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Operative—rather than religious—Witchcraft is the traditional magical art of getting things done and the standard fare of most modern spell books is quite a bit different than the spells cunning folk and blacksmiths in the British Isles were working two or three hundred years ago. For the curious reader, Nigel Pennick’s thorough research into historic British magical folk practices from the Elizabethan era to the mid-twentieth century is fascinating and for the curious Witch—useful. Some of what he discusses may be familiar, such as his chapter on the magical uses of plants and roots, although he includes both species and applications no longer commonly used, such as boiling toadflax in milk for a fly poison. Many topics Pennick presents, though, are no longer common, such as the power of possessing a toad bone, which he describes in detail along with the toad-bone ritual used to acquire one.
With information gathered from folk customs, Pennick offers traditional charms for common ailments such as bruises, bleeding and fevers, discusses the power of crossroads and magical enclosures, and provides descriptions and photographs of numerous sigils, signs and magical artifacts. He includes a chapter on how magical paraphernalia such as broomsticks, nails, thorns and bottles were used to achieve common ends such as removing illness, bringing luck, blessing and cursing. There is also a chapter on the Evil Eye and one on fetches and familiars, both topics that modern readers have no doubt heard of, but the depth and specificity of the information Pennick provides set his treatment of these topics apart and will certainly expand the reader’s understanding of them.
While Pennick does not offer an explicit guide or list instructions, his descriptions of historic techniques are so thorough that anyone with a basis in magical practice could easily work any of the spells he discusses. While you could use it as a source for expanding your practice to include these curious techniques, it is equally worthy as a historical reference and Operative Witchcraft deserves a place on every magical practitioner’s shelf.