for the reader to expand her knowledge further through other resources. When she covers the topic again in book III, on p77, she gives the names of the runes, but also includes the “blank rune,” expanding the set to 25, without explaining the inconsistency between this and her previous system. Paxson’s discussion of why the “blank rune” is inconsistent with the set is excellent; I’ll get to that when I review Paxson, but suggest that any interested readers start there instead. Her discussion of Ogham is elaborate and totally unlike anything else I’ve ever seen; I have not explored Ogham in the way I’ve explored runes, so I’m not qualified to discuss whether this is an invention on her part, but it seems odd, to say the least.

The best thing about these books is that they do present the perspective of a solitary Witch with over 30 years’ experience in finding and creating her own path. Moura does explicitly encourage readers to explore and find what works for them; she does not make the mistake of presenting her way as the only way. In particular, book III presents an excellent discussion of three “styles” of practice: Witchcraft as folk magics added to the practitioner’s existing, traditional religions beliefs; Witchcraft as a connection with natural powers without any specific deity beliefs; and Witchcraft as the use of magic within a worldview including the Goddess and God of nature. (III, p6) The rest of the book also provides plenty of options for a non-deity-based approach, which would be more comforting for those new to WItchcraft and not sure about the specific theaologies of different types.

(Sorry that this turned out longer than I intended! I’m trying to provide enough detail for readers to make their own evaluations, not just rely on my personal reaction.)

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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