Review: Nock, The Wiccan Year

Nock, Judy Ann. The Provenance Press Guide to the Wiccan Year: Spells, Rituals, and Holiday Celebrations. (Provenance Press, 2007.) Paperback, 252 pages.

Possibly the two most common ideas that authors, editors, and publishers use to organize written material on Wicca are the four Elements and the Wheel of the Year. Sometimes this structure is inherent in the material presented, sometimes it’s an obvious attempt to slap some kind of superficial order onto a random conglomeration of the author’s ideas, and sometimes it’s a blatant attempt to mine basic ideas for more publishing material to make money. Thankfully, this book is almost entirely in the first category. The PP Guide to the Wiccan Year can be a little scattershot, but it stays true to its mission of guiding the reader through the Sabbats in sequence.

Nock explains right up front that she orients herself to the cycle of the year through astrology. That’s generally not my cup of tea, but I found the writing and resources in this book very worthwhile regardless of whether or not I concentrated on the astrology, and I did learn more about the astrological year in the process of reading it. Using the astrological cycle means that Nock has a framework that hangs together, which is good, but she feels free to decorate that framework with bits and pieces of myth, legend, and lore taken almost willy-nilly from all the favorite European (mostly northern and western European) cultures that go into what we might call “general American eclectic Wicca.” She makes no serious attempt to harmonize these or provide coherence among the myths. Very few of the rituals, meditations, or other activities chosen for each Sabbat make reference to or connect with the materials for any other Sabbat. The underlying structure of the astrological influence does mean that Nock includes plenty of references to classical Greek and Roman mythology; the proportion of that is higher than in most eclectic Wicca. Since most of the rituals and guided meditations stick closer to the generic God-and-Goddess stories or Celtic and Norse mythologies, this creates a bit of a disconnect.

On the other hand, I have to applaud Nock for describing her work accurately as being for intermediate practitioners. (xvii) Some of the rituals provided include a handfasting and a serious, well-written initiation for someone who worships Brigid. These are not recycled 101 rituals. Nock is also not using the Wheel of the Year layout as an excuse to present warmed-over slightly annotated tables of correspondences and call it education. She has put serious effort into the material: both coven and solitary options are presented for just about every activity, the “practical craft” (arts and crafts) ideas show the signs of having actually been tried in the process of editing the instructions, and the guided meditations have an excellent point-by-point layout that I find easier for a solitary to work through.

Although it’s not strictly about worship per se, this book is written more for purposes of celebration, and as such it includes relatively little in the way of spells for specific ends. Perhaps because of that, there is very little magical theory. When an herbal spell gets tossed into the mix, Nock writes it with an approach that suggests the herbs themselves do the work. In places, visualization or focus on the part of the practitioner is mentioned, and only in one instance is the idea of focusing on an affirmation described, and that one presentation is pretty simplistic. She’s approaching the Wheel of the Year as a sequence of independent opportunities to…well, actually, I’m not quite sure what she thinks the Sabbats are for, in and of themselves. Maybe she thinks they’re opportunities to do ritual (which might include magic) and guided meditation, although whether those are primarily for worshiping deity or for attuning ourselves to deity or for working on ourselves isn’t quite clear. When I get right down to it, the book is relatively bereft of a coherent working theaology as well.

What the book does have is a series of descriptions of the Sabbats, with “Celestial Events” and “Astrological Information” provided for each one, plus at least one, if not more, ritual and guided meditation which may or may not be linked. The leavening of recipes, art and craft projects, and “Legends and Lore” from a variety of cultures provide opportunities for most Wiccans to reflect on and possibly expand their understanding of and practices surrounding the Sabbats. I find this work to be above-average for its type and think it could be useful for a lot of practitioners. If you’re looking for something to help you understand the Wheel of the Year as an integrated whole, though, you’ll have to keep looking.

(Revised to add: Just after I finished writing this review, I went to copy out one of Nock’s recipes, for “Solar Cross Abundance Buns.” I found that she does specifically give instructions for including visualization in the recipe, which caused me to edit my comments on her use of magic. Sadly, I also found that the recipe is not written very well; standard cookbook techniques for presenting recipes aren’t employed, such as advising the reader to grease a bowl ahead of when it will be needed, or giving advance notice to preheat the oven a couple of steps before the heated oven is needed, or even like noting that the recipe must be started at least a day ahead of when the buns should be ready. Unlike the guided meditations, the recipes are not ready to be used as-is.)

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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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