In 1993 the Pagan community lost one of its foremost writers andteachers on eclectic American Wicca, Scott Cunningham. Scott’s writing career was quite expansive. He had written both fiction and non-fiction and his books on Wicca are considered to be classic, must-reads for beginners. When Scott passed away at a young 36 it was believed that he had other books in the works but he had amassed such a large collection of papers and documents that it would be 16 years before this book, “Cunningham’s Book of Shadows” would finally be released. But does it live up to the hype and expectations?
“Cunningham’s Book of Shadows” is a collection of various Wiccan rituals, spells and correspondences that most people would expect to find within anyone’s Book of Shadows. The thing that will likely draw most people to this book is the fact that this could very well be Scott’s Book of Shadows. The only problem with this is that much of that sort of material was well covered in Scott’s 20 previous books on Wicca. This book contains 16 chapters covering everything from Sabbat and Esbat rituals, prayers and invocations, recipes for ritual feasting, herbal recipes, incense and oils, magickal and spiritual lore, spells and more. There is an extensive bibliography at the back as well to help find additional reading material and there are several personal stories from those that knew Scott personally included in the back appendix.
There are several things about this book which stands out right away. This book, for all intents and purposes, is a “greatest hits” of Scott’s previous books. The manuscript for this book was found in an envelope in a manner that made it appear as though it was meant to be published. However the manuscript was, at least in the publishers opinion, incomplete. It is thought that this was sort of a first draft and Scott would have worked to flesh the book out in the future. Because of that Llewellyn has taken chunks of pertinent material from Scott’s previous books and included them here to supplement chapters and lead into rituals and spellworking sections. Much of the bulk writing that isn’t spells, recipes or rituals is annotated at the bottom of the passage as being an excerpt from a previous book. And even many of the spells and rituals will be quite familiar if you have Scott’s “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner” or “The Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews”.
There is a bit of previously unpublished material though, but it’s a little, well, interesting. There is a story in one of the lore sections called “The Story of the Sky People” (p. 205) which basically tells a tale that aliens descended to earth, blended in and bred with earth beings and thus created the first magickal priests and priestesses on earth and eventually they created the city of Atlantis. More or less the gist of the story almost seems to be saying that magickal people (such as Wiccans, one would assume) are descendants of alien and Atlantean beings. At the end of this story this is a line that says “Note: this is a legend and should be viewed as such.” No idea though if this was one of Scott’s notes or a publisher note so people wouldn’t think Scott was totally out of his tree when he wrote this. There are also invocations and prayers which are almost equatable to rewrites of classic Wiccan literature such as the Charge of the Goddess; the first section “Words from the Old Ones” seem to take very heavily, and blatantly, from pieces such as this one.
There is also a bit of a cheap thrill sort of sell with the book in that Llewellyn has included some of what is supposedly Scott’s hand typed and annotated pages along with the published material in the book. Toward the end of the book it begins to look like filler with each page of printed runes and descriptions is mirrored on the opposite page with the “hand typed/written” copy from the original transcript.
One of the most interesting new additions to Scott’s material that we haven’t seen before (or at least not that I could recall) is that of Dryghtyn (p. 15). Dryghtyn is mentioned in some of the new rituals and prayer material presented in the book and appears to be the name that Scott has attributed to Source with the God and Goddess being born of Dryghtyn. This was interesting because you don’t see this name for deity used much if at all in eclectic material but you do find it in some British Traditional material, most notably Patricia Crowther’s “The Dryghtyn Prayer”.
In the end, “Cunningham’s Book of Shadows” boils down to being a nice collection of many of his best magickal bits in one handy, hardcover book. It doesn’t really bring a lot of new material to light and it certainly isn’t the posthumous new Wiccan classic that I think many people were hoping for. It’s worth checking out if you are a fan of Scott’s and would like to have something like this on your shelves, otherwise it is an easy one to pass on.